Sunday, December 14, 2008

The third dimension is the worst

When working in a flat medium, showing depth can at times be damned difficult.

If I point my finger directly at you, all you see is a hand floating in front of me, as the rest of the arm is blocked. You know the arm is there, since you just saw it go up into the pointing motion. (Imagine the Donald Sutherland Body Snatches point here.) In a flat picture, you don't see the past of the figure - all you get is what you are given. Sure, chances are there's an arm behind that hand, but you can't be sure!

Worse is foreshortening, when the laws of perspective kick an artist's ass. If arm swings side to side, that's easy since it's the same length no matter the pose. If said arm begins swinging back and forth, things get dicey. Shading helps in most media; but what if one is working with something not conducive to shading... like pen and ink? Without lots of detailed crosshatching, an arm extending into the foreground looks like a strange, malformed appendage. The artist has to be an expert inker (I'm not) or pray the reader figures out what things look odd. For someone at my skill level, this means a lot of somewhat robotic, flat poses. Straight arms go out or down, as any change in depth looks like a mutation. Bent arms are drawn so the viewer can see the proper arm length - even if foreshortening is called for.

Traditional laws of perspective don't always work in cartooning. In motion, body parts get hidden by other body parts all the time, but we know they'll be back. In a static cartoon image, the natural look becomes unnatural. The cartoonist has to tweak perspective to let the viewer know the missing parts are there.

For faces, it's like folding the hidden side of the face out. If a character has bangs, you show the bangs for both sides of the face in the drawing, even though the far side should be hidden from view. Same with ears; the far ear would be hidden or appear as a small point over the hair, but a cartoonist has to draw the second ear fairly prominently. When these things are analyzed, it is horribly incorrect - but to the eye it looks more acceptable than the technically correct drawing.

Once again, tonight started with an impromptu colored pencil drawing. This time, the subject was the supposedly-elusive Sydney Oven. Considering how many times she's shown up on this blog, I think she's losing her mystique.

The pose I picked is one that involves a mass of perspective faith. I was challenging myself to let go and see if it worked.

Should the right ear be drawn or left off? With the Scottish fold thing, it means the ears are often borderline in that they might or might not be seen. It's far too easy to draw in the hint of the back ear, even when it shouldn't be there, to give artistic confirmation that it is indeed there. There's also the issue of the visible ear, which is presented in a flat manner so I could easier draw the earrings. This is incorrect, but does it work visually?

Sydney has short hair that is usually pulled back in a small ponytail. Again, I feel a great need to draw the ponytail because otherwise people might assume her breezy Bud-like part is all there is. I had been towing with lengthening her hair to get around the issue, but sometimes there is still no way the ponytail would be seen. Like the ear, the ponytail is hidden.

I had passed two tests at that point, but I just could not let that hidden arm stay hidden. Putting the fist playfully touching the shoulder is one thing, as a reader should realize the arm is hidden by the body and jacket, but I was not content to leave it alone. Instead I drew a hint to the rest of the arm, which was meant to show the fist got to the shoulder via elbow and not mutation. Problem is... the unnatural arm length is now put in play. I should have hidden the sleeve or allowed the arm to be hidden completely.

Sydney's left appendages show the good and choke job of foreshortening. Her left arm looks perfectly natural as it implies a bit of depth to the limb. The leg, however, is where I got scared. In a pose that is twist, I drew the leg as if it was on a two-dimensional plane. It should have tapered a bit to indicate the foot was extending into the background. Instead, I was forced to draw a "wall" into the background to hint that the awkward position might be due to her foot resting against an object. The other left also became a straight up and down affair due to my perspective fuck up. It could have also shown dynamic movement, but instead it had to be static to show she was twirling in place rather than moving through space.

It was good practice to take on a sketch like this. This was also supposed to be a test of coloring, but that became rather secondary. For that, I'll say she wasn't originally meant to have red hair - I used the wrong pencil - but it's not too bad and I may go with it.

I hope I explained well enough why this drawing was far more complex that it appears. Almost every element was challenge due to the conflict between what was technically correct and what was visually correct. Some treatments were successes and some ventured into hieroglyphics territory. People know the ancient Egyptian portraiture style involved rendering everything flat and front-facing even if the figure was in profile, right? It's somewhat comforting to know the same cartooning tricks used now have been around for thousands of years. It's not failure - it's historical homage!

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