Friday, October 12, 2007
Realistic Vs. Cartoony
Life May Be Real But Not Realistic
I found the following dialog while site hopping, I post it here to illustrate one of the most typical conversations in drawing, illustration, animation and comic forums and blogs. I can't tell you with certainty just how many times I've read similar exchanges, if you're a regular visitor you know I love to generalize and exaggerate to drive my point home, this time however, instead of going into a lengthy tirade full of bile and profanity, I will let others tell you how I feel about this subject. I find fascinating and intriguing the fact that this is even a matter for discussion. The reluctance of artists and art students to recognize the paramount importance of life drawing in any artistic discipline or endeavor dealing with the human figure is really baffling to me. Most young artists (and some not so young) refer to the practice of drawing from life as "Realistic", "Realistic" as in "Not Cartoony". There is a beautiful book Stephen Silver and yours truly are preparing on the subject of LIFE drawing and how it ties in with character design for animation, comics and game production, I'll tell you more about that book as we near completion.
My intention is not to humiliate or embarrass anyone by pointing out their short-comings (or their nearsightedness) I omitted their real names and the link to this discussion for that purpose. I think this was a healthy argument which was handled in the proper manner by all involved.
I truly believe a lot of the antipathy towards life drawing is born out of laziness and ignorance, most people just don't want to put the time and energy (and commitment) that is required to learn the fundamentals. Everyone wants to ignore the hard. repetitive and boring basics and jump to the funky stuff, it is much later in their artistic journey when they get to realize skipping steps wasn't such a great idea after all. Some become amazingly good at 'inking', rendering and coloring but a turd is still a turd, no matter how polished and well-rendered.
Most of us find anatomy really difficult to learn and down right intimidating, I count myself among those who bought tons of anatomy books at the beginning of my art education and couldn't bring myself to even open the goddamned things, let alone read them or make sense of them. that's understandable but a lot of people -as you will see in this case- can't find anything beneficial in the mastery of figure drawing; guess what? human anatomy IS DIFFICULT to learn, the human body IS COMPLEX, no doubt about it but life drawing chops are no different than any other kind of skill worth acquiring to become good at anything you choose to do in life and if your chosen profession, vocation or hobby includes depicting living things, regardless of style, you should get to know your subject matter as thoroughly as possible, Heck! salesmen, the biggest scum of the earth, learn how their products are put together and develop a real thorough understanding of how they work from the inside out, not to be able to one day fix them, but rather to convincingly sell the products and services they offer.
If sales people take the time to learn intricate contraptions and the complicated inner workings of devices they might only be selling for a few months why not us, artists, who can and will use our knowledge for the rest of our lives?
The answer is MOTIVATION, yes, that's all that comes between you and mastering your craft. Sales people see a direct (and fast) connection between boring knowledge and money, the more knowledgeable they are about the subject the more successful they will become at convincing people to buy it. They're so motivated by the end result, they don't even stop to think about how boring and unispired those manuals seem to be, to them, those otherwise boring pamphlets and product guides are the key to success, in real human terms: financial success.
While there are obvious differences in both professions, I honestly don't see why we, artists, can't look at anatomy books and at learning the secrets of the human figure by drawing from life, furiously and on a consistent basis with any less importance. The payoff (being able to draw whatever you want, anyway you want it, convincingly without fear should be your motivation, putting aside the more noble and artistic merits of a solid art education, which should be rewarding in itself, and if you only think in terms of financial gain, think about this: the more knowledgeable artists are the best equipped to earn a more lucrative living. If you still don't find motivation to go back to basics then you're not serious about your art, and that's fine too, but if that's the case, you can forget about quick tips to make your horrible drawings any more appealing, it ain't happening!
If you really have a dislike for "realistic" drawing, as defined by the ignorants out there, then go find something else to waste your time on. I don't fancy myself as an authority on figure drawing, far from it, and trust me I say this without an iota of hipocrisy or false modesty, I'm light years away from where I'd like to be artistically, but still I get tons of requests from fellow artists and students to evaluate their portfolios and to give advice or tips on how to improve their figure drawing (namely female drawings) How can I tell someone who has mastered the art of rendering to an enviable extent, that his figure drawing lacks the proper foundation, that his women lack 'life'? and I don't mean "realistic" quality, I mean excitement, believability, readability, character and appeal.
What tips can I give someone seeking a quick fix, a Photoshop filter to a lifetime of neglect an avoidance of the basic principles of human anatomy? People just want a few shortcuts to make their cartoon women (or men or animals) more appealing, what's so wrong with that? . . .Well, plenty! Without learning how the body (human or animal) looks and works in life, we can't draw credible cartoon characters, whether animals or human, or a mix therein.
This is one of the most courteous and respectful exchanges I've encountered. I really like the way these nice people behaved towards one another, there was a real sense of community, people giving good, constructive criticism and sound advice, trying to help without scolding each other and without being mean-spirited at all.
