Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Do You Use Models Or Draw From Your Head?

Without a doubt this is the question I get asked the most, so I've decided to let her have her own journal entry. I don't mind answering this everytime I meet people at the conventions, but typing the same thing over and over gets a little tiring. So here goes my take on drawing from brain, live and photo reference, hopefully for the last time :)

I draw from 4 sources: live models, internet porn, photos I shoot myself and from memory, most drawings you've seen here or in the books have been done using any of these 4 sources, but most likely they are a combination of some or all of these. After I get a few lines down capturing the essence of the pose, that's where the fun begins for me. Unless, of course, I'm drawing a straight forward portrait of someone whose likeness has to be depicted as accurately as possible.

The following account is indicative of how I work most of the time:
While sketching the cover for Zowie!, (from my head) I couldn't figure out the fold of her left arm holding a dagger viewed from the back at an awkward angle, I asked my daughter to pose for me holding a butter knife with her hand on her back which I then "frankensteined" to complete the sketch.

After I was done I realized that I could have solved it by drawing it from my head and in fact, my previous sketch of that same arm would have been acceptable and believable to the viewer, but drawing the arm and hand from life gave the drawing a more credible dimension and made me learn a thing or two, that is what I'm after.

In the end none of this mattered because I opted for the hand holding the gun in front of her face ( I felt the arm/hand with the dagger, detracted from the pronounced curvature of her hips, this is where a design decision overrides content, I have no problem being a slave to design) I told this story to a friend and soon rumours started circulating that I force my children to pose for my pornographic drawings, heh, heh!!

I bought a retractable shaving mirror from Ikea, which I've attached to my drawing board, it's great for expressions, hand gestures in tough angles, I abuse that mirror to no end, I highly recommend it.

Whether drawing live in the subway, at the studio with a live model or using photographic reference at home (I'd love to bring naked women into my basement but, it's kinda cold down there), I usually get the basic gesture down, really fast and then labor intensely to give it a more dramatic, more "idealized" spin, MY spin. You can use the word "dynamic" if you must, although that reminds me of those hideous Hogarth books.

Most of the work is done without looking at the model, after I've taken what I wanted from the pose, this is not because I'm so good at drawing from my head, I do it because I'm not interested in copying the source bit by bit, in every pose there's something I like to keep and a lot that i want to change, sometimes it's the entire pose but more often than not I manipulate the elements (arms legs, direction of movement and whatever else in order to realize my perverted vision, there's got to be something of myself in there, otherwise it makes no sense to do it at all.

To draw exclusively from my head is of no importance to me whatsoever, -the more I draw from life, the better I get at recognizing shapes and learning accurate anatomy- but I know that for some reason people give great importance to something drawn from memory as if this is an astounding feat, I don't give two shits about it. Most comics are drawn from people's heads and they suck. At the last convention I attended, my friend So And So showed me a very intricate and detailed drawn comic book, I felt the work was mediocre and over-rendered and he replied " You don't understand! all of this is drawn from his head!, he uses no reference", I said "perhaps he should". The fact that some people can draw from memory means absolutely nothing to me, good art is good art and a bad drawing is just a bad drawing, period! a poor drawing from someone's head doesn't make me like it any better.

I want to base my drawings on something real, a solid structure I can't accomplish from just imagining the forms and the lighting in my head, the library of poses in my brain is very limited, maybe I'm slow or my head can't hold a lot of information. Or perhaps all twenty years of sniffing Charpak™, Spray Mount™, Krylon™ and Paper Cement™ have finally taken a toll on my neurones. (those of you outside the US, click on the links and buy some)

The goal of most cartoonists is to eventually draw everything from memory, I can see why that's useful, particularly for comics or animation where one must draw a slew of characters over and over, most of the time the only way you can tell one comic book character from another is by his/her costume, this is quite understandable as the amount of drawings (in an equally crazy amount of poses) is astonishing, there's got to be a convention, a simple abstraction, the viewer in turn, suspends his/her disbelief and makes it work. I'm neither an animator nor a comic book artist and since I don't produce sequencial "panels" I'm not bound by those conventions, what was good for the old masters is good enough for me, besides, the main reason why I draw women in the first place is because I'm obsessed with women's bodies, they're never boring to me, I always find something new, the folds of the skin, the dents and bumps created by several lumps of flesh arranged in a particular manner, etc.,

