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.


This week my tip of the week will be dealing with exhibitions, conventions and competitions connected to drawing.

You should attend one of the mentioned above every now and then if possible. You can learn a lot on this kind of events. And I’m not only talking about enjoying the newest comic books and illustrations.

First of all, you can analyze the market: What’s in right now? Which artists are getting a lot of attention and why? What’s making a good profit? How do artists promote their work?  You should at least try to find the answer to some of these questions. It can really help you define your own strategy to success a little bit better. On the other hand you can try to set a foot in the biz yourself if you feel ready for it. If you’re just starting out you don’t have anything to lose, right! You should approach other artists or publishers and ask for advice. Most of them should be more than happy to help you 🙂 Especially new artists are really talkative.

Last week I went to the ComicAction exhibition in Essen, Germany. There I met a few fairly new artists and asked them some questions on their work process and the materials/programs they are using to create their artwork. Everyone was very friendly and answered EVERY question I had in detail. I really learned a lot but more important my morale got boosted since now I saw with my own eyes how the artist’s reality looks like and I really liked it. But that doesn’t mean I ignore the hardships artists have to bear 😉

Now then, start planning your next trip to some drawing related event and don’t forget your note book (or con-hon if you’re in to that) AND your sketchbook 😉

Mr. Scheinberger on Illustration and Sketchbooks

This week I attended a short lecture on illustration and sketchbooks presented by Felix Scheinberger. His recent book dealing with this topic “Mut zum Skizzenbuch” is nominated for the Binder Award & the Graf Ludo Award.

I was fairly lucky to be able to get some firsthand tips 🙂

Of course I want to share with you the most important points!

  • You should start drawing for yourself and nobody else but you! Trust your own skills and preferences. Don’t try to satisfy someone else, be it your teacher, your friends or some rigid fashion. You need to let your own style bloom and that’s only possible if you embrace it! This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept any criticism nor does it mean you should ignore basic drawing rules like perspective and proportions. You need to learn the basics but you shouldn’t wait to develop your style until you’re a pro in “conventional” drawing. You have to start now! Following your very own preferences will show better results than trying to draw the way people want you to.
  • Go outside and explore the world with your own eyes (and sketchbook)! Don’t always rely on Google for reference images. It’s very easy to just type in what you are looking for, but the results you get are very limited and sorted out. Besides that, if everyone relies solely on the internet for reference someday everyone will be drawing fairly the same dogs, the same cars and the same landscapes! You need to see the world through your own eyes in order to create your own style!
  • Start drawing everything you desire in your very personal sketchbook meant only for your eyes! Don’t show it anyone. It’s supposed to be as intimate as a diary. It’s meant to be a place where you can create whatever YOU want.
  • Try to find all facets of a subject. When going to Athena, for example, don’t simply draw the Acropolis only because it’s the first thing people connect with the city. Exactly because of this fact you should try to find Athena’s other faces. Always strive for new points of view!
  • Over time the purpose of illustration has changed. A century ago illustrators were needed to depict subjects as accurate as possible. They were sort of a human photo camera. Their job was to show people the world as it was. Nowadays everyone has got a camera and obviously its way easier to quickly take a picture than to illustrate it…And still illustrators are still needed! But what can an illustration do a photo can’t? The answer is it can reduce, it can concentrate on a certain subject/part of the image and alter reality. It reproduces something through the inner eye of an artist. The viewer in a way takes a look in the illustrator’s soul and this connection makes drawings so special. I think we can agree that it’s by far more interesting to look at drawings than photos.

Well that’s basically what Mr. Scheinberger told us. Please bear in mind that this is his opinion and he doesn’t expect anyone to fully agree or disagree with him! It’s a free world 😉

The Book of Life

It’s time for a fundamental Tip of the Week!

As soon as you seriously decide to learn drawing you will have to start observing the world around you very carefully. If you have got a flawless photographical memory that alone should be enough. If you are not blessed with one you should start working with a sketch book like the rest of us 😉

Wherever you go you have to carry a small sketch book with you and as soon as you have some time to spare or when you see something interesting DRAW, put it down on paper! Perhaps you saw an interesting bird or someone on the bus did a particular gesture you can use for your next comic/manga or you just had a groundbreaking epiphany on color theory and you need to illustrate it really quickly. But don’t restrict your options with a sketch book, it’s not simply a collection of white sheets to draw on, you can write down any idea you get, copy the math homework or write down the newest cake recipe. The sketch book is your Book of Life!

To quote my drawing professor: “You must get accustomed to your sketch book to the extent that you can’t get out of the house without it! Just like with your purse or your cell phone.”

I used to ignore this most basic but crucial advice myself. But then I just forced myself to try it out and I was really surprised how well I memorized everything I sketched! It’s incredible! You really have to start walking around with one of those trendy sketch books, too 😉

And by any means do not throw your full books away! You never know when you can use one of those sketches or ideas you documented there.

Drawing Classes

Perhaps some of you wonder why I’m not posting anything on the first thing everyone thinks of when you mention design or art, namely drawing. Well I’ve planned on making a “skill-o-meter” 🙂 This means I’m going to collect the drawings for a while and then I’ll pick a few for every month and try to show you my improvements (hopefully).

But I guess I can already tell you what the topic of the course I picked is. Right now we are doing some character design and backgrounds (at which I REALLY suck) based on a little story where I and 3 other characters go on a university trip.  We still don’t know where we’re headed to… By the way I picked the illustration course (I hope I’ll survive!) and I have to admit I have A LOT of catching up to do if I want to become an illustrator but to be honest I really like media design too. Lucky me, I still have one year time to decide and a little hard work on my drawing skills can’t do any harm 🙂

Good Pen Eraser

Time for my tip of the week!

This week I finally found a relatively decent pen-eraser. I’ve already had 3 other ones, and they were no no-names, believe me! I made a picture so you can see what I’m talking about:

comparing 4 different erasers

Well as you can see, the inconspicuous Japanese pen-eraser really did a nice job in comparison to the rest. And it isn’t all too expensive either. It costs about 1,70 Euros! Really, it cannot get any cheaper!

This is of course my opinion, and I’m not getting paid for advertisement or something. Just my recommendation 😉