Sunday, April 29, 2007


Good question! My answer is yes...but with caution! We're cartoonists after all and not illustrators. A cartoonist can actually pick up bad habits in a life drawing class.

I don't know about you but when I draw undraped models I'm always shocked by the drama and profundity of the body. The human machine is awesome. Layer over that the nuances of intellect and personality and you have a very appealing subject to draw.

The problem is that it's too appealing. If you're like me, no matter how much you may have resolved to caricature the model (whole-body caricature) , the moment you see her all you can think to do is to revert to stark realism. Anything else seems unfit for the importance of the subject. This is why you have to double your resolve to caricature. If you have trouble doing this then you should pose the model draped for half the session.

Another problem is that realistic life drawing encourages scratchy lines. Realists tend to search for the forms with lots of tentative strokes til they get what they want. Cartooning isn't like that. A cartoonist needs to learn strong, confident lines.

Some cartoonists put their best effort into realistic life drawing because they're frustrated with the way their cartoons are turning out. Life drawing becomes a sort of holding pattern where they concentrate on general draughtsmanship for a while while the rest of their life sorts itself out. That's OK if the rest of their life does get sorted out but what if it doesn't? They can stall for so long that life drawing becomes the only skill they really have.

In my opinion you have to keep your eyes on the prize and remember what you're in the session for. If you're a cartoonist don't get lulled into doing what the realists do. They have their own reasons for being there, which are not your reason.


Sean Worsham said...

Good point, good cartooning should always show confidence in their line work. Hey Eddie, check out some of my cartoony animation from college. Sorry the sound is off but that's one of the idiocracies of converting to DIVX then uploading on YouTube:

Let me know what you think. Keep on blogging you are reviving my interest in cartooning and animation more than ever!

Anonymous said...

I'm in a life drawing group with cartoonists and no one draws the figure "realistically"(that doesn't mean "not accurately"). Everyone caricatures, which is the point of the class. The pose should always be pushed.
In fact I've been in a bunch of classes around L.A. and they're all pretty much quick poses to capture the spirit and life in the drawing, not to make a copy of real life in the old fashioned School of Art way. A lot of local artists have blogs of their life drawing and the examples they post are terrific. Most aren't realistic at all.

Do you go to life drawing regularly? It sounds like you do.
And, are you as in awe of the male model, or are all your models female? I have to admit I'm not universally jazzed by all models. Some are just dull whether male and female. Most are great, but there's always a dud that makes the drawing a chore.

Brian Brantley said...

Nice post Eddie! This quotes especially true..

>>"The problem is that it's too appealing. If you're like me, no matter how much you may have resolved to caricature the model (whole-body caricature) , the moment you see her all you can think to do is to revert to stark realism. Anything else seems unfit for the importance of the subject. This is why you have to double your resolve to caricature."<<

You really do have to double your resolve for caricature. Also, the influence of everyone else drawing realistically to capture this important subject is something you have overcome. I like quick gestures best because they are usally about motion and exaggeration when done best - and you can extend the motives of the model who's really trying to make an interesting pose.

It's also generally good for finding appeal even in uninteresting poses and expressions. Manipulating and extracting even if you have to, to find appeal. If you don't let yourself be bound to the subject anyway. Sometimes they're so bland of a pose though I can't do it and just start experimenting or messing around. Even leaving class and checking out art books they have their until the next pose.

I think it's an inconsistent basis for learning to draw well week to week. It's dangerous in it's ability to hurt your overall cartooning ability, it's potentially bland-inducing, etc, etc.

About the sketchy lines though, I had the opposite experience. It actually helped my linework I think. Maybe based on the fact that I always attend quick sessions which rang between 1 minute drawings and at most 25. Helped me be more effecient a bit.

Anyway, your very right though. Yes, with caution!

Anonymous said...

"Another problem is that realistic life drawing encourages scratchy lines. Realists tend to search for the forms with lots of tentative strokes til they get what they want. Cartooning isn't like that. A cartoonist needs to learn strong, confident lines."

Not just "a cartoonist" but any good artist.

Realistic drawing doesn't encourage scratchy lines, plain old lack of skill does.

I think you're (maybe inadvertently) dumping on so-called "realistic" artists, suggesting that there's a special cartoonist quality to doing bold, confident lines. Nope-it's a quality every artist should and can have.

The only people who do tentative, scratchy lines are the weak artists, and that includes some cartoonists, too. But one thing is certain: the more you do it, the better you get.

Jesse Oliver said...

Hi Eddie

When I was in high school every art class I was in never taught us about cartooning. We would always have to do realistic stuff, For one class project we had to draw portraits of famous people with pastels and so I did a portrait of my favorite movie actor Joe Pesci. It was always kinda hard for me to do realistic stuff because I was always having fun with drawing cartoons. But the Pesci portrait turned out good, I was amazed though because I come from drawing cartoony stuff all the time.

