"On Realistic Illustration"
To produce realistic comic book art you must start with an idea, story or message. The illustrator must have: (1) Vivid imagination, (2) Pictorial story telling skills, (3) Drafting skills, perspective, rendering, and (4) Mastery of human anatomy, landscape, architecture designs, animal drawing, prop designs, color sense.
1. VIVID IMAGINATION
Before even setting pencil on paper the illustrator must see clearly in his mind, in full detail, the scene he will portray. He must have the idea of what he wants to express, must know the element of the picture which is of paramount importance, must have a plan or strategy of how to execute the plan. He must plan the sequence of events to express a complete thought and elicit viewer/reader response or reaction. Whether the artist is writing the story or somebody else, it is better to have a written script, so he can plan the placement and space allotted to the captions and dialogue balloons. Quick thumbnail sketches are helpful in visualizing the story sequences.
2. PICTORIAL STORYTELLING SKILLS
Once the artist has the idea or concept and has determined what to do with it, the next question he asks is how best to present the story or message. He could start by establishing the time of the narrative. When it happened may be established by: (1) The landscape, whether prehistoric, historic, contemporary or futuristic, (2) The costumes of the characters, (3) The props, i.e., implements in use, like vehicles, architecture, tools, furniture, etc., (4) Of course you may establish the time by stating it in the caption.
Next he would establish the place. Just like the location scout or the set designer in movie-making, the comics illustrator has to search his reference for the appropriate location or backgrounds for his story. Backgrounds may be indoors or outdoors. Set moods or atmosphere of place: Festive, riotous, calm, sad, etc. Following that he would establish the characters. This is like casting in films. The different roles have to be thought out. Each character has to be distinctly recognizable from each other and a size and shape relationship has to be set. What kind of emotional response or appeal should each character evoke? Admiration, fear, repulsion, friendly, suspicion, humorous, awe, authoritative, warmth or coldness bearing-- whoever the character they should all be interesting and amusing. And each character should be credible, realistic and alive. Gestures and poses must be appropriate for every character role.
Next, consider Pictorial Composition. Composition is the most important element in an illustration. It is how to put all the elements in drawing together to present a clear, cohesive idea that conveys the intended message and evokes the appropriate reaction from the viewer. If all the other elements are executed superbly and fail in the composition, all is for naught. Elements to be considered in composition are: (a) Scale and Proportion: Everything in the picture should be presented in the correct size in relation to all the other elements in the picture, (b) Balance: This accounts for stability, (c) Interest: Pictures should be compelling enough to merit attention, (d) Authenticity: Everything in the picture should be believable, and (e) Character Development: Credible and interesting, consistent and natural poses, dynamic action poses. Every scene should be interesting. One central dominating focus. Evoke the desired response from the reader. Every element in the scene should be there for a relevant purpose. You have heard it said that sometimes less is more. If the elimination of an element makes the point of the scene clearer, so be it. Try to say the most with the least. Compose your panels individually, also as a whole page, as a double spread, with the preceding and following pages. You do not know how your pages will be printed. Establish a reading flow to the spreads, arranging the sequences of captions, images, and balloons in a correct, and interesting order. Always enhance the readers' enjoyment by involving him in the excitement of the story. Keep him in suspense. Tug at his emotions with drama. Give him surprises, twists and build up for a climax, don't be predictable or you'll bore the reader.
3. DRAWING OR DRAFTING SKILLS
There are basically two kinds of comics artists: the Creative and the Skillful. Some artists are both. Composition is the concern of the creative, while Rendition is of the skillful. To increase production, teamwork has become the practice in the production of artwork for comics. The creative artist has become the "penciller" and the skillful the "inker." The "colorist" and "letterer" are the other specialists on the team.
Basic Drawing: Just as one has to know the alphabet before literature can be written, so, too, before anecdotal art basic drawing should be learned and mastered. Drawing begins after the concept has been formed in the mind and a strategy of approach decided on. When the drawing implement first touches the drawing surface-- when pencil touches paper-- we create the first thing in the act of drawing-- a dot. (Of course, in the case of airbrush painting or, as primitive man has practiced, paint blowing, the start occurs when the first globule of color touches the painting surface.)
The next step is what to do with the dot. Drawing is a process of making continual decisions. You can decide to increase the size of the dot, Or you might decide to draw a spiral from the dot or draw concentric circles. Or you may draw adjacent dots to denote a direction - left or right, up or down, or diagonally in all directions. With dots you may create a tonal value: When placed closer together a dark value and lighter when placed father apart. Or change values by changing the size of the dots. (The pointillists during the impressionist movement in France used dots in their paintings.)
