Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Storytelling Lecture, Artwork – See It, Draw It

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 9

The first great secret of drawing better is using your eyes.  Don’t laugh.  Once, with another group, I leaned an umbrella against a door and asked them to draw it.  I gave them a minute, I think.  I watched them.  Most of them glanced at the umbrella, then hardly looked up from their paper.  Some got the umbrella more or less right, but made it too tall or too short in comparison with the door.  Some made the door too narrow or too wide.  Some were so worried about the umbrella that they got the door handle entirely wrong.  One guy drew an umbrella that wasn’t furled and strapped—basically, he just made one up, rather than draw the one in front of him.

A lot of people just don’t use their eyes enough.  You need to really look, measure and compare elements of your drawing to each other.  How tall is the umbrella compared to the door?  Does it come up past the door handle?  And you need to draw the actual umbrella.   

I find that even people who draw pretty well just plain don’t look with care at all the elements.  They’ll get most parts of a figure right but fake the wrinkles on the sportcoat.  You see, without trying or even noticing, we’ve all learned a bunch of glyphs—symbols for things—and they have a way of creeping into and weakening our drawings.  You get the sportcoat right, but do your wrinkle glyph on the sleeves at the elbows.  You’ll get a person’s face right, then do your hair glyph.  You’ll get the building right but draw window glyphs instead of the real windows.

The way to avoid weakening a drawing with glyphs is by using your eyes.  Look carefully at what you’re drawing and keep checking the marks you’re making on the paper against it.  Every mark you make on the paper sends a message to the viewer.  Make sure the message is right.

I’m not talking about style, here.  That’s an entirely different subject.  I’m talking about learning to use your eyes and learning to draw.  Once you can draw, then your style, whatever it may be, in built on a firm foundation.  Said another way, C.C. Beck did a very simple style—but Captain Marvel’s collar bone is always exactly where it’s supposed to be.  And Barks?  The perspective is always correct in Duckburg.


The Power and Perils of Reference


Storytelling Lecture, Artwork – Part 2


Storytelling Lecture, Artwork – The Power and Perils of Reference


  1. I took an art class a long time ago and the first thing the teacher wanted to do was to get the entire class to "unlearn" everything we "knew" about drawing. The toughest part for me, personally, was "unlearning" the habit of not keeping my eyes on whatever it was I was drawing. My focus kept drifting to the page and drawing details on something I wasn't looking at. Eventually, I got the hang of it, but it took a while to get there.

    Once again, another great entry in the "Storytelling" series. It's always helpful to occasionally be reminded how to go about things the right way.

  2. I used to stand in front of a mirror and draw my pants and shoes. It was always fun. I like copying the wrinkles and I was amazed at how "real life" it looked when I didn't just make stuff up (which I'm lousy at anyway)

  3. Dear Jim,

    I've heard about using my eyes from others before, but what makes this lesson hit home this time is your use of the term "glyph" for a visual cliché. I'll add it to my artistic vocabulary. Did you come up with this usage yourself? I've never seen it in any how-to-draw guide or heard it in any art class.

    But I've seen too many glyphs in bad comics art. Moreover, too many wannabe artists, myself included, concentrate on copying professionals' glyphs, ignoring reality and preventing ourselves from developing our own styles – our own unique ways of interpreting reality. So many bad amateur drawings are crudely pasted glyph collages. We need to open our eyes and go beyond our glyphs.

    Your umbrella and door exercise sounds so simple, yet it isn't. Wannabe artists don't practice drawing umbrellas and doors. Not cool enough. So they either fall back on glyphs or open their eyes.

    I'd tell younger fans who haven't heard of Duckburg that the perspective is always correct in manga.

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