drawing epiphany

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Caricature.Actually, two of them- the first one happened years ago...

I always struggled with caricature. I've done them for friends and family, for fun and profit, sometimes succeeding sometimes failing. Mostly, I'm embarrassed, frustrated, and dreading the next one- while hoping for a chance to improve and really nail one.

The rendering process occasionally was very brief. Maybe I knew the individual really well and had mentally drawn their caricature dozens of times. I already saw the subtle nuance and knew how to capture it. Other times, I drew for days and days, generating hundreds of versions.

Caricature. Usually, I'd manage to get a line right somewhere. I'd trace that line onto vellum or cheap xerox paper on a light table and look for another "piece" that might be right. Maybe an eyebrow was the right shape, but in the wrong place. Depending on complexity, I may trace the new part onto the piece of vellum with the good first line. Often, though, redrawing would take too long and I'd cut out the part I wanted and tape it to my good page. When there were no more good parts, I'd try again, this time on vellum overtop of my first file. Occasionally I might draw a great eye, but it might be aligned badly- for that, I'd shift the vellum into proper alignment, tape it in place, then add a blank sheet for what was next. A nose, the lips, the line of a cheek or hair.

Caricature.Hirschfeld's work looked so effortless. No matter what I did it was always an almost endless and usually unrewarding process to get a look I'd accept. The times when I could knock one off at first shot were far too rare. By the time I could say "good enough" deadlines were far too close for polish.

Then one day I read an interview with Al Hischfeld. He talked about his process. He said that he usually had to produce hundreds of drawings, often getting an eye right on one and a nose on another. He'd trace parts on to vellum, cobbling together a master image that he'd trace, extremely large, as his final cartoon.

Caricature.Good grief. I was doing it the same way the pros did it. I was struggling the same way they did. It was okay to "work" at it; I didn't have to tear off a masterpiece in a flash. With the time they allowed Hirschfeld and the space to work large, I might be able to do work that wasn't a total embarrassment.

The second and by far the more important moment happened not long ago. I've always wanted to do animation. Create the story, develop the characters, do the drawings... working as a cog in a process never particularly turned me on, but working on the entire multimedia piece as an expression of my own vision has always seemed exciting.

Caricature.As a kid I tried sequential art and I made flip books, but the photographic process was always out of reach. Time. Money. Never enough of either.

Digitalia changed all that; no biggy there. But having the tools is considerably different than having the skill or talent. No matter how many times I tried, the results always, well, completely sucked. It felt very much like I had everything I needed except the talent.

The epiphany came while I was reading a new biography of Walt Disney. It's very dry, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, except for this one insight: the animators generally took two hours to do a finished character drawing. In Sleeping Beauty, one of the more stylistically simple Disney 'toons, the animators were under an extremely short deadline and had to crank up their speed- people drawing the girl had to try for eight pencil drawings a day.

Wow. Everytime I worked, I worked mostly to test concepts and experiment with software. I would be satisfied with crude characterizations and rough movement, but even with low expectations, I failed. Now I realized that it was okay to spend some time on the drawings. I never would allow myself more than a few minutes per frame; now I had learned that it wasn't remedial cartooning to take an hour.


Catherine said:

Not that I should be able to recognize every caricature on your blog, I think I do except for the gentlemen whom you've paired.

Anonymous said:

Catherine, that pair is actually B. F. Skinner and Conrad Lorenz. Not too obvious in the small shot is a rat on Skinner's shoulder, pellets in his open hand and a sparking wire held ready. Lorenz has a love struck duck.

Catherine said:

Yikes! I do remember the images now . . . from the Psychology museum project. All of the images are excellent.

BTW, my deepest apologies to all offended!


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