Let's Get at It! feature image of Blackhawk
The Vintage Inkwell Academy

Let’s Get At It!

Greetings and apologies all, it’s been a long while since my last post and I hope all is well with you all despite the pandemic madness. I’ve been exceptionally busy making back-end site changes to make the site faster as well as much more mobile device friendly. I’ve also been running about expanding the offerings out to the artistic community at large and building out what was started here. The Vintage Inkwell Academy now has a new TVIA Reddit space: https://www.reddit.com/r/vintageinkwell to post artist’s work as well as a live chat/collaboration space. Second to this is a new TVIA Pinterest site https://www.pinterest.com/vintageinkwellacademy cultivated and stocked exceedingly well with images for artist reference and excellent art instruction resources.

To first-time visitors I say welcome and to returning guests I extend my gratitude for the revisit. I’m pretty excited to impart my new discoveries, so let’s get on with the content shall we?

THE SURREAL REAL

I want to spark a frank discussion on the state of modern comic books and for me it’s been a long time coming. It’s the ugly elephant in the room that few wish to look at much less talk about, but I’ve had enough. Since I’ve long abandoned trying to discover gold in a perfumed mine full of gold painted turds, and refuse wasting hard-earned money on crap. I dedicated some online time to seek out and examine new comics and commit some research to exactly why comics are so bad today.

What first hit me is that today’s corporatized comic books try too hard at focusing on being cinematic on the page and as a medium takes itself much too seriously. Much as in films where CGI and digitized blood is overemphasized, the Photoshop colouring and effects employed in these comic books are similarly overdone and used egregiously. It often seems utilized as a crutch to mask artistic inadequacies or as a distraction to cover story deficiencies. In its worse forms, it appears as a rather wanton advertisement strutting about trying be picked up and developed by a movie conglomerate. It’s all mechanical looking now, cleanly sanitized, safe and largely deprived of any flavour or interest in character development or story building fundamentals. The art is all rendered digitally now which in it’s current form is artistically distant and sterile in appearance, with no mystery, no nuance, no defining personality. It’s painfully easy to see there’s no real passion for the work nor any respect for the intended audience overpaying for it. For all intents and purposes a good number of these comic books look like clones produced by computer that are monotonous, stifled creatively and exceedingly formulaic. Often the panel work is dark, with every surface shiny or glowing, action scenes are too cluttered and suffocating with poor composition. The art just isn’t allowed to breathe and it’s like creating art merely by rote just as a means to an end. Instead of Photoshop enhancing color and effects, its flagrant over abuse is often destroying the work.

Page 10 from Batman The Three Jokers depicting the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents
Here’s an example of digital Photoshop colour rendering done very nicely.

I can only imagine how horrible it must be to work for a corporate comic company as an artist or writer currently. Forced to sign over anything you create with zero ownership, narrowly confined to what subjects you are allowed to portray and how permitted content is depicted. Subjugated creatively to produce meaningless, emotionless, for-profit-only, cross-marketed self-regurgitating pablum. A while ago I discovered a website where it’s host Chris Tolworthy wrote an expansive, book-length treatise on the just where Marvel Comics went wrong. It’s an amazing, well researched and powerfully presented work I recommend wholeheartedly so you can see how Chris with 40 years of collective analysis, was able to document the rise and fall of Marvel comics (as a comic publishing entity).

1968: When Marvel “Sold Out”
How To Make Great Comics
The Great American Novel Homepage

Original art page from Tales of Suspense 81 Page 2
Now this is how to captivate an audience

By stark contrast, the comics of yesteryear had raw, hand-tooled elements, even mistakes which ingrained into the work that gave it signature character and a vivid vitality. I recently analyzed key pieces of Jack Kirby’s work during the 60’s when he was at his apex and producing astounding, thrilling and creative comic work that drove Marvel’s reconstruction. I really wanted to discern exactly what made this old comic work so special, so very different than what’s being put out today. As you can see in the examples provided, the first level impact is the primal action, explosive action and brilliant composition that jumps off the page at you. The second is competent and emotive dialogue that drives the story forward in a captivating way, from the inner thoughts of the hero’s struggles, to the dramatic exchanges between characters. Nothing is wasted, no idle, meaningless chatter, it is to the point and it pulls you into the world the story is building. Thirdly, I found that the stories built a true suspense, mystery and compelling drama that held a raw appeal. So much so that if you were to rip out a key page of one of these classics, and the reader came to discover this, it would be a devastating affair as they frantically were left in a state of suspense. The crux of this being that these books were so concise and well written that even one missing page would destroy the entirety of the tale. Try pulling out a page in today’s commercially produced books and the same effect would not be anywhere nearly as dire.

