Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bill Peet's "Cappyboppy" and a Recurring Rant...

I found this cool sketch on the site billpeet.net. It's a drawing of Bill's son carrying a capybara.

I'm assuming that everyone knows all about the value of drawing so that your poses read in silhouette (if not, scroll to the bottom of the post for a refresher). This drawing is a great example of that. Also the contrast between the long, skinny legs of the boy and the plump animal provides a lot of interest to the drawing. And the nice lean over on the boy makes the drawing have a lot of weight and interest that it wouldn't have if the boy was straight up and down. The lean is indicated very easily and simply - the closer leg is stretched out and the far one is bent, helping to give the feeling of the hips tilting away from us, and one shoulder is higher than the other, covering up most of the near side of the head and indicating that he's leaning away and that his shoulders are tilted to compensate for the heavy weight.

It's a great little quick sketch with a lot going for it. If you've read the Bill Peet book "Cappyboppy", it's all about his son's experience with a capybara he brought home from South America. Here's a page on billpeet.net that shows photos of the real episode.

So it's a safe assumption to make that Bill did this sketch from life, or at least based on real life.

Which gives me a reason to nag you about one of my annoyingly persistent rants: if you're interested in being a good artist in any capacity, you should train yourself to carry a sketchbook (and use it).

I've seen artists on the Internet question the necessity for this, saying that you can't really learn anything about drawing by carrying a sketchbook, and that the drawings you do in a sketchbook are always dashed off, careless and sloppy.

So let me take this opportunity to clarify: I don't carry a sketchbook to draw pretty pictures in; in fact, I hate my sketchbook drawings. I'm not really a "sketchbook" kind of artist. I'm better when I can draw a rough version of a drawing and then put a piece of paper over it and redraw it and redraw it, trying out different things and solving problems until I'm happy with it.

I don't carry a sketchbook to do pretty drawings in it.

The real reason I carry a sketchbook is so that I can record and remember details that I observe. Drawing from real life is the best way to teach yourself how people look, act and move in a naturalistic way (and help you remember it later). Life drawing and studying the work of other artists and animators are great learning experiences, but those things aren't the same as studying real life. A great life drawing is an amazing feat and you can learn a lot about drawing and anatomy by going to life drawing. But very few life drawings give you a lot of information about the model's personality and what kind of human being they are. You're never going to create an original story or character based on a life drawing model you saw.

If you're not getting ideas about new characters from people you see in real life then you're probably basing them on some source material that you saw or read, and it will always feel false and two-dimensional to an audience, because it's second generation. It's like a xerox that's been xeroxed, and it's never as good as the original. You can't fake originality and sincerity.

The same thing goes for stories: there's so many great real things that happen every day around us that if you just open your eyes and check it out, it can give you infinite ideas about stories that can be told. Why base your stories on other stories that have already been turned into movies and TV shows?

That's the biggest problem I see with Movies and particularly TV shows these days, and particularly animated TV shows. A lot of them seem to be very pale copies of stuff that's already been done a hundred times.

I keep pointing out that everyone looks back at the stuff that was done in the 30s, 40s and 50s as the great age where animators invented and explored and weren't afraid to take risks. It's no coincidence that they didn't have an animation history to look back on (and steal from). They couldn't study animated films on DVD or read "art of" books to learn how to make a film. So they were free to try new stuff and experiment to figure out what works, and they were forced to base their characters on real people that they knew, and I think it made their characters more real and interesting and memorable.

In one version of the Famous Artist Course, there's a great chapter all about this topic. They even printed this admonition in big bold type:

The illustrators who created the school knew that good art holds up a mirror to mankind and shows us some truth about ourselves. Norman Rockwell's work is considered quaint and he gets knocked for a lot of things, but the fact is that his art endures because he had a knack for hitting on certain truths about human beings.

One thing that amazes me is how well his paintings are "cast" - the people in his painting always look just right for the part, with just the right face, body type and clothes. I don't know how you train yourself to be that attentive to detail without studying it from real life and observing the real people that you interact with every day.

Okay, there you go, I'll try and shut up about this topic for a while.

An old handout about silhouette:


Anonymous said...

Oh, please don't! This was a very interesting read. Especially because I get frustrated with the sketchbook I carry around with me when I'm going out, as I never seem to be able to draw anything decent in it, and this prevents me from bothering to draw when I'm out. I feel inspired to draw more freely in it now!

