Making Rules to Break

In teaching figure drawing you want students to understand how to construct a figure.
But in writing assignments for myself I’m exploring how to work the basics and push myself a step forward by defining a task.
2 minute gesture drawings always provide a quick satisfying buzz to do.
They are often just a quick exercise in focus to catch the whole figure, a motion and with the lack of time to see details always present an exciting moment of simplification.

A simple stick figure provides a skeleton for basic figure construction.
A simple stick figure drawing goal is not a final result, but a step to define how the figure translates from three-d space to the flat design on the page.
Translating our real world into flat shapes is the most basic act of drawing.
In my drawing, which is about flat shapes in relationship to each other, what shapes represent, how they define space and move the eye across the page I never really bothered with that “skeleton”.
Most drawing was just based on instinct.

But cartooning is about building shapes into repeatable silhouettes for a character.
I want to use my life drawing as a foundation for this process of building characters, repeatable shapes for abstraction, and develop my comics drawing.
To build this foundation I”ve started doing a set of 30 second drawings from photos.
The perception of three-d space is removed by the camera, but as a warm-up it’s a quick way to practice with figures.

Quickposes takes a folder of images and loop thru them at customizable intervals.
Using Quickposes for a twenty minute session is the closest experience to life drawing when working from photos I’ve found.
The timed appearance of images gives it some of the feel of a session in a class.
There’s two exercises I’m starting with the first is a measured stick figure drawing.

Measured Stick figure 30 Seconds


To define a skeleton in 2-d space that provides the illusion or guide to how it would be structured in 3-d space.
Length and angle of a line will define foreshortening, and gesture.


  1. Take Two long breaths to just look.
  2. Define the line across from shoulder to shoulder joint, this with a line between hip joints defines the torso’s movement.
  3. Do the sides of the torso
  4. Draw an outside line for the arm, check angles and placement of elbow and wrist in relation to the torso.
  5. Add the second arm, looking for where the elbow and wrist are placed in relation to the torso as defining the gesture.
  6. Make sure you have the hips measured out and define the second leg, drawing a line to the knee and then ankle.
  7. Treat the head as a line from shoulder that loops to define the block of it.


  • Do the lines define hips and shoulders?
  • Do the joints measure against each other?
  • Is there a more effective way to place the figure on the page?

Designed Stick Figures 1 Minute


To build a “designed” drawing that works as 2-d design as well as the illusion of a 3-d figure.


  1. In the first 30 seconds do a measured stick figure.
  2. Draw the longest visual line to emphasize the gesture.
  3. Define the torso in relation to the longest line.
  4. Look to repetition or contrast in the shapes that you are drawing.
  5. If drawing with a brush make sure you can clearly define a brush pattern for gesture drawing to work with on the figure(next post)


  • Is there a clear silhouette?
  • Does the figue work as an individual design?
  • Does it have a leading motion or direction to focus the eye?
  • Do I have repeatable shapes?

So now I’m going to spend a week doing 1 minute stick figures with a pen, see what it changes in the way I think about drawing.

The Weeks Warm Up Exercise


To track what happens when you ae mindful and focused on specific tasks


  1. Work from 1 folder of 20 images for 2–3 days.
  2. Measured stick figures for 14 figures
  3. Designed stick figures for 10 figure
  4. Write Evaluation Notes for 5 minutes to track thoughts about drawing

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Teaching Comics to Myself: Fundamentals

Good instruction and good teaching do not provide explanations. They tell you what to do and, to a certain extent, how to do it, and it is through the doing that you discover how the practice works.

Ken Macleod

There are two parts of comics, drawing and storytelling.
But pulling comics apart to understand and develop the work from the foundation is rarely done.
Doing abstract comics takes you closer to the basics of what makes comics a medium and not just illustration.
After doing a month of Abstract Comics for Inktober I found myself wanting to reduce the comics down another step to really understand how panels fit images together.

I recently bought a book on Joseph Albers’ teaching.
Albers is a painter who taught at the Bauhaus and Yale more or less invented the modern educational system for art in the last century.
All first-year color theory and how to learn it by experiencing it is driven by his book The Interaction of Color.
At Parsons School of Design a couple of my first year teachers had studied with him.
These were the ones who cracked my dumb little skull open and poured in a whole new body of knowledge about making pictures.
The made us look at what was actually happening with the lines, shapes and colors put down on the page.
They developed a critical vocabulary for talking about the form of the art and not just what cool things we had drawn.

Alber’s last thirty years of his life was spent painting the Homage to the Square, just color in a series of centered squares.
Color is the most complex part of picture making as it can carry more emotion than almost any other part of a visual.
Each painting is just a set of colors that are carefully mixed and create a different painting each time.
Even if it’s just a set of squares set inside of each other.
These are some of the most magical paintings in the world that suck me in and say look the world is magic held by color.

