Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Drawing Tips From Comic Book Artists (Part Two)

All these examples come from the same two sources as last time: "The Mighty Thor, Vol.1", artwork by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson, and "Jonah Hex #30", artwork by Jordi Bernet.
Surface Lines

Romita and Janson's work on Thor has a lot of surface lines covering every character. Surface lines, when used correctly, can add a lot of depth and form to a drawing. But they can also quickly turn into a mess if you don't use them right.

It sounds obvious, but they should never be added arbitrarily and they should always describe the form they're on. In this example they are drawn so that they wrap around the forms of the muscles. That's how surface lines are used almost all of the time.


In the page above, the large image of Thor at lower left is another example of surface lines used well. They describe both Thor's form and the lighting in the scene very effectively.

In the large horizontal panel below of Thor flying, notice how Romita and Janson use surface lines in a slightly different way. In this case, all the surface lines are drawn in the direction of his movement to accentuate and emphasize the direction that Thor is traveling in.

If, in the drawing above, the artists had drawn surface lines going the other way (that is, perpendicular to his direction of travel), it would have clashed with the feeling of speed and motion of the drawing. It would have made Thor look slower.

When surface lines don't wrap around muscles, or emphasize the direction of travel, they're usually drawn to indicate the way the light is falling. Take a look at the first panel in this Jonah Hex page by Jordi Bernet. Most of the lines are drawn in the direction that the sun's rays are falling on the figures (except for a few lines that follow the surface detail of their faces).

The only other way I can think of to use surface lines is that sometimes they are used to indicate weather (like rain or wind). In this Jonah Hex page, all the figures in the second panel are trapped in a dust storm, and all of their surface lines are drawn in the direction of the wind gusts of the storm (this example is actually from "Jonah Hex #59, artwork by Jordi Bernet).

This is a well-known drawing principle, but it bears repeating: the number of surface lines on a face can have a big effect on whether a character looks old or young. The more lines, the older the character tends to look.

Here, to keep Jane Foster looking young and beautiful, Romita uses very few lines... contrast with how he draws the face of the ancient and wizened Odin.

Check out the difference in the way Romita and Janson draw Peter Parker's face and Aunt May's face and how surface lines make a difference in their perceived ages (yes, they both appeared in "The Mighty Thor").

Surface lines can be used to create depth and a sense of space as well. Here, in the right middle panel (below), Romita uses the surface lines of The Destroyer to do that very effectively. It's easy to see which parts of the figure are above us, at our eye level, and below our eye level based on how the surface lines curve.

Simple vs. Complex

One basic drawing concept that I feel never gets expressed enough is that you should always put complicated areas of a drawing next to simple areas. This creates contrast and visual interest, and is the only way to make complicated areas work. So many times I see drawings where the opposite is true: complicated areas next to complicated areas, and simple areas next to simple areas. That's just not interesting and often creates visual confusion.

Here, the flames in front of The Destroyer create empty, blank flat areas that contrast nicely with all the reflections and texture on his surface. as well as the complicated background texture and the splintered wood at his feet. This technique creates depth and visual interest, and it keeps the drawing from becoming a complicated mess where everything has an equal amount of busy texture and visual emphasis.

In the top panel of the page below, more of that idea on display: the simple flames in the foreground contrast well with all the complicated little figures in the background and create some nice depth.

A simple panel (that I cropped from the rest of the page) showing how the wrinkles and creases on the back of the delivery man contrast well with the blank areas of his outfit. Notice how all the lines wrap around his form as well.
Lastly, another variation on the theme of simple vs. complex is a method that I find helpful in creating layouts with a lot of depth.

It works really well to create a layout with layers of complicated background structures separated by layers of a simpler form, say, trees and foliage, or, in this case, smoke.

The effect of complex layers (of architecture, usually) interspersed with simpler layers (of smoke or foliage, usually) can create an effective sense of space and depth, and it's much easier to draw than, say, a complicated bunch of buildings receding back in perspective.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Drawing Tips From Comic Books (Part One)

Lately I've been using the Comixology app on my iPad to buy and read comics.

I still like buying comics on paper too (and I want to support comic book stores), but one of the best things about the app is how easily you can take snapshots of the pages.

I took a few snapshots and thought I'd just point out some basic drawing and composition stuff that occurred to me as I was reading. None of this is really groundbreaking or mind-blowing, I suppose...but there's not much to be said about art that is. It's just the basics, reworked and reapplied in different ways, I find.

