Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Kick in the Head, Part Five

A couple of posts ago I encouraged you to draw with more appeal; this post is all about making your poses more expressive.

I think most people don't draw as expressively as they can. They don't push their poses and expressions to the point that they could and ambiguous drawing is the result. We all know that one of the hardest parts about drawing is crafting an image where anyone that looks at it can tell exactly what the characters are thinking and feeling. It's not easy, and like all the other posts in this series, that's why I'm bringing it up.

Sometimes I think people restrain their drawings because they want their drawings to look "pretty", and they're afraid that pushing the expressions too far will make for an "ugly" drawing.

To me, nothing could be further than the truth. I really love drawing pushed expressions, in fact, without that, I don't think drawing would be much fun. My favorite drawings of mine are the ones that have the most caricatured expressions.

Drawing expressively doesn't mean giving every drawing over-the-top broad wacky expressions, it just means that whatever the feelings and attitude of the character you're drawing, every element of their body (their face, their posture, etc.) reflects what they're feeling, and their attitude is very clear to whoever looks at the drawing. But the expressions should be appropriate; subtle for a subtle expression and pushed further for a more extreme expression.

Maybe another reason that expressiveness gets lost is that people are trying to draw "realistically" and they think only "cartoony" drawings are expressive. But real people can actually be pretty expressive. Also, we're not trying to recreate realism, every drawing is a caricature of reality on some level and every piece of art we create should be making a statement, right? Isn't that what makes it "art"? Besides, photography (and our own eyes) are great at capturing realism. Recording the world on paper exactly as we see it seems like a silly reason to draw.

It's possible that some comic books may have had a bit of a negative influence on expressive drawings. Sometimes comic book drawing is really technically good but without a lot of pushed expressions. I think sometimes artists that gravitate towards comics get really interested in drawing anatomy, vehicles, environments and dynamic angles but acting and emotions on the character's faces seem to be a low priority. I've seen really great looking comics that are drawn well but you can only tell what the characters are feeling by reading their dialogue balloons.

Of course, there are also plenty of great comic book artists who draw "realistically" and dynamically but also with great expressions that totally communicate to the viewer.

Will Eisner - a real master of finding the balance between drama, realism and caricature.

Jordi Bernet

There are a lot of other great comic artists who are good at this, I know. Alex Toth and Joe Kubert are also artists that can draw realistically, dramatically and also expressively.

Some other examples of expressive drawing:

Andre Franquin

Chuck Jones

Bill Peet

Quentin Blake

Ronald Searle

Sorry, these aren't the greatest examples, and I know I always return to the same artists over and over again as examples - I'm always pressed for time in scanning and posting. I'll try to broaden my examples in the future.

As always, look to real people and real actors to inspire you in finding great expressions.

It's always educational to see an actress who can remain attractive and appealing while being expressive. Two actresses who do a great job playing quirky characters with unique and odd expressions and pull it off in an appealing way:

Natalie Portman in "Garden State". She did a great job of using her face to show the oddball nature of her character but doing it in a really charming way.

When you think of the acting style Natalie used in the "Star Wars" movies it becomes even more apparent that her expressiveness in "Garden State" was a choice because it fit the character. In the "Star Wars" movies her character was a leader who was royalty and had to always appear strong and in charge, and always formal in all of her relationships. I point this out to illustrate that her odd and quirky expressions in "Garden State" were a conscious choice and not just her default acting style. It's a good illustration of the point that different characters have different levels of caricature that are appropriate to their personality and environment.

Gillian Jacobs in "Community"

More Community screencaps can be found at the Fishstick Theatre.

She has a great face and on the show she seems to always have a bit of a tweaked expression on her character's face even when she's just sitting and listening to another character talk. Her expressions are never symmetrical...always a bit off-kilter, which fits perfectly with her quirky character Britta.

A quirky, oddball character has a certain range and type of expressions that are appropriate for that character but wouldn't be right for other types of characters. And if all your characters have tweaky, weird expressions, then they don't seem quirky, they just become your style of expression because they don't have straighter, more subtle expressions to contrast with. So find the right range and type of expression for each character and each project. Again, push yourself - don't draw the same stock faces and gestures over and over. Study, observe and find new ones!

Drawing expressively is a lot like drawing appealingly, in that I've never heard someone say "Oh, that guy draws too appealingly" or "that guy draws too expressively". You can never have enough of those things; they both make drawings great.


David Gale said...

Great post. I think you could also throw in some of the MAD guys like Mort Drucker under the "realistic but expressive" category.

The Community pics reminded me that I meant to link you to these when you posted that Dan Harmon letter but never got around to it. They're a bunch of very funny and informative "tutorials" he's written as part of the Channel 101 project.

Daniel Caylor said...

Great post Mark, but my head's not quite sore yet. (Keep kicking...)