Exercise: 1 square with background
Goal: Define visual structure in four panels

1.Define a consistent background shape
2. Use one rectangle and define a rhythm of AND,AND, BUT, THERFORE
3.Use scale and placement only
Outcome: 10 drawings write an evaluation

Squares exercise 2

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Walking the Line while Thinking is Hard

In life drawing it’s easy to do “cool” stuff, throw color, ink, or flashy effects at the work and say “I’m drawing”. But for control of your mind going back to a clear line nothing is more challenging. When just line defines the edge of the form you have to see the turning in space of the three dimensional cheekbone and puzzle out how to represent how it interacts with the nose. Without value, light and darkness you look much more closely at edges and shapes.

In the three-quarter view I had one line between the two arms. One line between the left arm and the left breast to catch the way the muscles bones and fat are moved around. I’m trying for understanding the construction of figures from my head and how that relates to life drawing.

In the session two people started talking about construction as in knowing what the body is versus measuring the shapes as you see them and how do you transfer the two as you draw.

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Drawing Batroc

So here’s a drawing of Batroc, done for a benefit book for the Hero Initiative. While it has the usual assortment of Americans it also has Europeans in it so we’ll see how Jacks influence has spread. It should be a fun and interesting book.

They also wanted a short text on my thoughts so I pulled some stuff from the introduction to Abstract Kirby to blab some more

“I’ve read Jack Kirby’s stories for almost fifty years. A Somewhere in the flurry of Kirby’s pages the simplicity of the drawing becomes powerful and emotional. His reduction of form to simple shapes creates the explosive power within the drawing. Within this simple vocabulary, facial storytelling, acting and body gestures smash against his minimalism. Figure angles that most artists would simply skip as too complex seem to flow from his hand. He drew anything. His vocabulary allowed him to take on scenes and draw in a way impossible for almost any artist to conceive of. He didn’t worry about lame panels or bad drawings he just worried about the flow of pages.
As amazing as his great panels are it’s the flow of his stories that makes the real magic for me. The interrelationship of how panel to panel pulses with energy, closer to DeKooning and Pollack then representational art, seems to be lost from comics today.
His storytelling is a photography’s ability to catch the angled momentary shot, not the framed, posed composition of a painter. Most comics are stopped and posed as a moment in time. Jack’s panels always push you along to the next panel. By wanting to put a reader totally into his story, the individual drawing isn’t important. Each panel is a set of forces pushing you to the next moment graphically.

Art historians talk about the breakdown of World War 1 leading to complex multiple viewpoints and fractures of Picasso and Braque’s cubism. Matisse, the other giant of the last century might have put it all back together integrating the world into some blissful forms of shapes dancing. Between Matisse and Picasso you could sum up most of the visual trends of the 20th century. Kirby lives in adventure story land between Picasso and Matisse.
Kirby worked in a minimalist grid, probably as a choice to speed the execution of his pages, adapting film/photography cropping of space to tell stories. But the panels are drawn as a whole page within the context of the story, creating a cubist narrative space, larger than anything Picasso could approach. His compressed shape driven drawing becomes as iconic as Matisse’s gestural based shapes. But the grid and the space fractures up the pictorial space into energy flows equivalent to Abstract Expressionism. In the end, Jack’s drawings become more complex than Picasso and Matisse just by the collision of multiple images piled on one another. So I tried to steal that.

Jack probably wasn’t a modernist embracing restraints to create freedom, mimic production or any of the art critics strategies to explain work. By working within a consistent grid of 4 and 6 he gained minutes and had his layouts almost predetermined for him. It was a production and business choice that becomes art. In fact there is exactly 5 panels that break the grid and only 15 panels that use a three panel division of a tier in 385 pages of comics in the first volume of the Fourth World. For Jack panel structure was a grid, the page a larger element in a story, the grid is perhaps the easiest thing to take.

With no panel choices to drive the design, the imagery becomes transcendent be being shapes cut into and out of each other. Then he overlaps and piles things on to each as if almost collaging the moment. All of this, functioning in a deep space that works as flat design to make some kind of narrative cubism.
His form as simple shapes, rendered with brushstrokes starts with Caniff’s black inked based impressionism moves towards iconic work on his own. Especially under Royer’s inking, the flat design of shape creeps in. The almost gestural tension of those drawn brush strokes racing up and down an arm or a leg is so begging to jump into an expressionist painting. In the end Kirby is just Kirby, one of the three greatest artists of the last century, surpassed only by Picasso and Matisse, but maybe not.”

Abstract Kirby 4 cover thumb

The finest comics I’ve ever done exploring the fundamental things that make comics comics. Now with fancy four colors added into the mix, the tension is can the flat hard colors defeat the evils of cross-hatch and the washes of watercolor lapping at their edges. Or some such bullshit, I like these. Please buy them here, Abstract Kirby 4 on Amazon.

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