Comic panel action scene from page 15 of Captain America number 104
This isn’t simply frenetic action, it’s suspense and tension thoughtfully applied. You know it’s effective, because if you were reading this as a comic and the next page were missing — you would lose your mind!

Some of the problem is also a fact that a great number of present-day comic artists and writers have never learned from foundational art and literary education in these arts, but instead learned what they have from other comic books. This is not to blame them, for few even knew that instruction like this even existed, and the few that did, abandoned it for the quick and easy path. This is problematic in that there are rules and specific training disciplines inherent in the old teaching that are not being followed today. These sound and timeless educating guidelines have been acquired from literally ages of instruction and discovery. These critically essential teachings have been largely abandoned by modern day art schools in favor of a monetized agenda and preparing students for careers in corporate based arts. If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a noticeable absence of quintessential “Great American Authors” or why there is a dearth of Bernie Wrightson’s or Mike Kaluta’s out and about, this is the very reason. That classical foundation is no longer being taught, being passed on to a new generation willing to take it’s fundamentals and expound them into new undiscovered limits. Sorry to say, but you simply can’t make anything decent from a third generation copy of the original that was produced with foundation principles.

There are a handful of artists and writers that have sought out learning these disciplines and you can tell in their work immediately, the late Dave Stevens of Rocketeer fame being one. In fact, every widely known, famous and timeless artist from R. Crumb to Frank Frazetta has followed this legendary traditional instruction and forged their own artistic path following them. These artists could write their own ticket and go anywhere, they developed their own signature styles from it’s fertile soil and became famous due to it. They all learned this great knowledge attending schools that taught it that time, or they grabbed books at libraries to pursue their studies, or they worked with a classically trained mentor who passed on this knowledge.

Comic panel action scene from page 10 of Captain America number 101
Action, spot on composition and dimensional rendering drive this work

This critique isn’t about nostalgia nor the pining for days long past, it’s about being short-changed by a medium, cheated by a slick, synthesized, industrial byproduct. This is the inevitable degenerative end result when creative control is stolen from the creators and left to the devices of mindless, soulless, profit and agenda driven automatons. Nothing more than avaricious, self-aggrandized pimps with willful disregard for you, and much less for the financial support you’ve provided them buying their products. If anything, this is a rallying cry to resurrect a dying medium, wresting it back and delivering it into the capable, caring hands of the creators and their supporters. Yes the creators, who actually love what they do and respect their audience and their intelligence. Delivering exciting, original and creative work that touches people, that stirs in them, enthralls them to demand to see more.

Picture of Jack Kirby drawing at poolside
Jack Kirby, a master at work who elevated the art form with dreams from his heart and mind

A critical missing piece is that heroes are no longer iconic, they’re just there as props. This key essential element is what made the character’s individual and interesting, but their ethics and personality drove you to look up to them. It inspired you to be greater than yourself and gave you a code and morality to emulate. It screamed out that indignity and injustice were not to be tolerated and that one dedicated person can make a difference in the world. It just took the fire of courage and a fortitude uniquely applied, to tenaciously see challenges no matter how great or adversarial through. This extraordinary individual or individuals who could dig down deep and power through despair despite all odds. Foremost, the iconic hero is the every-man who rises to the call, the saviour who charges forth without hesitation.

Lastly, I’m not advocating that ALL comics be this way, I actually would love to see a return to a wide diversity of the medium, from funny, to dramatic, to educational, to heroic, to cartoony, or even something totally brand new. Think of elevating your audience’s consciousness and don’t ever pander to lower common denominator content just because that’s what you think they want. Respect your audience for what people want and treasure is something real, honest, something true and heartfelt that resonates. If you are a true creator, your first love should be for the artform and medium now and always. If you build your dream intently and with passion, through your dedication and vigor they will come. One thing to always remember, NEVER sell out your creations or creative ownership, these are YOUR creations that you laboured hard to birth, so you need to permanently retain the creative control over them. Don’t sell them them out for the facade of success and promise of a quick buck, you will regret it in the long run. Think I’m being over dramatic? Read here for an mere snippet of tales of creators ripped off: 10 Times Comic Book Creators Were Screwed Over. You will see your pimped out creations die a miserable, shameful and degrading demise as they are transformed into nothing more than another pathetic brand in the company’s stable. So with all that being said, let’s move on to learning some of this foundational mystery knowledge.

