Okay! It’s now 4 AM, and I’ve just finished the homework assignment that’s due today/was due today. It took me this long to finish because I’m all keyed up about a new “Star Wars” movie, which I’ve already seen twice but have made plans to see a third time.
It’s a bit distressing that the thing that’s true on January 20, 2016 was also true during the weeks that “Return of the Jedi” was in theaters. It makes one wonder if one has actually made any damn progress on the road to maturity.
We will leave that question to your after-class discussion groups. Unlike when I was a high school freshman (or eighth grade? Look, it’s 4 AM and I can’t be arsed to look it up), I actually enjoyed my homework and stayed up so late because I completely lost track of time.
I’m taking an illustration class. Danielle Corsetto is one of my fave webcomics artists (“Girls With Slingshots”: read it) and she recently started teaching a class at a nearby college. She got the brainwave to simultaneously teach an online version of that same class to her Patreon supporters. I upped my existing pledge the moment I heard about the class.
I’ve been a fan of her work ever since I encountered it at her table in Artists’ Alley at some Penn Plaza comicon, God-knows how long ago. I can only tell you that it was back when seeing Stormtroopers at a con was something of an exciting novelty. I’ve also been wanting to take a class like this for quite some time. I’ve been a lifelong doodler, but an undisciplined one. The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil really got my blood pumping again…chiefly because it removes the frustrating parts of drawing that has nothing to do with my own lack of ability. It’s easy to undo that last horrible mistake you made (which also means you can loosen up and experiment more), and you’re not constantly shelling out bucks for new tools and supplies that you can’t figure out how to use properly.
The first lesson ended with a homework assignment: choose three artists that you like, and reproduce the same photographic image in the style of each of them.
I chose a photo I shot at PAX East last year: a portrait of a cosplayer in a huge, way-cool wig.
And here are the three drawings I did.
Drawing 1, in the style of Colleen Coover:
I chose Colleen because I admire how simple, clean, and effective her style is. She’s a master of her tools. The particular challenge of trying to draw in her style is figuring out how to throw away every single line that isn’t totally necessary.
What on earth would she have done with those curls? There have been characters with curly hair, but not like this. I imagine that she would have drawn this woman’s hair using even fewer lines than I did, and would nonetheless have made it clear that she had a huge pompom of curly hair on her head and wasn’t just wearing some sort of Turkish-style hat.
I added the smile lines at the last minute because it looks a little naked without them. But I know that Coover would have conveyed them without drawing them. I also love how she colors things. Her “Bandette” pages appear to be flat watercolors, with bold, confident ink lines locking everything together, and then the most judicious touches of ink wash to add depth and shading. Again, she would have pulled all of this off with way fewer strokes.
I had an issue of “Bandette” (one of my favorite-est comics) open in front of me as I drew. I knew that if I were truly going to copy her style, I’d have to choose a limited palette of bold colors. I was pleased to notice that I happened to choose red, white, and blue…the French tricolor. Quite appropos, as the stories are all set in Paris. Let’s say that this woman is a character in a “Bandette” story, as a member of the Ministry of Culture or a docent of one of the national art galleries.
It was a valuable lesson in economy. One little stub of a line, bent just so, delivers a hell of a lot of punch.
Drawing 2, in the style of Tom Beland:
Oh, boy, what a failure. This one took me the least time to draw and it was the hardest one.
Beland first came to my attention via his autobiographical comic “True Story, Swear to God,” which told the story of how he and a broadcaster from Puerto Rico had a love at first sight thing happen to them while they were both covering an event at Disneyworld for their respective news outlets. It’s a magnificent story and I was instantly in awe of his line. The way he gets the pen to flare and fan and then contract at exactly the right moment…his drawings are immensely lively.
I drew this one in Graphic, a vector drawing program, because I thought it would do the best job of simulating his linework. But of course, it takes years and years just to figure out how to hold a pen properly. Like Colleen Coover, Tom Beland draws with a lovely economy. So at first, I was thinking “Yay! The face is just a half a dozen strokes, and I won’t need to color it!” Soon enough, I realized that drawing in this style is like neurosurgery. Your line either starts and ends in exactly the right places and curves and flares right on cue, or it’s no good at all. The drawing process was like line nope line nope line nope line nope but okay, let’s use that as a placeholder and move on…line nope line nope…
There’s also the question of how Beland would have handled that hair. I think he’d have used piles of curlicues but jeez, who knows.
Drawing 3, in the Fauvist style of Henri Matisse:
I haven’t read any of Matisse’s comics, so I can’t pretend that I’m a huge fan of his stuff or anything. I just wanted to do one in oils. I’m smart enough, and honest enough about my limitations, to choose a style where the aforementioned “no more lines than necessary and each line in its place” wasn’t a dealbreaker.
