If I had one piece of advice to give artist who wanted to improve their drawing and composition, especially for the purposes of storytelling, it would be this: make your ideas read in silhouette.
Some decades ago, when I got my first full time job I was working on the Disney animated film THE FOX AND THE HOUND. It was a great opportunity to learn, and the fact that I was getting paid at the same time convinced me that I had done something magnanimous in a past life. People like Eric Larson, Frank Thomas and Mel Shaw were tutoring me. All of us newbie animators were encouraged to flip our drawings on the light board and shade them on the back side to see if the poses would read in silhouette. This is because the human eye can perceive the outline of a form quicker than it can perceive the internal detail.
In my later career as a storyboard artist the practice of making compositions read in silhouette became ingrained; I think about it as I’m doing it any longer. The best drawing lessons are the ones that become second nature, and free you to concentrate on the ideas and the emotions that you are trying to convey.
If you are working digitally it is easy to create a separate layer, outline the primary elements of your composition and fill them in with black to see how it reads. If you are working on paper and don’t have a light board, flip the drawing and hold it against a window (preferable during the day so sunlight can come through) and do a flat shading of the subject with the side of a pencil to make sure the outline of the form is communicating the story you want to tell.
Practice this and your drawing will improve.
Sometimes you need to know when to walk away.
SEVEN EXTRAORDINARY THINGS is now being posted daily on this website. You can navigate to it by using the 7XT tab above left, or by clicking HERE.
The story of SEVEN EXTRAORDINARY THINGS was inspired by my own experiences in art school, but it is not autobiographical. This is good for two reasons. First: my own life is fascinating only to me. Second: even when I intend to tell a true story the facts are not to be trusted. My practice of reshaping events for dramatic impact is deeply ingrained. I justify it as artistic license.
When I was working as a director it I used to write screenplays between gigs. Like most directors, I had a lot of downtime and so I wrote a lot of screenplays. When I was waiting for THE LAST LEGION to be released I decided to do something different. Taking the screenplay I had written that I liked the most, I started drawing it as a comic book. It began as an exercise, but became such a satisfying experience that I haven’t looked back.
Thus was born the graphic novel version of SEVEN EXTRAORDINAY THINGS. It is the story of Greg Drucker McTeer, an art student who has a list of seven things he wants to do to guarantee he will not be an ordinary person. His efforts to complete all seven items leads him places he never anticipated. Although I studied animation at California Institute of the Arts in the mid-70s (Vanity Fair did an interesting story about some of my classmates in their March 2014 issue) this story is set at the factious Loomis Art Institute.
Although drawn in a traditional format, this is the project that lead me to digital comics and eventually the invention of Scrollon®.