You may also move the dots on your drawing surface to create a line. The possibilities are limitless. The line may be straight or curved. The line may be turned into a circle, a square, or a triangle-- the basic shapes. Or a combination of the shapes to describe the recognizable outline of things. According to Andrew Loomis, illustrator and author of many books on drawing and illustration, there are seven primary functions of line, namely:
a. To convey it's own intrinsic beauty.
b. To divide or limit an area or space.
c. To delineate a thought or symbol.
d. To define form by edge or contour.
e. To catch and direct an eye over a given course.
f. To produce a gray or tonal gradation.
g. To create design or arrangement.
A series of lines create a tone. When lines are drawn close together we create a darker tone. And when they are drawn farther apart we create a lighter tone. We may also create a dark or light tone by thickening the lines. We create graded tones by gradually varying the distance between lines and/or the thickness of the line. Tones may also be created by holding the pencil on the side of its lead and running it across the paper, varying its value according to the pressure applied on the pencil. Tones may also be created by the dry brush technique or the split hair technique. Another way of creating a tonal value is the wash technique, where ink or water is lightened or darkened by controlling the mix of pigment with water. Areas of tone may have soft or hard edges.
Color is the next element in the progression from dot to line to tone. It may be applied in many different ways. The simplest is to lay a flat tone of color on a toned or shaded drawing. From this simple start you may follow the progression to the most sophisticated or complex method from just drawing to full paintings. Various techniques are offered by the invention of new tools or art instruments like the airbrush and computer. With the improvements in reproductions processes in printing it is now possible to use any of the art techniques to comics.
All the things we see around us are based on basic shapes or combination of these shapes. The three most basic shapes are the circle, square or rectangle, and the triangle. While these are flat, two-dimensional shapes, they have their uses. If we add another dimension these become the sphere, the cube or cylinder, and the pyramid or cone. These shapes, or the combinations, may be drawn in many ways. With the dot or the pointillist technique, the linear or tonal. These basic shapes have their applications in drawing the most complex things we see around us in the shapes of nature: the clouds, seas, rocks, plants, animals, and, of course, the human anatomy. This is also true of the man-made applications: houses and buildings, monuments, implements, clothes, artifacts, transport vehicles, and everything you can think of.
Perspective is what makes objects in the distance appear smaller than objects near us. Understanding the principles of perspective allows us to draw objects three-dimensionally on a two dimensional surface. It lets us represent space where there is none. It is an illusion of reality. Where sculpture is a representation of actual space, in drawing space is just an illusion. By the mere overlapping of lines space may be defined. By varying the thicknesses of lines, distance of depth may be implied. Space may also be defined with the use of converging, radiating or concentric circles or by varying the size or scale of similar objects. But perspective is not just linear. There is also tonal or atmospheric perspective. There is also color perspective where warm colors advance and cool colors recede. Thus space may be indicated by the use of colors. Many hours of enjoyment may be had experimenting with and discovering principles of perspective.
If we are to draw or represent things realistically we must understand the process of seeing that is, why and how you see things. The human eye is a light sensitive organ. Therefore without light we see nothing physically. Of course, we can see with our mind's eye or imagination, but it may not be realistic seeing. We see an object because of the effect of light on that object. We see shape, texture, color, or character of an object by the light effect. The way we see an object could be influenced by the intensity, direction, quality, color, quantity and effect of light from reflections or surrounding objects, the refraction of light through transparent objects like glass or water. There are natural lights from the sun, moon, or other natural phenomena (like the aurora borealis) and artificial light, man-made and mostly indoor lighting. There are also lights from fires, lightning, volcanic eruptions, explosions, etc. These should all be studied. At the opposite of light are the shadows and shades. How do they work? How are they to be interpreted?
In art one not only has to know and understand what he is representing but also how to represent it. With the use of shades and shadows, different moods or atmosphere may be created and drama may be infused in the illustration. In impressionism it is the light effect as seen that is painted and not the head knowledge of the subject. Illustration is a credible representation of life. The illustrator also plays the role of the lighting director.
4. MASTERY OF HUMAN ANATOMY
The comics illustrator must learn how to draw the structures of things, real and imagined from the tiniest amoeba to the most gigantic creatures, existent or not. And, of course, the anatomy of man, the masterpiece of God's creation. This includes all the varying expressions and attitudes of man, the similarities and differences of the genders, the races, in motion or static, viewed from all angles, the clothed or unclothed, in all of man's poses.
Knowing what to do is just one half of the deal. The other half is how to do it. It takes a lot of practice and hard work to be an accomplished illustrator, and it's worth it. I have outlined here the first basic steps of comic illustration and from there the natural course of progression may be pursued.
Best wishes, and God be glorified!
Text © 1996, Nestor Redondo