| I've had quite a few people ask me how I draw the way I
do. I figure if the handful of people who ask me want to know, there are probably more
who haven't written but wouldn't mind knowing, so here's basically my drawing manual
(formatted to be kind to printers), which
really isn't that much different from many others. And this, as
opposed to email, has the benefit of coming with illustrations!
1. One of the very best things you can do to improve your drawing is to draw from life, which means actually drawing what you see in front of you. Whether it's your mom or a fork, the better you get at accurately drawing what you see, the easier it will be to transfer the image in your head to the paper in front of you. This is also really good if you aren't sure how to draw something from memory - say you needed to draw a light bulb but weren't sure exactly how all the little inside wires worked - find a light bulb and draw it, paying attention to what you don't know, and chances are next time you need to draw one, you'll have it there in that mental library. If not, try again. It just takes practice.
2. To take drawing from life further, draw people. Lots of people. Draw your family, making sure to get facial features right. Take some paper (preferably in a sketchbook, it's easier) to a mall, park, or airport, or somewhere with lots of people, and draw them. If you feel insecure about this, find an inconspicuous corner and draw people who aren't facing you. But drawing people is the best way to learn to draw quickly and accurately (because they usually don't hold still for very long), and get an idea for the variations that set people apart from each other. This will also give you an idea of how cloth works in the way it folds over joints or the way a dress folds, which is important if you plan on drawing characters that aren't wearing skin-tight clothes or ... nothing at all.
3. I repeat, draw your own hands. I, personally, did most of this during my math classes, but I don't recommend you do the same. Just do it sometime when you are supposed to have the time. You can get many, many, many different angles on your hands in all sorts of interesting positions. Learn the way fingers bend, where the thick parts of the palm are, the curve of the knuckles, how your thumb works, etc. And draw them a LOT, no matter how painful it is at first – in fact, if it's really painful, you need to draw them more. It'll probably be very hard at first but it's very important that you learn to draw hands.
4. Look at the work of other artists and see how they do their thing. Animators are exceptional artists, and they probably draw more than any other people on the planet, so looking at their rough sketches (this does NOT mean colouring books, this means "The Art Of [insert animated movie here]" books, which you can usually find at a library) can be really educational. If you have access to a DVD player, rent (or buy, if you're really serious about it) the special editions of Tarzan and Emperor's New Groove, and look at the rough animation - go frame by frame and see how they use structure and rough sketches before putting on details.
5. Draw in pencil. If you draw in pencil now, great. If not, start. Pencil is great not because you can erase it (though sometimes that helps, as long as you don't get carried away) but because you can start with a really light sketch and get darker to delineate the lines you want to use, while keeping everything nice and lively.
6. Learn to draw pre-existing cartoon characters. Trace them or copy them at first to get a general idea of how to draw them, then try deconstructing them using the steps above so that you have a road map for their features. Learn to draw them so they look like they're supposed to (or, in animation terms, on model) without looking at reference. Learn characters from different styles and with different features – if you learn to draw Jane from Tarzan, don't move on next to Meg from Hercules, they're too similar. This will give you a nice mental library of ways to draw facial features that you can recombine in your own mind.
7. Develop your own personal style. Everyone has their own style of drawing, just like everyone has unique handwriting. Don't try to make your style exactly like another's just because it's cool. It's great to be influenced by different styles, and learning how to draw them is great exercise, but you'll probably not be as good in a foreign style as your own.
8. Check out some cartooning books to learn how to use action lines and make a good silhouette. I could discuss them here, but I couldn't do it half as well as most cartooning books. The library usually has several.
9. Remember that all of this takes loads of practice. Scads of practice. Oodles of practice. The great artists didn't get that way by doodling while they were talking on the phone, they devoted their life to learning to draw just right.
The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston
Really, this is the animator's bible. Anything you want to know about animation (and maybe some things you didn't want to know) is in this book. Not only that, it has loads and loads of rough drawings that are more than enough to keep an artist happy for weeks.
How To Animate Film Cartoons by Preston Blair
This is part of the Walter Foster how-to-draw series, and illustrates basic construction and design principles much better than I can. It's also got lots of useful animation basics if that's what you're interested in doing. It's the book that most of the people in the industry today learned from.
Creating Characters with Personality by Tom Bancroft
This is a great book for anyone who's curious about character design – it goes really in-depth into construction, different shapes to use for different sorts of characters, dynamic poses, different styles, and basically everything you need to know to get going on your own art. As well as Mr Bancroft's own observations, he gets several other well-respected character designers to chip in with their thoughts.
Action Cartooning and Fantasy Cartooning by Ben Caldwell
Even if you're not interested in Action or Fantasy as subject matter, these books have really clear, really good tutorials on drawing technique, and an author who obviously kicks butt in the drawing department (by which I mean he knows what he's talking about).
Animation Magic by Don Hahn
This book is good for general information on how animation is done, on a simpler and more cursory level. Don Hahn produced most of the famous Disney movies in the 90s so he obviously knows his stuff. There are lots of interesting facts and great pictures in this book, plus a glossary of animation terms and - very useful - a whole section on tips for hopeful animators.
The Art of the Hunchback of Notre Dame by Stephen Rebello
This is the book which I practically memorized when I was fourteen. It has loads of incredible artwork in it, interesting text with quotes from the people who actually made the movie, and some really funny gag sketches in the index. The art books from other movies are good, too (Hercules's has a lot of animation sketches, for example, and Tarzan's is pretty darn excellent) but Hunchback's is my personal favourite.
There are many other books out there - go for an adventure at the library and find some of your own!
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