Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Learning From Copying:
These (mostly) Hellboy pieces (from around 2003-4) are compositional recreations of panels from the comics each done in marker on index cards (and then run through a photoshop filter) and were done purely for the sake of learning. I was trying to improve my compositions (in an abstract 2D design sense) by copying Mignola's big bold shapes (and a Frank Miller Sin City piece for good measure). It was a great tool in getting me to think about defining forms with the space around them, editing an image down to the essentials, forcing horizontals, verticals and diagonal compositions, and visual flow through an image.
Telling stories in comics has a lot to do with 2D design problem solving. Fitting the subjects into a panel, giving a sense of background, leaving room for the type (to be read in the correct order) and getting the reader's eye to move not only through each panel, but through the page as a whole. And none of that has to do with drawing per se. And that was what I hoped to have as my take-a-way lesson from this exercise. While the was time in my life I wanted desperately to draw like my heroes, when these drawings were made I was trying to learn from them instead.
Little practice sessions like this where you look to people who are successful in a specific aspect of image or comic making and then personally dissecting it through mimicry is a great way to figure out your own artistic voice. Even in just who you choose to focus on is a statement about you as an artist, and what you take from the copying lesson may be very different from what someone else (or even the subject artist) feels is important about their work.
The key though, is to stop copying and then apply the gathered information to your own work. You aren't trying to draw like Mike Mignola, or Frank Miller, or Jim Lee... you are trying to see what part of their storytelling or imagemaking you can take as an abstract lesson and apply to your own work. And the lessons learned need to go deeper than "Artist Hero A draws noses/eyes/mouths/hair/hands like this" or "a big jagged shadow is how Hero Artist B would solve this composition". What exaggerated expression or subtlety is the Hero Artist getting from drawing hands/hair/faces that way? Where is that jagged shadow leading your eye in the hero artist's work...and what can you do in your own work to lead your readers eye as you wish?
Putting all their books back on the shelf, and then drawing somewhere isolated (where you are not tempted to look at their work again) will be helpful, keeping in mind things like "what do I like about Artist X's compositions for horizontal panels" or "How can I get action in my work like the action I like in Artist X's pages" or "I like how loose & free/tight & detailed Artist X's work is"... all the while drawing like yourself
Last week's Watercolor Wednesday pieces were originals of mine (not characters created by or belonging to someone else). Here are better looks at the pieces in case you missed them. The first was a Greenman face. I saw a lot of Greenman variations when I worked at Materials Unlimited, an architectural antique store. The face of a Greenman was used in lots of castings and carvings on mantels and furniture, building ornamentation, even light fixtures. This was my version starting with loose pencils and moving quickly into watercolor shapes & tones.
The second Watercolor Wednesday piece from last week was a variation on a character from my old unfinished comic with Jesse Glenn called Jesters. This version of Donovan seems to have more in common with the character Clopin from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I still see it as Donovan (and a nice way to move the character away from a direct translation of me in my 1995 Halloween costume)
Tomorrow I'll post a new original watercolor piece in my online store and I'll tweet and Facebook update when the new art is available.
New York Comic Con: Oct 11-14
Detroit Fanfare: Oct 26-28
Thought Bubble: Nov 17-18
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