Drawing Instruction Part II: What DID Work

Previously I talked about the art instruction books and methods that didn't work for me from George Bridgman, Will Eisner and Frank Reilly.

Thankfully, there was some instruction that did work for me.

1. Andrew Loomis:

Andrew Loomis's "Successful Drawing."

Andrew Loomis's "Creative Illustration."

Andrew Loomis's "Figure Drawing for All It's Worth."

Andrew Loomis's "Fun with a Pencil."

Andrew Loomis's "Drawing the Head and Hands."
Among all of my drawing instruction books, Andrew Loomis's are my favorites (I have an additional favorite contemporary drawing instructor, Stan Prokopenko, but I'll get to him later in this post.)

Loomis's methods are either completely clear or they take a little bit of figuring out but they're never muddy or impossible. Even when I struggle to understand the reason for all of the lines in a diagram (see this post about Loomis's perspective instruction), it can be figured out. And when you figure out what Loomis meant, you've gained knowledge and skill. I have five of Loomis's books and I've read through all of them and learned important lessons from them all. Time spent with Loomis is value added to your drawing knowledge and skill.

The last time I checked, all of Loomis's books were available free online as pdfs. This was important because Loomis's family objected to reprinting the books due to the nudity (yeah, can you imagine!) That, however, may have recently changed and some or all of the books may now be available for purchase. I urge you to investigate this and add Loomis to your drawing instruction library.

2. Burne Hogarth:

Burne Hogarth's "Dynamic Anatomy."

Burne Hogarth's "Dynamic Figure Drawing."

Burne Hogarth's "Dynamic Hands."

Burne Hogarth's "Drawing the Human Head."

Burne Hogarth's "Dynamic Light and Shade."

In addition to Loomis, most of my understanding of how to draw the human head was learned from Burne Hogarth. Like Loomis, I have five Hogarth books in my collection; there was a sixth (Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery) but I found it surprisingly unhelpful and convoluted that I got rid of it. Admittedly, I don't find the Light and Shade book helpful either and I may not keep it much longer.

Having said that, I've found the remaining four Hogarth books helpful. The common criticism of Hogarth is that his drawings show all of the muscles contracting at the same time thereby giving a distorted view of the figure. I understand that criticism but from a novice's learning perspective, seeing all of the muscles bulging can help in understanding their locations and functions, like looking at a bodybuilding magazine. In addition to his drawings and diagrams was his useful textual instruction. Hogarth explained things clearly and was essential to helping me learn the various bodily proportions.

If you want to explore Hogarth, consider the head, anatomy and figure drawing books in particular.

3. Glenn Vilppu:

Glenn Vilppu is essential for the beginner. He starts you "easy" with drawing basic forms—spheres, cubes and cylinders. I initially thought those lessons were too rudimentary and I didn't give them the proper attention. I was SO wrong! I learned that EVERYTHING we draw is essentially a sphere, cube, cylinder, cone or a combination of those forms. EVERYTHING. If you can draw those forms, you can literally draw anything.

Vilppu's drawing manual also starts with gesture drawing and explains why it's an essential skill. All of the lessons are clearly explained and accompanied with beautiful examples of his own work.

Do yourself a favor a get a copy of Vilppu's drawing manual. If you follow his instruction, you'll see an improvement in your work in a few weeks.

4. Famous Artists Course:

I pity the fool who dismisses the Famous Artists Course lessons as "old-fashioned." Drawing principles NEVER go out of style!

I discovered the FAC accidentally during a frenzied period of downloading any and every drawing instruction source I could find online. The Famous Artists School was (and is again) a correspondence course created in 1948 by a group of famous artists including Al Dorne and Norman Rockwell. The course is 24 lessons (the cartooning course is 12), designed so that you complete one lesson per week including the assignments. I got very lucky with these courses because I was able to download, for free, both the illustration and the cartooning courses in their entirety. They overlap slightly and both are jam-packed with clearly-explained, useful instruction.

It was through this course that I learned that there are standard types of folds, that they have names and occur under particular circumstances. None of that was in the Hogarth drapery book which is probably why I got rid of it. That's just one of too-many-to-name lessons in these courses.

