Well, here’s the final finished version of the first foray into the world of capturing the story behind an image. I’m quietly pleased with it even though it probably represents the simplest approach to all of the story stuff I have been posting about these last couple of times. It works, and that is the most important thing. Yes, there is much room for improvement but as a first stab it’s encouraging to feel that the framing and words add to the image rather than take anything away.
What is interesting is how looking at it now sparks an immediate desire to improve things, to create more. That’s not to say that what happens next is merely an extended exercise in duplication across any number of pictures, more a wish to really get stuck in, and learn properly how to make best use of all the different devices at ones disposal, and perhaps invent some new ones too, specific to these drawings.
Opening any book about creating comics and graphic novels invariably floods you in established conventions for framing, speech and thought balloon use, caption box positions, view angles, perspectives and all manner of inking and texturing techniques. All of it is there for us to learn from. It can be a bit intimidating. The best bit though is realising that none of it is compulsory, and that all of these things are there to be played with. Their task is to inform the image being created, rather like an arrow or two might inform a diagram, so there’s no need to use all of them all of the time. Much more fun to find the things that work for you and the types of image you create, than feeling the need (and pressure) to become a master of all before venturing to the paper to make your first mark. There will be lots of experiments and invariably lots of trial and error involved but, without learning through doing, things won’t move forward, or worse get stuck in a repetitive rut. And we can’t have that.
So the search has been on to find how to start thinking about stories behind the images and how best to communicate them. In a way a potential solution was staring me in the face, though I’d failed to recognise it. A very strong instance of not being able to see the wood for the trees. The “tipping point” was completing the cut down dragster drawing featured in The Line Is Drawn post. By cropping the image I had essentially put a box around it, the story in the image was contained mainly within this box, though it broke out to imply the story being much bigger than this constraint. The issue with previous drawings had been the open nature of the final image, with nothing to hold the image it was left to sit adrift in a space that then just flowed out to the edge of the paper. Sometimes paintings and drawings only start to make sense once we have framed them for hanging, and it was this sentiment that I was trying to capture. Rather than rely purely on the edge of the paper to provide the boundary of the contextual space, I realised that what may best serve these kinds of drawings is to create this boundary myself. Create distinct frames like they do for comic books and graphic novels.
It was a kind of “aha” moment. Had I found a mechanism for completing the images and communicating the “story” better? It seemed such an obvious realisation but then what is directly in front of you can be the hardest thing to see sometimes.It is nothing new, a technique that has a long history running through the comic universe to storyboards and beyond but, such a simple approach could really compliment the images as they are essentially cartoons in themselves and might benefit hugely from such a solution.
Conveniently there was a drawing here which I have struggled with completing for quite some time. It’s another in the dragster series and is sitting in the middle of a big bit of A2 paper, you may remember it from a post back in August. I got so far with it, then kind of stopped, the more I worked on it, the more the life seemed to drain out of it. The context I’d created in my imagination just wasn’t working so it got put to one side, to await a flash of inspiration and energy. It seemed a perfect candidate for experimenting with the “crop and box” approach. Interestingly, what happened was that it made me think much harder about what’s inside the boundary I’ve drawn. As a consequence the story has changed and with it a new context is starting to emerge in the background. The drawing has a new life, one that I’m more than happy with so far and looking forward to finishing.
So as a first stab it’s kind of working, an image I was perhaps bored with has regained my interest, and that’s such an important part of this exercise. They key now is to explore how this development pans out across future images. Certainly I don’t want it to become an exercise in cutting and pasting formats and such across a host of work, each piece must remain unique in its own way. What’s good is the fact that the idea is so simple and basic that it is ripe for all manner of playing with, and that flexibility is exciting.
In the previous post I alluded to my attempts to find new directions in which to take some, or all, of the drawings that pop out of the studio here. For a long time now there has been a persistent challenge in completing the ink drawings in particular, which has somehow not diminished or been overcome no matter the approach taken. It is that old thorny issue of context. Whether the inability to get this nailed is the result of never being formally trained in illustrative techniques, or some weird hangover from years drawing objects as a product designer I’m not sure. The more I think about it, the more I’m persuaded it’s a combination of things, some of which go right back to when we learn to draw in the first place and how we look at the world we are trying to capture.
The connection between ones minds eye and the imagination is a fascinating one and is undoubtedly different in all of us. How we imagine things, scenes, objects and the like also varies within us from moment to moment. When drawing from life one is saved from creating context because, in a way, it’s right there in front of us, and we are able to use some visual editing to eliminate that which we feel is surplus to our requirements. In imaginative drawing this is almost reversed, we must “fill in” first before editing down.
What’s this got to do with stories you might ask? Well, part of the success or failure of an imaginative image, I believe, lies in providing enough information to not only hold the eye of the viewer, but also to captivate their imagination in the hope that we allow them to extract as much as possible from the image. In a way we try to tell a story, or at least provide enough to start a story off, to allow the imagination to take us somewhere. Although a fairly simple sounding premise it has taken me some time to work this out in my own mind, which I’d much rather do than read it in some book or other. Because I’m a person who sees objects more than scenes in the minds eye, providing this context is always a struggle. Previous attempts have had mixed success. Shaded geometric shapes have helped to place the image on the page, but no more. Inserting scenes such as horizon lines inhabited with trees and buildings have helped too but run the risk of pulling the central image back towards reality and becoming repetitive. What I wanted to find was a format that would give more flexibility whilst being very much in tune with the language of the images.
The little drawing above might give you a fairly clear idea as to where this is going.