I started drawing comic art when I was 11 or 12 years old. Like many young people, my first drawing experiences were based on looking at and learning to draw the comics I saw in the newspapers or in comic books. I would look at the comic characters and try to reproduce them on paper. My earliest drawings were characters like Yogi Bear and the cavemen from the comicstrip B.C. It was lots of fun, but in hindsight, because I was only looking at finished art, and very flat two dimensional styles of art, I started out thinking that comic drawing was all about lines on paper.
Later, I would try to draw in the Disney and Warner Bros styles and became very frustrated at how difficult and elusive they were to reproduce. Something was missing in my approach. Most cartooning books that I read were over simplified and reenforced flat line oriented drawing. Then I found some books about animation that talked about solid drawing. Animation depends on understanding movement, on weight and balance. That was my first exposure to forms and construction in drawing, the missing piece of the puzzle. Characters were “sculpted” on top of basic 3D forms. Had I originally been exposed to pictures of these animation drawing process steps, and not just finished flat art, these concepts would have been so much easier to understand. Some people seem to be born able to easily visualize underlying forms and structure, but for some of us, it’s a learning process based on lots of practice to help us develop our artistic eye.
In this article, I hope to demonstrate aspects of my drawing process. I’ve been doing this for a really long time and I realize that there are probably many steps that I follow almost subconsciously, so if something seems to be missing in my explanations don’t hesitate to ask me for clarification.
Dr. Beauregard is a villainous squirrel. He is sort of a mash-up between a Disney forest critter and a Tex Avery off the wall wacko. He has a very simple non-squirrel comic body, except for his tail, but his real expressive character is in his head.
Here’s my approach to constructing Dr. B’s head. I try to visualize a solid form, not really a true sphere, but more of a bean shape. So I have this bean on a stick that I move around in my head to position the squirrel’s head.
It’s just an oval until you add the contours. So lesson one in visualization is to learn to turn the form in different orientations and see it as a solid. Those contours are not for show they are a critical part of solid drawing, they help to define shape and direction and orientation of solid forms.
Once you are comfortable visualizing and turning your bean form, you can begin to layer on shapes that represent the underlying bone and muscle that define his facial structure. I like to think of this like I’m wrapping bits of clay around the bean to build up the 3D structure of his head. Facial expressions are controlled by muscle movements, expansions, contractions, contortions of the skin above by the muscles below. More importantly, step two in the process is to train your eye to see lines as representing the edges for solid forms. Nature is comprised of forms not lines, drawing lines is just a way to describe forms.
Once you have your underlying framework, you add his eye shapes, pupils, nose, teeth etc. He comes to life. I like to refer to the layer above the forms as the personality layer.
An important trick, that I learned from studying the work of the great Warner Bros. cartoon director Chuck Jones, is the subtle importance of simple tiny movements or changes in the underlying muscles. The small muscle variations are the key to significant expression changes. There is all sorts of nuance in a raised brow or a curved cheek muscle. Eye shape and pupil placement are windows to what’s going on inside that character’s peanut brain.
That’s all for my first set of thoughts on solid drawing. I hope it is helpful. I plan to do more articles of this type in the future. Remember, there is never only one way to learn or do anything. My goal is to share how I learned to do what I do. Your questions , comments and suggestions are encouraged and totally welcomed.