Thursday, March 22, 2012

Points of Stress: Showing Movement In The Figure

Points of Stress and Movement in Inanimate Objects

In drawing from life or from a realistic subject, you want to capture the subjects essential character; what is the essence of an apple that makes us read it as an apple? In the figure, the best way to describe movement is to accentuate or exaggerate points of stress.

Anything that's flexible has movement. Every fold of drapery suggests how the drapery is resisting and surrendering to gravity. A force meets another force and there's a fold. Gravity acts as another force and there's a dip in the fold, or part of the cloth rests on a surface or another fold, generating more folds from that contact point. Each point where these forces meet is a stress point. 

Here's a drapery study by DaVinci:

Here, I've tried to illustrate in the same drawing where the points of stress are, and how those points of stress effect one another:

Points of Stress In The Figure

Drapery is a complex subject, but I just want you to get a sense of how something essentially inanimate can be dynamic. Here's a gesture drawing I did from the live model, about a 5 minute study: 

Here I've tried to illustrate the points of stress. The arrows represent the movement towards these points.  Think of a point of stress as that point when a branch is about to break, or a car is about to crash--it's those points of tension before the finish of the action that demonstrate movement, even if that movement has no ultimate destination. Bones don't have to be about to break to show the tension of the muscles or the distribution of weight.

Here's another figure, also a 5 minute study:

The arrow at the center is the center of gravity. Points of stress are all about either resisting, or surrendering to gravity. Points at rest surrender to gravity. Points of tension imply a resistance to gravity. Both points at rest and points of tension are stress points, points that, if given emphasis, describe the most movement in a figure, but the points at rest are just as important as the points of stress. The rest points give us a sense of weight and substance. The stress points give us a sense of suppleness and texture. 

Texture and dynamism in portraits

To get a sense of an object or figure's texture, there has to be a force playing against it. We can't tell visually if a rubber ball is very hard or very soft, or very heavy, or very light unless we see how weight or gravity acts against it (though light too, is a significant force at play in describing texture, but that's another subject altogether). In the same way, the muscles act against the flesh. If there's no points of tension in a figure, the figure will not look dynamic. It will tend to look stiff and inanimate. Even in a portrait, tension and release of tension describe expression, even if that expression is a placid one. There are still points at rest that can be emphasized. Lines on a face, relaxed or tensed describe how flexible the face is. Elderly and wrinkled faces show gravity, how the skin is softer and less elastic, but this is all expressed through stress points.  Here are some longer studies from life:

The portrait is of my dad, but the rest of these drawings are from one of my favorite models who models for us at The Davis Figure Drawing Group, Steve Savage.  A really dynamic and great model! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"The Longest Winter" for Cricket Magazine

This month's Cricket Magazine features a story called "The Longest Winter" by Pamela D. Guaci, with illustrations by me! The story is about two Inuit brothers who go on a seal hunt. In this one the younger brother dreams that he's a seal, struggling to get through to the surface:

This one shows the distance between the two brothers:

They bond through the hunt, imagining their father, who had recently died, smiling over them. 

Like the last piece I did for Cricket, these required a lot of reference. The first challenge was to try to draw a harp seal. Unfortunately there weren't many pictures of swimming harp seals on the web. Here was one of the few I was able to find:

But it wasn't quite enough to really get a sense of what they looked like in motion. So I found more reference for a seal that looked similar who lived in a warmer climate, the monk seal.

So I found pictures of monk seals, watched videos on Youtube, added a little blubber, and whoola! I had a harp seal! For my Inuit reference I watched everything from the classic documentary Nanook of the North:

To this pretty horrible Anthony Quinn movie:

But these were Inuits from Greenland, and I was drawing Alaskan Inuits. So I did eventually find more authentic reference for my Inuits, and took a few photos using the timer on my camera for some of the harder poses:

I also had a student of mine do a few poses, but ultimately, I only use photos to get a general sense of the pose. When I draw directly from the photo my drawings tend to look a little stiff, so I try to reinvent the figure in the drawing.

These were the sketches I submitted to Cricket:

The art director, Karen Kahn wanted me to make sure the horizon faded out as it met the sky in the second image, something I could resolve in the color stage, and for the third, she wanted the hole in the ice to be smaller and more of an uneven shape. She also wanted me to show the tool made out of a bone and feather that the boy uses in the story. These changes were easy enough to make, and they were happy with my solutions.

Not long ago, I received an e-mail from the author, curious about how I had handled the story. I sent her the images and was gratified to hear that she was very pleased with them. So hopefully I got most of the details right! And here's the magazine, with a great cover by Heidi Younger:

Friday, September 30, 2011

Breakthrough Contest Winners Announced!

I thought there may be interest in this:

 The Breakthrough Contest Has Broken Cover!
For the past year, Richard Solomon and staff worked on creating the first ever Breakthrough Contest. The idea took shape while brainstorming last winter. All artists appreciate how hard it is to break through and succeed as a professional illustrator in today’s market; this is why we named the contest  “Breakthrough”. We wanted to reach young artists and as such the rules stated that the entrant must be under 35 years old with less than 5 years professional experience from anywhere in the world.

The goal was to create a contest that would produce long term benefits for the winner since every young artist’s greatest concern is to have a successful career. Unlike other competitions which simply offer a cash prize or a scholarship, we have gone a step further. The winner would be brought to New York City, have their portfolio shown to top art/creative directors, be given the constructive criticism and advice by the industry’s top pros to succeed as a professional illustrator, and receive a cash prize.

In March of 2011, we opened the contest to submissions. Soon thereafter, we began to receive a diverse collection of portfolios from artists all over the world. We were soon flooded with an amazing number of very talented young contestants. At the end of 3 months, we closed the contest to submissions and began judging. Our panel consisted of 20 art/creative directors and top illustrators who scored the submissions online based on skill, professionalism, and potential commercial viability.

We can now proudly announce the winner: Michal Dziekan, a 26 year old illustrator from Warsaw, Poland; a true diamond in the rough. Since 2009 Michal has been working as a freelance illustrator on book covers, editorial/advertising illustration, t-shirt/character designs, and animation. You can see more of his work on his website We look forward to bringing Michal to NYC in late October, introduce him to many art/design directors, and award him his prize.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Using Your Time Wisely, or Why Never to Say, "But I Didn't Have Enough Time!"

The Pomodoro Technique

Illustrator's and freelancers often struggle with time management. It's particularly difficult to manage your time when you have an inconsistent workflow. I recently started using a time management technique called the "Pomodoro Technique." It's very simple: Set a timer for 25 minutes. After the timer goes off, set the time again for a five minute break. Then set the timer again for another 25 minutes, then another five minute break. Each 25 minute interval is one Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros you give yourself a longer break, Maybe fifteen minutes, or break for lunch. Then start again.

I'm finding this helps me in a number of key ways: for one, it cuts back on my internet use significantly. I like to use the internet. In fact I love to use the internet. But I often waste a lot of time just checking in with Facebook, or Google+, or checking my e-mail. Or someone posts something on one of the social networking sites and I spend entirely too long chasing links. Well that's something better left to one of my long breaks. And the checking in stuff I can do during my short breaks. But I'm also finding that I want to do all this obsessive checking-in less when I know I have only a short time to do it. Often I'd rather spend the time eating a snack, or getting my studio for a change of scene.

These 25 minute intervals are deceptively short, but it's a good kind of deceptive. It's the perfect way to fool myself into keeping focused, knowing that there's a break right around the corner. I find this makes me a lot more productive than when I do long marathons of uninterrupted work, at least, as far as drawing is concerned. Drawing is the one activity where I really have to push myself to keep going. Writing, I can do for hours. Inking, coloring, I have no problem sustaining. But keeping up my drawing stamina can often be difficult. This technique has proven to be a great solution. 's made me rethink: what is a an 8 hour work day? What's a 10 hour work day? How can it best be spent? As a freelancer and work-at-home artist, when I'm working on self-motivated projects there sometimes aren't set, external deadlines, so I'm forced to structure my day in a meaningful way. It's easy to get distracted. It's easy to fool yourself into thinking you've put in more time than you have.

To make the most of your work day, you need to have a way to account for your time, especially when those distractions can be such compelling ones, like the internet. Many of us don't have that incredible focus that allows us to work hours on end--I do for certain tasks, but not for all of them, particularly drawing, since I find it most demanding. I envy people who have that kind of relentless endurance, but I'm not one of them. You don't have to be one of them either. Everyone has their own working method and pace, but it all comes down to how you manage your time. Not having that endurance doesn't make you a lesser artist, but if you don't, you need to discover what will help you to stay on task.

So I need tools to keep me motivated. Audio books are incredibly helpful, especially fun ones. Right now I'm listening to a lot of Sarah Dessen, my current favorite young adult author. If a book requires too much of my attention, it only makes it harder to keep focused, but when it's an enjoyable and easily engaging book, it gives me one more reason to look forward to working. Since I only listen to audio books while working, this can be a big motivator.

The other ritual I have is putting on my shoes. This may seem odd, but putting on my shoes is a cue for me that I'm officially working. Working at home, I don't have to put on my shoes. I could work in my boxer shorts if I wanted to. But maybe it's like the way Mister Rogers takes off his dress shoes and puts on his sneakers at the beginning of every show--the shoes somehow affect my attitude. Don't ask me why. Whatever ritual you have that does this for you--a cup of coffee, a shower, seize on it. Work is ritual, and in working at home, you need to separate what you do with the rest of your time, and work. When work time easily flows into every other task at home, it's easier to be just kind of working sometimes, or preoccupied with the idea that you should be working. I haven't fully masters this skill, but the Pomodoro technique has helped. So what's your cue to start working? Starting can sometimes be the hardest part.

Which brings me back to the Pomodoro technique. If you need to at first, or if other responsibilities require it, maybe 10 minutes of sustained activity and then a five minute break will work better for you. Not all of us have the luxury of a full, uninterrupted work day. So if your time is divided, how can you maximize the time you do have? How can you make it more focused? How can you give yourself a cue that now is work mode, and that all other distractions have to fall to the wayside? Take your work time seriously.

But even if it's drawing in front of the TV, there's value in having small goals, for example: I'm going to finish this drawing at the end of this TV show. If all you have are small snatches of time, take advantage of them, which again, means, take them seriously. Making small goals and achieving them helps to give you the small satisfactions required to go to the next step. 

But I Didn't Have Enough Time! 

It's bad enough to give this as an excuse as a student, but never give this as an excuse as a professional, even if it's simply a workshop. If you need a deadline extension, ask for it, but never excuse the quality of your work because you "didn't have enough time." Of course, sometimes you won't have as much time as you would like, in which case, your fundamental craft comes into play, your ability to give something polish, to pay attention to every part of the image. You may not have time to give the piece the level of rigor that you would like, but you do have a fundamental responsibility as a professional to make sure it's polished. The words, "I didn't have enough time" simply indicate to an editor or art director that you aren't ready. Every piece should have this fundamental polish, which is why it's so important to maximize the time you have. So give yourself the tools you need, whatever they might be! Time management is as important a part of your craft as any other skill.