Let’s take a look at the facts…
What is Illustration?
Keystone Academic Courses gives a great definition of what Illustration is and how it’s used. They state that “Illustration is a decoration, interpretation, or visual explanation of a text, concept or process, designed for publication in a variety of media.” To boil it down into very simple terms, I like to describe Illustration as “Telling Words with Pictures.”
What makes things “cute?”
Nearly a decade ago, Vsauce shared a great video outlining what makes things “cute,” as well as why we have such a strong reaction to them. While referencing Konrad Lonrenz studies on what makes living things cute, Michael describes cute things as typically having “[a] small body size with a disproportionately large head, large eyes, and round and soft body features.” So, let’s take a look at some of my work…
Ha, okay, yeah, I think I’m obviously checking a lot of boxes here. When I stop to think about it, it makes sense, though. Some of the earlier influences in my illustrations were anime and manga, and I always loved drawing Chibi characters. Even to this day, I basically draw them for a living (I illustrate custom cartoon portraits on Etsy). I have examples of darker subject matter with jagged and angular line work, but even then, I still seem to gravitate towards large heads, and big eyes.
Of course, this drawing style was developed through repetition and habit. So, logic stands to reason that a new way of illustrating could be achieved through the same tenacity. In order to help direct my learning, I’ve tried to lay out some basic strategies to brush off the dust, get practice, and start working outside of my comfort zone.
Strategy number one is to just draw. Draw something. Draw ANYTHING! Even if it doesn’t fit into the style I’m trying to learn. Keeping myself in practice and working is my first and foremost goal. With children, it’s difficult to keep up a rigorous schedule, so my time commitments are starting off pretty minimal. Ideally, I’d like to get 30–60 minutes of sketching every day. Missing a day here and there isn’t a big deal, and, honestly, it’s inevitable with the way our house runs. That being said, I feel that this goal is realistic.
Since my background has a lot of comic book influence, the style I am pursuing will likely look much like comic books, too. Since I know I won’t be able to completely abandon decades of training for clean lines and a mildly cartoony feel, I decided to study an illustrator whose style I feel I could possibly achieve (eventually): Tony Moore.
I’ve been reviewing The Walking Dead Book 1: Days Gone By graphic novel and have a few pages and panels earmarked to try to redraw. The reason I like to do this is because you can only glean so much information by looking at an image. If you commit to trying to redraw it, you will become more aware of the details and how the artist conveyed the materials, expressions, and line work. This should give insight into how to achieve similar effects in my own work.
Draw, Trace, Draw Again
No matter how much I think I am nailing a drawing, once I walk away and come back, I soon realize that I’ve done it again: big heads and large eyes. Something I want to try doing is drawing from reference, lightly tracing the details of the reference image on a different sheet, then create a new drawing using the tracing as an additional visual reference. My hope is that this will help me to get a better handle on more realistic proportions.
Find New Reference Material
Ultimately, the project I’m working on will require me to draw some gruesome content. While copying other illustrators’ work will help, the best way to learn how to draw something specific is to actually draw from real world images. I’m going to have to lean on subreddits like Make Me Suffer to learn to draw more gross images (specifically in relation to injuries).
I don’t expect that this list will stay the same. As time goes on, I’ll likely stop some of these strategies, change them, and add completely new ones. The ability to adapt and change is one of the most important traits of any commercial artist and illustrator. You have to roll with the punches and not be afraid to alter course as needed.