Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Anatomy of a Circus...part 3

Anatomy of a Circus...part 3

August 2017 start with pencil...
Now is the time to draw what I imagine.
I begin one day in August (failed to write which one).
Armed with an H and HB pencils, kneeded and white erasers, erasing shield and a sheet of Strathmore 500 two ply 23"x 29" illustration board, I'm ready to start.

Photo (A) below showing the background of circus tent and banners were some of the first objects I drew. Then I placed the elephant who was pulling a clown holding on to it's tail.

Character by character the composition starts to build and take on a life of its own as little character situations add fun stuff to look at as you can see the progress in photo (B) below.

With the addition of more characters photo (C), it became difficult to find room for the clown/tail as originally intended. An area would have to be made clear for the clown/tail action to be seen properly without compromising the entertainment value of the whole piece. So, the clown was out. The three characters, photo (D) below the elephant's rear end, made a more interesting composition.

Decisions like this are made regularly as one character or group of characters are added or moved around seeking a better composition.





(Detail in pencil)

01/30/2018 pencil completed...
After five months, the pencil work is completed photo (E) below. 
Now, on to the inking process.
04/03/18 the inking starts...
 Why almost two months passed between the end of penciling and the start of inking escapes my memory :-).  There are two ways artists use ink on paper. One is lines in various lengths and the other is dots. I have chosen lines as my method commonly referred to as cross hatching.
The examples below illustrate this technique.

These (above examples) were purposely drawn larger to explain the technique.
The more lines and the closer together they are will produce a darker image. The circle above with more lines takes on a three dimensional form.
The vertical lines (lower left corner) are pen nib widths. The two thinnest (far left) are what I used for Circus 1930,  koh-i-noor mechanical pen point sizes 4x0 and 6x0.

Never, under any circumstances would I recommend using ink straight from the bottle to represent a black form or object. The solid black circle to the right (above) appears as a hole and does not describe form when combined with cross hatching.  

The first inking (below) was to establish the darkest area. This enables me to gauge how intense other shades of grey should be in contrast.

Detail (below) of clown in pencil and ink...

Detail (below) banner and flags...I used names of  family members on the banners:-)

Story within the composition...
Detail of jumping clown (below right) scaring the wits out of the twin girls who are holding onto Dad for dear life. It's obviously the girl's first circus and they can't handle the clowns, much less this one who has come much too close.

Our worst fears are bigger than life.
Looking at the composition it appears that this clown is huge. The clown's placement causes an optical illusion. Measured from head to foot the clown only comes up to the girl's father's shoulder. Nothing to fear :-)

I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel as the inking starts to reach the half way point and the scene begins to come to life (below).

At this point my biggest challenge and concern is how do you make an elephant's butt interesting? The rear end is the focal point. The first thing seen as you gaze upon the happenings in the picture. Shades of grey, a triangular shape, character sizes and gestures are all used in directing the eyes into the center of attention...an elephant's derriere :-).

Saving the best for last...the most challenging characters requiring the most attention are the last to be inked.

The lion (above) was the very last character to receive his ink. I wanted to capture the look and feel of the lion's skin texture and mane.  I had used a 4x0 pen point to this juncture. The finest pen point,  koh-i-noor makes is the 6x0 and I had never used that fine a point before. I ordered the 6x0 and waited a week or so for delivery. After practice strokes to build up my confidence in using such a fine pen point, I took on the lion.

01/24/2018 at 6:30 pm...
The final pen stroke on the lion is made.
Similar illustrations usually take a year to complete, Circus 1930 was the exception at about a year and a half. As the saying goes, a labor of love.

Scott Williamson of Art Works Fine Art Inc. in Highland Park, CA utilizes the gilcee method to reproduce my works. This will be an edition of 250. My daughter Melissa and her family have  #1/250 hanging in their living room in Hawaii.

Until next time...

