Anyways, back to craft. Ahem. That last post was sort of bittersweet. On one hand, I’m kinda bummed that my panel with Jaime Hernandez and Jim Rugg basically gets boiled down to this routine about taste. I was trying to riff on photo-referencing, not so much on Ross or even the comics culture that spawned him. Take a look at the comments section for that last post, wade through them and see for yourself how few of the comments refer to photography and drawing and the exchange between the forms. On the other hand, I’m happy that I did touch a nerve. Something resonated. I’m interested in fostering serious discussion about the over-use of photography in cartooning. Photography. Cartooning. Two different disciplines.
During the panel at Heroes Con, I spoke about a particular teacher I had who was adamant about not using photographs as reference for drawing. Ever. If there was something that needed to be researched she would direct me to a vast illustrated encyclopedia. And if an illustration of the thing didn’t exist, then I could go look in the regular encyclopedia. And then, we still could really only study the photo, we could make a drawing from it and then the photo had to be put away. We were to use the drawing we had made from the photo as the primary reference, that’s it.
The idea was to make us carefully select the information we wanted to transmit with lines. She would talk about how when one draws from direct observation, one is choosing what to leave in, what to leave out and even reconstructing elements so that the drawing will “read” better. When one draws from a photograph, the space is flattened, the camera has already selected the lines, shapes, and forms for you. When you are outside drawing a tree, YOU are choosing what is in focus, what is not—there is an exchange between subject and viewer. That is the art. To be present in that moment. When you are making the lines, THAT is the moment of seeing, of looking. “Don’t look at the paper,” she would yell. “Look at what you are drawing!” For me, this is what is valuable in the experience of drawing, this focus, this intention. It’s a very different process to draw a tree while sitting underneath it as opposed to drawing the same view from a photograph. The huge tree that moves and breathes is now lifeless and only about four by six inches wide and flat.
On the panel, we all talked a little bit about our schooling and how those experiences formed us, and how certain ideas we learned then are still part of our practice today. And for me, one of the limits I put on myself is not using photo references when composing my comics. Does that make me a better artist somehow? Maybe not, but it does lead me to make certain choices that yield unexpected and interesting results. For example, I’ll draw all the landscapes for my comics from life, from just walking around, or from just out of my head. I like to think that it adds a degree of naturalism to my comics, but it does prove difficult when I need to set a story in an exotic locale. Yet, since I feel comfortable drawing everyday backgrounds and such it’s not so hard to fake it out of my head. The conversational style of my landscapes that simply evolved out of the repetition of drawing from life serves me well in moments where I’m uncertain of how things should look. I can insert a believable setting for the characters and make it work, make the scene richer, fuller. And I like to think that those landscapes out of my head are more successful because they are not from photographs, and also because those landscapes contain my intent, my focus. Photos, even ones I take myself for reference, create distance between viewer and subject. That’s not the scene I just experienced, just walked through… How often have we all felt that the picture just doesn’t really capture the moment? That’s precisely why I strain to draw out those moments in my comics, why I refuse to use photographs. They only upset the balance. And it feels false, honestly. Like cheating.
Anyways. There’s room for all styles, approaches. But for me, I’m interested in DRAWING. I’m not interested in becoming a sort of movie director who utilizes actors, snapshots, Google image search, Photoshop, and every other available tool to create a hyper-realistic world. It’s a comic book fer christ’s sake. It’s pen and paper. It’s drawing.
Yet, I must admit that I do enjoy comics that contain plenty of photo-referencing. It can be done well. And of course all those drawings from photos are DRAWINGS too. I’m not trying to suggest that by using photos, drawing from photos is not drawing. It’s just different. And I can enjoy it—to a point.
There still will always be a transition or two in a heavily photo-referenced comic that seems really stilted and wooden. I think what happens is that the comics continuity is hindered by another discipline’s limitations. The still photo versus the moment-in-time in a motion picture, in a movie. Would folks who use snapshots of actors for their comics prefer to just film it and then capture a less “pose-y” position? Does that make sense? I mean, why not just film it and then at least you’re getting the FLOW of it. Then you could pause the really great gesture or something. But then, why not be a filmmaker? See what I mean? It’s a slippery slope. At least that’s how my brain works. I have to set limitations.
“I set limits for myself,” Jaime told the audience. “Like I only ever have four lines of dialogue at a time. If you have more, it’s too much. I wouldn’t read it. It’s too many words. It’s gotta be natural.”
PREVIOUSLY: Part one, Part 1.5, and Part 1.75