Drawing practice: Cartoony people!

It’s been a long couple of weeks of soul-searching, so let’s take a break today and look at some drawings!

A couple of weeks ago I began reading the webcomic Questionable Content, after clicking through a couple of links from another favorite webcomic, Girls with Slingshots. (Please note! Not all of these comics are safe for work, or other environments.) Jeph Jacques has been drawing QC since 2003, and I spent days reading the entire archive of almost two thousand strips. (I did the same thing with GWS when I first discovered it, and also with Order of the Stick, though since both of those are shorter strips that haven’t been around as long, catching up wasn’t as huge a task.) QC is a great comic, and a real inspiration. When Jacques started, you could barely call it a comic, the drawings and layouts were so crude (and the font so unreadable). But he learned over time, and each year the art became noticeably better, until it’s now really nice-looking.

QC comparison: 2003 versus 2010

QC comparison: 2003 versus 2010 (Jacques redrew one of his earliest strips)

It gives me so much hope to see how Jacques’s drawings have improved. QC is practice in action!

Girl in knit tank

One of my drawings from high school

One thing I can see that Jacques is working on, and still needs to work on, is making his characters look more individual and different from one another. It’s a difficult task, and I absolutely have trouble with it too. When I’m drawing cartoony people, I tend to do only subtle variations on my “standard face,” which is itself just a mild improvement on the way I drew people when I was a kid (see right!). I guess many of us doodlers probably start out drawing people the same way: a U shape for the head, two curves for eyebrows, and generic eyes and noses and mouths to fill in the rest. Hair is just lines attached in some vaguely hairlike fashion all over the head. Voilร : standard face! I still remember what a big deal it was when I started experimenting with different face angles, and accessories like glasses and hats! Although my life sketches have improved dramatically in recent years, that hasn’t translated into my cartoony drawings, and that’s a shame. (Well, it has translated a little bit. My proportions are better now, both on faces and on bodies. But that’s as far as it goes. Standard face still has all the same ol’ parts.)

So today I went through my big collection of magazine clippings, and selected some faces and figures to practice with. First I drew my standard faces and figures for comparison, and then I attempted sketches of the individuals in the photos.

Cartooning practice: faces

Practice with faces

The people didn’t come out looking like themselves, but they did come out looking like people — so much better than the bland standard faces! The same went for the figures, which I had much more trouble with (as evidenced by the craziness going on with the poor girl’s arm below). If I’d wanted to do this properly I could have done it in pencil, and I might do that in future, but for today I just wanted to see.

Cartooning practice: figures

Figure practice

I think these still look not quite cartoony enough (I do like the uber-simple lines of my standard folks). So what I’d like to do, over time, is figure out how to translate the idiosyncracies of people’s faces and figures into more minimalist visual language. Of course, the simpler the lines get, the greater the loss in individualism (which is part of the power of comics), but I think I can achieve a better balance than what I’ve got now.