I saw an interesting article via Cartoon Brew, that they found on the NY Times website, and I thought it needed more exposure. It’s an editorial, of sorts, by Michael Graves, one of the most celebrated architects since the 1980s. In it, he bemoans the dominance of computer “assisted” architectural design, or more importantly, he complains about the lack of actual drawing in the industry.

I’ve tried writing this post a few times, but it keeps turning into a soapbox of my feelings about “digitally drawn” comics and a similar opinion to that of Mr. Graves. I’ll attempt to distill that into something for a future post, but until that miracle happens, take a look at the NY TImes article. Anyone that cares about art, and the process of it, will enjoy this. I’ll sum up most of my feelings here with the idea that computers are a tool, to assist, not something just to insanely shorten deadlines and kill the thinking process.

Here’s a link if the one above fails—


NGA: Update

September 14, 2011

So I got back to the NGA recently and cranked out a couple more images. Those that read this blog (hand count?) will remember my bit about drapery, and how I study paintings, and sketch sculptures for practice with that particular beast.

As I mentioned before, one sculpture that I truly love is Bust of a Veiled Woman, by Albert-Ernest Carrer-Belleuse from 1865, and one drawing of it can be seen in this previous post. I mentioned I would post additional drawings from other angles, done in my effort to learn from “drawing in the round”. So here’s one for comparison—

For those of you not living in the DC area, or unable to get down to the NGA, here are some pics I took of the sculpture so you can get a sense of what the original actually looks like.

While there I also got a chance to draw the painting “Marchesa Balbi” by Sir Anthony Van Dyck from 1623. I’ve drawn it before, and it’s interesting to me to see what I paid attention to one time, got right once, or failed with. It’s all about practice, learning, and studying. Like a hockey team, you can beat a team one week, and then lose to the same team a week later.

First try, about a year ago…

"Marchesa Balbi" by Sir Anthony Van Dyck

This time, similar, but different. Better? Worse? Good? Bad? We’ll let ALCOA be the judge.

On an unrelated note, I’d like to point out that I’m new to the iPad world, and because of that I’m never sure how a page will appear in that format. The WordPress blog has a neat feature for the iPad where it formats the last five posts into chronological order ,with the most recent at the top and the four previous ones below it. It also includes a swipe of the first image appearing in each post, but there’s no way to control what section of the image it picks. Sometimes it looks really neat, other times… well you be the judge. I’d just like to point out, I have no control over this, so to any female readers- my apologies; I’m not really as big of a perv as my iPad implies.

Going back to NGA- undercover

September 4, 2011

Ok, those that follow the blog (yes, I know I’m only talking to two moms, a wife, a sis-in-law, one nosy lawyer, and a couple of ex-co-workers) will remember the post about my run-in with a rent a cop at the National Gallery. Despite that experience, I snuck back into the museum and attempted to do a little sketching. I kept to the main rooms, and tried to be quick about it. Part of me didn’t want to attempt this, but I felt I was only hurting myself if I didn’t.

As much as I enjoy life drawing (see previous post) my one gripe is that they never drape the figure. It would be so much fun to face the challenge of a robed figure. I know there are those who are against it on artistic principles – we’re there to study the form, you can’t draw clothes without understanding the form – Yea, but you also can’t draw drapery if you don’t practice drawing it either! Folds are organic and they never happen the same way twice. They’re altered by the thickness of the material, the humidity in the air, how the body is shaped, and the slightest variation in motion when creating the fold.

One of the things I enjoy most about going to the National Gallery is studying how the great, classically trained, artists resolved problems of drapery. By doing sketches the way I do, it’s not so much about copying their work as it is forcing myself to examine what it is they were doing.

Being fearful of another confrontation, this was more of a guerilla run into the gallery. Quick and straight to the point.

First was this painting by Adriaen Hanneman of Henry, Duke of Gloucester from 1653.



Notice the folds in the slashed sleeves, I’m not an expert on terminology of fashion, especially not of post-Tudor times; but it’s apparent that the outer garment sleeve is of a thicker material, where the under/interior shirt is of a lighter, thinner fabric. These are the types of challenges that you don’t normally get in a figure drawing session, and for illustrators, I think it’s incredibly important to know these differences. A linen shirt, a tweed jacket, and a thick wool overcoat, will not form folds in the same way, nor will they react the same when wet, or worn. Thick wool will make fewer, larger folds, and linen will make smaller, multiple, finer folds. It sounds obvious, but the visual contrast can be stunning, and when those same materials are wet, they are even more dramatically different in their response to creasing. Again, something you never get to experience in a simple, figure study class.

One of the best, and traditional practices in art is to draw from sculptures or plaster casts. It was a way for young artists, who couldn’t afford a model, to draw “in the round”. You could see the image from multiple angles, and therefore get a better understanding of how the image changed depending on what your vantage point was. One of my favorite sculptures to do this with is by Albert-Ernest Carrer-Belleuse’s Bust of a Veiled Woman, from 1865. I love this one for several reasons, obviously a beautiful woman, but I love being able to study the drapery from various angles. I’ve drawn this one many times, and will probably do so again. Next time I do, I’ll post it so you can see how a simple turn can change an image so dramatically.


