Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Cartoons - How Much Do You Need To Draw?


As many would agree, we approximate and simplify for lots of reasons. And the same is true when drawing, adding excessive detail doesn't improve the overall image, especially if they're too small to be seen clearly. Similarly the detail might be not visible at all, it may be concealed in darker areas or partially obscured by closer objects. As the artist we know the particulars are there, but we also know the brain does a great job in filling-in the missing parts. So, we tend to ignore the desire to make it "perfect", but not just because it's a waste of time and effort.

Art's all about interpretation, if we wanted an exact image we'd take a photo! But even a skilled photographer will typically reduce the depth of field to blur out the background and remove detail from that part of the image. It's all about instructing the viewer in a subconscious way what's important, and telling them which elements they should be looking at. (Yes, we manipulate!!)

Keeping It Clean

It's quite obvious when cartooning that details are missing, it's why we see so many good examples with just plain white backgrounds. The drawing is all about driving your idea, so if it doesnt support that, or add required context then it's just getting in the way. You need to get your idea over quickly and efficiently, not "turn-off" your reader by making them read or view extra elements that might confuse or detract from the main idea. It's worth considering that you're not just giving yourself extra work if you take things too far!

By way of example let's consider my quick christmas comic that I created the other day..

Seasons Greetings - Area 5.1 From Christmas Day
It's quite a simple idea, but it had a few problems that needed fixing before I could use it. Let's take it apart and I'll run through my thought processes.

Seasons Greetings - Step By Step

1. The most important thing is that the salt and pepper pots are recognisable, and because I'd used the Area 5.1 character colours there was real danger that they looked too much like the LGM's (little green men). The shape is very similar, they have recognisable mouths, but they're just missing limbs and eyes.

After I'd added the mouths, I started to think that pot holes weren't enough. They had turned into simplified versions of the Area 5.1 characters and lost too much of their condiment identity.

Seems to be neither one thing or another
OK, I could have written "Salt" on the left one, and "Pepper" on the right, but that's way too blunt for me. What I needed was context,.. show where they belong and the brain removes any ambiguity. But what should I draw?

The main place you'd expect to see these guys is on a dinner table, but I didn't want to draw a gingham tablecloth in perspective and then have to consider how much of the table should be included. No, I needed a single object that was immediately recognisable to add the missing reference point.

2. I started out trying mustard pots and gravy boats, but once you'd placed them behind, partially obscured they lost their identity. In the end I opted for the Heinz ketchup bottle with it's traditional bottle shape and it's distinct label. The latter giving me some scope for customisation, allowing me to replace the brand name and alter a few of the smaller details.

The missing context

BUT, I heard you cry, "Surely you're adding details by doing this!!"....

....well that's just the thing, because the brand is so recognisable your brain doesn't focus on it. It tells you "that's ketchup" and then moves on. Hopefully you now see a table because the raised position of the bottle implies perspective.

3. That was pretty much it - I avoided shadows on the table top and kept the shading subtle to make your brain to do more work. Also, I knew I was going to add the speech bubble in ComicLife so I just needed something that screamed christmas. So I added the christmas bells and then considered whether I needed to added the comic title to the image too.

As it was an exercise in brevity I decided to keep it simple. The title (which is the joke), is on the web page only. I'm still divided on whether this was the correct thing to do.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Drawing A Crowd - Christmas Style


Well if you remember my Christmas Challenge posting from the other week well you're perhaps aware that I've not yet delivered anything on my promise. But, that's not to say I haven't been working on it. Of course life tends to get in the way but I have (honestly) been drawing a lot more again since I've been in better spirits. And true to my often supressed desires, there's a fair amount of detailed work gone into this one.

OK, I set the bar quite high for myself wanting to put my characters into a room full of Santas, but I wasn't quite sure how to go about it.

Don't Crowd Me!

The first thing you do is look to see how other people do crowds, but it soon became apparent that it wasnt a crowd that I wanted! Take a look at the following..

I found Tom Richmond's article which describes a common way to go about it. It is in this simple example just a sea of faces...
Constructing a crowd scene tutorial
It works quite well, but it just wouldn't work in my cartoon frame because the angle is wrong. Also I wanted to focus on what the crowd was wearing, the faces aren't actually that important. Anyway, have a read of the article because there's some interesting points that will help you get a more natural looking crowd (if that's the style you're after).

