Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Some construction sketches
I was asked to post some sketches showing how I roughed out the structure of my characters, so here we go!
Before I get into any details, I must first apologize for being a horrible spokesman for art. The thing is... I do everything wrong. I learned wrong. I practiced wrong. I shortcut instead of doing it properly. I can only get away with what I do because I've done it long enough that I can fudge most of it and that I stick with simple designs. I can pull off a comic most of the times, but anything that requires me to move beyond my comfort zone reminds me of how badly I screwed up my art education. I write this paragraph not to disparage myself, but to be a cautionary tale. Yeah, I guess you can follow my path and make it work as well as I make my stuff work, but there are some consequences.
I've always wanted to draw in a cartoony style. When I first began practicing, I grabbed cartoony stuff I liked and tried to imitate it. That's good. Tracing and copying work you like helps muscle memory and provides the building blocks of what will eventually become your style. Don't feel bad about doing it. Just don't ONLY do that. That is where I went horribly wrong. The reason the cartoonists I admire were so great is because they didn't go directly to cartooning. They learned the rules of construction, anatomy and composition - then they learned to tweak them until the look was expressively cartoony. If you learn to draw cartoony directly, you can only draw cartoony. If you learn the basic, you can draw anything with a little practice. Plus, you'll have a much understanding of WHY certain cartoony drawing works.
It's very daunting to look at anatomy books or drawing manuals - especially if those figures aren't what you want to end up with - but it's work the time investment. You can practice both cartoony and regular anatomy at the same time - and eventually they'll merge into something neat! On of my biggest regrets in life is skipping this step. Even a minor focus on construction and anatomy would have saved me so much humiliation in the long run.
But enough regret! It's time for the useful stuff! Construction sketches are all about roughing out where everything in a final drawing will go. Cartoony or not, creatures still have anatomy and that must be respected no matter how distorted it all is!
The first step in making a drawing is thumbnailing. You make small, quick sketches to figure out the pose and composition. I'm going ahead as if we're only drawing a figure, but I should probably mention you always sketch the backgrounds FIRST when composing so the figures can fit into the setting more naturally. If I'm doing a composition, I work on the pose with a basic wire structure (a glorified stick figure) and add in more shapes to fill out the figure once I have something that might work. When you have a thumbnail that works, it's time to move on.
The thumbnail gives you a basic pose, so now it's time to replicate it in the final size. There are many many schools on how to handle this stage, and I never learned any of them, so I'm gonna wing it! You start by roughing out the FULL BODY loosely. This can be either with a wire frame, or with loose shapes that approximate the body. (I tend to construct a body as a series of ovals, as seen in the large Kaitlyn sketch.) The next step is refining it. Begin treating the rough structure as if it was 3d. If you drew a circle for a head, turn it into a sphere or egg (depending on cartooniness). A rectangle for the torso? Turn it into a box atop an egg.
For the head sphere thingy, you'll be drawing three loops. One to show the shape of the head, one to serve as an equator and one meridian to give you a point to align everything. This gives you a little map of where to place the facial features. Where the equator and meridian cross, the nose goes! If you're doing a cartoon animal, you'll want to build a muzzle. Do that by adding a small cylinder to the area.
Now that you've got the head oriented, you can place your facial features. Align them however they look in your cartoony style. (Consult REAL artists for proper placement locations.) If you're mimicking Precocious, you'll be warping your sphere to add some cheek fluff and sketching in some half-cones for ears.
Is the face coming together? Good! STOP! It's so easy to get caught up in focusing on the face, but we're drawing a full body here! You've got to give the whole figure equal attention, or you risk a nice face being wasted on an awkward, distracting body. Use your body structure's 3d lines to help you map out how clothing will fit and drape. (Yes, a properly-drawn character is always naked until the final stages. No giggling. And, no, I don't properly draw my characters.) Take your sketching to whatever level of detail is needed for your to feel comfortable before you start inking. (I do a full detailed sketch here, since my work is simple anyway. Some artists leave the finer details to the inking.)
Keep going back and adding more details, using all your guide lines for help. This is why most artists work in light blue to start. All those construction lines can add up and get in the way if you sketch too dark. The benefits of blue lines is that scanning software is usually programmed to filter them out. Alternately, you just let your ink dry and erase the guide lines.
So that's my attempt to help, even if I'm one of the worst when it comes to not doing things right. (Seriously, if you get lazy and use shortcuts in construction, it'll catch up to you!) To make up for my failings, here are some more helpful links. Tracy of Lackadaisy Cats shows you her construction method here. Warning: She is so good at art that you might want to quit forever after seeing what she does. My favorite resource for work-in-action is the great Nattosoup blog by Becca Hillburn. She is very well-read on anatomy and construction, which makes her "art dump" sharing of sketches a marvelous resource for those looking to see how it all works.