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Anatomy of a Circus...part 2

Anatomy of a Circus...part 2

Circus 1930 - Pencil detail of teddy bear of that era and bare feet )

Story telling
 My years of training in feature animation exposed me to the story telling process. Illustration is also storytelling.  Every detail of an illustration, animation, live action movie or a play, has to be planned and executed properly.
 Questions have to be asked in the beginning of the project. Is this the best way to showcase the subject? What are you attempting to communicate? What do you want the eye to focus on? Ae you leading the eye in the proper direction? Are there interesting stories being told within the context of the whole storytelling process? Will the composition stand up from a distance; from midway and up close?...Where is the best placement for a character? What best tells the story of each individual? Is that character drawn in such a way as to convey enough information to make him/her interesting? Are the situations the characters are engaged in entertaining to the viewer?

These and other questions are asked along the way as the composition builds.

I treat every character in an illustration as an individual with his or her own story to tell. I put enough drawing information for the viewer to draw their own conclusion. In this way the audience develops an emotional tie to the illustration.

Not a real word but a concept I use in teaching and at workshops in an attempt to convey to students the idea that there is overlapping of these three forms of communication. The same principles that apply to one, are applicable to the other two.

The list...

This list compiles the things I look for in a quick sketch, an illustration, and in animation.
Not all apply to the three disciplines in every category, but the majority do. For example...Is the character in balance? Does the character have weight? Is the character in silhouette? Is the anatomy right? Does it read from a distance and up close (composition)? Can you tell what is happening? Are you drawn in emotionally? And more...

In quick sketching and illustration, a story is told in a single drawing. Animation serves up the same set of questions (above), only in motion. In animation, a story is told with a series of individual drawings in an illusion of movement. Your job is to decide, regardless of the medium, how best to communicate the story.

The role of the thumbnail sketch...
Thumb nail sketches of Djali (below) the goat from Hunchback of Notre Dame and Dr. Sweet (below right) from Atlantis:the Lost Empire.

These thumb nails are what I refer to as glorified quick sketches, with the purpose of guiding me in planning a scene. Quickly and in miniature I can visualize some of the items on the list. At this juncture silhouette and staging are the most crucial. In the next step, approximate timing is addressed.

Notice the numbers under the Djali sketches. How much time would take to go from one key pose or drawing to another?

(Final scene in color minus the background )

This same  approach was taken as I worked out the 'business' of Dr. Sweet in key poses as he shakes hands with Milo, walks over to his desk, puts on his lab coat, reaches into the medical bag and pulls out a bone saw.

(Thumb nail drawings of Dr. Sweet's introduction.)

An example of quickshetchingillustrationanimation in action...

From these quick sketches (below), can you spot how many items on the list apply?

Anatomy, silhouette, primary/secondary action, positive/negative shapes, squash/stretch etc.

Any one of these sketches could  be used as a preliminary drawing for an illustration; just add the details of a face, number on the uniform, etc.
(layout courtesy of Tom Shephard)
These quick sketches could also be used as animation poses. In animation these five  sketches would be referred to as extreme or key poses. Add drawings between these keys and you have animation. How many drawings there are between the key poses depends on the timing of the scene. The more inbetweens, the slower the action. Less inbetweens will speed up the scene. This is referred to as timing.

An idea brought to fruition......
Decades ago I chose to focus my attention on images of Black Americans of African descent residing in the southern parts of the United States in the 1930's. My Mom furnished me with images of her childhood in Mississippi. Relatives and friends from that region watered my imagination with their stories and an occasional Caucasian would add fuel to the fire of thought describing their impression of the locale. The Funeral (Anatomy of a Circus, Part 1) is an example of one of these discussions.
A colleague at Disney Feature Animation described his trip through the south. The verbal picture he  painted was one of people gathered in groups outside a church as he drove by. This was enough for me to get my creative imagination started.

Woman at Stove
Late 1960s/early 70's I created the pen and ink (below) inspired from a photograph and years later found text that I thought appropriate to mirror the emotional experience. I framed both together.
(Woman at Stove pen and ink 8 1/2" x 11 1/2")


What I attempt to do in my illustrations is to capture that kind of emotion (above), only without text.

 Anatomy of a Circus...
(Photo that inspired the idea for Circus 1930)

 The inspiration for my artwork is typically born of ideas that have been in my mind for years. I'll see a photograph and file the image away in a folder with the thought, "this has potential." It will lay dormant for years in most cases and sit quietly until inspiration and or the right circumstances calls it to the forefront.  Over a period of time something will click in my minds eye and the possibilities will start to come together as to what is the best way to present the idea.