All these examples come from the series "The Mighty Thor, Vol. 1" (artwork by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson) and "Jonah Hex #30" (artwork by Jordi Bernet).

Drawing crowds
Crowds are always tricky. A crowd is rarely the point of a drawing; they're usually just there to provide a background. And so they need to read as a group and not a bunch of individuals, otherwise they become a distracting mess.

One way to make sure your crowds read as a unified group is to make sure they all have the same attitude. Everyone in the crowd should have the same reaction to what they're seeing, whether it's terror, admiration, awe, anger, etc. Otherwise, their expressions and attitudes become a jumble and detract from the idea that they're one group.

Another helpful trick is avoiding the temptation to color them in a realistic way...if they all have different colored skin, shirts, pants, etc. then they become a mess of patchy colored shapes. They can begin to look like a bag of Skittles and don't read as a unified group anymore.

Some examples from "The Mighty Thor" where the colorist uses color to group a number of figures together.

 You can see how, in the page below, in the bottom panel, the crowd is colored in sepia values while the main character and the girls on the sofa he's lifting are colored normally to make them the focus and make them come forward in the frame while the background crowd recedes. Even in the top panels, when there's no main character to be the focus, the crowd is handled with different values of sepia to keep them reading as a group, to minimize their importance (they're not the heroes of this story, and we won't ever see them again), and to avoid the trap of coloring each of them with different colored shirts, pants, skin, and hair, which can quickly become a mess of color.

 Same thing here. Coloring the crowd with a consistent color groups them and tells you they're not the focus of the panel. Thor becomes the main focus of the drawing because he's full color, and his colors have more contrast than anyone else's as well.

 You'd think that kind of caricatured, simplified color would look strange and have a distracting effect. But it works really well, and I don't find it distracting or strange. It feels right.

Another example: the complicated crowd is drawn with a lot of detail...but by making them all a unified color, they become a group and the main characters remain the focus of the panel, since the main characters are colored with a fuller palette (and more contrast). This helps the main characters come forward in the field while the crowds recede into the background.

Below, another similar example: in the second panel, the colorist uses different values of blue for everything in the background to minimize them and keep Thor the focus. There's a lot of detail in the background of that panel: figures, a crowd, and scenery, so the different values used really help with readability.

Another similar example: this time, the background in the second panel is drawn into distinctly separated planes; the colorist has assigned each one of them their own color, which helps create a feeling of depth without becoming distracting. If you tried to color each building a different color, it would be distracting and  the feeling of atmospheric perspective probably wouldn't be as strong. Also, the simplified way the background is colored helps our main heroes in the foreground pop nicely.

More Caricatured Color

Another caricatured use of color that you'd think would be distracting (but isn't) is from Jonah Hex #30 by Jordi Bernet (colored by Rob Schwager). In most of the panels, the foreground is painted in a warm purple and the background in sepia. The effect separates the planes from each other and provides a nice sense of depth.

Another use of that effect below: in the next to last panel, the effect is reversed...sepia for the foreground and purple for Hex who is in the background. And in the last panel, the color becomes completely caricatured: the background goes completely red to suggest the violent feel of the scene. Again, it might seem like a strange way to approach color, but it really works well.

Like most aspects of art, color seems like it needs to be complicated and a lot of work to be effective. But simplicity is often the most effective approach to color.


Shadows can be helpful for creating variety in composition or for showing things that won't fit within the frame of the picture plane.

In this Thor example, the last panel of a character ducking into an alley is drawn in silhouette because the action can be shown clearly in silhouette, and staging it that way creates variety and interest in a pretty straightforward action. Also, the silhouette supports the feeling of the moment: in this case, ducking into an alley to hide is an act of secrecy and I feel like the choice of putting the whole thing into shadows enhances that idea.

 In this page below, in the lower left panel, Romita chooses to show Thor's feet as he lands in an alley and uses his shadow to suggest the rest of his body. Again, it's an interesting way to show what could otherwise be a straightforward and boring action. The texture of the alley wall is more interesting visually than just seeing a standard drawing of Thor coming in for a landing (which we've all seen before).

In the panel in the middle of the page below, Bernet shows Jonah Hex's gun and his shadow cast into the frame. There's no other way to show that angle and get Hex within the frame, and it's a great makes him look especially imposing to stage him that way.

More to come in Part Two.