This is the one I enjoyed drawing the most. There’s such freedom in trying to do a painting in this style. I can’t pretend to have gained any practical insights into Matisse’s technique, but it’s joyful to not have to worry about matching a skintone exactly, and to choose a color combination simply because you think it’d be interesting. Sure, I happily concede that the results aren’t…brilliant. Who cares? This image is the result of an hour or two of play, play play…just trying things that occurred to me and (for the most part) trying to integrate, improve, or hide mistakes instead of just tapping the Undo button on my painting app.
And a funny thing happened as I continued to work on it: I began to subconsciously grasp the rules of the game. “That shape needs to be outlined,” I determined, and mixed a purpleish-blue. But when I got to the other side: “No, now that side needs to be more of a reddish-brown.” I’d like to do this one again. I feel like I could find a more direct route to this style now.
Part of the class assignment involves answering a set of four questions, and I’ve done that inside these descriptions. I haven’t answered #4: “What elements of your experience would you like to apply to future projects?” Well, whenever I got stuck, it was super-helpful to think “So how did (artist) solve this same problem?” And salvation lies at the other end of a quick Google Image Search.
Primarily, I’m going to try to maintain a sense of play. If someone pins a badge on me reading “Andy Ihnatko, Competent Artist,” it’ll only come at the end of a lot of more years and a lot of more hours of drawing. The good news is that there’s no reason why it can’t be fun.
I would also like to get started on next week’s homework five or six days before it’s due, instead of putting it off and then doing it the night before. Yeah. That’d be sweet.
The iPad Pro
Miz Coover will be discussing all kinds of traditional tools and techniques along the way, but the lessons will work with any medium. Natcherly, I intend to use my iPad Pro and Pencil as my sole tools (after asking her if she thought I’d be missing out on any of the point behind the lessons).
The iPad Pro continues to be a magnificent art tool. At least for folks at my skill level. This was my workspace for all three images. Split View let me keep an eye on my reference while remaining free to let my creativity wander.
I did have to think about how I was going to go about this. The Procreate app can import a photo as a background layer, and then it’s quick work to pencil some detailed layout lines over it. I’ve had a lot of fun drawing from reference this way but I instinctively believe that I wouldn’t get the most out of this class if I used a shortcut instead of training my eye to see properly and my drawing hand to (goddamn it) draw what I’m thinking, not what I’m telling it to draw.
Here’s another question: if it’s trivial for me to Undo a line or even the whole previous 20 minutes of work, am I really working as hard as someone drawing on paper, who has to be far more deliberate?
Yeah. It’s a dumb question. I’m an idiot for even admitting that it had occurred to me. Sure, it’s easier. So is buying paint ready-made instead of grinding your own pigments. So is buying paint in pre-mixed colors instead of mixing it yourself. So is applying it with a brush instead of an extremely pissed-off groundhog. Creativity has always been about the personal process and the results. If anyone disagrees with you on this point, you can go spit in their hat, and then sell the hat to the Tate Modern.
I’m also not worried about never learning the intricacies of the steel pen nib. I’ve got a few sheets of art board somewhere around here that represent the time I spent trying to learn how to use one, many years ago. I kind of started to get the hang of it after a few weeks, but I was spending all of my time serving this instrument instead of drawing things. My iPad Pro and Pencil allows me to fast-forward right to the act of creating.
And it’s not as though these digital tools don’t demand that I develop new skills. But good Lord, they’re way more forgiving.
It’s yet another opportunity for me to say that my iPad Pro was some of the best money I ever spent. I’m getting lots of paying work done with it, I’m having a lot of fun with it in my off-time, and it’s making it easy for me to push myself to learn new skills. There’s definitely a little Oprah in this thing.
There’s one last thing to mention about this class, and this post. I was a little bit timid about posting these images here. It’s the easiest way for me to “hand in my homework” so that Miz Corsetto and the rest of the class can see it. Alas, everyone else can see it, and obviously this is the work of a student.
I could have just published it inside a static page, away from the main blog. I quickly realized, though, that this was unnecessary, and just a case of my ego getting in the way of my common sense. I’m okay with people seeing this stuff. I realize that it isn’t anywhere on the “terrific” spectrum. And if people look at these (and future) drawings and think “…yeesh” or post “…yeesh” it doesn’t matter.
Yup, I’m reliving my teenage years, all right. It’s now about 6:30 and I might be able to get two or three hours of sleep before I need to be sitting at a desk pretending to be alert and competent. Yes, this week’s Ihnatko Almanac podcast should be, um, an interesting one.
But I’m also tapping into the power of being a kid. It’s not just about being tried as a juvenile. You also have an innate understanding that nobody even expects you to be good at anything, so there’s absolutely nothing holding you back from trying everything. Pride and dignity are only hypothetical concepts at this point in life. Great! Because they’re baggage.
I should carry this lesson forward in my life. As an artist, I have no reputation to damage. So I might as well try everything, and share what I’ve done. We should all be just as brave in all aspects of our lives…particularly the stuff that we think other people think we’re good at.