Friday, July 06, 2007

Ramjet Construction

I always encourage young cartoonists to absorb many styles by copying them and trying to understand what makes them work...

rather than falling in love with a single current trendy thing and crippling your ability to see the difference between truly good and merely trendy. The more styles you copy AND ANALYZE AND UNDERSTAND, the better you will be as an artist and as a judge of what's skilled as opposed to just current.Kali has been copying some of my favorite artists like Fred Crippen, Johnny Hart and Brant Parker.

Those artists superficially have simple, flat styles. But there is much more to them than meets the untrained eye.


Kali has a really good natural eye and like many young talented cartoonists tends to copy things "straight ahead".

That is, starting at one end of a drawing and then continuing to the other until it's finished. If you have a really good eye for copying you can make a decent copy...but you won't learn anything.

You don't absorb an understanding of the WHY something looks the way it does. Then you can't use those principles to aid your own original drawings.

I encourage young artists-usually against their stubborn wills to use planning in their drawings. To use a method.


Starting with "Construction". The most important tool you need.

I started taking Kali's eyeballed copies and drawing over them to build the drawings out of large forms that in turn are carrying smaller forms and details.

Then I thought, maybe I should show her how to construct even a stylized drawing.


This is a beautiful, well planned design.

It has:
Contrasts in shapes, sizes, angles, positions.
Negative shapes to draw your eye to the positive shapes. Her cheek compared to her eyes and mouth, for example.
Room for the features to move.
Line Of Action
Shapes are well balanced
Details fit into the forms; they don't exist in their own planes

On top of all those skilled, planned artistic principles, it's funny.

Here's another character I constructed.

When drawing a form-such as the cranium,

Draw both sides at once-draw the whole shape of the cranium.

Look at both sides to see that it makes a convincing form, not wonky or melty.Draw your biggest forms first-each on both sides of the form.

The cranium.
The lower face
The torso
The legs.

Then take each of those major forms and divide them into the next level of parts that make them up.

Cranium into eyes-make sure the eyes fit well into the cranium-that they look like part of the head.

Lower face-break up into jaw, cheeks and mouth-make all those parts work together each shape fits into the next.

Kali started doing this and her drawings instantly got better, more convincing.
I took one of her improved sketches and made it a little more solid.
Here's more Kali sketches before my second fine tuning. She gets better with every planned drawing she does. She is naturally gifted and learns fast. The more methods she uses the more her gifted eye will understand the why of the beautiful.

You can do this too. Learn faster by learning why and how things work. Don't rely merely on talent.

Wanna try one? Using THE METHOD?
We have also been studying how to construct and draw Bugs Bunny, by copying McKimson and Scribner.

Bugs is really subtle and hard to draw!

Want me to show you how to construct them both ways?

After I see how you do on the Ramjet contruction, I'll post Bugs - who is more difficult because he is more 3 dimensional and has smaller details.


Mike said...

i couldnt draw hardly at all until i began to construct my own things. after reading your blog about how this is a sort of advanced concept i was thinking this might be sort of a problem if i basically dont have real strong underpinings of drawing skill yet, i'm almost helpless without some degree of construction.

Serge said...

oh paleeease do the bugs bunny thing

Serge said...

oh paleeease do the bugs bunny thing

PCUnfunny said...

I find it amazing how you can analyze a drawing and replicate it so well.Those Ramjet designs are lively and cartoony.

"Want me to show you how to construct them both ways?"

Why do you tease ? Just post,POST DAMMIT !!!!

Jake Thomas said...

"Want me to show you how to construct them both ways?"

Do you even need to ask? You know the answer

Nico said...

PLEASE post your Bugs Bunny drawings! It's pretty rare to see a John K. drawing of the WB characters.

Steve said...


I'd also love to see a breakdown of the 'This shouldn't even happen to a dog" suicide bloodhound. The animation of his nose and snout cracks me up whenever I see it.

Anonymous said...

Please John, please do. I've saw that poster you did at the Warner Bros. Store and I think you draw the most appealing bugs, as well as for the cutest wabbit.

Duck Dodgers said...

I posted HERE many screenshots from the Popeye set. what do you think? Look gorgeous to me!

Mitch said...

Hee nice post, I like these lessons.

I learn alot from it.

Please post the bugs bunny stuf :)

Mitch said...
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Mitch said...
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Chipnyu said...

Oh ho, Kali certainly has that 60s look to it. You can compare this to "What's new Mr. Magoo?" Kali does have a plain style, and I can probably guess this cartoon is animated in limited animation as well. Heck, most modern shows use limited animation now.

Indeed you are right, Johnny Boy, most artists out there are commonly going after of what is trendy, and possibly the greater artists might even going after that as well, HAH.

I also can't really get into symmetery into my works (if you CAN call it that, I'm just a little post adolesent guy who can't draw for carp), or "straight" lines, even in a final draft. You're going to have to go through on that sometime.

I do hope you drop a message to me about this, you're a very talented cartoonist- no, artist.

JohnH said...

I must admit I'm pleasantly surprised you included the Wizard of Id characters. Johnny Hart got slaged a lot towards the end for his obnoxiously Christian content and cut-and-pasted characters, but back in his heyday the guy was very good, and his character designs are ultra recognizable.

How recognizable? Most of the characters you drew from the strip, like the fool and the knight, I haven't seen in over a decade, and I no longer remember their names, but I still recognized them as having come from Wizard of Id!

flashcartoons said...

wow, thank you so much for this construction explanation

this was very very very helpful

dwestburg said...

This was an extremely helpful post. I've always drawn "straight ahead" and copied other peoples drawings. (

I'm going to use your insights from this post to see if I can improve my drawing ability.

I'm really looking forward to a post on constructing Bugs Bunny!

Tibby said...

Very nice lesson. I am using it to improve my works. Learing from you is always a pleasure.

I use a lot of Fanart to work on my skills. Tranfromers (hey - it's cause I like that stupid cheesy cartoon - the original 1985 one, not the current ones! Exept for Beast Wars, which is a CGI series) And I've got fantart of Ren & Stimpy from 1995, and a lot of other stuff. I learned how to make comic books and Manga from copying. The 60's stuff is a tad before my time - but it is all important to learn the fundamentals no matter what time period they are from. Especialy thew classics because they laid down the fundamentals.

I'll take some photos of a ceramic mug thing I made in high school of Ren & Stimpy and share them with you, it's kinda lumpy - but it wasn't a bad piece.

Kove the lessons from one of the masters of animation! Keep em' coming! They do make a difference.

Tibby said...

And in every art book I've ever read - ALWAYS start with construction! I do - I can't do it any other way. Fill in the other bits as you go. It is "teh law" of great work.

Anonymous said...

Cool post John. I used to just copy the lines I saw when trying to recreate other cartoonists drawings. After spending time doing lessons from the Preston Blair book I now use the methods you posted about. I feel like I've learned a lot more by digging into the construction of the pose rather than making a superficial imitation.

I think everyone would like to see some Bugs Bunny drawings by you and Kali. I know I do!

Anonymous said...

This is my style of choice. I ate up Rocky and Bullwinkle, Roger Ramjet and Underdog. I've studied Crippen, Glasser, Hurtz, Pintoff etc. The reasons why these characters work is that they all have personality and the drawings are just damn funny. Unfortunately this tyle is not as well received in today's buyers as experienced first hand, but I find kids and adults dtill dig the look. Another great cartoonist to study in this veign, but looser, is Sergio Aragones.

Vanoni! said...

I've received comments from artists I really respected who've said my drawings needed more construction. This frustrated the hell outta me because I WAS using construction. It took me a long while to realize I was putting the lines down, but I wasn't using them at all.

I'm still struggling with this. Bad habits are hard to break.

PS: I'd like to piss some people off and request you break down some more Ramjet characters before Bugs.

- Corbett

Vanoni! said...

Oh! And I don't know if I'd put Aragones in this vein, Bob.
Although a tremendous artist, and one of the nicest people I've ever met - I don't know if I've ever seen him use construction. :)

Max Ward said...

Seeing you construct characters is really really really helpful. So please do a post on Bugs

Chris E. said...

This sort of thing makes me appreciate what I do more. I think a simple style can have far more personality and life, which I'm trying to show off in my own blog.

Thank you for pointing this sort of thing out, John.

Mitch said...

I tried to use the method on two of the designs.
Im wondering what I am doing bad.

I posted it on my blog.

I are da cute one said...

Jake Outtake gives this post a B+. ;)

This kind of reminds me of school house rock. Could you do a post comparing it to this? That would really be interesting

Anonymous said...

Actrually Sergio taught me cartooning and the first lesson was construction.

He has currently reached a point where construction isn't as necessary for him as it was in his earlier days. He still does construction for his comics, and goes looser with his Mad stuff.

Jack Kirby was the same. He could do a fantastic Captain America drawing starting with his belt buckle.

The reason I put Sergio in this vein is his use of shapes and making them beliveable. His early Mad stuff is very close in styling of Ramjet - he evolved and made his on formula.

Mr. Semaj said...
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