Jayaraj said...

i was always lazy to carry my sketchbook. even if i did carry it, i was not courageous enough to take it out in public and try out my wiggly strokes.and i kept wondering my old sketch books, which had at the most 2-3 drawings which were kinda ok; the rest were all half done, bigger mistakes. but all the reasons i had not to carry, you had numbered and pointed out in your 4 part blog earlier.

now that ive started using it, i've seen my drawings have more stuff in them than i thought, especially regarding poses. late... but better than never...

Matt J said...

So the lesson here is always carry a capybara with you everywhere, right?

chromasketch said...

hooray for sketchbooks!

JP said...

There's always a pressure to make beautiful sketchbooks, and you're right- Sketchbooks are our lab and we should allow oursleves to make a mess. Cool post.

Tim said...

It's been said by Ward Kimball, Kimon Nicolaides, and Chuck Jones (quoting Nicolaides) and others, "Everyone had 10,000 bad drawings in them. Get them out as soon as possible."

(The amount of bad drawings varies from quote to quote, but you get the idea.)

Yes, sketchbooks should be filled with bad drawings. They are learning experiences. No one watches a football game to see the athletes perform calisthenics. But if they don't do those stupid exercises off the field, they will suck on game day.

ToueT said...

Thanks for another amazing article!

I have always told myself that I'm not a sketchbook guy and in fact, because of that, I've never carried one with me.

However, I'm a believer in all what you said.

I'm now trying to look sketchbooks as my own laboratory where to do my experiments, gather information and analyse real life. I know it sounds fancy, but it makes me feel like I'm a crazy scientist and that, by itself, is already pretty cool.

Fabio Lai said...

I often carry a sketchbook. Although the most part of the sketches I do on it seem to be the ugly ones of my production I believe to draw people in their everyday life is a really useful exercise.

Sometimes sketchbooks trigger odd situations off, they seem to attract people who love to spy on what are you drawing above your shoulder, beginning a discussion with very interesting questions like 'are you drawing?' or 'why are you drawing my wife?'

Dave Vasquez said...

I too have had trouble in the past with maintaining a sketchbook consistently. However, for me a big change in my thinking came from life drawing class (thank you Glenn Vilppu).

The simple idea of not copying the subject you're observing, but "analyzing it". It's a simple but profound difference and it immediately took the pressure (which was usually negative) away of always having to produce pretty drawings every time. The point became that you are recording the visual thinking of what you see in the world and trying to understand it. This reinspired me to use a sketchbook and now I'm drawing in it every chance I get. Ironically, when I approached it like this, my drawings actually got better?! I still have a long ways to go, but I definitely value any opportunity to study from life so I can record it in my sketchbook.

Great post and I personally don't ever get tired of this rant.

=shane white= said...

I'm not an animator but I certainly am forgetful. When traveling I bring several sketchbooks. One is my travelogue:

And the other is a watercolor/gouache book to capture color:

I don't care how many places I've been a photo never gets the essence quite like sketchbooks. And the colors are always different because the atmosphere is different.

Even when I go out with friends more often than not a sketchbook has saved me from sitting along for an hour or two or waiting in line. There's a wealth of FREE MODELS available.

It's just good for one's muscle memory.

Besides I've gotten more jobs through my sketchbooks alone than any single "pretty picture".


Stephen Worth said...

At the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, I sometimes get students who come in to access the digital archive without a sketchbook. I send them home to get one, because unless you draw what you're referring to, all you're doing is looking at pretty pictures. Sketchbooks are a necessity for reference and research as well as drawing from life.

mark kennedy said...

anon - thanks, I hope you stay inspired!

Jayaraj - great, glad to know you're using it more, keep it up and you'll see lots of improvement.

Matt J - yes. Isn't that Ronald Searle's secret too?

chromasketch - yep. Thanks for the comment!

JP - yes, exactly.

Tim - yes, that "bad drawings" thing is so true. Your football analogy is good too, you're so right.

ToueT - great, I'm glad to hear it. Keep it up!

Fabio - Yes, I used to get intimidated by people staring at me while I drew them. But over time I just got good at acting like I knew what I was doing and that I wasn't doing anything unusual...I think that helped.

Dave - yes, Walt Stanchfield talked a lot about that as well. Putting pressure on ourselves to do great drawings takes all the fun out of it, right? It always feels great to let that go and have fun with drawing. Glad you liked the post, thanks for the comment!

shane - great comment. Many times, when I look at portfolios, the sketchbook drawings are better than the "pretty pictures", just as you say. They usually have more life and looseness to them. Glad to hear there are so many people out there carrying sketchbooks!

Stephen - Ha, good for you, that's great. Glad so many people are on the sketchbook bandwagon!

Viagra Online said...

that is indeed a really cool sketch, I tend to do weird sketches that not many people understand or like, but I keep doing them because I enjoy it!