The Great Falsehood

August 12, 2010

All images are included here strictly for educational purposes- all rights belong to the proper copyright owners. I don’t own squat.

Brian Stelfreeze once told me “There’s no such thing as one point perspective”, I argued, and I was wrong. What he meant was when we’re taught one point perspective as a shortcut, and usually we’re only shown half the theory. It’s used as an introduction to the complex nature of perspective, but most of us never get the whole truth and accept the stripped down version as an absolute over time. It isn’t. The simple fact is, there’s no such thing as true one-point perspective, it’s all multiple point perspective, but the limitations of a vantage point make the other Vanishing Points (VPs) less obvious. It’s only how lazy we are that dictates how few points we use. We limit it to two or three for simplicity, but the fact is, in real life we’re surrounded with billions of VPs, and in some cases multiple Horizon Lines*!

When we learn one-point perspective as kids, it’s usually drawing a train tunnel, hall way, or some such nonsense. We start with the tracks as usual, vanishing off to the Horizon Line (HL) and this is where we got side-swiped as kids. When we place the wooden ties under the rails, as kids, we’re taught to just draw them straight across and we’re done. Truth is, the moment you move to the right or left of those tracks, it slowly falls apart. At center point of the image, there’s the illusion that things fall straight across in the middle. What is really happening is a subtle slope to two VPs on both sides; it’s gradual but it’s there. If we were only drawing the tracks we might get away with this, but when we move past this ultra simple image and start to create an environment around them, the image will start to fail. Any structure we place around the train ties, to the left or right, above or below the center point immediately falls victim to this falsehood. Andrew Loomis did a good job explaining it in the illustration below.

One-point, you can stretch it, but eventually like a rubber band- it'll break!

See the little box around the viewer’s head- in essence that’s the viewing area where you can cheat the concept of one-point perspective before things begin to fall apart, it’s not to say it works, it just means at a glance it won’t scream “failure”.

Below is a brick bridge built over some train tracks, and at first glance it looks straight across at all points. Our one-point perspective is safe! ~ Wrong.

the good old train track trick

When we rule lines straight across and space them out evenly up and down the image, first glance, things are still looking pretty good.

1-point theory- all we need are straight lines across the middle!

No, wait a second, look the top of the bridge? Or the interior cabin of the train we’re on? Or the ties on the lower right hand corner of the image! We might have to pull out our type ruler for the perspective on this one, because that’s what drawing things properly requires! We’re not in this to make things easy on ourselves, we do it because we enjoy creating an image that we want our viewers to believe, and just like crummy anatomy on a figure, lazy perspective can do just as much damage.

Whew- it's way out there- glad we know that type ruler trick!

When we set up our outside VPs, we can rule out where the edges truly fall. It’s then that we can see things aren’t quite what they’ve seemed.

Blimey- there be slopes at the edges of of me image!

Not everything works going straight across as promised by one-point perspective, especially further away from the center point our edges get!

Well just look at that!

As you move closer to that center point you can see how what was once our one-point perspective begins to dominate. This is the transition point to the left side VP and it’s influence away from the right side VP. What’s really happening is 3 point perspective (at the very least) with the center point dominating, and the two side points pulling out to the far edges, but ever so slightly.

Wrap your head around this-dat!

So can you cheat, and do simple one point perspective as we were taught in grade school? Sure, just don’t draw anything except cartoon train tunnels and tracks. You’ll often see the failings of it in amateur drawings. Where hallways have doors that appear to be painted on, and things are obviously out of proportions. Part of the problem is that people believe just by following the perspective lines, it means the image must be correct. Usually it isn’t and things end up looking flat and sterile, but worse they ignore the proportions of the image. For example, do these doors have enough space to open? Do people have enough room to move down the hall? What about when they reach the end? Can they turn the corner and go down the other end of the hall?

Note the flat nature of the doors and width of hall

If you want to see some amazing perspective work, check out Cannabis Works by Tatsuyuki Tanaka, he’s a Japanese artist who has designed backgrounds for films such as Akira.

Available thru companies like animebooks.com

It’s an amazing use of perspective, and puts mine to shame. He does some wonderful images involving stairwells with about 50 VPs and multiple HLs going on. It’s simply amazing. Here are a couple of examples of his “one-point” perspective, see if you can tell how many VPs he’s actually using.

Practically the same shot as above- much more developed

Now look at this “fish-eye” effect he’s done- try that with only one-point.

I wanna break his hands- he's too good!

*As mentioned in the beginning, multiple horizon lines are complex, but in truth it’s any change in the viewer’s line of vision up or down. Since HLs are based on the “POV” of the viewer; changing that POV changes the HL. This happens when one is looking down a stairwell or up into the sky. It’s a difficult concept to explain and the best I can do is give you this illustration by Andrew Loomis.

