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


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.