I’ve been working on an animation project for the last couple of months, and it’s really underlined a weakness in my drawing. In the first phase of the project, I did a bunch of character design work, which was so in my wheelhouse (and for such a strong, really fun concept) that it was pure pleasure to work on. But then when we moved to the storyboard phase it turned really hard all of a sudden. The reason being that it’s very easy, especially with a style like mine, to render characters floating in a two-dimensional space. You can just pick fun, flat forms, arrange them however you please to make an interesting design, splash a little style on there as you go, and voila! But when those designs have to move, suddenly you’re confronted with the dread necessity to move those cool 2D shapes into a 3D space: have them coming at the camera, moving away from it, throwing things over the camera, etc.
Basically, foreshortening. Or: my kryptonite. So in my warmup drawings I’ve been trying to think harder about how shapes are arranged in sequence in a 3D form. Like, if someone is standing in front of you and reaches their hand towards you, the important part is the hand, not the arm behind it that you can barely see anyway. When I draw foreshortened figures, I always catch myself drawing the whole arm; even thinking about where the elbow would bend and whether that might wrinkle the fabric or something. Which doesn’t make any sense: what I want is for a person to see a hand coming at them. The hand is the part that needs to get seen, the arm is at best just some skin that connects the hand to something else behind it.
This morning I redrew this photo of Marvin Gaye from the always-great Vintage Soul Music tumblr, and tried to think in terms of forms in layers. I started with inked blue lines of the basic forms, then snuck in a stab at rendered shapes in red pencil, then came in at the end and tried to ink only what was important for the drawing to “read.” I definitely didn’t succeed how I wanted to, but it was a pretty interesting little exercise, so I scrawled notes as they occurred to me.
If there’s one thing I’m not interested in—at all—it’s drawing photorealistically. I’m a cartoonist, and I’m interested in using cartooning to abstract a figure into a shape that’s useful due to that abstraction. Like, you take most of the figure away, then add a little bit of yourself, and pow! you have a cartoon. But as a cartoonist, and as someone who draws in a very two-dimensional style—the above drawing is way more rendered than I normally would bother with—I have to think about 2D shapes as the flat apparent edge of the 3D shapes their meant to represent. Does that make sense? Maybe not.
ANYway, it seemed like useful advice so I thought I’d share it! Hopefully Robin Thicke won’t sue me for appropriating an image of Marvin Gaye for this exercise.