Ow, ow, ow, ow!

Note how the environment at the bottom of the hill is in perspective, but he’s actually dropped a VP to a lower level to make those items accurate. In essence he’s made a second HL at that level to accomplish that, and it’s in line with what our heads would do and the angle our eye line would take. Since a HL is based on our eye line, by looking down to see the town at the bottom of the hill, we instantly establish a second HL. Whew- makes my brain hurt!

Sketch, rinse, repeat.

May 23, 2010

Almost every time I see someone getting a portfolio review it ends with the same comment, “Sketch from life”. Invariably you can tell which artists listen to this and which ones don’t based on one simple fact, what their work looks like the next time you see it. I know artists, and even some friends, who never heed this advice. Over the course of years, I never see any improvement in their work, yet they always talk about how they’re on the verge of getting a big break at Marvel or DC. It never happens.

When I moved to Washington, not knowing a soul, I spent a lot of time at the local coffee house sketching, and sketching, and sketching. Within six months I felt I had improved more than I had in the previous five years. Why? Sketching. It’s not something I have a ton of time for anymore, but I try to get out there and do it whenever possible.

Why do it though? What does it actually help with, other than filling time and justifying the adage of “practice makes perfect”? What’s so damn helpful about it that drawing super heroes from imagination all day doesn’t do?

Sketching from life isn’t some snooty requirement of art schools- it serves a purpose. It trains the eye and brain in all the basics of drafting at once. Every sketch done from real life is a crash course in drawing. It trains one to see proportions, perspective, anatomy, shading, textures, dynamics, composition, etc, all at the same time. There’s not a wasted moment with sketching from life, not that I’ve found. Drawing from imagination, before you’ve learned how to draw to begin with, only reinforces your mistakes and poor decision making.

Despite slight variations in design, we all know the approximate height that a seat of a chair should be in relationship to the human body, how high a counter top in a kitchen is, the width that a chair/couch needs to be to accommodate an adult human, or how wide/tall a door needs to be to allow a person through it. The practice of drawing those proportions makes us more aware of the relationships between objects, so when we are drawing from imagination, we can gauge these fabricated spacial relationships more accurately. Artists who fail to understand these proportions will convey it in their images, often that is what feels off about a drawing. One common mistake I see is in overhead (bird eye angle) shots of people standing next to a car that they could never fit in. Sometimes, it’s a dining table way too short for people to fit their knees under should they have a meal at it. These are obvious mistakes to spot, mainly because we see these spacial relationships between humans and objects every day.

Clothing is the same, many artists can not draw a suit jacket to save their lives. It’s one of the most common costumes seen in comic books, yet so many artists can’t do it. Clark Kent = suit, office workers on street when heroes are fighting = suits, mobsters = suits, secret service agents = suits, hell, any government agency guys = suits. Folds in fabric are like snowflakes, never the same twice, but subject to certain consistencies by their nature. Cloth has certain tendencies, but no hard fast rules, yet again, it’s obvious to the eye when it’s drawn incorrectly. Drawing from life is the best education an artist can get for rendering fabric. Yes, understanding the basics of drapery is beneficial, such as how folds tend to radiate out from a pinch point, and how they stretch from whatever structure they snag upon; from an elbow to a knee. But sketching from life trains the mind to understand how clothing moves on the form, so when you draw cloth from imagination, you have a sense of how it should look. Pant cuffs around the ankle are some of the most difficult as they change shape drastically from standing position to sitting down. An artist has to be aware of these tendencies for in those subtle, but highly important, details one can make or break a drawing.

Drawing from life will help an artist more than all the books, lectures, suggestions, or insights anyone can give. My wife read an article that said it takes 10,000 hours of practice (on average) for a person to master any skill. I know I’m not even half way there yet, and we all need the practice. This doesn’t mean an artist should labor all of those 10,000 hours on one drawing trying to get it perfect. Jason Pearson told me about an artist who used to show him artwork at conventions, Jason would critique it, and months later that same artist would show Jason the same pages with the corrections. Jason said the artist did this several times, always showing him the same pages for critique, as if he got those pages perfect, then he would get work. Jason told the guy, “You need to do new pages every time, not just continually correct these. You’ll never learn how to handle new challenges if you only address these over and over. Plus, when working on a book your schedule only allows about a day to each page. What publisher is going to give you six months to get one page right?” The basic idea is to sketch, rinse, repeat. As an artist you learn more from the challenges in a blank sheet of paper, than you ever will in perfecting one image. By the end of a month, what would you rather have? 100 sketches showing a clear, forward progression of skill? Or one drawing you think is perfect now, but will find fault in within the week? I’ve never known a great artist who thought they had done a perfect drawing. I have known plenty of artists who think they’re ready to go pro, and all the guys working just don’t know it yet.

Now, shuddap and go sketch something.