Research is first in order of priority. I learned this from my time at Disney animation.
Knowing the 'real' brings an air of authenticity to your art work. Walt Disney said "Only if he knows the reality of things can he create a fantasy, an illusion or a caricature convincingly".
For example, we animators visited the San Diego Zoo in preparation for animating the many animals in The Lion King. I also paid a visit to Disneyland (CA) when they kept small farm animals behind Big Thunder Mountain (present day Star Wars Land) to see live goats for reference in the animation of Djali in Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Additionally, I traveled to Montana in 1999 to observe elk in their natural (winter) in preparation for the animation in the Firebird Suite for Fantasia 2000.

Personal experience...
Like many of you, I have personal memories of times at the circus.
As a kid I wandered around property that had been transformed overnight into circus grounds, sat under the big top, seen clowns and barkers at their booths, stared wide eyed at abnormalities of human and animal nature then referred to as freaks, smelled the musky odor of circus animals and their droppings, ate cotton candy, and rode the Ferris Wheel.

Along with this first hand knowledge I also had to transport myself into the rural south of the 1930's. Books, magazines and photos of circuses of that era filled the blank spaces in my minds eye.
Circus clothing of that era would add authenticity to the piece. Circus apparel, like all fashion have gone through changes throughout the years. Clown attire and make-up has also morphed over the years. These observations must be reflected in the illustration. Watching the Turner Classic Movie  (TCM) channel gave me insights of how fabrics and textures were handled for black and white film and for my purpose, to translate black ink on white paper.

Let's start dissecting Circus 1930...
What comes to mind when  the word circus is thought of?...A parade of characters advertising what is within the big top...exotic animals...clowns:big and small...people:big and small...animals: dressed up and trained...a Ferris Wheel...a strong man...unicycle riders...and more.

The circus setting is the backdrop, the people are the real story.
What is the best way to communicate their stories? What is the best way to communicate this idea?
A series of 'thumbnail' sketches will  answer these questions as well as spawn new ideas of presentation. This is the same process used in planning an illustration or animated scene (see above thumb nail sketch).

 Planning keeps mistakes to a minimum ensuring nothing happens by accident.

The illustration will eventually be 23" x 29".  Proportional dimensions of the illustration board are drawn in (rectangle shape below). This will help me visualize the composition.

(Photograph  dimensions 8 1/2" x 11")
Diagram chart (below) to size on vellum paper with people. This will help me keep proper proportions in the position of characters to the background elements.

These thumbnail sketches (below), properly referred to as primo pensieri or 'first thoughts' are my first thoughts sketched on paper. The elephant (below) will play a major part in this illustration. All other characters would revolve around him.

The question is what would be the best way to present this species of pachyderm?...walking towards, left to right or away from view or maybe doing a hand stand? should the animal be a baby or adult and offspring?

An early idea, which I thought entertaining, was to have a clown being pulled along as he held on to  the elephant's tail.

Exploring ideas (right) of clowns, a circus wagon, circus workers and elephant direction.

More thumbs (below right) led to the idea of the elephant moving away from the viewer.

Originally the strong man was to be carrying a tiger.
 (A man carrying a full grown lion is no stretch of the imagination. The image is based upon a 1930's photograph of a female circus performer with a tiger draped on her shoulders, only she faced the camera. If  a female could do it, surely the circus strong man could.)

As I worked through the composition, placement of these two would be altered from the sketch.

Alternate character possibilities, costumes and composition (below).

The trainer and bear (above) are from a photo. Even working from an photo you want to make an image more interesting. Having the subjects in action added interesting detail to the final product.

Brainstorming (below). Ended up using some images and some were not used. Yielded a pony, riders, crying children, clowns, a puppeteer with marionette, interesting situations , details of the wagon, more character possibilities and size relationships.


My imagination bursting at the seams with fresh ideas on how to 'push' these thumbnail drawings and squeeze out their potential.

Eric Larson, Disney Legend as an animator and instructor to my generation stated "the only limitation an animator has is his imagination and his ability to draw what he imagines".

Until next time...

Until next time...