December 5th, 2009

A few weeks ago in figure drawing class the model failed to show up, but rather than waste the class and send everyone home, the instructor arrived with an unexpected solution: he had the students model. Thankfully, everyone remained clothed, and a brief lesson on wrinkles and folds turned the night into an unexpected and useful session.

The instructor divided the world of surface deformations into a handful of general categories and emphasized their ability to clarify what the body is doing and contribute to the overall design. The concept here (as I’m beginning to learn is usually the case) is not to take down a perfect representation of what appears before one’s eyes, but to select what is useful in telling the story of the pose.

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November 1st, 2009

It takes a lot of time. A lot of seeing and a lot of drawing. But I do feel like I’m making some progress in my awareness of the human form. Though it can be frustrating to be pushed and pulled by advice from different teachers, it’s ultimately helpful to hear them describe their mental processes in drawing the figure. Each has their own way of articulating the thoughts and observations that must be made to produce such drawings, and in the overlap between their voices, actual understanding begins to emerge.

I ran across a line that sums this up in Film Directing Shot by Shot by Steven Katz , a book recommended for learning about storyboarding:

“In the arts, technique is largely a matter of improved perception.”

Improved perception comes from direct experience, and while there’s no theory or formula that one can learn as a substitute for that, good teaching helps direct attention to useful things while amassing that experience.

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September 30th, 2009

Started my second pass at the Karl Gnass figure drawing class at The American Animation Institute recently. Some evenings I feel like I’m making progress and sometimes I feel like I’m standing as still as the figure everyone’s looking at. Regardless, it’s satisfying to go and spend three hours focused on trying to understand how to manipulate these marks on paper to bring out something that looks like a person.

This is a collage of three and five minute poses from last week’s session, and I do know that brief span of time feels longer than it did when I started this summer. I am able to notice a greater number of details during a pose — anatomical landmarks and parts of the form brought out by the lighting — but there are still many things I see that I don’t understand or have a quick way to represent. And I’m thinking awareness of those things will continue to develop with observation and time.

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August 15th, 2009

Some more Photoshop color studies of trees in perspective. Not dissimilar from the last batch, but sourced from the other side of the country. These are based on a watercolor sketch that I did on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

I chose a vantage point that obscured all recognizable monuments, though the version in the upper right hints at the Washington Monument and the WWII Memorial. The colors in this one are also sampled from a photograph, making them more real, but less overtly harmonic than the other versions. The colors in the other three images I choose myself based on memory, and it’s curious how the outcomes are so similar, and so different from what the camera recorded.

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August 5th, 2009

From the pile of newsprint I’ve amassed in figure drawing class, this loose sketch stands as my favorite. During a break while the instructor was lecturing, the model draped a cloth around her torso and sat on the platform checking her voicemail.

Sometimes we talk about understanding the story behind the pose to bring life to our drawings, but the realness in this semi-private moment made that easier than the usual twists and bends without object.

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August 1st, 2009

I’ve been taking a figure drawing class taught by Karl Gnass at the American Animation Institute, with the aim of developing a familiarity with the human form that will help me draw better lunging avocados. These are some samples from the last few months, and compared to the results from a brief encounter with figure drawing some years ago, I can see improvement. It is a slow process, but it is encouraging to see some movement.

Most of the poses in the three hour sessions are less than five minutes. There have been a couple nights where Karl talks about rendering with tone and poses stretch upwards of 20 minutes, but for where I’m at, I prefer the shorter poses. I’m not there to make pretty life drawings. I’m trying to develop familiarity through repetition. Each short pose is a chance to take a new visual impression and strengthen my mind’s recognition of its distinctive aspects. As I do this over and over, I find there are times when I notice some detail I had previously overlooked and in that way my awareness of what I am seeing grows. Three minutes definitely feels longer now than it did when I started the class.

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June 15th, 2009

I scanned a thumbnail sketch of a street scene from a while back and played around with painting it in Photoshop, with the goal of building familiarity with mixing colors and tweaking brushes in the program.

For the first version (upper left), I selected colors using the eyedropper on the original photograph. For the next two, I looked at other pictures and paintings and mixed colors using the HSB sliders in the color palette, trying to copy some of those images’ color biases in light and shadow.

In the last version (lower right), I just mixed colors based on what I remembered from the previous scenes and tried to use colors across the image that felt related.

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June 5th, 2009

I’m trying to get used to building drawings using an incremental process, sketching and refining with loose thumbnails. Then enlarging a thumbnail to use as the basis for a larger rough.

This park scene started out as a sketch from Pan Pacific park before it diverged from reality in thumbnails to become a more idealized urban park landscape. In the two value studies I did, I kept getting sucked back into rendering detail, but after a few more thumbnails, I whittled the composition down to something simple that I cleaned up and colored in Illustrator.

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May 14th, 2009

I’m taking the background design course this semester at the Animation Academy taught by Robert Gold and Danny Picar and looking forward to being able to put my characters in environments that are more than a brushy blob of color!

It’s been a while since I’ve invoked the formal rules of perspective in a drawing, so in these thumbnail sketches I’m trying to get a sense for how the vanishing point and horizon line work in environments that are not simply a road stretching off into the distance.

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May 14th, 2009

People, however, will hardly stay in one position very long before reconfiguring their limbs and posture into a completely different pose, with the subtle gestures of action the most fleeting of all. To work quickly, I tried drawing small and what you see here are some of the better results from a few pages of sketching.

The tree is a more cooperative model, and I enjoyed experimenting with different pen strokes to suggest the textures of surfaces and edges present in the scene. Sketching like this feels like teaching the hand to dance. Rather than copying the scene line for line, I’m interpreting visual patterns into evocative rhythmic hand wiggles, and the drawing emerges as a recording of that dance.

In Drawn to Life, Walt Stanchfield talks about approaching gesture drawing by feeling the pose — using one’s internal kinesthetic sense to lock onto the position, balance and attitude:

“By looking at it, you have to keep looking at it repeatedly as you copy the parts. In feeling the pose you actually picture yourself as doing the pose….Then you have that pose locked into your mind and can summon it up at will by simply seeing it in your mind and assuming that attitude.”

I think I understand what he’s talking about, and have felt this strong empathetic connection with the subject at times when drawing feels most fluid, but it’s a state of focus that is difficult to flip on and off like a light switch. Interestingly, I’ve found that there’s something about drawing quickly can help engage this sense.

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