Again, it's possible that the free downloads of these courses have been wiped from the internet because the school has become active again. But if you have a few hundred dollars and are dedicated to taking your drawing to the next level, I recommend investing in one or several of these courses. Keep in mind that I'm referring to the classic, 1950's course that was taught by some of the greatest illustrators of the day. If there's a modern course, I'd suggest reviewing it and researching the instructors before purchasing to ensure that you're getting the best quality.

5. Stan Prokopenko: Last but not by any means least…

Stan Prokopenko
I canNOT say enough great things about this guy!

A few years ago I was struggling to draw the head at different angles. I Googled "drawing head at angles" and the first link to come up was to Proko's (now old) site. What I discovered was THE clearest, most concise, most helpful explanation on how to draw the head at any angle THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN! EVER! THEN OR NOW! Thus began my platonic, drawing-fueled love affair with Proko.

Proko is not only an exceptional fine artist, he's a born instructor. After sampling all of his free instructional videos (which include generous amounts of humor!), I decided to pay for his figure drawing fundamentals course. It wasn't expensive and the investment paid off hugely. Every week Proko provided both standard and premium content that stepped the student from gesture to shading. Included were critiques and photo reference. Proko has the ability to distill each lesson down to the essentials in an accessible way.

So of course when Proko offered an anatomy course, I jumped on it! I was still struggling to get even the most basic handle on anatomy and I felt that if anyone could help me have a breakthrough, it'd be Proko. This course moves slower than the previous—the lessons aren't on a strict weekly schedule—but that seems necessary for the complexity of the subject and of the assignments. Now I don't feel so badly about not grasping anatomy after all of these years; it really isn't easy. I haven't been following the course as faithfully as the last since I'm working on improving other skills. But I download the lesson materials as soon as they're available and follow the activity on the Facebook group. Once the course is final, I'll dedicate time to it. From what I've seen of it so far, the modest investment I made is well worth it.

If you're struggling with ANY aspect of human figure drawing, do yourself a favor and go to Proko's site. Watch his videos and consider purchasing a course. I KNOW he'll help you draw better!

These five sources of drawing instruction, combined with daily practice (THE essential ingredient to improvement), are the reason I'm seeing an improvement in my drawing for the first time IN MY LIFE! I've been struggling FOR YEARS to gain basic skills and move to the next level. Only in the last two years have I genuinely improved and I have the instruction described above to thank for that improvement.

The Amazing Middle Comic Beginning II

Continued brainstorming and thumbnailing for the first episode of The Amazing Middle Comic called "What the Hell Happened?"

The first idea for the layout was a long vertical.

Brainstorming for the Paddington section of the comic.

Shoutout Sunday: Raul Aguirre, Jr.

This Sunday, I want to say thanks to: Raul Aguirre, Jr.

Raul is an animator, director, illustrator, painter, writer, teacher and probably other things that I'm neglecting to note. He's a trained, experienced artist who was a protégé of Glen Keane (need we say more?) He worked at Disney, studied under Steve Huston, Glenn Vilppu and Walt Stanchfield and has numerous other credits to his name.

Aguirre and Glen Keane. © 2009 Hortencia Aguirre
When searching for art-related podcasts, I stumbled upon his Man vs. Art. If you don't subscribe to this, stop reading now and do it. You will be forever grateful.

Aguirre's self-described purpose of Man vs. Art is "informing, inspiring, and entertaining artists." He succeeds completely in that goal.

Aguirre kicking it old school with pencil, paper and animation table.
 Man vs. Art is so informative, inspiring and entertaining that I'm perpetually a year behind in listening. Why? Because each episode is so jam-packed with helpful stuff that I'm constantly pausing to take notes. Yes, I take LOTS of notes from these podcasts. Aguirre has experienced a lot and knows a lot about the art and the industry. The inside scoops that he's boldly unafraid to share with the world are a benefit for anyone interested in being successful in the Hollywood animation industry.

