I was hoping I’d be in a position to post this in a week or two after “art skills boot camp.” I spent every scrap of alone time the last couple of days just drawing Snow White. That’s it, just her. I figured if I stuck with a single subject for now, I’d be better off since I could see what it was I was doing wrong and adjust accordingly.
The problem I was having early on, aside from the obvious frustration of letting my pencil skills go to hell in the last 20 years, was that I was thinking like a cartoonist. The mindset there is that the drawings are simple and stylized so as to be animated quickly. I was never quick. Never. What would take a professional comic book artist 20 minutes to draw would take me 4 hours back in the day. With an animated cartoon character, I could drop that down to 2 from rough to final. See, the difference with the pros is that they have things like proportion down to the point where they don’t even have to think about it. For me, I have to struggle to see what is instead of what I think I see, so there’s a lot of trial and error. But when I hit a breakthrough, it’s because I stop thinking like a cartoonist and start thinking like a portrait artist. It’s still the same human proportions, and the same relations between parts that make the whole.
I won’t say my skills are up to snuff yet, but because I had a breakthrough on the mental level that gave me results I can work with, I thought I’d share.
First step, study the original model sheets and production drawings. See what you can learn from them. This is what I was doing all last week instead of actually drawing.
See what I mean? This is called thinking like an animator. I’m sitting here studying all this material, trying to see the drawings as a fluid, moving character. Clearly I’m not there yet. That’s something the Disney animators had to learn when they came to work for Walt, after they’d already learned how to draw. So, back to basics: see each drawing as it’s own portrait and retrain the skills to learn how to do that. So I scrapped all of this and worked from a single drawing.
For reference, this is what I was working from, which I pulled from a “how-to” reference book in my personal library:
Nothing inherently difficult in the drawing itself, as you can see. Just a basic head shot, on model. The difficulty comes in getting the skills to the point where you can do that.
These are some of the “better” drawings I made the over the last couple of days:
Feel free to laugh, groan, or even cry. I’ve done a bit of all of that, the whole time muttering under my breath and chastising myself for knowing better. In addition to these, there are a lot more that suck beyond suckdom, and there are a great many sketches of just eyes or lips or whatever. The simple fact is these are perhaps good for a beginner, but hardly what I know myself to be capable of. But again, that was 20 years ago, and today’s a new day. I’ve had to make peace with that.
While snarfing down my second cup of coffee this morning, that’s when I had the revelation of what I’d been doing all those years ago that made things work. Of course it’s one thing to have an epiphany, and something else to put your pencil where your brain is. The above drawings are all small-ish, no bigger than 3 or 4 inches. This time I decided to go for a full page portrait, which forced me to consider scale and relation on something other than a 1:1 from the reference material. It made me look at the lines and shapes instead of the character. The other big breakthrough was in materials. Instead of breaking out all the big tool set, I put those away and went back to basics: mechanical pencil and white eraser… the very tools I used in the good ol’ days. The fancy stuff comes later. So once I pulled my head out of my ass and focused only on line and shape, this is what happened:
I’m pleasantly surprised with this progress. It’s not great, but it’s certainly closer to the animation model, which is to say I’m dancing on air that I made this happen. It’s also a lesson learned in not making things more difficult than they need to be. After all, the entire point of cartooning is to be easier than full-on portrait art. Big fat honking duh, am I right? Right.
The next stage in the game is, of course, to see if I can repeat this result on a regular basis. If not, then I just got lucky. If I can repeat this, then the next stage is alternate facial expressions and full figure poses. What I learn here will obviously translate to other subjects, each of whom will present new challenges, and so on.
The entire time I’m doing all of that, I also need to work on refinement of the line work. The above drawing is, shall we say, sketchy. Obviously the Disney animation model is not. The lines are clean. If I can draw cleanly and on model, then I’ve made significant progress. And then after that will come color. But I’ll get there when I get there.