Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jury Duty Sketchbook

I had to do a day at jury duty last week and I was stuck in a "jury assembly room" with about 100 other people for eight hours. Luckily I had my sketchbook. I didn't do too many sketches that turned out well...mostly everyone else was plopped down in their chairs and didn't give me a lot to work with. Also, I forgot one of the most basic rules of sketching from life that Walt Stanchfield always talked about - "always tell a story".

John K wrote a post about this recently and it's really, really good advice. When you're telling a story through your drawing, you're thinking about the story you're telling and it keeps you from just drawing a bunch of arms, legs and a head attached to a makes you draw everything so that it contributes to an over all story, and it helps give everything a purpose, which strengthens the drawing.

For example, if you're drawing someone sitting in the chair, before starting to sketch them, ask yourself, "How are they sitting in the chair? Are they barely able to sit upright and oozing out of it, or are they sitting up totally straight with perfect posture?" or any of the other options in between. Then, as you draw, you should be thinking in your mind of how each part you draw contributes to the idea. Like "Okay, the person is almost falling over, and they are so sleepy that their head is practically falling over. But the arm is propping it up, and the arm is propped up on the chair arm to hold the arm in place, the hips are sliding down and almost slipping off the seat..." etc. Hopefully that makes sense. Walt Stanchfield's two volume "Drawn to Life" set has much better advice on how to do this. Anyway, the point is that making your drawing tell a story gives it direction and purpose, and a reason to exist.

Anyway, some jury room sketches, just to prove that I use my sketchbook. So when I nag you to do it, I'm not a hypocrite.

There were plenty of good models for the "bored" face.

A couple of people paced constantly.

And people using their handheld devices, of course...

Other people.....

This guy was reading but I didn't draw his body or the book. That was dumb of me because without his body, the book or the chair he's sitting in there's no story and it's just a lazy, incomplete sketch. I will try and work on that bad habit.

I drew this guy using the "Brushes" iPhone app. As I drew him he started to glare at me more and more intensely - somehow he figured out that I was drawing him. In the end, he got called to go to a courtroom and go through jury selection and I was left behind. I'm glad I didn't end up in a jury room, deliberating on a case with this guy. I never made it out of the jury assembly room.

There sure were a lot of clearly unhappy people there. It's not often where you get to go somewhere that nobody wants to be. Even the ladies that work there seemed completely miserable and would have rather been anywhere else. Personally, I'm glad I had my sketchbook and that there were so many great models to draw. And as I've said before, recording the people I saw in my sketchbook will help me remember them and get some aspects of them into my work. I certainly saw enough stuff in those eight hours to create a hundred stories from!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What You Don't See

Sometimes a picture is more effective because of what is left out.

I scanned this illustration by John Gannam. My scanner, for a reason I can't fathom, is built in a way that prohibits me from laying books flat on it, which is why there's a shadow along the edge.

I love this illustration because of what it leaves out. If you saw the girl's face, it would be a rather pedestrian picture of a pretty girl reading the Sunday funnies. But because we can't see her face, we are forced to engage with the picture and use the clues we are given along with our imagination and life experience to figure out what her personality is like. And, of course, when a picture manages to trick us into working with it to understand it, we stop and become involved with it instead of just glancing at it and moving on without a second thought.

So let's examine the clues we are given that tip us off to what kind of girl she is. First off, we have her rather unfeminine pants, which tell us she's not too much of an overly feminine girl, and the rougher dark-colored pants give a nice contrast to her light-colored, very feminine skin. Also I like the fact that she's surrounded by comic pages from several different newspapers, so we know she's not just pausing to read the comics as she devours the whole. She's the type of girl that only reads the funnies.

Her jewelry is a bit bigger and flashier than a very dainty girl would wear. Also you have to consider what it tells you about a girl's personality that she wears her jewelry while she lies around in bed reading the funnies. I suppose we can surmise that she was out late last night (it would have been Saturday night, after all, since these are the Sunday funnies) and slept with her jewelry on. Her red toenail polish seems to suggest that too. And red toenail polish is another touch that fits with the other clues we've been is the most flashy and bold color, after all. Even the fact that she's relaxing in bed instead of say, sitting in a chair, tells you something about her character. And it suggests that last night was a late night as well. One thing we know, she's probably not planning on going to church...