Chris Boyd said...

Thanks again. Great post!

Pock said...

Thank you so much !
Your posts are really interesting.

Haylee said...

Another strong post!

As a suggestion, you can add Jeff Smith, the contemporary comic artist of Bone. All his expressions and silhouettes are all pushed to the limits in an appealing way.

Randeep Katari said...

This couldn't come at a more perfect time. Thanks Mark.


loar5 said...

This is a fabulous post! I was just thinking about how I need to improve on this :D

I think Polly Guo ( and Paul Pope are also brilliant at expressive drawings <3

Mike Bear said...

This is one of my favorite blogs. Thanks for making it!

Guido Salimbeni said...

Hi, I found your blog 2 weeks ago by a linking path and i studied all of it in theese days. Thank you very much for all the works and aknoledge you have shared with us. It was a amazing studying. guido

Velops said...

This post was very helpful in articulating the nagging feeling I got watching the 4Kids version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

While technically good in many areas, the lack of expressiveness bothered me. The four Ninja Turtles each have distinct personalities but all of their faces drew upon the same set of stock facial expressions. Their body language seldom provided any kind of contrast between them. This was troublesome since they look exactly the same except for their colored bandannas and signature weapons.

mark kennedy said...

David - thanks for the great link! I like those articles. I will share them with everyone sometime (and give you credit of course)!

Dan-Great! Glad you like them.

Chris - No prob!

Pock - thank you, I'm glad you like them.

Haylee - yes, of course, he's great and there are lots of great examples.

Randeep - great1 good to hear from you.

loar5 - great! Glad you enjoyed them.

Mike - sure, thanks for letting me know!

Guido - thanks for letting me know! Enjoy.

Velops - yes, it can make a big difference, can't it?

Roberto Severino said...

Thanks for this amazing blog, Mark. It's been an inspiration for me for a long while, but I've never really decided to say anything about it until now, so there you go. Keep up the great posts. I find this stuff fascinating, especially for a young 15-year cartoonist like myself.

Matías Soto López said...

Hi, I must be honest I arrived at your blog by pure linking but I loved this post, is so full of great advices that I'll certainlly will be reading some of your older posts after this. Thanks for the great info said with just the right amount of words, and letting the images speak instead.
Have you ever seen any of the work of Argentinian artist Quino? I've been always amazed by his expresive drawings, always conveying such emotion using just the needed dialogue(or more often none at all)to portray the message.Judging by the examples you used on this post I bet you'll like it.

BlackMita said...

Thank you very much for these kicks in the head. This one post nailed the biggest hurtle I'm tackling right now. I've never *really* focused on expressive drawing before.

michaelamos said...

These kicks in the head are great! Thanks so much for putting these notes together and such a great blog.

Wouter Bruneel said...

It is so cool to see Franquin in your list. He is an absolute master at posture and expression. Cool to see him being honored on an American blog. You make a wonderful point and I've been forcing myself to redo poses and keep pushing them into the extremes and my work has definitely benefited.


Neill said...

Ooh ooh. Someone with an impressive amount of range, who played a lot of the "pretty girl teen" as a Blond is Rachel McAdams, when you really review her playing of the characters, you see theatrical expressiveness. The kind of bold expressions practiced by those who have stage experience. Once you get past the cotton candy images and plot, and review "Mean Girls" for acting, she really owns that film, and controls every scene that she is in.

Oscar González Loyo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oscar González Loyo said...

Great Blog!!!
Greetings from México!

ChaosInColor said...

Enjoyed this post and am now inspired to be even more expressive!

Liz Conley said...

I've been reading through your "Kick in the Head" posts and wanted to let you know how incredibly helpful I've found them. You talk about a lot of things that weren't covered in my school and have really reinforced the importance and value of the things that were.

I feel like they're the sort of thing I could keep reading over and over my whole life and I'd always come to a new and better understanding of the concepts you're laying out here.

So, this is just to say thanks. Can't wait to read more!

Amanda H. said...

I know what you mean about "drawing cute" instead of pushing the expressions. Not that I want to play the blame game, but I think anime teaches you that instead of tapping into a character's own expression (the unique way a person smiles, grimaces, laughs, etc.) there is a default expression: one way to draw a smile, one way to draw an angry face and so on.
Off-topic but I've been half-teaching myself how to draw cartoons with the Preston Blair Complete Cartooning book and yesterday I was retagging and reorganizing my blog thinking that that my art hadn't improved that much since I started it last year. HOW WRONG I WAS. It wasn't the obvious change but I could see a gradual improvement from what I began with. My drawing style has always been kind of small and doodle-y but my drawings became more and more well-constructed and the facial expressions got crazier, lol.

Anonymous said...

Eisner was a real master except for his illustrations of Black people. I've always wanted to kick him in his head for depictions!