Putting practice into action

Picasso was in a park when a women approached him and asked him to draw her portrait.

Picasso agrees and quickly sketches her.

After handing the sketch to her, she is pleased with the likeness and asked how much she owed to him.

Picasso replied, $5,000.

The women screamed, “But it only took you five minutes!”

“No madam, it took me all my life.” Replied Picasso.

Recently my idea of what it means to be an artist/writer/dancer/actor/musician has changed. To be an artist/writer/dancer/actor/musician you must always practice your passion. Only the rare prodigy comes forth as a fully functional artist. The rest of us talented folk have to sharpen our skills. For me being a cartoonist means drawing all the time, and not just comics. Drawing sharpens my eye and hand. Much how you learned to write your letters, drawing them over and over, till now it’s so built into you, you don’t even realize it.

I’ve mentioned that I attend a weekly figure drawing session. (if you live in or near Brooklyn, I suggest checking it out.) It’s been about a year, and I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my figure drawing. Other benefits I’ve seen is I’m able to sketch out a layout or a thumbnail for an illustration idea quicker and cleaner. That kind of benefits comes over time, and is some what passive, it just happens.

I’m in the middle of a project (which I got with the help of my good friend, Marc, an amazing artist), working on the pencils. I’ve got a lot of reference material on the human figure, which I refer to, when doing action poses. But one panel, I really didn’t need to refer to anything, because I knew how the figure was going to look. It was a straight forward shot of the character busting out of the ropes holding him. I knew how the shoulders connected into the pecs, where the line between them and the biceps would be, how the arm would connect to the chest.

I’ve drawn similar poses in the course of the drawing session. What I had been practicing, I was putting into action, in an active way. It was very clear that what I was doing in the drawing sessions was having a direct impact on what I was doing, both passively and actively. It was pretty cool to have a moment where I could see both happening.

Some one once asked me, “Does anyone ever get good enough to not have to use references?” I seriously doubt it, save for the prodigy mentioned earlier, or people who draw the same thing over and over. And even then, all that happens is that you probably rely less and less on reference material for what you know. But if you have to draw something such as Washington Square Park, wouldn’t you look at a picture?

Also, this project has been a good one for re-evaluating my composition. Take the above image again. That is not how I originally drew the inset panel. This is how I drew it:

How boring. Very boring. The same idea is in both, that hasn’t changed, but how I executed the idea has changed. This in fact happened several times. One panel in particular, I redrew about 5 times, over the course of many hours. I had a lot of trouble finding a pose to reference* that I really liked. Eventually I found something that lead me to the final solution.

For me, being a cartoonist and illustrator doesn’t mean that I make money doing that. It means the way I think about it, the way I approach it. I need to always look for ways to expand my talents, what I know, and the information I can bring to each project. Being an illustrator/cartoonist is more then a full time job, since all the work I do to be a better illustrator isn’t done for direct pay, and comes on my own time, after the time spent on paying work.

*When I reference an image, for me that doesn’t mean copying it, but using it for a guide on how things line up on the body. Especially for hands and feet.

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