Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dumbo: Contrast

Just another short post to illustrate the effectiveness of using contrast.

This is a story sketch from Dumbo I scanned from the Disney Archives book "Story".

There are a couple of contrasts in the drawing that elevate it from just a serviceable story sketch to being an effective picture all on its own. The gesture line of the elephant is a strong direct line that gives the push against the cage a lot of force. The gesture of the tiger pushing back against the direction of the elephant's gesture gives more power to the elephant's push by contrast. It's like when you paint two contrasting colors next to each other - they both become more vibrant through contrast.

Also the contrast between the two animal's attitudes works well to strengthen the picture. The intense strain on the elephant's face is made much stronger by the contrast of the lazy, satisfied-looking expression on the tiger's face. Also, it seems to me that the tiger's paw, the wheel and the elephant's knee do a good job of creating a good composition and keeping your eye centered around that area of their expressions.

I redrew the picture without the tiger to show how much is lost when the tiger is removed. The force of the elephant is diminished and the circus cart looks a lot less heavy and easier to push (the original is right below it for comparison).

Also, the composition is seriously hurt by the absence of the tiger. Without the tiger there, there's no element to keep your eye from wandering aimlessly around on the right side of the frame. The tiger helped to make it a "closed circuit" with a clear circular path for your eye to follow.

The purpose of any story sketch is to tell the story clearly, and an individual sketch doesn't need to be a great piece of art - it only needs to work with all the other sketches to tell the story in the best way possible. But I like how the addition of a little contrast helps make this a great picture, even when seen all by itself.


Andy J. Latham said...

That's fascinating. I particularly like your analysis of the contrasting facial expressions. I think you are spot on with that observation. I think faces can sometimes become forgotten about as there is so much emphasis on getting poses right. It should be remembered that faces are what we instinctively look at first.

Daniel said...

These story sketches are stunning. You don't see this stuff anymore. Park of the reason I'm turned off by a lot of the recent Art Of books is because there's so much digital work in them now. It's just not as appealing.

These sketches are even more amazing when you see them in person too. Bill Peet was such an amazing draftsman.

Do you by any chance know exactly what medium he used? Is this graphite or charcoal or something else?

Antoine said...

That picture is indeed a great contrast composition. But your before-and-after is a little skewed... The wide cage window on the wagon is only there to accommodate the tiger. It was clearly designed as the tiger's frame, and makes no sense without the tiger in it.

A version without the tiger would probably have had no window at all, or a thicker set of heavy cage bars on thicker wagon-walls.

It still would probably not work as well as the contrast with the tiger... but just removing the tiger leads to an obviously weird picture. And that weirdness obfuscates the validity of your point.

I only say it cause I care. I love your blog. You know those things you read about and learn and hear everybody say... and then one day someone says it in a new way and you suddenly get it? That's what happens to me all the time in this Temple!

pbcbstudios said...

I'm confused - why doesn't the tiger get out and help him push? tigers are so rude.

Molasses said...

Awesome post Mark. Have you talked about "closed circuits" before? I found that to be the most interesting statement in the post.

CrowPie said...

wow! fantastic post, thanks for sharing this gem!

mark kennedy said...

Andy - you're right, good point!

Daniel - I'm not sure if Bill drew this one. It looks like his style at the time but it's hard to say...I'll double-check the book and see if it credits the artist. I assume it's pencil or china marker with either colored pencil or pastel, but I don't know for sure. Again, I'll see if the book says. Thanks for commenting!

Antoine - thanks for the comment! I removed the tiger to show how different the drawing would feel without it. Obviously the artist would have re-composed it if the tiger wasn't in it.

Briggs - tigers are stripey a**holes.

Molasses - no, not sure I have, I think I just made that up! Most compositions seem to be designed to keep your eye traveling around the piece, so it seemed appropriate.

CrowPie - thanks for the comment!

Vivek Sisodiya said...

Pretty interesting and fantastic analysis. It opens a totally new view to look at drawings. Thanks!!

Pedro said...

This is a great observation. But I think this can also be a lesson in context. When you took out the tiger, not only did the image suffer in terms of composition, but it makes the elephant seem like a different character. She's no longer pushing the lazy tiger; she's doing work that she doesnt want to. The look on her face simply becomes one of anger, not of strain. Am I making any sense?