Illustrators Cheat

My drawing class professor is working as a professional illustrator for decades now and he gives us some general tips time to time. But there is one thing he continues repeating almost every lesson: “Try cheating as much as possible!” Now that really shocked me at the beginning. Up until now I was told to give my all in learning to draw out of my own imagination, my own creativity, and now I’m supposed to cheat?! The word itself implies that it’s something wrong, something bad. I really had a hard time adapting to this new attitude…

I attended some other drawing classes at the beginning of the semester and the other professors always stressed the point that we should really, sincerely try to learn drawing the traditional way meaning we should learn drawing from real life, learn everything on perspectives before actually applying the knowledge, learn the human hand’s anatomy and proportions in order to draw hands “the right way” and so on. So basically one has to learn all the theory first than use only real world reference and then combine all the knowledge and create art out of one’s imagination. One professor even referred to the illustrator’s cheats as “dirty little tricks” 😀

But what are those dirty tricks? Here are some examples I learned about concerning comics/manga (our current topic):

  • when drawing a background image, simply find a picture and use Photoshop (or any other image processing application) to trace it and color it
  • when you can’t draw some particular subject than don’t (the example our professor used was to draw horse legs, we were advised to draw the horse standing in tall grass or just cut the image so the legs aren’t visible)
  • try using perspective in order to create a view of the image where you need to draw as less as possible  (like when you draw a crowd of people from a low angle as opposed to a top view where far more individuals would be visible)
  • additionally I know of some professional concept artists who don’t even bother applying perspective on their own but use computer programs like Google SketchUp instead
  • and of course cheating with digital painting is a well known practice (for example line correction or texture application)

Well, some of these “dirty tricks” turned out to be actually really necessary for professionals since there’s no way one can know every aspect of drawing theory or know how to draw every subject. This would be too time-consuming, and time is the one thing illustrators apparently don’t have.

At the Comic Action exhibition a few weeks ago I saw a lot of artists using their cell phone cameras to use pictures of their own hands as reference material. And I really thought professionals don’t need to…

As a consequence I started asking myself “What is the right way to learn drawing hands for example? Should I learn the proportions and anatomy thoroughly first and then start drawing following those rules or should I simply make a picture of the hand I need for my image every time?” I’ve already read a lot on hands but I have to admit that didn’t help me dramatically drawing basic gestures. I came to the conclusion that the pure observation way is quite good for general drawing improvement but as soon as you want to draw a subject really convincingly, realistically and perhaps even without reference you’ll probably need the theoretical knowledge.

Considering both, the traditional and the illustrator’s approach to drawing, the perfect way to go would be to build up a solid basis of minimal knowledge which you should expand whenever you’ve got the time to combined with “cheating” in order to save time and/or achieve better results. So in my point of view trickery should be the ace up your sleeve. You’ll need to learn when and how to use it. And don’t be afraid to do so like I was.