Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Incredible Story of Tommy, My First Official Cartooning Student


I was shopping for meat one day and I noticed a tall lanky youth following close behind me. I assumed he could tell I knew my meats and wanted to copy my selections, but after a few minutes he walked up to me, clamped his hand onto my skull and addressed me. He said "Are you........him?" I said "I am one of him." He then queried: "John K.?" Then he hailed his sister over. "Hey sis, it's John K.!" I was about to call security when he explained that he came all the way across country to learn to be a cartoonist in my school. Unfortunately I didn't have a school, but I asked him to send me some of his drawings and I would consider personally tutoring him. The picture above has the first sketch he sent me and then a couple he did after a few lessons.

I didn't have a completely figured out curriculum but I've been following along the general lines of my theoretical ideal cartoon college

CARTOON COLLEGE YEAR 1


I have adapted the lessons somewhat according to Tommy's actual progress. Each week I draw over his previous week's exercises and then sketch out some new concepts. here are just a few of the sketches and concepts from the lessons.

Line of Action:

I explained a little known fact about what lines are for. "Lines do NOT exist. Shapes do. The lines are just borders around the shapes. Always look at all borders of a shape when drawing a line. Don't just focus on the line on one side at a time."Contrasts: Maintaining Guts - Tommy drew the Preston Blair baby on the left, and I explained how to analyze contrasts and then exaggerate them so as not to underture.

Construction: I explained that a 3/4 view of a face is not a flattened skewed mirror of the front view as so many modern cartoonists think.
Construction: studying toys - on this sheet I was explaining the difference between simple and complex curves.We studied feet from different angles one week.
Organic flow
I showed how even the wackiest cartoon animators and directors used all the principles I was drilling into Tommy's head and hand.

As Tommy got more confident with basics like construction and line of action I introduced staging characters within backgrounds using hierarchy.More on organic: how shapes and lines weave in and out of each other. I used model sheets from Lady and The Tramp and Pepe Le Pew to illustrate the concept.


Stiff studies VS confident knowledge. I showed how all artists hate the stiff drawings they do while leaning anything new and suggested that after doing a stiff study to redraw the same picture faster to see if the knowledge sunk in. When it does, your drawings become looser and more appealing.We have started analyzing other cartoonists' styles and strengths, comparing the techniques of great cartoonists.I stressed that principles are just tools not end goals in themselves. The goal is to entertain, tell a story with pictures, express yourself (rather than merely applying principles in the same way that some soulless corporation does) and involve the audience in how you feel about life.Tommy is improving every week and it encourages me.

I may put his lessons up on my college blog 1 by 1 if anyone is interested in following along.

50 comments:

Eidenbrock said...
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Doug said...

Excellent stuff as usual, John! I think a lot of people would be interested in seeing Tommy's progress week to week.

She-Thing said...

Thank you so much for sharing, John. The most ironic thing is today I was thinking "Should I send one of my studies to John?" "Does he have time to reply?" You replied me once with a beautiful e-mail, but I wasn't sure if you'd manage to do that again.

Thanks again, Mr. K, this INSPIRING and ENCOURAGING

Eidenbrock said...
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Luis María Benítez said...

Of course it would be interesting to see the progress with your lessons. You provide some of the most useful tips. I know prices in animation schools, the good ones at least, are very high and for international students from poor countries those fees are the wages of many guys. Therefore, poor but talented people never get the chance to become successful in animation.

Pedro Vargas said...

So cool!! Yeah, definitely, I'd like to see what he's learned so far.

Trevor Thompson said...

How much do you charge to do private lessons?

Steven M. said...

I wish I could follow along. Hoping Tommy makes it big someday.

gbeaudette said...

I'd personally love to see more lessons and such. Helps gives me somethng to do when I get frustrated with drawing.

Susie said...

This is a great post. I like your analytical posts best.

Marie Callum said...

