LET'S GET AT IT!

HANDCRAFTED RAW POWER AND FIRE

Enthralling acrobatics combined with urgent, purposeful dialogue that drives the story along. The action is fluid and wild but the brilliant composition keeps Spider-Man in constant focus. Artist Steve Ditko knows how to excite and captivate an audience!

By stark contrast, the comics of yesteryear had raw, hand-tooled elements. There were even mistakes that were ingrained into the work that enhanced it’s signature character, interest and vivid vitality. I recently analysed key pieces of Jack Kirby’s work, created during the 60’s when he was really hitting all the marks. Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and to a much lesser degree Stan Lee, produced astounding, thrilling and creative comic work that was the driving force behind Marvel Comic’s reconstruction.

I concentrated on Kirby’s work to discern exactly what made his comic work so special, so very different than what’s being put out today. As you can see in the examples I provided, the first level impact is primal, explosive action buoyed with brilliant composition that literally jumps off the page at you. The secondary impact is the dynamic, competent and emotive dialogue that drives the story forward in a captivating way. You are drawn into the inner thoughts of the hero, the urgency of his or her struggles, and the dramatic exchanges between characters. Nothing is wasted. There is no idle or meaningless chatter. The dialogue is precisely crafted and it pulls you into the world the story is building. Thirdly, I found that Kirby’s stories built true suspense; each mystery with its compelling drama emanated raw appeal. So much so, that if a key page of one of these classics was missing, you would be frantically dismayed at being caught in a state of endless suspense. At its core, these books were so concise and well written, that even one missing page would destroy the entirety of the tale. Try pulling out a page in today’s commercially produced books and the same effect would not be anywhere nearly as dire.

This isn’t simply frenetic action — it’s suspense and tension thoughtfully applied. You know it’s effective, because if you were reading this as a comic, and you discovered the next page was missing — you would lose your mind!

An analysis of the problem with modern comics suggests that a great number of present-day comic artists and writers have never learned foundational art. Writers have limited to no education in the literary arts, no wide exposure to great novels or to the basic rules. Instead, they learned what they know from other comic books. This is not meant as criticism, for few even knew that instruction like this even existed. The few that did know, abandoned it for the quick and easy path. This is problematic, as there are rules and specific training disciplines inherent in the old teachings that are not being followed today, and it shows. Missing are the sound and timeless educating guidelines literally acquired from ages of instruction and discovery. These critically essential teachings have been largely abandoned by modern day art schools in favour of a monetized agenda that prepares students for careers in corporate based arts. If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a noticeable absence of quintessential “Great American Authors” or why there is a dearth of Bernie Wrightson or Mike Kaluta’s out and about, this is the very reason. This classical foundation is no longer taught, much less passed on to a new generation willing to take it’s fundamentals and expound upon them into new undiscovered limits. Sorry to say, but you simply can’t make anything decent from a faded and cheap third generation copy of an original that was initially produced with foundation principles.

There are a handful of artists and writers that have sought out learning these disciplines. You can spot it in their work immediately - the late Dave Stevens of Rocketeer fame, for example. In fact, every famous, widely-known and timeless artist from R. Crumb to Frank Frazetta has followed timeless traditional art instruction and forged their own artistic path. These artists could write their own ticket and go anywhere, for they mastered the fundamentals, and from it developed their own signature styles. They all learned this great information through attending schools that taught it at the time, or they devoured books at libraries to pursue their studies, or they worked with a classically trained mentor who passed on this knowledge.

Unbridled action, spot on composition and dimensional rendering drive this work. I hope you are starting to see a pattern and disparity between the art and writing of the old-school comic books, versus the new work being excreted out. 

This critique isn’t about nostalgia, nor the pining for days long past. It’s about being short-changed by a medium — cheated by a slick, synthesized, industrial by-product. This is the inevitable, degenerative end result when creative control is stolen from the creators, and left to the devices of mindless, soulless, profit and agenda driven automatons. Nothing more than avaricious, self-aggrandised pimps who have wilful disregard for you, as well as contempt for the financial support you’ve provided them through buying their products. If anything, this is a rallying cry to resurrect a dying medium, to wrest it away and deliver it back into the capable, caring hands of organic creators and their supporters. Yes, the real comic book-content creators, who actually love what they do, who respect their audience and their intelligence. These creators deliver exciting, original and imaginatively compelling work that touches people. Their enthralling art and stories stir within the mind and heart of the audience and drives them crazy to see more.

Jack Kirby, a masterful visionary at work. A man who elevated the art form with 
creative visions exploding onto the page from his heart and mind.

