Thanks very much for the kind words!
The reason you’re struggling with proportion is because you’re not comfortable with your anatomical knowledge yet. This will come in time, and the harder you work at life drawing and anatomy study, the faster it will get comfortable enough that you won’t have to labor over your sketches.
Proportion isn’t that important in initial sketches anyway. What’s important is answering the question you asked yourself when you started drawing.
Math teachers always insist that you show your work, and this is what early sketches should be: your visible problem solving.
Any sufficiently advanced problem starts with a set of data, a question, and usually some variables. I’ll use the final Deep Map Pilot, “Ascencion”, as an example. Here is my sheet of initial “thumbnail” sketches.
It’s difficult for me to break my thought process down into something verbally logical, but I suppose it goes something like this:
Question: This is the central “problem” of the project: the thing I have to solve for. The feeling, character, event, movement, color, flavor, or shock I have to convey to the audience. In the case of this piece, the question was: How do I successfully and accurately portray the character depicted in Warren’s microfiction about “Ascencion”?
Data: This can be thought of as the things that you know about this piece of art before you even start. Things that won’t or can’t change. When you’re working for a client, there are a lot of these. Warren let me completely off the leash for the Deep Map Pilots because he wasn’t a client, this was just something we were doing together. Regardless, there were clues in the text that couldn’t be flouted:
- I know where Ascencion is: “Ascencion dives the deeps of the Kuiper Belt”
- I know how she feels about being there: “She never wants to go home again.”
- I know who Ascension is supposed to be: “I think you wrote Ascencion for me.” “I did. That’s why it’s the last one.” [from email correspondence]
Taken together, this means 1 = it has to look like the outer solar system, 2 = she has to convey contentment, excitement, comfort, even pleasure; all the things I would feel if I were cradled in the bosom of the Kuiper Disk, because 3 = Ascencion is me, so I know what her face is going to look like.
As a side note, in the case of the other DMPs, I researched their names before committing to their appearance. Marenka is Czech, so I gave her blonde hair and wide, delicate, squarish face, as well as a ballet-inspired outfit because I associate the eastern bloc with ballet for some reason. Rehani is Swahili, and her face is based on reference photos of Swahili-speaking folks. Ironically, Rehani flies in Venus’ rotten-eggs atmosphere, while the supposed meaning of the name is “sweet smell”. This may be Warren’s idea of a joke; he never specified. Jinjing is Chinese. Cameo is an Italian name, but I focused on her silhouette inside the traditional cameo-shape of an oval. She has bluish-white skin and white hair, like cameo settings do, and her facial structure is stolen from L’Inconnu de la Seine (mistakenly known as “La Belle Italienne” in the United States) because that was another iconic carven face, and one that went to her doom smiling, just as Cameo is described as enjoying an asteroid belt run that only the insane or the suicidal ever attempt.
Any given character is a gravity well; things will fall into them over time, bulking them out, giving them mass and with greater mass, stronger gravity. Things are pulled into their orbits.
Variables: What can change about this drawing? What options do you have? What are some things that could be left in or taken out? What are some ideas you want to try, but that don’t need to be there? What are some things you’d like to try not doing? You can try figuring all this shit out before you start drawing, or you can try drawing and erasing a bunch of shit over and over, but you usually just end up with a mess. Notice in the thumbnails below, that if something isn’t really grabbing me by the nuts, I let it go. It’s wasting my time, even if I like the idea or am frustrated by not being able to figure it out. All the DMPs ended up being overnight projects, literally working steadily for sometimes more than 24 hours at a time, not sleeping. I couldn’t tell you why I ended up doing them this way (guess I got brain problems!), but it was stupid and created a vicious time crunch. So anything that didn’t work right away got thrown out, or saved for a later piece.
You’ll notice I do a few things:
- At this stage I don’t fuck with anatomical details, facial likeness, or anything but a generalized idea of what’s going on in the picture.
- If something isn’t really good, I stop spending time on it immediately. I don’t erase it, I just move on.
- If it’s a good idea but a bad execution, I try a few different versions on the theme.
- If the drawing is fine but i want to try something different with it, i make another copy and change just that one thing.
- I draw on non-white backgrounds so i can add both highlights and shadows easily, if i decide to add any value. some people also get spooked by blank white space, so filling it with a texture or color can help get you past that.
- I pay attention to the composition inside each little rectangle, trying to stay aware of how the space (hehe) is being chopped up by the forms.
- I try to keep the tension, weight, and movement of the figure alive in the angles of their body. In the case of the DMPs (excepting Rehani), this was an exercise in the opposite of what you’re usually trying to do with figures (which is to give them believable weight): they were all weightless, and communicatingthatwas just as important as it would be to communicate a believable and balanced stance in a standing, earth-gravity figure. What this meant for the process was that I continually spun the working surface while I drew: every pilot (except Rehani) had to “work” from every orientation, owing nothing to any force pulling them in any particular direction, with the exception of centrifugal force, inertia, or momentum. This sense of “what is this person’s body doing” is really important.
Jinjing is coiled up like a spider, every part of her body is clenched except her arms and hair, as ballerinas keep their arms graceful even while their trunks are locked. Rehani is as wide, deep, and solid as the ship’s bridge behind her, but her face is washed with clouds. Cameo is holding herself in the rod-straight, head-clenching, toe-curling, almost unconscious stretch that you only do when you’re deliciously relaxed and well-rested on a soft mattress. Cats do it a lot, humans less so. Marenka is crouched and gangled, toes and fingers and mouth all working at once. Ascencion is both excited and relaxed. She is obviously enjoying her bed of utility conduits, her feeding tube, her fitted suit. But her expression is not welcoming; it is challenging, aloof, and wry.
Or, that was what I attempted to communicate. Some people are going to read the paragraph above and be confused and annoyed because their interpretation will have been completely different than mine, which is fine, because the author is dead.
Here’s the progress gif of Ascencion so you can see the finishing process from the chosen thumbnail to final artwork.
You’ll notice that I do a lot of corrections of things like anatomy while I’m working. This isn’t ideal, and you should avoid going into finalizing drawing or painting before you get a really good, accurate sketch or underpainting. It will save you a lot of time in the long run, so learn from my bad example please.
Hope this helps a bit.
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