I want to be in the same room with a naked woman and breath the same air, stare at her shamelessly (preferably all day long) and turn her into my "ideal", this is also why I don't care much for comic book art, in which, diversity of form is sacrificed in behalf of storytelling, I say fuck storytelling, give me Geof Darrow and Mignola instead, to this very day I have no fucking idea as to what hellboy is and does, (no, I didn't see the movie) the premise seems pretty lame to me but those characters sure do look great posing like rock stars in every panel. I buy comics for the art, if I want to read a good story I buy a book without pictures, where my own imagination can take off. Moreover, I'm not interested in drawing from my head because no matter how much knowledge of anatomy you possess, you can't imagine every single twist of the body or nuance of light and how the environment affects the planes and forms at any given time, at one point or another your drawings will start to look the same.

This blog is full of drawings done from my head , just look around; after a little while you will be able to tell which drawings came strictly from my head and which didn't; the more "cartoony" stuff is always done without ref or models, in those, you can clearly see the restrictions posed by my limited knowledge of anatomy and my struggles with proportions and such.

I say all this because, there's a stigma out there, specially among young artists, that everything must be drawn from your head, anything other than that, is considered cheating, this is pure and unadulterated bullshit!! Now, go find yourself some porn to draw, it's OK!



John Beatty said...

Looking good, Alberto!

I always enjoy "process" enteries even if they are sort and not very deep...it's always interesting to find how one reaches the end drawing!

Nice yellow and red gun! ;)

Jesse Hernandez said...

Monkey, you are one funny dude! I really enjoy your endless blather and funny anecdotes. You're very talented. Keep up the good work and keep drawing your porn from your hea--er, I mean, from life. ;)

antonio said...

I was thinking exactly some days ago about art...
well said Alberto!!
and nicely written!!
Long live to PORN)) :) :o


Process Junkie said...

Thank you, BigGuy, Monkey Lover and Baby Jesus.


Vanoni! said...

I'll forego the porn joke since everyone else has mentioned it (and I had a good one, too!) and just say kudos to you for presenting a side I don't often hear. The defending of drawing from reference.
Very interesting to hear your perspective - your words never fail to entertain.

– C

Bobby Chiu said...

Hey Roberto,
I always enjoy reading how other artists work. Thanks for the insight.

insanitay said...

Bom dia!

Hey hello again...praise be, great viewpoint...makes me realize I don't use reference enough or (when I get a "block"), it's a viewpoint we don't here enough. Oh, my blog is finally up (and there's actually art on it) and I should be putting up the next group of Cabral drawings soon...so stop by....


Allan L. said...

"I say all this because, there's a stigma out there, specially among young artists, that everything must be drawn from your head, anything other than that is considered cheating, this is pure and unadulterated bullshit!! Now, go find yourself some porn to draw, it's OK!"
Reference is so important. And I have a ton of porn to draw from. I should actually use it for that.

Autumn Sims said...

Hey Alberto,

I love checking in to see what your up to and always love reading through the work. great stuff to keep looking up. I hope to get a chance to catch up with you more at the next convention.

~Autumn Sims (that ledheavy girl)

Howard Shum said...

You kick butt, Alberto! Thanks for sharing the knowledge.

Process Junkie said...

Thanks for the positive comments, someone on the "Drawing Board" said to me -after one of my rants about reference-something to the effect of: "Yeah, we should all use reference until we learn to draw from our heads", he likened reference to bicycle training wheels", I don't agree, that's a juvenile view.

My point is, an artist is never done learning, NEVER! the best animators in the business are the ones who are constantly sketching, drawing and painting from life, no matter how great they are and despite the fact that they can draw adequately from their heads; they understand the importance of gesture sketching, they understand the complexity of the human machine. There's no way anyone can totally anticipate and memorize each and every muscle process under an infinite array of circumstances, there's always something new and exciting to learn, and even if you could mechanically memorize it all, where's the fun in that?

Experimentation, the discovery process and the unknown are way more appealing and fun, at least to me.