In addition to all of that, Aguirre is also INSANELY FUNNY! I sometimes listen to him while at my cubicle job and find myself stifling laughter. His sense of humor is off the hook and spot on accurate. Don't get me started about the different voices he does or his use of sound effects! It all makes for a hilariously informative experience.

Also, I have to admit that as a woman, I think it's awesome that Aguirre never fails to give a loving shoutout to his wife. A nice change of pace to see a man who truly appreciates a woman.

Aguirre's a guy you want to hang out with. If you can't, the next best thing is to listen to his podcast.

Drawing Instruction Part I: What Didn't Work

In my endless pursuit of improving my drawing and finding the best methods—especially regarding human anatomy—I've collected a lot of books and online instruction notes. In the last few years, I systematically reviewed all of my books and discovered that some methods appealed to me more than others. Here I'll explain the ones that didn't work well for me and why. In Part II I'll talk about the books I did find helpful. Keep in mind that this is my personal response to these books. What didn't work for me may well work for you and vice versa.

1. George Bridgman (Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life):

Bridgman's methods and diagrams confused me. I respond best to clear, systematic approaches and Bridgman's lacked sufficient clarity for me. Despite that, I still have the book and may one day return to it once I'm more clear on the basics. Many artists I admire have been influenced by Bridgman so it's possible I'm just not ready for him at this time.

2. Will Eisner (Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative: Principles and Practices from the Legendary Cartoonist):

This book started well for me with straight-forward anatomy information. Once it continued, however, I felt that I wasn't getting as much out of it and it became a disappointment. Eisner uses a lot of his own work as examples which is great since his work is great. I was hoping that this master draftsman would have a lot of tips and advice. Instead, the examples are so specific in their context that I didn't feel I was getting a larger lesson. There were numerous generalities but not enough specific information on process for my purposes.

3. The Frank Reilly Method

Hmm, I just discovered that Reilly was taught by Bridgman. That may explain why neither of their methods appeal to me. I understand that it's not a way to draw but instead a way to think but looking at these diagrams, I'm not sure as to what exactly it is I'm supposed to think. I'm simply not understanding what information that these diagrams are supposed to be conveying. There are a lot of lines going in many directions but I haven't found an explanation of all of those lines. Again, maybe the method is too advanced for me. At this time, I'm seeking simplicity before I get complex.

So that's what didn't work for me. Despite my reaction, I suggest you review what Bridgman, Eisner and Reilly have to offer and determine for yourself if their approaches work for you. You may be surprised at what you learn!

Next week will be Part II, art instruction that did work for me.

The Amazing Middle Comic Beginning

Inspired by Boulet (yesterday's Shoutout Sunday subject!), I've started a slice-of-life comic called "The Amazing Middle"—a reference to middle-age existence—that will be inked with a pen nib and painted in watercolor (the look I love!). My thinking is that this is the best way for me to simultaneously improve my imaginative drawing and my technical skills while ALSO inspiring you the way Boulet's work and thinking has inspired me.

Boulet is an accomplished artist who can knock out a drawing in ink without a pencil drawing. Since my skills are NO WAY near that, my comic will take a lot longer and will involve more pre-planning but, as with my film, I'm convinced that the extra work will show in the quality of the final product.

The first comic, titled "What the Hell Happened?," started with some initial brainstorming sketches:

Some self-caricature attempts, a search for the right representation of myself for the comic series.
These are the earliest ideas and layout notes.
 More preliminary work to come!

Shoutout Sunday: Boulet

Continuing my routine of giving thanks to those who have inspired me and educated me, today I sing the praises of Boulet.

John J. Boulet (Gilles Roussel)
John J. Boulet (real name Gilles Roussel) is a French illustrator and comics creator. In my humble opinion, he puts most of the most popular American web comics to shame for two reasons. First, his art is fantastic. This guy has incredible skills. He can draw realistically. He can draw cartoony. And he does them both incredibly well. Second, his comic isn't an excuse for proudly politically incorrect, i.e. ignorant, attacks and sophomoric observations. Boulet has something to say about his life experiences and about the world around him. His comics move you.

The styles and media used for his comics vary, another sign of his considerable talent. Usually he inks his comics—incredibly, without pencilling first—and sometimes watercolors them. It's as though he sees perfectly the image or story he wants to create and then he just…does it.