The cliche standard would say that girls always cross their legs in a more dainty and demure way, with the upper legs touching and the knees together, and that you should always paint them this way. The way this girl crosses her legs tends to be much closer to the way men (again, according to the cliche) usually cross their legs. The way she's crossed them here feels very aggressive and confident. But it still comes across as very feminine because of the masterful way he's painted her legs (very feminine shapes) and even the way that bottom foot is tucked around so that she's resting her lower foot on its side. A more masculine approach would be to have the sole of the foot resting on the bed.

I also like how the illustrator has placed her high in the frame by leaving some blank area at the bottom. It makes her seem more powerful and strong (which is the type of girl she seems to be). Also it just makes the space breakup more interesting.

Somehow the painter has found a way to give her a great feel of femininity but balanced that with a good sense that she's not too feminine, and that she's a strong, confident and fun girl. I love how the hand gripping the paper is handled. It's so well-observed and confidently painted. Her fingers grip the paper with real intensity. It would have been easy to make her hand much more feminine but that isn't the point the illustrator is trying to make. Her hand seems to complete the picture of a girl who is strong, confident, and feminine without being too girly. I love how the other hand is artfully hidden by the paper. I think it makes you focus all the more strongly on the hand that you can see. And since we can't see her face, that hand is the closest thing to a face we are ever going to see, and we put a lot of weight and focus on it to decipher who this mystery girl is.

Again, love the big green ring. Even the rectangle seems like the right shape...elegant without being demure or fragile.

I just think a lot of the success of the image comes from that contrast between the feminine and unfeminine. Seeing her face would make the picture tilt too far one way or the other, maybe. Anyway, a mystery always adds interest to a picture, so it serves this one well.

My favorite example of seeing less but in order to get more impact out of it is from the Chuck Jones short "Feed the Kitty". As Marc Anthony the bulldog watches his kitty friend get mixed up in some cookie dough, rolled flat by a rolling pin and cut up with cookie cutters, he reacts with horror outside the window. In the last scene of him watching, you can only see his eyeball. It rolls back in shock and he falls over out of frame.

I think its so much more powerful this way than if you saw his whole face.

As always, feel free to leave a comment and tell me if you're confused by this, and want me to clarify, or you agree with my analysis, or totally disagree...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

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

I found this cool sketch on the site 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 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:

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Brushes iPhone App

I recently got the "Brushes" App for my iPhone and I've been really enjoying it. For those times when I don't have a sketchbook but I do have my iPhone it's a great alternative.

Anyone who's used Photoshop will be comfortable with it immediately. The color selection tool is just like Photoshop: is easy to use and basically you can pick any color you can think of. The brush choices are limited, and you can only use four layers at a time, but I actually like both of these limitations. It keeps your choices from being too many or too overwhelming. And the layers aren't as limited as they seem; you can "merge down" a layer onto the one beneath it, so you can keep adding layers, getting them how you want them, merging them down and then adding another. Also the size of your iPhone screen is another limitation - you can zoom in for detail work, but overall, you can't get too complicated with it, which forces you to keep it simple.

Portrait of my daughter - my first Brushes effort.

For those of you that have never used Photoshop (and therefore the previous sentence makes no sense to you), Brushes could actually serve as a good introduction to how Photoshop works, because it's got such limited choices.

On the homepage for the App there is a good pdf that you can download and read up on how to use all the tools. Also there are videos showing how it works.

I find the size perfect for doing portraits. Don't ask me why, but I started a series of animals smoking.

Brushes is $4.99. If you go to and do a search for "Brushes" you will find a lot of other examples of what people have done with the App.

There are other Apps for drawing and painting - like Sketchbook Mobile and Inkling - which are cheaper (Sketchbook Mobile is $2.99 and Inkling is just $1.99). If you've used any of these, please let us know in the comments which you prefer, and why!