Good drawing is all about interpreting the world around you by rendering shapes and textures in an interesting way.
With comics, you establish a credible internal reality which is articulated visually through your drawing style. It’s important you don’t disturb that credibility by randomly dropping in a completely different style of rendering, unless you’re after an unusual or specific effect. If you do, the credibility of your world is eroded.
My chosen method of rendering comics is a dark line analogous to black ink, filled with flat colour. There is a long tradition of sequential storytelling in this way.
My limitations as an artist are manifold. Years of hard study and practice have given me a good technical grounding in art, composition, perspective, anatomy, storytelling, and so on, but I tend to render it all in a boringly photorealistic way. My art style lacks panache. I over analyse and draw too much with the head, not the heart.
On the plus side my natural drawing style is fairly consistent and technically sound, which is half the battle. The precise, thoughtful approach has some advantages which I hope to exploit. But I’ve long reconciled myself to the fact that I’m never going to be the greatest artist in the world. I simply don’t have the natural talent. What’s hopefully interesting about my comic book pages is not my drawing style, but what I’m drawing. The story I’m telling, and how I’m telling it, is what makes my work worth reading.
My strategy is therefore to let the story do the work, and not over complicate matters with a flashy or overly ambitious style of rendering. I want people to look past the drawing style and lose themselves in the characters, and the plot.
That’s not to say I don’t want to get better at drawing. I do. So before I commit to an art style for the graphic novel I want to do a little exploration, and improve a few things about how I render each panel.
These will be incremental improvements, rather than radical changes. I don’t have it in me to suddenly start drawing like Bill Sienkiewicz, or Daniel Clowes, and keep a consistent style for ninety pages. I need to set realistic targets, and work with what I’ve got.
Specifically, I’d like to loosen up a little, and adopt a more slightly more caricatured approach where appropriate. I’d like to simplify my art style further, and be more consistent in how I render form and shadow, particular in relation to characters.
To that end I need to relax more, to regain the childish enthusiasm for drawing kids have. Worrying about what the world thinks about each mark is anathema. It’s important to have fun – and let that natural enthusiasm convey emotion and life. And what better way to have fun than copying another artist for an hour or so?
Cameron Stewart is today’s chosen artist: a great storyteller, with an expressively fluid style.
I’ve drawn a sheet of characters (below) investigating Cameron’s line weight, his approach to eyes, mouths, noses, facial expressions, hair, shading and shadow. These are taken from Fight Club 2, which is a full colour comic. When he draws in black and white his rendering style is somewhat different.
I’ve added my own hairstyles to some of these. And I can’t bring myself to draw noses quite as pointed or abstract as he does, which I’m sure is my loss. And I’ve added a heavy thick line around the outline of the characters, because that’s an approach I find useful for simplification . The rest is simply me having fun copying him for an hour or two and thinking about why he’s doing what he does.I started the sheet at the bottom and worked up. The first thing to notice is the character proportions are relatively realistic (compared to say, Robert Crumb) though the size and shape of eyes, noses, and mouths are rendered in a more abbreviated or caricatured way than hands or clothes.
Secondly, Cameron draws fast and loose (with a G-nib pen tool in Manga Studio 4 Ex, fact fans). Inked outlines and details are sketchy, with lots of multiple quick lines built up over each other or next to each other to delineate many of the forms.
I’ve interpreted this for the most part as a single heavier line, using a Belgian Comics brush at size 30 in Photoshop 6. This brush allows me to do thick and thin lines without changing size, based on pressure, with an angular rotating nib which gives a pleasing chunkiness and consistency to lines. I’ve yet to find an effect I can’t achieve in Photoshop.
It’s only on the very top row that I mimicked Cameron’s sketchy style more precisely (on the three heads to the left of the page). To do this I simply dropped the pen size to 20 and rendered multiple lines rather than one single line for things like jawlines or the outline of hair. I didn’t add a thicker outline either. It looks fantastic, but I’m not sure it’s a simple enough rendering style for my purposes.
Eyebrows are constructed from lots of small narrow marks in broadly the same direction, rather than one thick unbroken line.
Eyes are rendered at their simplest by a black circle for the pupil/iris, with a thicker line above delineating the upper lid and a smaller line below indicating the lower. Now and then, he adds a dot of small reflective white light. Generally, he then goes further to render additional small narrow lines around the eyes to show the shape of the lids, the sockets and the bags under the eyes. I’ve left these out in many cases, because I’m more interested in simplification by losing unnecessary detail.
Noses are simple and more stylized, often so pointed or rounded as to be cartoonish, with a line or two indicating their shape and angle and additional small hatching lines indicating shadows underneath. Cameron often draws at least three hatching lines across the bridge of the nose or above the bulbous tip, to indicate how the form is less rounded at this point, though sometimes the lines are so widely spaced and abstract they function more as stylistic decals than shading.
I always draw clear black shadows under the nose and jaw to indicate a strong light source. Cameron doesn’t do this, though occasionally he might indicate something similar with hatching. For the most part, though, there is more bounce light and less black shadow on a Cameron Stewart character, leaving plenty of space for the colourist to operate.
Mouths are simple, though less stylised than noses, with male mouths rendered as a combination of single lines for the top and bottom of lips, with hatching beneath to show form and shadow. Teeth are rarely rendered individually. Female mouths are generally more voluptuous, with more hatching and shadow to articulate shape and texture.
Hair is sometimes rendered via multiple detailed strands, but more generally in abbreviated clumps with a few smaller lines indicating length, direction, light and shadow.
Single narrow lines, or groups of two to five hatching lines, are generally used to portray wrinkles, laughter lines, concentration lines, cheekbones, jowls, the fulcrum, neck and so on.
Ears are often rendered as small outlines, of varying size and shape, with little or no shadow within. In this way they don’t attract the readers eye: they should not be the centre of attention.
Facial expressions are often exaggerated and simplified for emotional effect, somewhat elastic and caricatured.
The attention to eyes, and proportion, compared to the more abbreviated noses and ears, reflects their relative importance in differentiating character personality and type.
These approaches allow Cameron to render appealing characters quickly and expressively.
Okay, so much for turning off my analytical brain. Haha. Maybe I need a different kind of drawing exercise for that.