Saturday, July 11, 2009


I've mentioned using "hierarchy" in many posts but don't know if I've ever done a post that focuses on it.It's a bit hard to articulate in words, but luckily Geneva sent me a link to her latest study of classic cartoon construction and it shows me that in her steps of drawing the character, she used hierarchy to control the order of shapes and details.
First, she broke down the biggest shapes and flowed them around the construction. You can really see hierarchy in the plan of the hair shapes. The hair is broken down into one part that flows off the top of her head, and another part that flips up into curls at the bottom. Once Geneva got those 2 shapes to look good and to sensibly sit on the head and shoulders, then she went in and drew the individual hairs and made them wrap around the larger shapes.

Hierarchy is having a general plan that starts with a large idea - a structure - and then breaking that structure into smaller and smaller segments, but making each smaller segment subject to the laws or purposes of the larger segments. Or - having a clear plan, and then making all your details follow the plan and better - to enhance it.

Any kind of structure uses hierarchy - a building, a story, a drawing, a duck. You don't build a house by starting with a window. Or a duck by starting with a tine on a feather.

Even "flat" drawing styles can benefit from the use of hierarchy:
All these drawings use the same principles as classic 40s cartoon compositions and drawings.

Boy, that Michael Sporn sure has a great blog!

Without hierarchy, you have anarchy.

I don't know if that is clear, so ask questions in the comments.

Remind me to break down this great example of hierarchy some day:
Here's Kali's application of hierarchy:She started with an overall composition and built it around her characters - but each separate element fits into the larger scheme and the details of each element follow the rules of its shape.

I like to see all this progress and classic cartoon thinking coming back.

BTW, Kali has an "etsy" now - whatever the heck that is, but she says it's important:

I can't keep up with all this internet crap. You got yer "Facebook", your "buttbook", your "Tweets" and "Twoots". How many of these things do we need? Would somebody please just make a phone that works? That's the fogey in me talking.


Xris Parsell said...

Excellent post on an elusive concept, and as opposed to ‘composition’ or ‘character design,’ one of the hardest principals for me to implement the basic rules for overall better design.

The examples you used are very good, but do you have any examples of incorrect hierarchy to contrast against?

Vincent Waller said...

Beautiful stuff. One day I learn to draw pretty.

Iron maiden said...

who did the picture of the cactus ? Just wondering

Jack G. said...

I can't keep up with all this internet crap. You got yer "Facebook", your "buttbook", your "Tweets" and "Twoots". How many of these things do we need? Would somebody please just make a phone that works? That's the fogey in me talking.

Most of the stuff is just wasting your time.

The internet's a great souce of information (like this blog).

And I wouldn't of found my animation wedge without it.
Nor would I have all my out of print Don Martin books.

Another informative post.

bloatedsackofprotoplasm said...

Is that last drawing a Geneva too?

David Nethery said...

Hierarchy , construction, design ... inescapable concepts if one wants to create something worthwhile. Good posts on fundamentals as usual, Mr. K. Thanks.

Zaphod2 said...

Great post John. Just what I was looking for. Thanks.

Niki said...

I enjoyed reading this twice.

SquirrelyWrath said...

As for websites and such, most people would just use

There are a lot of very good artist on there and a gaggle of bad ones like myself. Buuuuuut Ive only been at this for less than a year.

Geneva said...

John! You are so supportive and kind. Thank you so much. I appreciate it and hope to reciprocate with hard work for you!

The other drawings in this post are amazing! I hope I can make drawings that beautiful some day!

Joseff said...

One question, i think i got this straight, Hierarchy is the step that follows construction qhen your doing a drawing? I mean, the details. I've been waiting a long time for this post. And thanks for this awesome and very informative blog.

Alec said...

Exellent stuff John.
I hope to be as good as you one day.Like to be a cartoonist...

Amanda H. said...

How do I get to do one of these studies if you don't mind me asking?