In my quest for perfection, I’ve tried to be too perfect.

Can the Computer Guy ever let go and let The Artist Guy out?



I’ve pointed out on Numerous occasions that for me, drawing is not second nature. I’m a computer guy. Drawing a Mort Comic Strip usually takes most of a day with my face buried in my iPad, getting quite annoyed with myself as things rarely go to plan.

Unfortunately, I’m a perfectionist. That’s not good for a guy who has trouble drawing – especially when he’s drawing a comic strip.

Lately I’ve been looking at what I’m doing, looking at artwork and art styles that I enjoy, and trying to figure out why I can’t seem to get where I want to go. I’ve come to some interesting conclusions – and my work is starting to improve as a result. There is still a long road ahead, but it’s becoming more fun, and less aggravating.

To be fair – there HAS been improvement over time. The simple act of drawing a strip (almost) every week has given me some insights and improved my style. Heck, at first there WAS no purposeful style – but that has changed.

As I started to create new characters, I started learning some basic concepts that actually made Mort himself look clunky standing next to them, so Mort got a facelift.

After tinkering with some artwork from the forties, Mort went color. The color was Black & White – but black and white like an old movie – Not just line art.

Realizing that the computer guy in me did have some skills that could help the artist guy in me, I started doing gradient fades in the backgrounds, giving the frame a bit more depth. The backgrounds have changed from simple line-shapes to “washed” simple shapes, using a brush tool.

I love the style of cartooning from the thirties and forties – in fact, I generally refer to how-to books from the era, rather than modern works (although I have both). Sadly, the beautiful fluidity that I saw on those pages never translated to my work. But that’s starting to change.

All because I “dumbed it down.” Yes, I’ll explain.

Here is a look at how I worked on Mort from a current reference sheet:

I literally drew the reference circles with the “circle” tool in my art program (remember, I’m a computer guy), then embellished. Further, I use a graph background to help keep the sizes and shapes of the characters EXACT (remember, I’m a perfectionist). Faces couldn’t be too wide, too thin, too elongated, etc. they had to match the character sheet to the letter. I wasn’t drawing; it was more like engineering: An architect drawing a schematic.

I’ve been looking at Mort’s world through perfect circles and ninety-degree angles. No wonder nothing looked fluid. Unfortunately the computer guy knew of no other way to make things, and the artist guy simply had to deal with it.

Here’s an “action” shot from an early Mort:

Very awkward. After all, Mort’s head had to be so-tall by so-wide and made out of perfect circles. There’s no squash and stretch. That’s an animation term, but I really think the comic should have that elasticity, or there’s no ability to do fun actions.

Now, here’s an action shot from a few weeks back (as of this writing). Tommy is doing a little “ninja bug whack,” and Mort is shrinking away in surprise. Much better:

Why? Because I’ve stopped trying to engineer perfect circles, and literally started scribbling. Here’s the first work-up of the above frame:

Notice? No perfect circles. I’ve left those tools behind. I let Tommy’s head be stretched in movement, and let my scribble of the action dictate the flattening thud of the hand – no reality whatsoever, which is what the over-the-top world of squash and stretch in animation is all about. Extreme movement calls for characters to stretch into it. That also helps with the concept of line of action: bending the character to match the direction of movement.

Even Mort’s walk is starting to show the benefits of me scribbling instead of engineering. Can you see the gate of a famous Mouse who shall remain nameless in Mort’s new strut? I’ve always wanted that, but just couldn’t think it through with my old tools.

While I may be reformed, I still see angles and boxes. I still get miffed when Mort doesn’t look “perfect” from one frame to the next – but I’m learning to relax and tinker with the flow. Now I also see squishy ovals and bodies in motion. The extremes are actually what make an animated world real. I’m just starting to work that out. The computer guy is stepping away from all the precision tools, and I am less afraid to scribble and work with imperfection.

But I AM still afraid of an actual piece of paper. There’s no “undo” button like on my iPad art program. There are still some things the computer guy is not ready to give up…

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