It's amazing to see:


I was so enthralled by Boulet's work when I discovered him sometime last year that I started looking at all of his comics starting with the first. I know a little French and not enough to actually read his comics (some of them are in English and Japanese) but the beauty of work is that you often don't need to know the language in order to have an idea as to what's happening. His drawings are so lyrical that you can often figure out what's happening.

I recommend going through all of Boulet's French-language comics or you can see them in one of his collections:

I love the way Boulet depicts himself! He's not afraid to show his imperfections and shortcomings.

Boulet's work is so inspiring to me that I decided to do something similar myself. The creation of the comic will be an exercise in imagination and will force me to learn draw things I ordinarily wouldn't have. More on that in the next post.

Important Advice from Animator Island

 When I read this post at Animator Island, I felt a knot in my stomach.

I know this story.

I've lived this story.

To ANYONE studying ANY craft, read this post and heed its lesson.

You'll be thankful 5-10 years from now.

Don't Do What I Did! (And Scene 28 is Done!)

Two weeks ago, I ended TEN MONTHS of pain.

That's how long it took me to do one scene in my film. Ten. Freaking. Months.

Scene 28 of "Adult Toy Story" will go down in infamy in my filmmaking career.

I don't even want to think about how many scenes I could've completed in that time if I hadn't been so AFRAID.

That's the lesson of this story. That's the key takeaway I want to give to all of you so that you don't make the same mistake in your creative lives.


Fear is the reason I spent 10 months struggling with one scene instead of completing three.

Whenever the going got tough with animating this scene (which was often), instead of tackling the uncertainty and the struggle, I ran from it. Often for weeks or months. The resulting accomplishment was lack of accomplishment. All I did was stretch out the production of the film and make it that much longer to completion.

It took so long that once the final pencil animation was completed, it almost felt like an anti-climax. I couldn't fully enjoy that the damn thing was done!

So the bad news is that I wasted months in completing this film.

The good news is that I learned a lot from this experience. I learned that I'm not an experienced veteran. I'm a semi-experienced amateur and as a result every aspect of this film is going to take TIME. I cannot be expected to draw as fast or as well as Bill Plympton. I don't spend 8 hours a day at this, I spend 8 hours a day sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer. I'm trying to improve my skills and create a body of work during nights and weekends. I'm not arguing that I should lower my expectations but instead I should align my expectations with my current reality.

I also learned that I had some missteps during the production of this scene that I will avoid when doing future scenes. I rushed into this scene without a clear idea of the character's action. I rushed the drawing and neglected to execute the basic principles of solid drawing. As a result, when I started the next scene, I spent more time just thinking about it and more time planning before actually doing any drawing.

After all of that suffering and sweating, I'm pleased with the results:


42% of the film is now complete. I'll throw a party when I hit 50%!

Shoutout Sunday: Janet Perlman

I'm back to blogging and I wanted to return to recognizing those who have inspired me and helped me improve my skills and work. 

Animator and illustrator Janet Perlman
In the 1980's, there were several animation short film festivals that would come to NYC theaters. Those was my introduction to the wonderful world of indie, short animation storytelling. Together with Bugs Bunny, I was inspired and decided that I wanted to spend my life making animated short films. 

Public television and early cable tv were also sources of animated shorts and that was my introduction to the wonderful work of Janet Perlman, the topic of today's Shoutout Sunday.

Perlman is a Canadian animator and illustrator who has made numerous short films and children's books, many in conjunction with the National Film Board of Canada and has taught at several schools.

I still recall seeing Perlman's "Lady Fishbourne's Complete Guide to Better Table Manners" sometime in the 1980's on public television and was mesmerized by its drawing style and its humor. I was also excited to see a film with a woman's name as the animator/director. "Women animate, too!" I remember thinking. Such an inspiration!

A scene from Perlman's "Lady Fishbourne's Complete Guide to Better Table Manners."

Perlman was nominated for an Academy Award in 1982 for "The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin" and has won 60 other awards. 

Go to Perlman's website and watch her films. You'll be happy you did!