The Ian Gibson column: what happened to drawing from life?

Ian laments the way modern art bears little or no bearing to reality (unlike comics, of course!)

Which came first: the drawing, or the design?

I could be cruel and say that, in looking around at what passes for ‘today’s art’, the race is still on. As neither has arrived yet! Maybe they got held up in the traffic?

I made the mistake in a moment of madness of joining a local ‘arts forum’. I’ve only been to the galleries a few times, as neither drawing nor design were on display. Much to my dismay! And when I had the pleasure of creating a cover for the ‘Arts Review’ magazine, I was wondering if I should follow it up with a series of articles for them on design concepts.

But I fell over the word ‘concept’ and realised that the modern vogue for concept art requires neither drawing nor design. It would appear that the task of the modern artist is to challenge the audience to ‘understand’, rather than communicate anything.

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That’s where the world of comics differs so much.

Our task is to communicate. And to communicate as clearly as possible to make it a pleasant and easy ride; or ‘read’ if you prefer. Otherwise we could get caught up in a fairground simile and start comparing which artists are the whirling tea-cups and which the roller coasters? No comment about who might be the bumper cars. I won’t even go there!

This ramble was inspired by a link sent to me by a friend, which took me to an on-line article about some chap known as Cat, and his new line of Catastrophic comics. Personally I prefer the ‘Cat as trophy’ word play. But that’s just me.

The thing that caught me eye and raised the question was the artwork attached as an example of what the new line is producing.

Now this is the bit where I make new enemies, I suppose!

The art appeared to be your regular computer coloured product. No. I won’t blather on about my disapproval of the system. I know there is a lot of skill involved in manipulating Photoshop that way.

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But what I noticed were details like the hand of one of the characters. It looked to me as if the artist had never actually looked at a real hand and was working from some ‘comic’ style he’d drawn from, if you’ll excuse the pun? And then I noticed the design was failing; not so much in placement of elements but in their scale. And it was naturally the failings of the design which had first drawn my attention to the badly drawn hand instead of guiding my eye round the page.

Apologies to the poor artist, whoever he or she may be. I’m sure you have a great contract and a bright future. I’m just passing comment, not as a personal critique, but as a general appraisal of what seems to be happening in the comic world.

I could blame it on books like ‘How to draw the xxxx way’ (insert your own favourite or otherwise company name ). As they suggest that drawing should follow their regimens if it is to be accepted! Whatever happened to drawing from real life? The idea of taking a sketch book out into the world and observing?

I did that when I started the Halo Jones series: I went to the local pub – a great sacrifice on my part as I’m not a drinking man 😉 – and observed how people stood in groups as they conversed. Making notes of the body language as well as the design that bodies create in juxtaposition. And, happily, I was able to take some of those sketches back to the studio to act as reference for the art.

Whenever I’m stuck in an airport I have my sketch-pad with me so that I can capture even the briefest note on pose or profile detail.

But to me it seems that some artists have never thought to draw from life; to observe the world around them.

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A quick word of advice: ‘Stop and look!’

But now I’ve rambled on for longer than usual. And haven’t even answered the original question. Maybe I’ll come back to it if I’m still welcome. Cheers!

Though I’m not a drinking man! 😉

Ian Gibson writes regularly at Den of Geek; read his last column here.