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The beginning stages

September 16, 2010

Just about every Illustration I course in this country teaches the same basic principles: Start off with an idea. Sketch out possibilities for that idea. Refine those possibilities. Pick the best of your refined possibilities and take it to a final stage.

With those guidelines in place the student is still left with a great deal of unanswered questions. What about technique? Media? Composition? How do you know when it’s good enough? What makes it good enough?
Most Professors start these students out with certain criteria for each project. Start with this subject. Use black and white. Use color. Use this medium. Sketch on this kind of paper. Try this. Find out what you like.

So it happens that I’m doing a TA for an Illustration I class this semester, and in the beginning stages of these assignments all the students draw on tracing paper, using it to sketch out their compositions and refine their drawings. During undergrad I was taught something similar, using the tracing paper to transfer my sketches before finishing the final product. It didn’t take me too long to realize that every time I transfered my work something always seemed missing. So I took a step back and changed the way I approached my artwork.

I no longer use tracing paper to transfer.

Now it seems every time I show people my methods they usually poke fun and ask why I’d prefer ‘doing extra work’ rather than just using tracing paper, and I know this sounds odd, but somehow for me doing the extra work is easier then going to shorter route. So this got me thinking about how each individual artist approaches the beginning stages of their work, and how I approach mine. I’ll be using some examples from two pieces that I’m currently working on.

After I have an idea I always start with thumbnails. (fig. 1) Once I’ve sketched out a few I’ll usually draw them larger and work out more of the composition details. (fig. 2)

If the image involve figures, which more often then not it does, I’ll take reference shots and just sketch. I’ll sketch the same figure multiple times to get them to my liking.

After sketching the figures, in lieu of simply transferring them with tracing paper, I’ll re-draw the entire image. After sketching them numerous times I have a better understanding of the image and it usually comes out far better than if I were to simply transfer it.

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