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Anyone who’s been to art school has been told how important it is to look at a reflected image of your drawing –whether that’s by looking at it with a hand-held mirror or flipping it horizontally, if you’re drawing digitally. The benefits are two-fold. By looking at your drawing in this different way you will: 1.) More easily see imbalances in your composition and 2.) More easily see asymmetrical facial features and anatomy.
I’ve been kind of obsessing on this lately because I’m constantly surprised by how wonky my drawings can be when you flip them. I always wind up correcting things in Photoshop but I’m trying to figure out how to stop it from happening and what it is about how the hand and eye work together that causes this whole mess to begin with.
Below is a set of 4 images taken from one panel in this page. The top left is my original ink drawing. The top right is that image flipped. The bottom left is the corrected image (after some Photoshop work) and the bottom right is that same image flipped.
Now, before I even get to this stage I do about two rounds of rough digital “pencils” where I flip the image horizontally a few times throughout to check on things and make adjustments. But since these “pencils” are rough when I print it out and ink over it with a lightbox I’m still making some decisions while inking that end up resulting in some of this wonkiness.
This might not be the best, most blatant, example but I think it’s representative enough.
After drawing the first image I can tell by looking at it that it’s not a great drawing. Something is a little off about the facial features. It’s not until after flipping it and seeing the image as it is on the top right that I really notice how my drawing seems to have a drift to it that causes the facial features on one side of the face to slant downward and widen compared to the other side. In that image, the right side of the face – especially in the eyes and mouth and the overall shape of the head and hair – show this drift pretty clearly. Which means when I’m drawing, that slant is occurring on the left side and slanting up and/or I’m tightening up too much as I move to the right. Since I’m right-handed this is probably tied to how my hand rests on the page.
After the corrections in Photoshop you can see how much more symmetric her face is in both the regular and flipped image. Much more pleasing to look at.
So, what does this mean?
I don’t know, that’s what I’m asking.
I don’t mean this as a drawing tip or anything. Though if you aren’t currently flipping your drawing or looking at it in a mirror you definitely should start doing so and will immediately see drastic improvements in your work. I just find this perplexing – and mildly disturbing – that there seems to be some wires that get crossed when an image is passing from my brain to my pen and my brain is not able to stop it from happening in the moment. I’m trying to pinpoint where I’m going wrong so that I can save myself as much correction time as possible. Of course, one possible solution is probably shifting that time spent on corrections into planning and sketching. With a little more care spent in the really early rough stage where the drawing is mostly roughly drawn geometric shapes you can probably do a lot to assure a certain amount of symmetry.
One interesting thing with this is that even though it is something to try to correct, this “drift” or “wonkiness” is part of the chemical makeup that constitutes my drawing “style”. Someone somewhere once said that your “style” is simply the mistakes that you make trying to draw perfectly. Or something like that.
Any other artists out there have any good tips on how to see your mistakes more clearly as you’re drawing them? Or is looking at the mirror-image really the only way to keep your drawing in line? What do your people look like when you look at their reverse image? Are they distorted in a similar way or does something else happen?
Page 97 in which Casey and James sit out underneath the stars. Click the image below to read this page and go here to read more: http://www.richbarrett.com/nathansorry/2011/11/08/nathan-sorry-page-97/
Nathan Sorry is a hapless investment analyst who was supposed to be in the World Trade Center on 9/11 but instead disappears with a new identity and $20 million that he has inadvertently stolen. Two months later he shows up in a small southern town, waiting for his opportunity to flee the country, but his shaky plan begins to unravel as he gets a little too involved with some of the town’s residents.
Nathan Sorry is a graphic novel in progress written and illustrated by Rich Barrett. New pages are posted as they are completed.