Shawn Dickinson said...

I don't think it's necessary for cartoonists to learn life drawing, but I think it can help you draw more solid designs, and apply them to cartooning. The human body is so complex that if you can master drawing it, you can draw anything.

Nate said...

Great post, Eddie. Thank you. Many a life drawing class I've taken not knowing what the heck it is I am supposed to be focusing on.

Are there any artists contemporary or otherwise whose approach you particularly enjoy?

Also, are they any life drawing "systems" that you recommend, e.g. Loomis, Vilppu? It's easy to find a lot of reference material for caricaturing the face, not so the body.

G.A.D. said...

Hi, Eddie! Long time reader, first time commenter.

I just wanted to know what you mean by scratchy lines. Are they when you draw with little repeated strokes over and over again or is it when you keep drawing one big, full stroke on top of another in hopes of getting a line right? (If it's that second one then I got a habit to break.)

Anonymous said...

Scratchy lines? Guilty as charged.

Anonymous said...

interesting post, im glad to hear your opinion on this, because -even though i am not exactly in animation- i base a lot of my work on it, and this is how i tried to approach my life drawing classes in college.

sorry i don't comment much lately, but i love the blog. thanks for writing it!

Ryan G. said...

Hey Eddie! I agree with you, but dont forget, life drawing is also about capturing balance of a figure, a strong line of action, and proportions. All which can be applied to cartoons.

The Jerk said...

i may sound a prude by saying this, but i fail to see how much practical knowledge a cartoonist can gain from drawing a nude model as opposed to... say, a next-to-nude-but-still-wearing-something model. i agree that studying models can be helpful for better understanding the complex mechanics of the human body, but is it necessary to strip a model completely bare, or do some cartoonist just use it as an excuse to make someone stand naked in from of them?

David Germain said...

Back in animation school the life drawing teacher told me that I exaggerated a pose once. She said it as though it were a bad thing though. Y'see, not only was she from the realist school of Michelangelo and Raphael, she grew up in Communist Russia so she never got to see any cartoons in her childhood. (She once told us that under Communsit rule the only thing on TV was ballet). So, for this reason, I think she had a hard time finding a balance between the rendering of a human figure and teaching us things that we could apply to cartoons.

Despite all that, I still think life drawing does help develop one's drawing skills for cartoons or otherwise. It helped me and it'll certainly help others (if it's taught right).

Kali Fontecchio said...

I think life drawing is important for cartoonists. It's especially better to have models nude, and with good muscle definition. All types are fine, but any artist, and especially a cartoonist who will be drawing humans should know the basic skeletal layout of the body, and musculature. How can you caricature what you don't know? And you can't get to the stage of drawing strong lines unless you have an idea of what the forms do, what overlaps what etc. That's where most cartoonists go wrong, they're just outlining (I'm no saint either). The best way to learn the axes, proportional, and observing skills is by doing life drawing. Nudity is important to learn, but so is doing the clothed figure, which you can do at any restaurant, or if your friend is a good sport.

Anonymous said...

" They have their own reasons for being there, which are not your reason."

How do you know?

Krishva said...

Someone above said in Communist Russia, the only thing on TV was ballet. Wrong! There were animation studios funded by the government (just like every other industry). Check out this Russian TV cartoon from the 1970s. They not only had TV cartoons, but they looked a LOT better than ours. :)

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: How do I know all this? I don't know in the sense of being absolutely certain. Nobody does. If we all refrained from having opinions in the absence of certainty it would be a dull world with few interesting conversations.

I used to put long, legalistic qualifiers infront of everything I said, so long that I sometimes forgot the point I was trying to make. That might have made me popular with logicians but it made listening to me a chore for everyone else.

Now I try to make generalizations without too much qualification. It's a good way to speak because it invites the person you're talking to come in with his own thoughts. It's not so much of a monologue that way.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Nate: I'm going to post about about my favorite how-to-draw-the-figure book soon.

McN, Brian: I was thinking of little scartchy lines not looking right but there are always exceptions and if this gives you a good result by all means keep doing it.

Kris: Fascinating! I heard this character was really popular over there!

Lucien, Kali, Shawn, Ryan: I agree, but....

Kali Fontecchio said...

" I agree, but...." But.....?

Anonymous said...

bare ass on a blog! bare ass on a blog! woo hoo!

Anonymous said...

"Now I try to make generalizations without too much qualification."

No problem. I just wondered how you came to that generalization, not whether you are qualified to write it. Thought that might be interesting. Were you in a "straight" art class with "realistic" artists who you discovered had other reasons than you did for drawing the figure? Context-not explanation or qualifiers-can be a helpful thing sometimes.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon, Kali: You see it in the portfolios of animation students. Even though the students are applying for a cartoon job the life drawings are often substantially better than the cartoon samples. They obviously put more thought into them, which is curious given their major.

