Monday, September 3, 2007
Back to the Old Drawing Board
Today's post comes about from a smattering of posts around the bloggosphere that I've noticed lately concerning a very fundamental, but oft overlooked truth about creating art. Whether illustrating children's books, animating cartoons, or creating charactures (list not exclusive), it is absolutely crucial that an artist be well-educated (and well-practiced) in drawing. Friend and skilled draughtsman Brent Eviston (his art featured above) beautifully describes the importance of having a thorough understanding of the foundations of drawing in this way:
There are numerous master painters throughout history who have insisted on seeing only aspiring apprentices drawings, not paintings, in order to see whether they had any future in art. I believe that this is because of the immediacy and honesty of a drawing. The immediacy of a thought translated directly into line and the honesty of a medium which, unlike paint, cannot be easily covered or edited. Every line drawn rests on the surface as a record of exactly what the artist was thinking.
When you think of it this way, all the other fluff you add to a drawing like color and texture is really just, well, fluff.
There is a sad phenomenon happening in many of the art schools around the country. Lately, it seems, colleges and universities are more intent on cultivating "creativity" and "free-thinking" than students who are armed with the fundamental skills that launching an art career requires. And please, before you start labeling me as one of those hyper-conservative, stodgy old-fogey types who's hell-bent on poo-pooing anything new or revolutionary, understand that I value creativity and free-thinking as much as the next liberal. But sheer creativity does not an artist make. There have been plenty of "creative" and "free-thinking" inventors, scientists, doctors and politicians. And many of them contributed invaluable tools, laws, and medicines that would never have been possible had they lacked the necessary "creative" and "outside of the box" thinking that those contributions required. But the same is true for all of them as it is for artists: behind every successful "creative genius" lies a person armed with specific learned tools of the trade - tools that make the implementation of creativity successful and that give ideas the necessary structure to flourish.
It's something so instinctual, something so ingrained in us since childhood, yet still so easy to just gloss over. Just as a student can't be expected to calculate mathematic derivations without first knowing how to add, subtract and multiply, neither can we expect an artist to successfully create a believable landscape in oils unless he or she understands the basic principles of line, perspective, and light. And too often for artists drawing becomes a chore ("ugh I should be keeping my sketchbook with me and doing short studies while I'm riding the metro in the morning"). But just as doing higher order trig functions requires years of practicing times-table drills, so does creating successful art require putting in hours of quick sketches and gesture drawings.
The ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archives had a fantastic post up last week about artist Carlo Vinci. Behind this man, a master of animation, was someone skilled across the board in a host of types and styles of art formally trained at The National Academy of Design in New York City. The moral, as the article points out, is this:
If you're an animation student, focus on your core art skills, regardless if you plan to do hand drawn, CGI, cut out or puppet animation. Computer programs will come and go...Demand that your school provide you the same quality of education that Carlo Vinci had. Work hard. Study to become an ARTIST...Vinci's job was to animate, but his occupation was ARTIST. The same was true of most of the other great talents in animation- Marc Davis, Milt Kahl, Grim Natwick... The reason they were great animators was because they were great artists.
Vinci, best known for his animation of The Flinstones, was also responsible for producing outstanding drawings like the one featured below (courtesy of the ASIFA website).
I was really inspired this week by some fantastic figure drawings by Pete Emslie on his Cartoon Cave blog (see my noteworthy links). He posts some fantastic examples of gestures (see below for some of the drawings courtesy of Pete's blog) as well as more detailed portraits of one of his regular models, Heather. What's particularly fascinating is seeing Emslie's transition between close-to-life drawings and the caricatured product. I strongly encourage you to look at the drawings on his website to see how important that base in good technical drawing skills is to producing well-constructed caricatures and cartoons.
There really is no substitute for a solid background in drawing and the fundamental concepts of line and construction in an artists repertoire of tools. Similarly, there are no shortcuts to having outstanding drawing abilities save taking the time to sketch on a regular basis to keep yourself sharp. So this week, for all of you artists reading, take some time to give your art, whether paintings, graphic designs, cartoons, or illustrations, a solid scaffold to run on and get back to the old... well, you know.