It was a red letter day today for me: one lovely generous reader sent me a donation, and then imagine my excitement and thrill to find a mysterious package on my doorstep, which turned out to be Andrew Loomis' classic guide, (note that the cover behind this link may not technically be safe for work, although it is tremendously artistic) Figure Drawing for All It's Worth, which an equally lovely and generous reader purchased for me from A*'s Amazon Wish List. They didn't specifically say I could name them, so I guess I'd better let them remain anonymous for now (although if they let me I'll be more than happy to praise their name to the internet heavens :D), but I hope they see this and know that I am very grateful indeed.
I plunked down and started in on Loomis' book, and it appears to be just what I had hoped. First published in 1943, not only Loomis' wonderful illustrations (I posted some examples last Friday), but even his words seem to capture perfectly the spirit of that golden era in American illustration; addressing himself primarily to the young artist wishing to make marketable art--probably for a beginning career in advertising illustration, as Loomis himself started out; the book's dedication is in fact "to the young men and women of the United States who have turned to the drawing of the human figure as a means of livelihood"--Loomis exhorts the reader to strive to achieve attractive, idealized figures, in language that is inspiring and lofty, yet sounding firmly rooted in experience (he was "advised to go back home" after two week in art school) and practicality. Here's one of a number of striking passages from the introduction, for instance:
As a student I thought there was a formula of some kind that I would get hold of somewhere, and thereby become an artist. There is a formula, but it has not been in books. It is really plain old courage, standing on one's own feet, and forever seeking enlightenment; courage to develop your way, but learning from the other fellow; experimentation with your own ideas, observing for yourself, a rigid discipline of doing over that which you can improve. I have never found a book that stressed the importance of myself as the caretaker of my ability, of staying healthy mentally and physically, or that gave me an inkling that my courage might be strained to the utmost. Perhaps that is not the way to write books, but I can see no harm in the author realizing that he is dealing with personalities, and that there is something more important than technique. In art we are dealing with something far removed from a cold science, where the human element is everything.
Toward the end of the introduction he notes that "I have hired and paid the best models I could find, knowing that the limited funds of the average young artist would not permit that" (indeed, my mother teased me about a recent A* page, asking if I was getting some young woman in the neighborhood to pose for me--"if only!" was the gist of my response), and he really has packed the later parts of the book with a vast number of his own excellent illustrations by way of example of the things he goes on to discuss in detail. It was primarily that classic "idealized" figure technique that drew me to the book--because it's one thing to learn proportions and anatomy, but another to know how to render them with a flair and economy of line that can separate the beautiful from the grotesque.
The "idealized" figure is mentioned very frequently in the early part of the book that I have read--some detailed illustrations of proportion, for instance, directly comparing the "dumpy" old realistic proportions (7.5 heads high--the figure here is a balding older man :p) with the idealized proportions (8 heads high) of the illustrator's figures, as well as those of the contemporary fashion industry (8.5 heads) and of "heroic" figures, such as mythical gods (9 heads). I'm not too worried about those and the perspective sections--if I can't eyeball it, I don't wanna draw it, says I ;)--but the veritable need, more or less taken for granted by Loomis--to produce this "idealized" figure is remarkable. And if you think about it, that's kind of how advertising was, back in the day; for instance, here are some old adverts a relative just happened to forward to me today (specifically for their quaint language or products, but never mind that :P):
Check out those idealized illustrated figures!
Of course, that job market for illustrators, so vital and vibrant in Loomis' day, has pretty much vanished over oh the past fifty years or so. And you sure as heck don't get figure drawing in fine art like you did oh say before the abstract expressionists and impressionists kind of put an end to that. Blame it all on the camera, I suppose. Really the only commercial place figure drawing *has* stayed alive to a significant degree, if you think about it--well, aside from concept art, maybe--is in comics. And while I do think it is good that comic art, now more than ever perhaps, has an appreciation for being able to draw very non-ideal figures, it certainly doesn't hurt to be able to do idealized ones as well.
It was pointed out to me that that photo is actually of a nautilus! I should have said that cephalopods in general do not have this problem (their eyes, though similar-looking, evolved in a different way than vertebrate eyes)--but I just have a weakness for the word "octopi." :'D
So ends episode 13! Episode 14 starts tomorrow! It will be a bit different than what we've been doing, and I think you'll dig it--and don't worry, we'll get back to what we've been doing pretty quickly, too. So yeah! More on that (and the first pages!) tomorrow.
I think I've seen the direction in which I want to head with this ink wash business, and over the past few days I've decided I may as well go for it. Naturally, it's the most difficult direction I could think of for myself, and there will be lots of stumbling and bumbling and spilling of ink along the way, but I think fairly soon you'll start to see it paying off--unless I turn out to be just awful at it, which is always a possibility! But there is no reward for timidity in art, so--onward!
If you wanna see someone with a definite bold inking style of their own, look no further than Sean Murphy. The dude is merciless with ink (over his own pencils, I should mention), and if you don't believe me check the many examples on his deviantART. For a day or so (this was around about page 161) I thought man, I'll do a ton of hard dynamic lines in a zingy linear style, just like Sean Murphy! As you can see, that did not last long--I just don't seem to work that way. Fortunately, though, Murphy does, and you can even see him at work with a brush and "crow quill" (what the comic industry seems to like calling dip pens) in this video, in which he's also talking about what he's doing as he inks a typically complicated and heavily lined background:
One thing I noticed there was that most of the dips of his brush weren't in ink--they were in water; he does that to thin the ink and get a gray. That inspired me to abandon the little pre-mixed gradations of ink wash I'd made, and start trying to mix on the fly, just with a single jar of water like that; at first I had thought it would be impossible to get consistent tones, but then I realized that each dip, swish, or wipe in the water jar will lighten the subsequent wash from the brush down by an amount you can predict if you have a steady dipping method, and have been paying attention to the results of previous dips. And this way you can quickly make any gray you need, on the fly, and mix it into what you have on the page before it dries, so you can get some nice gradients. I've been practicing that on the past two pages, and I'm still inconsistent and not-so-smooth with the technique, but it should get better with each page, and eventually the pages will be much more organic than they had been before.
Murphy also has a journal entry here about the value of original art--that he collects inked pages by other artists so that he can see their process; you see, one the secret of comic inkers is that inked pages are not actually all nice and smooth and black like they look in printed comics or even mostly online; in reality, there is a lot of dark gray, and little ridges and ripples and things that get eliminated during the scanning and Photoshopping process. So if you have someone's original inked page, you can see a lot more of how they did it. I thought that was an interesting point!
One artist whose pages Murphy collects is the late Jorge Zaffino; here's a decent gallery of some of Zaffino's work. Impressive stuff, and it's easy to see how it influenced Murphy's style.