When I talk about using porn (photo reference), I talk about "a tool" no different than a brush or a pencil, I'm not advocating replacing life drawing with photographic reference, porn or otherwise. There is no substitute for life drawing, you should avoid becoming a slave to reference of any kind and sometimes even to accurate anatomy. Otherwise your work will look stiff, dull and "lifeless", even when anatomically correct.

When you choose photo reference, think with your head, not with your balls. Choose poses that offer the most opportunities to learn, the "butt shot", and the "crotch in your face shot" may be fun for you but what do you gain from drawing them, over and over (besides blue balls).

Find full body poses instead of "amputees" or "chopped-at-the-thigh" poses. Remember what your weaknesses are and seek the poses that feature these body parts prominently; hands, feet, knees, etc. unobstructed by clothing and other props and with a decent amount of definition and lighting contrast so you can get a good idea of the volume and structure of these elements.

Put your porn stash to good use, your right hand will thank you for it (..or your left) :D

Autumn Simms Nice to hear from you again! I'll be in Dallas/Arlington this coming weekend, let's hook up.

Gigi La Femme said...

Well sir. You've made your (valid) point. Now, when are we getting together for some sketching sessions?! lol

xo, *g*

Process Junkie said...

Gigi: Last week of November, unless you have other plans.


See what I do for you people? the kind of sacrifices I have to make!


Jess said...

yup, i'm attending school in hopes of getting my BFA in Animation/Illustration, and one of many things the instructors told us to do is to LOOK and get some Reference!! yeah it's cool when you can come up with your own stuff from your head, but Reference is very important. It's not like you need to know everything, even the best artists and instructors do it.

Gigi La Femme said...

Just emailed you...didn't realize that you had responded here. How about the evening of the 30th? 29th is cool too, but 30th would work better for me. Lemme know via email: gigilafemme@gmail.com

leif said...

Good rant, A, and reminded me of incident many years ago when a good friend doing boards for Alberto VO5 (wow- syncronicity!) called up frustrated because Ad was unhappy with the flowing hair he was trying to draw from out of his head. "How do you guys do it? - I suck!" he wailed.
Dude, we TRACE a ref photo.

Long silence.

"Isn't that cheating?" he asked incredulously.


Anything and everything including tracing is a learning experience and teaches you to draw better in the long run. You just gotta draw, draw, draw.


The best illustrators of the twentieth century had gigantic swipe files. That's why they called 'em "swipe" files!

Process Junkie said...

Jess: Good luck with school.

Leif: I guess the logic (in the story you shared) would be that as a professional illustrator dealing with extreme deadlines and outlandish requests, you can spend a lot of time trying to get it right or trace over it and nail it in one shot, this practice might be justified in instances such as this one only because it involves an "effect" that needs to be duplicated in order to please a client or art director, but even that is debatable, the "right" illustrator should be able to do the job adequately without having to trace over the photograph, unless of course what the client wants is a carbon copy of the photo, in which case it makes no sense to hire an illustrator anyway. (Shit! now I remember why I quit commercial illustration)

We disagree when it comes to tracing as a learning tool, I strongly oppose "tracing over" anything, well...maybe a map. And I'm not talking ethics or morals either, we can debate night and day whether tracing photos is dishonest or unethical, depending on the intent and purpose, I just doubt its effectiveness as a learning technique, I really don't think tracing photos or even going over someone else's drawing could teach anybody anything (except that there's a position at Marvel Comics waiting for him as a cover artist).

There's a clear difference between copying someone else's drawing and tracing over it, as kids we all start by copying some cartoon or drawing either from TV or comics and there's a lot to learn from mimicking another artist pencil/pen strokes, when the purpose is to deconstruct in order to understand a particular approach to solving a design problem, for example, you might want to try and understand how hands or feet are drawn by copying these body parts from an artist who's an expert at drawing them.

This practice of course can get you just so far, your individuality and your personality will eventually have to take over, unless you're Mike Hoffman, who claims to be an apprentice to Frazetta and draws exactly like him right down to the signature. Swiping poses and copying from reference don't bother me none, I believe all reference should be used as springboard, a starting point, not the end result. At the risk of sounding like your old figure drawing teacher I have to say, careful observation of live forms and the application of such observational skills along with sound basic drawing principles and compulsive practice are the only way to learn, to draw from reference is one thing but I think we should leave tracing to the comic professionals.