This week, I finished a zoomorphic representation of my ‘sketchy’ friend, Lene, who wanted to be turned into a fox. She is a ginger-haired goth, who claims to be a witch, so I’ve included these elements in the image and words.
I’m particularly pleased that I drew the fox from my imagination, as this is a breakthrough of new confidence. Usually, I’m concerned about representation and check the Internet for images to get a sense of how an object or animal works. This is probably a mistake for ‘funnies’ which have the conventions of funny incongruous styles. If you ‘google-ref’ first, then you miss the chance to explore the unlikely configurations in the imagery as you can’t quite remember how it looks. This is also a freeing, exciting way to begin and a logical way to start if you are using incongruity theory as your approach to the humour. The unlikely and the imagined need to come first.
My previous experience of art classes has perhaps created an approach where I put representation first, and now feel that this has been wrong-headed and limiting. Art classes celebrate realistic representation and this continues on my Instagram feed, where every now and again, I post ‘skilled’ drawings and get superlative responses from ‘artists’ in Leamington (despite the fact that this realism do not excite me in the way that cartooning and the imagination does). It is sad to notice that arts education does not prioritise working with the imagination – if it did so we could offer students the potential life tool of using imagery to build ideas and discover a new enjoyable way of thinking and drawing.
My first cartoon of Maggi Hambling was created from imagined memories of her. It is also my favourite cartoon version of her from seven attempts (see post 26 for more details.)
After I created this one, I rewatched a TV documentary of her to check my representation and was surprised to notice that she doesn’t stoop or have raised shoulders, but actually walks straight strong and with vigour. Nevertheless, I prefer this to the later upright versions of her, as it somehow catches her burden as a person who is afraid of death and constantly revists the dead within her work. She is also formidable here as she bears down on the viewer (in what Eisner described as ‘bird’s eye perspective’), she is above us, powerful, and a little threatening.
The other cartoons are the result of sketching her first in my sketchbook in more realistic representations. These cartoons play with ideas from the documentary in visual metaphor, including a description of her as ‘fiery’, but for me they do not have the spontaneity of the first cartoon. Here are the initial representational sketches (Sketchbook 2, 2-3.11.2020):
These were created in graphite pencil and ‘graphart’ blocks while watching the television programme. I particularly loved Maggi’s wink – here she has just given the interviewer a hard time for asking her a rambling question on her potentially projected psychology within her work. She responds with annoyance that she just gets up early and does the work, and then walks off and winks at the camera.
Despite my preliminary sketches above of the wink, the wink did not work well in the cartoon versions below (sketchbook 1, 2.11.2020) and I still need to figure out how to cartoon an effective wink:
It is perhaps best to blend approaches, where I work from the imagination first, and if stumped turn to ‘google ref,’ and then use Scriberia’s approach to drawing anything (2017). For beginners without confidence, it might be supportive for them to be able to go directly to the Internet for imagery and then use Scriberia’s approach.
Scriberia is a London-based illustration agency that specialises in ‘sketchnoting’ (also known as ‘graphic facilitation’), where scribes are commissioned to render talks and meetings into words and images. In their book on ‘How to Draw Anything’ (2017), they advocate creating a list of six features of whatever you are drawing, and turning these features into simple geometric shapes and lines before building the image. This is a tremendous approach because it encourages beginners to ‘build’ an image, rather than to draw it with all the baggage that comes with contentions of not being able to draw. It is incremental and it offers the beginner the bricks to build.
I recently experimented with this in my cartooning circle (15.01.2021), where member Sue and I sat (well-wrapped up!) on a bench and we played with ideas. We experimented with drawing a mouse with the Scriberia approach – I suggested we do this twice and the second time, we exaggerated a few elements to make it more cartoony. Scriberia also suggest this, as despite ‘entering the realm of cartooning here’ (which is not their focus) it creates ‘clear impactful visual communication’ (2017: 25). Here’s my example with the exaggerated version on the right with amplified eyes and tail, but also the incongruous tool of diminution with the impossibly tiny body.
Scriberia’s approach is a useful approach for building a visual lexicon, where you fill pages working in this way. This would develop the ability to practice cartooning all manner of things for confidence building and even future reference.
Eisner, W. (2008 ) Comics and Sequential Art – Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist. New York: Norton.
Scriberia (2017) How to Draw Anything. Great Britain: Querus.