What I was actually after was a room of socialising santas with a smattering of elves, just to balance out the numbers. I was going to have to do it the hard way. So before I type much else I'll show you what I produced.

The completed crowd scene

Disecting the Scene

I know we all draw using layers, but it I think helps to considering the concept of simple layer elements as a solution before you start drawing. A bit vague?.. well hopefully this will make sense...

  1. The obvious first layer is the foreground holding our two LGM characters dressed in their festive costume. This is the easy bit, it was simply a case of finding some old artwork and overpainting a santa suit and an elve outfit. (yes I'm recycling 😉)
  2. The next layer back isn't quite so obvious, but it's all the other santas. It's built using a number of overlapping santas (I traced some from examples I found on the web) and added some of my own. I found that the further back examples only required a head or a hat to fill in the spaces, and it soon started to give the impression of a party. Finally to help establish perspective I added the tiled floor to help draw your eyes back and deepen the room.
  3. Next step was to add the columns and the tree layer to balance out the top of the frame and establish a midrange backdrop. It also helps lend the idea that they're somewhere quite grandiose.
  4. Finally after adding a graduated floodfill background, I traced a room outline and selectively thinned out and erased sections of line to reduce its impact. I only wanted it to suggest a shape, not take your attention.

Busy Busy Busy

The problem you can find with a busy image like this is your main characters from layer 1 can get lost in the santas in layer 2. I used two methods to help here...
  1. Choose your positioning of santas in layer 2 so that nothing 'binds' with the details on layer 1. This is more of a problem with the LGM wearing the red outfit. I could have chosen to use more elves behind him, but I wanted the party to be composed primarily of santas. Keep them all on separate layers at first so you can keep moving them around and rescaling them as you build up the crowd.
  2. Thicken the black outline on layer 1. I know it sounds a bit heavy handed (excuse the pun) but in practice it's just enough to help keep the two layers distinct.
Finally because this frame will be used for a cartoon, leave space (or keep detail minimal) for speech bubbles and logos. Here there is space top and bottom where nothing important would be lost.

Update: 28/12/2016 - 

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Christmas gifts #2

 Number two for the Christmas gag challenge...

The idea seemed so obvious, I couldn't believe no-one had done it before. But I liked it so much, I deliberately didn't Google 'santa called while you were out' until after I'd drawn it, and then when I did, I couldn't find anything similar. I'm sure there must be, but if there is, it wasn't a deliberate copy.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Christmas gifts #1

This is the first of my Christmas ideas.

It's riffing on the theme of men thinking it's OK to buy household appliances as Christmas gifts. And lingerie which satisfied his fantasies rather than hers.

It's always difficult to know exactly how far to anthropomorphise these characters (ie the mention of vacuuming and cooking etc is going pretty far) and more importantly being consistent with that. The joke tends to come first and I'm not really thinking about how human they are, what they can do and what they can't. I'm not sure whether all that is important or not.

Also - I'm not sure whether this belongs in the x-rated ones, or the mainstream ones - what do you think?

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

I'm much happier with my jokes but they're not coming as frequently.

 The challenge here was how to set this out. I like to work in one frame if possible. But there's just too much speech for a single frame.

The dramatic pause added a lot, I felt, so I went for it and made three frames. I've used the pause once before, I like it but don't want to use it very often.

I like the joke (the one in the last frame, not the yo mama joke which is only there to set things up) and it's interesting that this is easy to do with a static cartoon (because of the speech bubbles pointing to the speaker - or at least where the sound is allegedly coming from) but wouldn't be possible any other way, animation with sound for example.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas Cartoon Challenge

It's only a couple of weeks to the big day, and I'm sure we can come up with a christmas gag each. And, it's been a month or so since I drew an Area 5.1 so I'm more than due an update.

But as per my halloween cartoon I need to come up with something with an original idea that fits the normal A5.1 humour pattern.

So what have we got to work with:-
  • Elves (that's a possible, they look like small vulcans)
  • Gifts (well it'd be rude not to)
  • Stockings
  • Christmas tree (I always like the idea of showing something identifiable from a distance and then on closer inspection it's something unexpected, so that's a possible)
  •  Santa (seems a little too obvious, but maybe he has to be there even if a cameo)
  • Typical celebration foods and drinks. (turkey or brussle sprouts anyone?)
I think we tend to think of christmas in terms of how our country celebrates, but it might be nice to consider how something like christmas might happen on another world.

OK so there's lots of possibles, are you with me on this Shiela?