Can you guys go lightly on the bold letters? It seems silly to say it about written words but it comes off as shouting.

Ryan G. said...

Life Drawing will never hurt anyone, even cartoonists. Its like saying, "Dont learn to sculpt" if you are a painter.. The important thing for an artist to understand is how to apply what they learn from life drawing. You can sit there and draw and render a model for hours and make them photorealistic, but if all your getting out of it is a better sense of observational drawing, then your not applying the principals to your own drawings. Our class focused on constructing the figure with boxes and spheres, drawing the figure in perspective, forshortening, and action poses. The rendering gives you an understanding for the 3 dimentional form. We all dont want to draw flat do we?

Anonymous said...

how many years of life drawing classes do you think Gary Larson had?

Anonymous said...

I was not in life drawing classes with other cartoonists, I just happened to be good at cartooning, in general life drawing classes. The quick studies, the short studies, studies when the instructor wanted more gesture, I would often cartoon (I would also interpret the instructions as I thought the instructor meant them, or sometimes I would meet two seemingly at odds criteria.

Sometimes the fight is between realism of form, and realism of expression; sometimes the fight is between a solid overall drawing, or catching details, seeing, and reporting that seeing, in a certain way.

Some instructors I found less talented would be more likely to be confounded by their instructions being twisted or interpreted 'wrongly' by students, while other decent draftsmen in the class, would see that the instructions, and the execution were not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I thought the cartoony stuff was among the best stuff, often revealing more truth than the realism. It is a funny sort of gestalt thing. Sometimes instruction for more attention to detail leads to the scratchiness discussed here.

Oh the question. Yes, Cartoonists should take life drawing classes.

I used to think Al Jaffee for instant, was merely using cartoonists shorthand giving everyone ball bodies, pipe cleaner legs, and plumbers crack, until I realized, to the contrary, he was actually being an excellent observer; people really do age in that unattractive way, being poured into clothes. Or out of clothes.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Ryan: I think my title was misleading. Of course cartoonists should learn construction! No one, including me disputes that. Maybe I should have put up an example of constructed caricature just to clarify things.

Cartoonists need to do both kinds of interpretation but that's not reflected in the portfolios I see.

Drake Brodahl (pumml) said...

I'd like to address the "scratchy lines" comments made here.

Lucien said, "Realistic drawing doesn't encourage scratchy lines, plain old lack of skill does."

and "The only people who do tentative, scratchy lines are the weak artists..."

You might want to have a look at the Preston Blair Animation book. Tons of examples in that book use scratchy line work to achieve the desired spheres and other shapes.

Is this not what you're referring to, or do you mean shaky lines? Maybe I need an example.

I'd hardly call Preston Blair a weak artist, and in fact, nearly every amazing artist I've seen sketches in this manner, by building a form from sketchy, sometimes scratchy lines.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Pumml: You have to generalize when you write small blog posts. If you're getting good results by using scratchy lines then stick to your guns and don't change!

Drake Brodahl (pumml) said...

Thanks for the reply, Eddie. I do understand about generalizing and didn't have a problem with the statement you made. However, Lucien's addition to your comment seems too presumptuous to me.

It may just be my interpretation of what "scratchy" is though. How to qualify which lines are scratchy and which lines may be sketchy or searching, but with draftmanship?

I do search sometimes when sketching, while trying to use smooth, confident technique. Not sure if this is the same thing as being scratchy. I do try use bold, smooth lines when cleaning up, inking or painting, because that is necessary.

I'm wondering, would Al Hirschfeld's art be considered scratchy and weak, or
purposely bold, confident, and scratchy? I would say the latter.

Anonymous said...

Bill Tytla used to go to life drawing back in the rubber-hose days & the guys at Terrytoons used to call him a homo Bolshevik because of it.

I think life drawing is one of the best things for an animation student to do, especially gesture drawing. To capture a pose convincingly with economy is what pose-to-pose is all about & a solid grounding in anatomy gives you confidence.

I've seen a lot of those portfolios, too. If you have a love & aptitude for cartooning, life drawing can only help. If you don't, it couldn't hurt, unless you're the type that likes to polish his ego by focusing on what he does best & couldn't care less about working on his weak spots.

These guys usually wind up as uninspired drawing teachers or selling dull-ass paintings to a gallery in Laguna.

Anonymous said...

I'm a cartoonist, and I can only say that when I do life drawing - and I am damn good at it - I don't use "scratchy" lines; my lines are flowing and weighted, so that the figure on the paper looks dimensional and convincing. And I do exaggerate the pose very slightly in order to make it "read" better on paper. I believe that figure drawing is a MUST for ANY kind of artist. It gives your drawing a confidence and mastery like no other acquired skill.

Anonymous said...

Most would not even hazard to consider Al Hirschfeld's line as scratchy in the least, unless they have actually seen him draw, (video is available), and see the fight he is having with those particular pen nibs.

But the overall finished product? Pure Flow!