Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back to School

Fall Semester Begins at CCSF
Today ends our first week of instruction at City College of San Francisco. Due to scheduling constraint, I am unfortunately unable to continue with my Japanese studies. Thus far, I have completed one beginning kanji class, one beginning conversaitonal Japanese, and four semesters of the language and grammar classes. I think I made mention in the previous post of my near life-long fascination with Japan's anime and manga drawing styles. I was first introduced to these images in print through Japanese robot model kits. The instruction sheets and other inserts often included stills from animation cells, or other hand-drawn illustrations, often line art. They always had this incredible delicacy, even on complex mech designs, that allowed the color to breath freely within the lines. I've been trying to figure out how much of the drawing style reflects a cultural temperament or possibly even tradition evolved and transformed over time.
In studying the Japanese language, I discovered how useful mechanical pencils were in writing the language, particularly the kanji. Chinese characters, when written clearly with a sharp writing implement, can be difficult to draw at smaller scales, especially ones with many strokes. This is less so with the hiragana and katagana, which share the compact openness seen in Roman letters.

If I could confirm for myself the exact types of drawing tools (pencils, pens, etc.) that were used for animation cels, or the kinds of insert illustrations shown above, and the kinds of reproduction processes that might have been involved, I might be able to start incorporating these kinds of marks into my own work.

Fortunately, I have plenty of examples to study. My Mega Man X Official Complete Works (CAPCOM), for example, has tons of sketches and finished art from the games and animated series. I've only played the game a few times at a friend's house on the Nintendo 8-bit system, but I was really inspired by the vast universe of bizarre character and robot designs featured in the book. update
In other news, I've started mapping out the core structure and some content for the Afroid site. The Afroid/Power Coil concept is a science fiction story that centers around a strange phenomenon that enables children to control their hair with their thoughts and a strange, new technology.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Unique Anatomy for Artists Book

As a kid, I never had the patience to sit and read with full comprehension a book related to the complex subject of accurately and effectively drawing the human form. I'd occasionally flip through them in a bookstore or library, and take it home with the hopes that it will make me a better artist. Back then, my dream of becoming a comic book artist was inextricably linked to the need to develop the uncanny ability to convincingly depict the human form, male or female, from any angle, in motion, violent action, repose, etc. Many of my favorites were geared specifically toward comic books, while others took a more intimidating, almost scientific approach. The question of how best to study from these books has always been an issue for me. I have so many in my library, so how come I still struggle with this stuff?

The diagrammatic approach of measuring heads, and seeing basic forms as spheres, boxes and cylinders only got me so far. It always seemed to come down to a quesiton of memory and understanding the underlying mechanics and structure. This was different from the rigors of drawing the figure from life, which can be understood as a process of measuring and the appropriate application of marks, or the translation and organization of patterns of value.

As an undergrad, I was able to squeeze in two semesters worth of figure drawing. During the years after graduation, I enrolled two figure drawing and one portrait painting workshop through City College of San Franciso's Extended Education program. I have also committed many hours to open life drawing sessions and sketching in public. The problem was that I still could not draw the figure accurately, either from memory, or through observation. I could muddle my way through a loose, gestural drawing, with marks occasionally landing in the right place, but I still felt like something was missing. I worried that my instructors had placed such an emphasis on an expressive approach, that I might never develop the discipline and focus to truly draw what I see. The proportions were always approximate, the marks rushed. Where my drawings excelled in confidence and expressiveness, they failed in terms of sturcture. And when I tried to draw bodies from my imagination, I would usually revert back to old habits because the time in front of the model wasn't helping me to retain much.

It wasn't until I took an ecorché class with Carol Tarzier (also through CCSF Extended Ed.) that things finally started to stick. The class involved building a 1/8 scale armature and modeling the bones and muscles in plasticene. I was especially inspired Carol's ability to draw any bone or muscle group from memory and identify things like origins and insertions. At last, I had found the kind of anatomy for artists instruction that made sense to me. It was a holistic approach, that combined the disciplined rigor of careful measurement and accurate porportions, with a very hands-on and tactile approach to learning.

This afternoon, I came across a unique book entitled Anatomy for Artists: A New Approach to Discovering, Learning, and Remembering the Body by Anthomy Apesos (ISBN-13: 978-1-58180-931-2) at the San Francisco Public Library. Apesos' approach is to also present the body through a "hands-on" model where he gets the reader to engage with the material by using their own body. It's a simple, but highly effective approach to learning how the body works. Personally, I'm not very good at memorizing diagrams and formulas, although, I've learned several useful ones through the years. But I'm finding that when I can include a bit of movement and touch to my learning process, I seem to retain more.

If you're looking an anatomy for artists book that offers some valuable insights and a unique approach to the topic, I strongly suggest giving this book a read.

Digital Painting: Wacom Tablet Intensive @ CCA

Last Saturday marked the end of another digital drawing and painting workshop. The course involved two six-hour classes held on two consecutive Saturdays. I had a great group of enthusiastic students with backgrounds and interests that included textiles, illustration, industrial design, fine art drawing and painting, graphic design, and comic books/manga. Close to half of them were already owners and users of Wacom tablets, including the new Intuos 4.

What I like most about teaching the class is figuring out how to relate the digital tools to a broad range of mediums and techniques via the Photoshop environment. I also try to emphasize the importance of putting their ideas first, and then shaping the digital tools to specific needs. One student shared with me at the end that the class really helped her to overcome her anxieties about using the computer for her art.

The class is offered through the California College of the Arts Extended Education program.

The next workshop is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, October 2 & 9, 2010. The fall schedule of classes should be up in a few weeks.
Digital Drawing & Painting: Wacom Tablet Intensive
(OAK 202) $260; 2 sessions

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Drawing Circus : Paper Sculpture

Last night was the our last meeting of the Drawing Circus, a class facilitated by Edward Stanton at the Richmond Art Center ( Our performer wore a simple, loose-fitting dress with long sleeves and an elastic fabric. She performed with an armful of golf clubs, next to a large, gold-trimmed frame. I started with a single sheet of Blueline comic book paper, my two watercolor travel trays, and a pencil.The first marks were mostly lines and small shapes, and faint gradations of primary colors. Careful application of the watercolor started to define long, angular planes on the page that reminded me of my first Gundam model. It was a 1/144 scale Gundam Z, and one of the few kits that I actually tried to paint according to the instructions. Iron Horse on Solano Avenue in Berkeley carried an impressive selection of kits from the Gundam series, and for a while, I was really into them. The Gundam Z has long, elegant lines defining various parts of its armor, as well as a number of sections deliniated with changes in color and plane. The combination of whites, blacks, reds, blues and yellow accents fit well with the tim-honored convention of using bright, primary colors in a triadic color scheme for hero mechs.

I became dissatisfied with the tediousness of the initial drawing process, so I took to folding the paper along some of the lines and zones of color I'd alread drawn or painted. Then, after finding a old pair of blunt-nosed scissors in the studio cabinet, I started cutting into the paper and connecting various sections with slots and tabs. It wasn't long before the forms began to remind me of the details that always made Japanese robot models so compelling as forms, and the many problems that arose as part of the process of assembling something with only line drawings and numerals to guide me.

The final piece was surprisingly stable, and rested on three points on the table. At the end of the drawing session, I used my cell phone to photograph the sculpture from several angles. The cast shadows and form shadows were very interesting. I'd like to turn some of these images into drawings or paintings.

Z-Gundam and Xabungle illustrations by Ken-Ichi Ishibashi ©Bandai