boba Fett

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ask an Artist on the 11th! - A3on11 - books?

Welcome to ‘Ask an Artist on the 11th, or ‘A3 on 11’ as I like to call it. It's a little early this month, as I'm keen to get right to it.

This month’s question comes to me via Facebook:
“Are there any books on art techniques/comic creating that "you" personally recommend?”

This is a perfect question for me, since I’ve read a TON of art books. (yes, a metric ton, I checked!)I mean, I have a really large collection of ‘em. This is partly due to the fact that I love to learn, and also due to an early phase I suspect lots of folks go through when first starting out.

See, back in the early days I thought if I somehow bought and read JUST the right book, everything would fall into place, and I’d become a great artist. An illustration ‘short cut’ as it were…no such luck. So, let me preface this discussion by warning that books are only 20-30% of what can help you. The rest is a combination of drive, focus and talent in my opinion. And practice! Lots of practice! I heard somewhere that every artist has 1000 bad drawings in them, you just have to get them out before you can really see improvement. I don’t know if this is true, but I sure choose to believe it.

I also believe that part of what will make a book ‘good’ for you, is where you are with your art. I’ve read a few books where it soon became apparent that it was a case of ‘too much too soon’ for it to benefit me. Basically, it was ahead of my time. I’ve gone back to books like this later on and they were much more helpful. Only THEN was I ready to internalize what they were trying to tell me…know what I mean? I think this is worth keeping in the back of your mind while you read art books. Sometimes it might be the right book at the wrong time.

By now you are probably thinking, GQ just say what damn books you like already! OK, alright! There are 2 books that I continually refer to, and probably couldn’t live without.

The first is ‘Gesture Drawing for Animation’ by Walt Stanchfield. This was available out on the web as download at one point, and that’s when I first read it. My copy is well loved, and I refer to it constantly. Basically, it helped loosen up my figure drawing, and helped me make a quantum leap forward with my art. With chapter titles like “Go for the Truth”, “A Visual Vocabulary for Drawing” , “Elements of the Pose”, & “A Sense of Story - talk to your audience through drawing”, I can’t think of a better more comprehensive art book. The first page of my dog eared copy says:

”Draw ideas, not things; action, not poses; gestures, not anatomical structures”

Reading that was like a light switch going off in my head. If that quote appeals to you, try and track this book down.
It has since been collected, updated and formally released as a 2 book set called Drawn to Life (The Walt Stanchfield Lectures) I bought these books, but I still prefer my old, worn, highlighted original copy the best. ;-) All the same material is in the new releases, but they messed up the order of the lectures and it doesn’t seem to flow as well to me . Still worth a place on your shelf though!

The 2nd book that really helped me advance my comic art was- and is- 'FORCE -Dynamic life drawing for animators’ by Michael D. Mattesi. This book really helped me figure out why some art has more energy and well…force, than others. Since energy and motion are elements I really like to play with, it helped give me a few tricks and tips to use to help turn up the volume in these areas as it were. (This one goes to 11…it’s one louder!)

With chapters like “Seeing life”, “Forceful Form” and “Forceful Shape” it stays very close to what the title promises. It deals with rhythym, balance and straight vs. curved lines -how to use them to maximize the force of your art. You know, the stuff that Bruce Timm and other great cartoonists seem to do effortlessly. For some inexplicable reason the author put a section about animals as the last chapter which I skipped over. Hey, it’s his book, I guess he can do what he wants. Don’t let the livestock section fool you… I highly recommend this book .

Remember, I’ll be answering any questions you ask on the 11th of every month right here. Questions can range from very basic ones about general art creation and processes, to very technical comic creation ones. To shoot me a question, just email me (address on the right side on this blog), ask me on Facebook, or throw it in the comments section here. What I talk about just depends on what gets asked!

See you next month!

Commercial break- If you'd like to support small press, please go here and grab a copy of Undertow #1.

If you missed last month's 'A3on11', it was all about the process of creating a page of comic art from the script to the finished can be found right here.


  1. What a great article, thanks. There's some excellent advice and book recommendations here for all artists. I'm intrigued by both books and will definitely look into them. Please keep doing these post.

  2. Had to go back and check my pages after seeing that OG panel. Almost looks like I know how to letter. YES.