GESTURE DRAWING

If there’s one foundation to figure drawing and depicting the human form in action, it’s Gesture Drawing. If you’re new to it I’ll explain and if you’re not, you really need to faithfully incorporate its practice daily. To begin, Gesture Drawing is an exercise designed to teach the fluidity of motion and the energy of line dynamics in posed action. It’s meant to capture the symmetry of proportion, interplay of human form construction as well as balance in motion. This rendering exercise is meant to be performed with loose, sweeping lines with focus on expressing the energy and vitality of the movement. Don’t tense up your hand and peck at the lines, instead concentrate on putting your shoulder and whole of your arm into the rendering arcs.

Image of Gesture Drawing instructions by Griz and Norm
Excellent instruction here by Griz and Norm. Keep it loose, flowing and alive with energy!

If the drawing space is small, then retain the sweeping curved movements inherent in Gesture but reduce the movement from the shoulder to the elbow or wrist. In other words, when you have a large drawing space on the page you use your shoulder to create the arcs of the line to capture the movement of your subject. In medium page space your minimize the movement and work from your elbow, in small spaces utilize your wrist. In very small drawing spaces you must learn to reduce that movement to your fingers.

Gesture drawing of a woman with cloth ribbon over her shoulder
Flow of line, emotive capture, weight and balance

The key in performing Gesture Drawing is to make sure that the action you depict is exaggerated, pushing the figure’s action to its logical limits of expression. There’s an additional challenge involved and that is that you must perform each rendering within a strict 2-minute time period. If you’d need some reference models to use, I’ve got a good collection going at my TVIA Pinterest page. The methodology in drawing gesture is to first render the essential lines that capture the movement and exaggerate them, making sure to drive energy and vibrancy into the lines. You’ll need to do this quickly and with confidence, sweep and arc the lines and never peck at them. After establishing these action lines now move to begin framing out musculature, the twists and bends of the figure in action. Don’t concentrate on any full details and instead just render in a very simple figure, remember you only have 2 mins. As you progress in proficiency, to can reduce the time limit to 1 minute and then to even 30 seconds. Perform this every day, making it an important daily habit like brushing your teeth. A challenge that I incorporate is to watch an action TV show or movie that I’ve seen before and execute Gesture Drawing from the figures in action. It’s a very good exercise I recommend that teaches you to snapshot the action, quickly imprint it to memory and then rapidly depict it on paper.

Image of Gesture Drawing instructions part 2 by Griz and Norm
Gesture Drawing Tips by Griz and Norm

This technique will both train your artistic eye and hand to begin to acclimate and develop in drawing the human form dynamically. Initially don’t fret about the drawings turning out well, it’s more important at this stage to get the motion of the pose correct. Remain undaunted and keep practicing, correcting the mistakes as you go really driving expression of the form into the line work. Keep at it! Proper form executed with determined and persistent practice will return reward in skill. Once you are able to capture the movements well in rendering a simple framework, you can now move on to the next challenge of filling out the form out with more detail. You have the same 2-minute time limit per pose, but now you must begin training to build out the form. The goal is to retain a simple framework, only now you are paying more attention to simple form detail. Make this a practice everyday like eating, performing it for a minimum of 30 mins to an hour if possible. You can also incorporate it while watching an action movie or TV show you’ve seen a thousand times. This can be a fun and informal way of practicing, with a substantially more challenging time limit that will press upon training your eye and memory. If you go to the Video Art Instruction part of my Links section you’ll find some very effective teaching videos to help guide you with proper Gesture Drawing.

Gesture drawing of man creeping forward by Griz and Norm
Gesture drawing of man creeping forward by Griz and Norm

In composing this latest post I found perhaps the best renditions and tips on Gesture Drawing by Griz and Norm. You can find them at: Griz and Norm Tumblr and their website, grizandnorm.squarespace.com I’ve seen many different renditions of Gesture Drawing rendered, but for me the pinnacle is by Griz and Norm. They fully understand the concept and execute it magnificently as you can see below. Gesture Drawing at its core, is the amalgamated depiction of weight, the compression and extension of form, the capture of dynamic line of action, and infusing energy and life. When you set out to practice Gesture Drawing daily, you must always keep this in mind as a focal point, as it is essential to produce truly unique works of form expression. As the old song once said… “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”, meaning you have got to master bringing these lines into a thrilling vibrant life of their own. Remember to ALWAYS exaggerate the line of action to it’s physical extremes and you’ll produce figures that are compelling to look at.

