Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cartoonist Warm Up Exercises: Girls' Hair

I strongly recommend to every growing cartoonist to do warm up exercises every day. Athletes warm up before stressing their stiff joints, musicians practice their scales every day before jumping right into their performances and I think cartoonists can benefit from limbering up their pencils and brains before they attack their work. I should follow this advice and I did this morning.

I think it's especially important to warm up on things you're not good at.

I like drawing pretty girls, but like many male cartoonists I generally concentrate on the face and body, and don't pay a lot of attention to the hair or clothes. The talented female cartoonists are way ahead of us guys when it comes to drawing individual girls and their specific hairstyles and fashions. They do it so well in fact that it leaves us guys looking like morons with one track minds.
Hair is hard to draw (as you probably noticed from my modern Disney posts). There is more to it than just drawing a lot of individual strands. First, there is the overall shape the hair takes as it forms around the skull underneath. Different girls and different hairstyles have different shapes. There are pleasant shapes, and then there are ugly shapes.

Many cartoonist don't understand head proportions. The eyes on a real human are in the middle of the head - halfway from the top of the skull to the bottom of the chin. There is a style where characters' eyes are too far up towards the top of the head and that makes the characters look like pinheads or neanderthals.Hair on top of the head actually should make your forehead look bigger than your lower face, not smaller.

A lot of cartoonists also cut off the back of the cranium and squash the hair area right up to the ear. That makes characters look like they've had terrible accidents.

Trying to figure out what makes certain hair styles look good may take a while to figure out, but here are my first attempts.

I started by trying to get overall shape of a hairstyle, and then breaking that shape into sub-forms, while trying to figure out the physics of the sub forms-how they interact with eatch other, and the head shape underneath-and gravity.
My first sketches are slow, careful, studious - and stiff. We all hate our stiff drawings because they look lousy. But lousy drawings are part of getting to good drawings. If we avoid doing anything we are not familiar with -just because our first few attempts are ugly, then we end up limiting what we can do and constantly resort to formula in frustration.
Here's a really ugly drawing I did and I am including it to show that I don't mind sharing my ugliness.

This next one I did after doing some slower nastier ones. By this time, I was warming up. Not that it's great or anything (the head is too thin), but some of what I was trying to understand with the first few exercises was starting to sink in. The more you practice things you don't like, the sooner you get to be able to like them. They gradually get easier, which means you can draw them faster and with more confidence, style and sense.

If I was a full time teacher, I would assess each student's weaknesses and give them custom tailored exercises to get them to strengthen them. I wouldn't just give the same exact exercises to each cartoonist.

I am lousy at composition, so I decided to start copying some artists who are really good at it to see if I can figure out their secrets. I started with Ketcham and will maybe show my progress in another post. If I have any...


Martin Juneau said...

Kinda interesting. The girls hairs is somewhat the most hard tentative to make it well-balanced but the result look it's too cartoony and have too much hairs for nothing, looks like she wear a hairpiece.

It's fun to see the beauty of real-life womens and not just see what we see on television. Like we did since too longtime.

Elana Pritchard said...

Very cool and informative post, thanks.

Zartok-35 said...

I've never really noticed my disliking of things affecting how well I draw them. I'll just draw something, and half the time it comes out looking nice.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmmmm.....I've always been really lousy at drawing hands, especially decent looking cartoon hands, and don't worry about me, I've done the Preston Blair lesson about hands before many times. I'm not that great with composition either and my girl drawings could always use work, even after drawing so many from real life into my Moleskines.

"A lot of cartoonist also cut off the back of the cranium and squash theai right up to the ear. That makes characters look like they've had terrible accidents."

There's this really good drawing instruction book I've been reading lately and it talks about this same exact problem with cutting off the back of the skull, and it's not just cartoonists who have this problem either.

"Most people find it quite difficult to perceive the relative proportions of the features and the skull."

"I think this interpretation occurs because we tend to see that the important visual information is in the features, not in the foreheads and hair areas."

Thanks for the great advice, Mr. K. I hope I'm not excessively commenting too much, but all of these posts are so good, that I can't resist to leave them.

JoJo said...

Thanks John! This is great.

RooniMan said...

I stink at just drawing women.

Erik said...

Hey John,

good to see that you spend time in studying the composition of the face and such

I've commented in a previous one of your post about characters and their hairdo's and that i had an assignment to draw a sketchbook full of self portraits for a whole semester.

maybe you should get your self an mirror and draw a couple of self potraits.its way harder than drawing it from a photo. it realy helps to understanding the positions and proportions etc.
the only downside of this is, when you draw a character after that, the chartacter ends up with a resemblence of your self

i think i'll make a blog soon and post some of my portraits including some ugly ones wich i began with, and ofcourse i want to post some of my animation work i've done recently.

you've posted a good explaination of this problem with these characters. looking forward to learn more

Raff said...

Really good post.

Gunnar said...

Hey, John... If I have an animation I'd like critique on, should I email it to you or post it in the comments?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mr. K!

Cali-4nia said...

Thanks Mr. K, I have trouble with hair, and I do find myself falling into the "old standby" hair-dos. I never thought about using hair mags, I'll definitely be practicing a hair little more. :)

Shy said...

Very interesting and written in a fun way, thanks John.

Peter Bernard said...

"like many male cartoonists I generally concentrate on the face and body, and don't pay a lot of attention to the hair or clothes." Hahahaha it's funny cuz it's true. Thanks for the lesson on girl hair.

Ross Irving said...

To be honest, I always found hair to be pretty easy to draw, as long as you found the flow you just put it into chunks like you've shown in your stuff here and yeah, smooth sailing from there. Not to say I'm good at drawing anything, human features like the mouth and the eyes still drive me nuts at times. I should do more studies.

kurtwil said...

Once again a nice, informative post. Makes me want to try sketching some hair designs again.
Perhaps in future, JK, you could add a few tries at males (they're darn hard to get to look nice while being masculine).

Paul B said...

Thanks for this post John!
when you put it this way, with your drawings, is perfectly clear to me

thanks again!

Daniel R. said...

Truly offtopic, but that Neanderthal's looks a lot like Vin Diesel.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, should help a lot of struggling kids. My girl has a lot of those hairstyle magazines lying around, I study them like a textbook!
It's also fun to sit in the food court at the mall with your sketchbook and have a perfectly good excuse for staring at young pretty girls..hehehe

AdamLore said...

I have a hard time drawing hair, too.

I find it very tedious and can pretty much never get it to look right.

Thanks for another very helpful post!

manuel said...

John K.
conqueror of the 'tude
creator of wackyness
admirer of the female gaze

Your work is a great gift to humanity. This post came just in time to help me with my fine arts diploma.

If you're interested in my Portraits i'd be glad to discuss some finer subleties of the human head with you.


Scrawnypumpkinseed said...

Practice things I suck at, eh? So Caricatures, composition and taking my time?

I took your advice and tried to do some caricatures this evening. Did my best with some stills of Lou Costello from the wrestling episode.

Not great so far, I have one rather nice looking one though. I'm going to keep at it

JohnK said...

sure. Help me out!

David Germain said...

I could have used this hair lesson last year when I was drawing that Russian girl. I was not only awkward at drawing her hair, but mine as well. But, of course, my hair has alot of crazy curls and waves that go everywhere. It's no wonder I ad trouble.


So, I guess I should practice "everything". HA! I'm certainly doing that.

384Sprites said...

Good stuff John. I don't post much, but just wanted to say that I never gave 2-$hits about a blog until I came across yours. I read it every morning and check it every night. You are an amazing teacher... and have given me a better appreciation for old school artist (who aren't watered down). I'm a new Hank Ketchum fan thanks to you, just bought a bunch of his books.

Tony W. said...

As for the composition practice, this seems like a good idea as well: click

John A said...

I just noticed these hair magazines on the newstands recently, I have no idea how long they've been around, they just entered my field of vision one day. As soon as I saw them, though, I automatically thought about hair reference, because it's a weak area for me. Of course actually BUYING a ladies' magazine left me as embarassed as purchasing tampons for the wife, but considering the wealth of information found, it was worth the investment.

Jeremy said...

This is a really great post. Almost all of your recent posts address problems I have in my work. Thanks, the help very much appreciated.

Ki Innis - (aka) Kimathi Roy John Innis said...

Good post.
I think drawing good hair is a issue that everyone faces.

In terms of "realistic" renderings I've heard the best way to handle it is keep in mind that it's soft and to handle it with soft lines and avoid hard edges.

Doesn't really apply when you are doing designs for animation does it?

I try to approach it as a full bodied 3 dimensional form, avoid excess details....
Additionally I try to handle it as drapery.

however the drapery approach doesn't really work when dealing with afro hair though....=/