THIS IS RELEVANT TO MY INTRESTS

Scrawnycartoons said...

Gold! We've struck gold! Tommy has improved so much! Well done. I'd love to see more of his progress

Does Tommy have a blog?

Eric Aaron Peters said...

I'd definitely like to be able to follow along! Any plans to take on other students?

GoldDarkShadow said...

This is amazing. He has improved alot. I can't wait to see his other drawings if they do get uploaded.

Phil Willis said...

This is gold!

I love watching artists improve and gleaning insight.

Please keep us posted on Tommy's progress.

Cristian Avendaño said...

Tommy, if after all this effort and practice you don't become a professional animator or cartoonist I'll seriously consider going to the states just to kick you in the gut.

Just kidding, but I would kick you in the gut if it meant I could get mentored by John. Sorry about that.

Forbidden Hippo said...

Question:

Is it common practice to start your drawing with the line of action? The Preston Blair book says so, so I assume it is but many examples in his book do not have the line visible and I struggle understanding exactly how it works.

Martin Juneau said...

Tommy's works have a great evolution behind and i can see it works. I wish more peoples will encourage this cartooning basis when it will on demand.

Niki said...

Can you post up some of his drawings? I'd really like to go out to California to study with you too! But I want to know How I compare with your current students sir!

Paul B said...

I'M INTERESTED!!! PLEASE!!

kurtwil said...

Posting Tommy's examples would be very helpful.

Also, JK, you might consider the LYNDA.COM model, where students pay a monthly or yearly fee for access to a number of on-line tutorials.
I use LYNDA.COM to learn new software, and its $325 per year is very reasonable.
Lynda.com is based in LA, CA. Who knows, perhaps you and other artist professionals you know could be the start of an "artistic" wing of Lynda.com (assuming the details make sense !).

zmerrill said...

I would like to follow along. These look like great lessons I could use, considering the improvements shown.

What would I need to do in order to follow along? (I haven't been able to set up a blog yet due to time constraints with studies)

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

These are great! Thanks again!

Sven Hoek said...

He learns quick, thats cool.

Ken said...

That would be WONDERFUL; a real treat. Please do.

Bobby said...

Tommy did exactly what I have been thinking about for the past year. Which is to leave the east coast and seek you out for your tutelage.

As an aspiring animator, I think it is awesome that people like you are offering personal lessons.

One day, you may find me asking for your lessons in California. For now, I think I better get better with my drawings.

Rothello said...

Cool to see a fan and aspiring cartoonist's skills improve.

If you read this, keep up the good work Tommy!

SandraRivas said...

This post is extremely inspiring to me! Tommy is a lucky man!!

Definitely post his studies! I think his drawing on the Wild E Coyote is brilliant!

Roberto said...

That would be great if you could post the lessons in your college blog, I would be extremely interested.

Chip Butty said...

I'm innerrested!

David Germain said...

HA! Maybe you could give him a copy of my comic book as examples of what NOT to do (although I do feel there is some good stuff in there).

Good going, Tommy. Keep drawing and keep studying. Don't let anyone stop you.

Elana Pritchard said...

I am interested- am I invited along to participate?

drawingtherightway said...

@Forbidden Hippo

Yes definitely start with a line of action when drawing a character pose. You'd be surprised how much it helps vs not using a line of action. Basically try to determine the main flow of the pose with a line (depending on the pose, it can be either easy or tough to determine exactly how to draw the line). Then have everything flow and emphasize the line.

J C Roberts said...

It's surely encouraging to see so many people looking to take up the cause, and their coming here means they have good standards. I truly hope they have a better, clearer path to follow and don't wind up like I have so far, filled with ideas and abilities and nowhere to go with it. I'll never stop trying, but I'd imagine some people might just give up after as long as I've been at it without finding an "in".

If enough people learn the principles being shown here, and then go on to make a name for themselves in the industry, there's hope yet for quality cartoons. And if they find success, I hope they start a blog on how they did it. That's by far the harder skill to learn for me.

SparkyMK3 said...

Wow, i've learned more from this one post today than from weeks of reading that confusing "Animator's Survival Kit"!

Also John, are you gonna explain spacing charts, soon? I can't figure out how they properly work. Richard brings it up in his book, but he dosen't explain its use well at all. The Illusion of Life uses it for the stagger effect (for a piece of cat animation that wasnt even used in Peter and the Wolf) that i can't figure out either for the life of me.

Please explain for me! It'll be one less thing for an aspiring animator to worry about if i get that knowledge roadblock out of the way! I'll be even happier if you explain how to combine them with arcs, like what was done with that Grim Natwick drawing Richard copied over in his book (which i really wish he had expanded upon--but no, we get a truckload of crap about walk cycles...ugh...)

Thanks if you reply back as soon as possible!

David R said...

Another life saved by a chance encounter in the meat department.

Forbidden Hippo said...

Thanks drawingtherightway. I'll make sure to start all character poses the the line of action. Now, I don't want to make things confusing but in Johns video tutorial where he demonstrates construction by copying a frame from Heckling Hare, I'm pretty sure he does not start with the line of action. I'll go back and watch it to make sure. For now I'll do as you say and begin with the LOA. Thanks again.

Paul B said...

are you still looking towards the College Blog?

Bob Lilly said...

Thanks for this post, John. I really think you have the passion for teaching those who are teachable.

I saw a youtube video of John Cleese in which he said that the ability required to do good work is the exact same ability that is required to know if the work is or isn't good (He said it better but I am not going to go get the exact quote).

This means that a good cartoonist will be self critical and reject the stuff that doesn't satisfy their own taste. So, John, your challenge when you take on a student should also include helping to develop the ability to be self critical.

Do you agree?

drawingtherightway said...

@Forbidden Hippo

When I first got the Blair book and tried drawing the poses, many times I would forget to draw the loa first. However now it's the first thing I do and I see a major improvement in my poses. After you draw the loa you may want to draw a rough skeleton (sorta like a stick figure)that flows with it so you know approximately where everything goes. I'm no expert though since I'm just learning myself so my best advice is to experiment to see what works best for you.

Forbidden Hippo said...

Thanks again drawingtheright way.

BUH Studio said...

I'm gonna follow!!
Out of all the tutorials I've read on cartooning and drawing in the 8 years I have been drawing. Yours have been the most solid and have really given me a understanding of not drawing 2d but rather 3D with form and structure. Thanks and I'll be looking to munch on more of your info!

BUH Studio said...

@ Bob lilly.

I agree with you. Being self critical and a perfectionist is essential. I don't believe someone can ever get to the final stage where they never need more training or practice. There is always room to improve and get better. I myself am a perfectionist. Even if everyone tells me my work is fun and appealing and I myself like what I draw ( sometimes lol ) I will never be satisfied or happy. It's given me grey hairs....and I'm 21! but thats how you get better and better!!

Chantale said...

Me too I would like to be one of your student, but unfortunately i'm living in Chicoutimi... You can see some of my work there: http://bradettoon.blogspot.com/

yawn said...

very nice drawings,keep up the good work.

HemlockMan said...

Sweet story. Humans at their best.

wolfboy said...

Hey John; your posts regarding design have been really spot on. I try and pass as much on to my students as possible--trying to teach character design from a character layout/animation background versus being "designy".

MistahB said...

Please by all means post 'em! I'd follow along everything you have to say. Your lectures inspire me as it is, it encourages me to learn from other student experiences.

Brandon Lyon said...

Hey John, I'd love to follow along as well! I've posted a bunch of drawings I did from the Preston Blair book. I'd love to get some input.

http://shplartoons.blogspot.com/search/label/lessons

Mitch Leeuwe said...

This is great stuff! Hope you will do more posts like this. Thanks for sharing.