USING SCULPTING AS A DRAWING REFERENCE

In the course of my own studies and artistic development, I discovered something new I’d like to share. In illustration and drawing in general, it’s widely known and accepted that you should always draw using a live model of your subject. This however is not always available nor practical to accommodate in all circumstances. So, the next form of suitable reference that’s close, would be photographs of the subject. However, the use of photographs for references has its own limitations, where only an impression of dimension is captured and depicted in two-dimension. Video or film is a tiny bit better than photos, and between the two, it is better than nothing in lieu of a live model.

Sculptor Philippe Faraut sculpting large head of girl from clay
Master sculptor Philippe Faraut

Further, when you are using any references from photos make sure they are clear, clean photographs of your subject and NOT a drawing, a image degenerated copy or any other unsuitable facsimile of insufficient quality to draw from. Fortunately, I’ve found a great new source of references that provide a novel method of learning dimensional construction of the head and figure composition.

The method? Sculpture in clay. Clay modeling is very much like rendering the form in illustration, in both mediums models are often used, and in both, a basic wire form is established with the gesture of the action captured. This is followed by a foundational build out of the masses of the form or head, with subsequent detailing sculpted and worked up into the final composition. As an illustrator’s methodology works similarly, but the mechanics used in working the form from clay reveals to the observer very helpful and important details. What it imparts specifically is visualizing and depicting dimension into the forms. Step by step, during this creation process you can see shapeless bulk take on definitive structure, building on an evolving foundation to finally become vibrant, true to life sculpture.

Sculptor Philippe Faraut sculpture of a girl's head completed
As you can see, the detailed features and shadows in sculpting actually make capturing it in drawing a bit easier.

Phenomenal sculpture works of this sort are being produced by absolute master sculptor Philippe Faraut https://philippefaraut.com His medium is simple clay, out of which he brilliantly brings to life astounding recreations of the human and animal form. I strongly urge you to see his videos I specifically collected here: https://www.pinterest.com/vintageinkwellacademy/sculpture-as-drawing-reference Make sure to watch, re-watch and focus on how Phillipe takes rudimentary forms and build them out, for they are the same methods used to construct the figure form and head construction used in figure drawing. Pay attention closely and emulate this process on the page and you will surely progress and build your skill upon a solid foundation.

SO, YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW TO DRAW THE TRADITIONAL WAY…

As I pointed out earlier, you have to learn the founding principles of art to have a firm footing to be able reach your artistic potential. It needs to be followed resolutely and with all due determination, however few do because they prefer instead to follow a easy road producing short-term, unmemorable results. This more exacting educational journey, fires the creative energies, excites the imagination, and delivers much more lasting rewards that you make your name with. It’s rules and guidelines will propel your artistic education to new heights and if you’ve been struggling allow new insight into concepts that didn’t make much sense before. Where are these dynamic books with foundational teaching from the absolute best vintage art teachers? Just navigate to the Library section in the above top site menu. This is where I house and curate a growing collection of personally reviewed and tested vintage art instruction books for artists from beginner to advanced.

Image depicting Jack Kirby quote "Make your own school..."
Make your own school. You tell ’em Jack!

I can help point the way, but the rest is entirely up to you to construct and pursue your own personal school of art instruction. In these vintage books lay the keys that will give you the tools and techniques to become the best artist you can be. I too am a developing artist pursuing and digesting this knowledge and after finding sources so rare and valuable, I wanted to make it easily available to anyone else who struggled as I did. Along the way in my artistic journey, I kept running into problems locating good reference material to draw from and not finding much, I decided to create one of my own. For the developing artist, I host great artist reference content here to help you get started: https://www.pinterest.com/vintageinkwellacademy.

MOTIVATION

One of the struggles as a developing artist is to remain motivated, focused and the lack of it can put a halt to your progression full stop. So how do I transcend this obstacle which is 100% mentally derived? Recently I ran across a terrific post at a brand new sub-Reddit called https://www.reddit.com/r/PursuingArt/ by it’s host Readible. It’s short and concise, but more to the point I found it very helpful and hopefully you will as well.