A critical missing piece is that of the hero. Heroes are no longer iconic symbols of justice and now they just exist as props. This key essential element is what made the individual character interesting: however, their ethics and persona drove you to look up to them. It inspired you to be greater than yourself, and gave you a code and morality to emulate. It screamed out that indignity and injustice were not to be tolerated, and that one dedicated person can make a difference in the world. It just took the fire of courage and a uniquely applied fortitude, to tenaciously see challenges through, no matter how great or adversarial. The extraordinary individual or individuals could dig down deep and power through despair, despite all odds. Foremost, the iconic hero is the every-man who rises to the call, the saviour who charges forth without hesitation.

Lastly, I’m not advocating that ALL comics be this way. I actually would love to see a return to a wide diversity of the medium. From the funny, to the dramatic, to the educational, to the heroic, to cartoony, or even something totally brand new. Think of elevating your audience’s consciousness, and don’t ever pander to lower common denominator content, just because that’s what you think they want. Respecting your audience for what they want and treasure is something real and honest. It’s something true and heartfelt that resonates. If you are a true creator, your first love should be for the art form and medium, now and always. If you build your dream intently and with passion, through your dedication and vigour, they will come.

One thing you must always remember, NEVER, EVER sell out your creations or creative ownership. These are YOUR offspring, the very creations that you laboured hard to birth, so you need to retain the permanent creative control over them. Never sell out your intellectual property for the false promise of success and a quick buck. You will forever regret it in the long run and join a long line of tragically ripped-off creators.

Do you think I’m being over dramatic? Read here for a mere snippet of tales of creators who were cheated out of their intellectual property:  10 Times Comic Book Creators Were Screwed Over. Fall for corporatist swindles and you will see your pimped out creations die a miserable, shameful and degrading demise — they will be transformed into nothing more than another pathetic brand in the company’s stable.

So with all that being said, let’s move on to learning some of this foundational mystery knowledge.

GESTURE DRAWING

Excellent Gesture drawing instruction here by artists Griz and Norm. 
Keep your gesture renderings loose, flowing and alive with energy!

If there’s one foundation to figure drawing that depicts the human form in action, it’s Gesture Drawing. If you’re new to it, I’ll explain. And if you’re not, you really need to faithfully incorporate its practice daily. To begin, Gesture Drawing is an exercise designed to teach both the fluidity of motion and the energy of line dynamics in posed action. It’s meant to capture the symmetry of proportion, the interplay of human form construction and balance in motion. A Gesture rendering exercise is to be performed with loose, sweeping lines that focus on expressing the energy and vitality of the movement. Don’t tense up your hand and peck at the lines. Instead, concentrate on putting your shoulder and the whole of your arm into the rendering arcs.

If your drawing space is small, retain the sweeping curved movements inherent in Gesture, but reduce the movement from the shoulder to the elbow or wrist. In other words, when you have a large drawing space on the page, use your shoulder to create the arcs of the line to capture the movement of your subject. In a medium page space, you minimize the movement by working from your elbow, in small spaces, and utilise your wrist. In very small drawing spaces, you must learn to reduce that movement to your fingers.

Great gesture sketches incorporate flow of line, emotive capture, 
as well as depiction of weight, dimension and balance.

The key in performing Gesture Drawing is to make sure that the action you depict is exaggerated, pushing the figure’s action to its logical limits of expression. There’s an additional challenge involved  — you must perform each rendering within a strict 2-minute time period. If you need some reference models to use, I have a very nice collection going at my  TVIA Pinterest page. The methodology in drawing gesture is to first render the essential lines that capture the movement, and then exaggerate them; make sure to always drive energy and vibrancy into the lines. You’ll need to do this quickly and confidently, by sweeping and arcing the lines, but never pecking at them.

After establishing these action lines, begin framing out musculature with all the twists and bends of the figure in action. Don’t concentrate on any full details, but instead render in a very simple figure. Remember you only have a 2-minute time limit!

As you progress in proficiency, you can reduce the time limit to 1 minute, and then to even 30 seconds. Perform this every day, making it an important daily habit, just like brushing your teeth. A challenge that I incorporate is to watch an action TV show or movie that I’ve seen before, and perform Gesture drawings from the actions of the figures on the screen. I highly recommend this exercise, as it will teach you to mentally snapshot the action. You make a quick imprint of it in your memory and then rapidly render it on paper.

Key points and tips on Gesture drawing by Griz and Norm

This technique will train both your artistic eye and hand to begin acclimating and developing the drawing of the human form dynamically. Initially, don’t fret about the drawings turning out well. It’s critically important at this stage to get the motion of the pose accurate. If mistakes begin to surface, remain undaunted and keep on practicing. Correct the mistakes as you go, and really drive the expressive life of the form into the line work. Keep at it! Proper form, executed with determination and persistent practice, will yield reward in skill. Once you are able to smoothly capture the movements in rendering a simple framework, you can now move on to the next challenge of filling out the form out with detail.

You will have the same 2-minute time limit per pose, but now you must begin training to build out the form swiftly. The goal is to render a simple framework, and then focus on adding simple form detail. Make this a practice everyday like eating or sleeping, and perform it for a minimum of 30 minutes at first. Then, increase it to an hour, if possible. This can be a fun and informal way of practicing, especially with a substantially more challenging time limit. The extra time will press upon training your eye and memory. If you go to the Video Art Instruction part of my Links section, you’ll find some very effective teaching videos to help guide you in learning proper Gesture drawing.

Terrific capture of a crouching woman creeping forward by Griz and Norm. 
Demonstrating key elements of weight, action and emotion that bring the work to life.

In composing this latest post, I found, perhaps, the best rendering and tips on Gesture Drawing by artists Griz and Norm. You can find them at: Griz and Norm Tumblr  and at their website, grizandnorm.squarespace.com  I’ve seen many different renditions of Gesture Drawing depicted, but for me, the pinnacle are the ones done by Griz and Norm. They fully understand the concept and execute it magnificently, as you can see in examples below.

Gesture Drawing at its core, is the amalgamated depiction of weight, form compression and extension. It’s the capture of dynamic lines of action, and instilling into it energy and life. When you set out to practice Gesture drawing daily, you must always keep this in mind as the focal point, as it is essential to producing truly unique works of form expression. As the old song once said… “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”, which means you must master bringing these lines into a thrilling vibrant life of their own. Remember, when you exaggerate the figure’s line of action to its logical physical extreme, you will always produce drawings that are compelling to look at.

Capturing the force, energy and drama of the movement in a visual snapshot is absolutely key to remember!

USING SCULPTURE AS A DRAWING REFERENCE

Master sculptor Philippe Faraut working on an amazingly lifelike girl’s head.

In the course of my own studies and artistic development, I discovered something new I’d like to share with you. In illustration and drawing in general, it’s widely known and accepted that you should always draw using a live model of your subject. This, however, is not always available or practical to accommodate in all circumstances. So, the next form of suitable reference would be a photograph of the subject. However, the use of photographs for reference has its own limitations, as it is only an impression of dimension that is captured and depicted in two-dimension. Video or film is slightly better than photos, because you can pick up on the nuances of character emotions. It’s not ideal, but between the two, it is better than nothing in lieu of a live model.

Further, when using references from photos, make sure they are clear, clean photographs of your subject and NOT a drawing or a degenerated photo image. Generally, avoid using any unsuitable facsimiles of poor quality to draw from. Fortunately, I’ve found a great new source of references that provide a novel method of learning dimensional construction of the head and figure composition. What is this new source? Sculpture in clay.

Clay modelling is very much like rendering the form in illustration, and in both mediums, live models are often used. Additionally, the basic wire frame is established with the gesture of the action captured. Then, a structural build out of the mass of the form follows, with its subsequent detailing sculpted and worked up into the final composition. An illustrator’s methodology works similarly, but the mechanics used in working the form from clay, reveals to the observer some very helpful and important details. What it imparts specifically is the visualisation and depiction of dimension into the forms. Step by step, during this creation process, you can see shapeless bulk take on definitive structure, building on an evolving foundation to finally become a vibrant, true to life sculpture.

As you can see, the detailed features and shadows in sculpting actually make 
rendering them in illustration a bit easier, when a live model is not available.

Gifted sculptor Philippe Faraut  https://philippefaraut.com produces excellent works of this sort. His medium is simple clay, out of which he brilliantly brings to life astounding recreations of the human and animal form. I strongly urge you to watch his videos I specifically collected here: https://www.pinterest.com/vintageinkwellacademy/sculpture-as-drawing-reference. Make sure to watch, re-watch and focus in on how Phillipe takes rudimentary forms and then sculpts the details. These are the very same methods used to render the figure form and head structure in figure drawing. By paying close attention and emulating this process on the page, you will progress in building your skills upon a solid foundation.

As you can see here, the steps in building the figure in clay are the same used in composing a figure drawing.

