I read comics. So should you.

Get Good (art edition)

In art on January 8, 2017 at 6:59 pm

When I was just a wee scribbler, I received the same advice from my teachers, my artistic heroes, and even my favorite TV shows.

commandermark

I wear a similar jumpsuit when I hit the Bristol board.

Draw. Do it every day. It’s what Commander Mark up there told me. It’s what the legendary Jim Steranko told us when he visited my high school. It’s what the always awesome Carla Speed McNeil told me at a convention. You’ve probably heard it numerous times yourself. It’s easy to shrug off as a dismissive platitude, but it isn’t. It’s fundamental. It’s rule number one. You have to constantly practice in order to improve. You have to also be open to learning, and willing to step outside of your comfort zone. You know, unless you are satisfied with-and able to-make a living being, well… not so good.

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You have no idea how difficult it was not to go for the easy Liefeld joke here.

Recently, I was listening to the Freakonomics Radio podcast, and they ran a rebroadcast of an episode titled, How to Become Great at Just About Anything. It touched on, among other things, a book called Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson. This book presents the studies that informed the infamous ‘10,000 hours required to become an expert’ concept that was made famous in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. There’s a common misconception that all you need to do is put in the actual time, and it’s here that Ericsson wants to clarify one very important point: To truly become better, that time needs to be spent on what he calls ‘deliberate practice’, which is characterized by setting well-defined, specific goals, and constantly striving beyond your current skill set, preferably with the assistance of experts who have refined those skills. Makes sense, right?

This got me thinking about the artwork I’ve done in the last year. I like a good challenge, but maybe I have not been challenging myself enough. Most of my sketches have been figure studies, which are of course vital to comic book illustration, and I feel that I bounce between various permutations of the human form regularly, but there’s been little else on those pages. The fact is that I’m a bit intimidated by drawing mechanical, man-made things, like cars and buildings. And they’re just as important, sometimes even MORE important, than the people in a comic. You need those details to establish a setting, otherwise it’s just talking heads, which doesn’t quite get the job done.

So I have set a goal in 2017, to spend some serious time on drawing the mechanical, and getting more familiar with some other tricky spots, like perspective and coloring. I’ll be scouring the internet for any good advice that I can find, doing some networking with those in the community who are open to sharing, and digging out some of the books that I’ve accumulated over the years. I thought it might be useful to mention some of the best sources of information here, and hopefully some of you will share recommendations as well.

First up: figure drawing classes and meet ups. As far as I’m concerned, this is fundamental, and you should never stop doing it (To be fair, this means ALL life drawing, not just the human form). Over the years, it has helped me with everything from anatomy to perspective to shading to speed, and allowed me to network with my local art community and make some lasting friendships, too. Most are inexpensive and ‘bring your own materials’, and last anywhere from three to five hours. My local group (which I urge you to hit up if you’re in my corner of Pennsyltucky), Lehigh Valley Drink n Draw, meets several times a month in locations all over the valley, and features a variety of both clothed and nude models. You are welcome even if you’re a teetotaler, we promise.

Books. If you’re a wacky, stubborn autodidact like I tend to be, you’re going to amass a collection of reference and instructional books, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here are some of my all-time favorites, in no particular order:

Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner

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Eisner is one of the true legends in comics, and he deserves every last bit of adulation his extensive body of work receives. In this book he lays out the basics, explains the narrative devices, and elaborates on the unique language that has developed throughout its relatively brief history in the form we know and love today. This revered tome is where you begin, and then, while you’re at it, pick up Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, too.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

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As Scott himself says in the acknowledgements, “Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art was the first book to examine the art-form of comics. Here’s the second”. He wastes no time getting under the hood to see what makes comics tick, and it’s fascinating. A lot of the book is devoted to breaking down the process behind how we read sequential art, going into detail about ‘closure’, or what happens between panels, the importance of line, and the relationship between pictures and the written word. Every fan of the medium should own and read this book, along with his follow ups: Reinventing Comics and Making Comics.

There’s more I want to tell you about, but the sad fact is that right now I have a strain of the flu that I’m pretty sure wants me dead, so we’ll pause here. After some medicine and fluids and offerings to deities that rule over white blood cells, I’ll post Part Two, and get the rest of this list out to you good people. Because you know it’s true, everything I do…

bryanadams

I do it for YOU.

 

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