Dedication – You can’t halfheartedly wing it and expect results – what do you really want? Are you willing to take up the arts with passion and commitment?

Practice – May be cheesy, but holds true – the only real way to improve in art is to do art! Copy from life, pictures and other artists’ work to build up skills.

Inspiration – You won’t get anywhere without an inspiration for motivation! Look to other artists or your surroundings – a Google or Pinterest search will do.

Environment – Your environment is key to your art and focus – work in a spacious, well lit and distraction free environment where possible (and take breaks).

Materials – No “professional” artist supplies will make you a pro – but always have the basic materials within reach. Try out various mediums to find your thing!

Fundamentals – Ah, here we go again – but seriously, improving your basics will reflect across all your art! E.g. composition, light, shadow, tone and perspective.

Self-discipline – Plan ahead if you’re serious about art. Know what you will practice and when, and fully commit to it! It will take time and a strong will to pay off.

Creativity – Experiment and have fun with art! It should be a hobby and a way to let your creative energy flow – you’re not doing it right if it’s just a dull chore.

Mistakes – Yup, you learn from them, improving on your past goof-ups! So don’t be afraid – doodle, sketch, make a mess and step out of your comfort zone.

Freedom – While it’s good to copy other works, don’t just stiffly draw everything line for line! Let your pen off the page, experiment and develop your style!

Socialize – Even an introvert can connect on the internet – find forums, sub-reddits or guides, share or browse art, and get feedback from a fresh perspective.

Note #1 – If drawing digitally, don’t forget traditional art! While physical art skill translates OK to digital, it doesn’t work so well in vice versa.

IT’S ALL IN THE MIND

The wellspring of creation is in the mind, it germinates as imagination and is made real in the hands of the creator. In it’s contained and structured universe, inspiration is energized, ideas manifest and compete and creativity is either initiated or destroyed upon its launching pad. The self-destructive mindset of any artist lay in the eternal struggle against doubt, failure and the cognitive anchors one subconsciously sets out to prevent the smooth sailing of their work and goals. Perception is paramount here as often artists sabotage their efforts by cultivating and subconsciously carrying negatively noxious thoughts which in turn produce inaction or a pattern of destructive self-criticism. Internal and external proclamations such as “I suck at art”, “I’m terrible at drawing” or an amalgamation of the two, “My drawings suck” are all bad starts you’re harboring that need to be discontinued immediately. This destructive dead-weight does nothing but set in your mind failure from the start, so let’s set at fixing that, right now.

Vintage pen and ink illustration of a sunrise
Just as the Sun greets a fresh new day, so should you mentally approach drawing daily. Empty all negative thoughts and start fresh on that blank page.

Just as the sun heralds a new day, so should your creative approach as an artist, starting each day like a fresh page of paper to inscribe your vision. A new page on your art pad starts off blank with nothing but the promise of starting out brand new. This is the very same mindset that you must cultivate to get rid of the negative preconceptions that sabotage your efforts and hold you back. The simple truth is that EVERYONE starts from somewhere and your artistic journey much like your personal experiences are unique and unlike anyone else. Refrain from comparing yourself to other artists and this includes your inspirational mentors. Just keep working diligently to learn, practice and render to the best ability you can muster. Every day is different and you will have good drawing days and bad drawing days which is 100% normal!

Refrain from retaining and reject outright any negative mental baggage and take a few minutes before drawing to clear your mind completely. Take the time to flush all that junk out of your neural pathways. Your mind will now be fresh, responsive and open, with clear channels to drive the visual expression from your mind to your hand to the page. It’s absolutely imperative for you to maintain this positive mental outlook to progress and grow as an artist. The old saying ‘Garbage In, and Garbage Out’ encapsulates this perfectly as a reminder. For if you refer to yourself, your skill and what you do in a denigrating manner, you’re setting fire to your own house. Starting out with failure as a mindset will not help you succeed in what you believe in and are working to accomplish. So stop sabotaging yourself and take that reflective, meditative moment to re-energize your thinking so that you start out fresh every time.

Well, that all for this round, see ya next time. Please reach out in the comments if you like what I’ve been sharing so far, have any questions or have any helpful knowledge to share.

%d bloggers like this: