Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ooow! My face!

My face hurts!

No, I haven't ended up in another comic artist smackdown. This time it's entirely self-inflicted.

I've spent the day drawing roughs for Hamlet, specifically the harrowing "closet scene" where the Dane confronts - and harangues - his trollop of a mother. This involves drawing a lot of angry faces - for example, this:

It seems to be pretty common ("Ay madam, 'tis common!") among cartoonists that when we draw a face, we can't help assuming precisely the expression we are drawing. I've tested this out by trying to draw one kind of expression while setting my face in another, and the result is a lot of terrible facial contortions in both places: the picture comes out looking all wrong, and my face starts twitching desperately in the manner of John Howard during the recent "great" debate (ugh!).

So of course I go with what works, and wear the faces as I draw them. Problem is, after doing nine pages of roughs today, in which Hamlet runs the gamut from indignation to rage through to extreme revulsion and back again, I've had my face set in those very attitudes for literally hours. If the wind were to change at some point today (and remember, this is Melbourne), I might have ended up looking permanently like this:
Not pretty. Not comfortable either. Imagine the terrible wrinkles I'm going to have after 350 pages of this... and that's just the roughs! That thing in my hand, by the way, is my Pentel Aquash brush pen - and it's the greatest thing since the invention of ink. Just thinking about it smoothes those lines right away.

I wonder just how common this "face mirrors hand" thing is. Talking with other scribblers recently has made me realise that many of the techniques and experiences and quirks that I assume are almost universal are in fact different for each person. For example, the other day I heard about a cartoonist who says that he is never surprised by how his work comes out. This is almost inconceivable to me. I am constantly surprised by ideas and forms that emerge while immersed in a picture. So I wonder - does everyone make the faces they draw? Are there people who can conjure up a lively, meaningful expression on the page without simultaneously doing it themselves?

And do cucumber slices on the eyes really work?


Colin Wilson said...

I can't speak for the cucumber slices - I'm a bloke afterall - but there's lots of comic artists I know who spend long minutes of each day gurning in front of a small hand mirror.

Not many of them would dare post any photos of doing it on their blogs though. Outstanding!


fabulousheretic said...

I like the scary face.

Nicki Greenberg said...

Thanks Colin! Good to hear from you. You will recall that I don't always look like that...

Using a mirror - interesting. I've never tried that. I never actually see my own face in its various involuntary contortions, except as translated through the hand.

Love the word "gurning" - that's exactly what it feels like!

Anthony Woodward said...

I have to take more reference photos in general!
Also that is why I'm trying to pencil less lately so the finished image is more of a surprise. I also enjoy writing that way too.
My Aquash gushes a bit too much but maybe the ink is too 'heavy'(I used my tech pen ink) Although the GFKP flows just right.

spacedlaw said...

They do.
As do used tea bags (especially if they were camomille herbal tea).

It seems normal that you should make faces when drawing your characters. I do make some when I write in mine. It's a need to empathize with the creature, I suppose.

Nicki Greenberg said...

Hey Anthony. Re the Aquash - I am using Chinese non-waterproof India ink, and it never drips - but then, I also don't grip it hard while drawing. The GKFP is amazing! Superfine, super control, great detail - but I really love the liquid feel of the aquash. Oh joy, joy... joy of Pentel...

Nathalie - I am with you on the empathy. Tea bags, eh? I am imagining the nasty sensation of tea dribbling into my ears... and the laughter of the Big Squid.

Greg G said...

Looks like you need to take yourself to the Egremont Crab Fair - they've had a gurning competition there for nearly 800 years...


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