The following is an actual chat, which has been edited for continuity's sake and the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Any resemblance to living persons is absolutely intentional. Don't sue me, I'm broke.
Ronald is a comic book artist looking for help to improve his drawings of women in his manga-style comic.
Ronald: Can anyone point me to so good resources, or somethings to specifically do or look for?
Jeremy: . . . Loomis was grounded in the glamorous advertising style of the 1940s, so he has a very classical approach, but he teaches the ins and outs of construction, composition, anatomy and form beautifully.
He draws beautiful men and women and his lessons on creating a mannequin and proportions for the body as well as his extensive lessons on constructing the face are indispensable.
I'd start with "Figure Drawing For All It's Worth", but he goes into more detail on the face and skull in "Fun With A Pencil"
Theresa: The best way to learn to draw anything is to learn to draw it from life -- or at least from photos! The good news is that this will involve you looking at lots of ladies in the buff or with swimsuits on.
Loomis is also a good place to start -- but I definitely recommend going back to real life whenever you can.
Ronald: Some good resources here. I guess I don't see how drawing to life would help because I'm not trying to draw realism, I'm trying to draw cartoony.
Jeremy: Drawing from life is ESSENTIAL no matter what style you're working in, whether it's Charles Schulz or Norman Rockwell.
In drawing from life you learn and internalize the way the body works, the way the face works. Then when you draw cartoony, you simplify and essentalize that knowledge into your cartoons. It makes them more authentic, more clearly readable, and more attractive.
Theresa: But a cartoon is real life distorted for a specific effect. If you try for the distortion without understanding the basis of it, how likely are you to succeed? Exaggeration in a way that is both successful and appealing is not easy! And it's even harder when you start out with no basis at all . . . .
. . . .Pish-toshing at real life because you "don't want to do realism" is cheating you of that great experience with 3D that makes cartoons look like a world of their own. Most animators have a bunch of life classes under their belts, even though they might end up working on highly stylized designs. It shows, too -- most animators can draw circles around you and me.
Ronald: I'll have to look more at these examples later.
I'm still very resistant to realistic drawing. I always figured one draws simple first... and then add a buncha crap to make it realistic. I don't like drawing realistic, and not a big fan of realistically drawn comics.
I'll draw a realistic image some time though, and post it.
I'm positive making proper skeletons would benefit me as well. My friend has been trying to get me to take a class, but this hobby is already so expensive o_O
Still thanks for all of the advice so far.
Christopher: It is actually the other way around. First you draw realistic, then you take out a buncha crap :)
Seriously thought, that idea that "I draw cartoony so why should I learn to draw realistic stuff" is the main reason why a lot of artist scoff at manga artists, because a lot of manga artist rely completely on 'How to Draw Manga' books and not on learning the basis of real life drawing.
I'll be honest, I started out that way, and it's been hell and a bit of purgatory trying to get rid of a lot of 'shortcuts' I learned when I was younger . . .
Jeremy: Alex Toth famously said "I spent the first half of my career learning what to draw, and the second half learning what not to draw."
The more you do life drawings the better your cartooning becomes. They support each other.
Ronald: I'm fairly decent at mimicking, i think, but drawing without an example sure is tough for me. I always feel like I'm cheating... drawing from example that is... but I guess that is the "learning process" :/
Stephane: It absolutely ain't cheating. All artists do it. It's also the only way to learn.
Christopher: It's a two-step process. You only get to draw things out of your head after you've practiced drawing them while looking at them for a long time.
My advice is to find somewhere local you can do life drawing sessions. Nothing beats drawing a person standing right there in front of you. It takes a surprisingly short amount of time to get over the fact that they're nekked :)
Ronald: I challenge that. My libido may not let me concentrate, and my moral syste, would be like "Stop gawking! She's a person dammit!" I mean, yea, she may be a model, and she knows what she's doing... but that is just, well, the pinacle of treating a woman like an object isn't it? I'd feel better if I knew her first I think.... I have a couple women friends that actually might be keen on it.
Christopher: Of course you're treating her like an object! That's why it's not shexy! In gesture drawing a person and a bowl of fruit are of equal value- except that only one of the two will help you draw comic characters.
Jeremy: Seriously, most men and women models in life drawing classes are NOT sexy. :)
It does happen, but most of the time they just look like normal people in normal poses with no clotheses.
Ronald: I'm not saying I'm not attracted to slender and/or athletic women, I just try to draw women... well... more "realistic" in their build :D
Theresa: You don't get any time to sit around like a loose-jawed yokel in your usual life session. They usually jump right into short poses (30 seconds to 2 minutes) and you have to scramble to get the pose down. By the time they've hit the longer poses, you've had some time to get used to it.
Stephane: Nothing wrong with enjoying the appearance of women. most of them probably want that. just as long as you still manage to treat them with respect.