SO, YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW TO DRAW THE TRADITIONAL WAY…

As I pointed out earlier, you must learn the founding principles of art to have a firm footing in reaching your artistic potential. It needs to be followed resolutely and with all due determination. However, few students do, preferring instead to follow an easy road and produce lifeless, unmemorable results. The more challenging educational journey, fires the creative energies, excites the imagination, and delivers the much more lasting rewards on which you can make your name. Its rules and guidelines will propel your artistic education and expertise to new heights. If you’ve been struggling with drawing and falling short of the mark, traditional art studies can provide new insight through their training.

Make your own school. You tell ’em Jack! Mini poster created by Ryan "Rylee" Lee

Where can one find these dynamic books with foundational teaching from the absolute top vintage art teachers? Just navigate to The Vintage Inkwell Academy  Library section in the above top site menu. This is where I host and curate a growing collection of personally reviewed and tested vintage art instruction books for artists, from absolute beginner to advanced level. I can help point the way, but the rest is entirely up to you in constructing and pursuing your own personal school of art instruction. For inside these vintage books, lay the keys that will give you the tools, methodologies and techniques to become the best artist you can. I too, am a developing artist, pursuing and digesting this knowledge. After finding educational sources so rare and valuable, I wanted to make it easily available to anyone else who struggled as I did. Also, along the way in my artistic journey, I kept running into problems locating good reference material to draw from. Frustrated by the paucity of available resources, I decided to create my own. So, for the developing artist, I host great artist reference content here to help you get started: https://www.pinterest.com/vintageinkwellacademy.

IT’S ALL IN THE MIND

The wellspring of creation is in the mind. Its seed germinates in fertile imagination and is brought into existence through the hands of its creator. Within the confines of this structured universe, inspiration is energized, ideas manifest and compete, and a creation is either initiated or destroyed upon the launching pad. The self-destructive mind-set of any artist lay in an eternal struggle against doubt, failure and the cognitive anchors one subconsciously sets that prevent the smooth sailing of their work and goals. Perception is paramount, as artists often sabotage their own efforts by cultivating and subconsciously carrying negative or detrimental thoughts. This, in turn, produces inaction or a pattern of destructive self-criticism. Internal and external declarations such as “I suck at art”, “I’m terrible at drawing” or an amalgamation of the two, “My drawings suck” are all bad starts, and need to be discontinued immediately. This destructive dead-weight does nothing, but set in your mind failure from the start, so let’s set about fixing that, right now!

Just as the Sun greets a fresh new day, so should you mentally approach drawing daily. 
Empty all negative thoughts and start fresh on that blank page.

Just as the sun heralds a new day, your creative approach in illustrating as an artist begins again. You must start off each drawing day like a fresh page of paper to inscribe your vision. A brand new page on your art pad is blank with nothing but the promise of a free and fresh start. This is the very same mind-set that must be cultivated to defeat the negative preconceptions that sabotage your efforts and hold you back. The simple truth is that EVERYONE starts from somewhere and your artistic journey, much like your personal experiences, are unique and unlike anyone else. Refrain from comparing yourself to other artists, and this includes your inspirational art mentors. Just keep working diligently to learn, practice and render to the very best of your ability. Every day is different. There will be good drawing days and bad drawing days. This is 100% normal and to be expected.

Refrain from retaining and reject outright any negative mental baggage! Take a few minutes before drawing to clear your mind completely. Take the time to flush all that junk out of your brain’s neural pathways. Your mind will now be fresh, responsive and open, with clear channels to drive the visual expression on the journey from your mind, to your hand and then to the page. It’s absolutely imperative for you to maintain this positive mental outlook, in order to progress and grow as an artist. The old saying ‘Garbage In, and Garbage Out’ encapsulates this perfectly as a reminder. Always remember, that if you refer to yourself, your skill and what you do in a denigrating manner, you’re setting fire to your own house. Starting out with failure as a frame of mind will not help you succeed in what you believe in and are working to accomplish. So stop sabotaging yourself and take a reflective, meditative moment to re-energize your thinking so you can start out fresh every time.

Unleash the creative power of your artistic mind. Train to surmount obstacles 
and never fall into a destructive mindset that's like setting fire to your own house.

Well, that’s all for this round, see you the next time. 

Please reach out in the comments if you like what I’ve been sharing so far, 
or if have any questions or have any helpful knowledge to share.

Once again I want to extend my personal gratitude for the editorial assistance of Mr. Bob Keough.

1 thought on “Let’s Get At It!”

  1. Thanks for sharing your insight, knowledge and various links, Ghost Man!

    What a captivating and inspirational read.

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