Thursday, May 18, 2006

Learn to Draw in Five Minutes, Lesson One!

Okay, I've heard too many people say, "I can't draw!" and "I have no talent!" Similarly, I've heard too many people who are proud of their art, but don't know the basics.

So I'm going to teach you to draw. Right now. In five minutes. Get a piece of paper and something that makes some kind of line on it.

You have to realize, it doesn't take talent. I don't have any talent. It doesn't take detail, or realism, or any of that crap. The important part at this stage of the game is learning how to get a message across. Everyone understands easier if your gameplan is accompanied by graphics. Some people draw diagrams, others photoshop graphics into submission. I'm going to teach you to do stick figures.

And I'm going to teach you something about stick figures that few artists under the age of twenty know. Many artists - such as the guy who draws Dick Tracy - never learn it. Something you will find infinitely helpful even if you stop learning how to draw in five minutes after only five minutes.

First, the basic stick figure:

Please note the shoulders and hips. That's important. It's not what I'm teaching today, but it's a critical part of drawing stick figures, especially if you plan on going into something less sticky in the future. Also, it gives you a touch of class over other stick-figure drawers who don't use hips and shoulders. Already, you stand out as an artist and person of class.

Draw the stick figure.

Oh, come on, don't be lazy. It takes all of five seconds. Draw the damn thing!


Anyhow, we now have a little stick man. How would you draw a stick woman?

Arrrrgh! No. Don't. There's three problems with adding boobs to a stick figure. Two of these are in common with adding other things, such as skirts.

1) Stick to the paradigm. Adding things like boobs to your stick figure changes it from a stick figure. It muddies up the picture, adds unnecessary lines, and makes it harder to see clearly. Trust me on this.

2) The stick-boobs don't actually say anything other than "woman" (more specifically: "objectified woman"). Remember, we're trying to get our art to communicate. Not some artiste's toity thing, something in an explanation or description. Like, "then a woman walks in." This doesn't help with that.

3) It's kind of sad that "boobs" are what spring to mind. Honestly, you have to use what springs to mind, because that is what will make the connection between your drawing and the people watching. But "boobs"? Sometimes suitable, many times not.

Let's look at other ways of drawing a stick-woman. How about adding some femininity without adding any lines?

Ah... now we're entering the heart of the matter. Just because your stick figure is lines doesn't mean those lines have to be straight. Inject them with some femininity using a more feminine version of the stance.

Stick figures aren't the best thing in the world at doing this, but if you work with them a bit, you can get our stick figure to clearly be a woman. Or, because our shoulders are so big and hips so small, maybe a really flaming guy.

Now we can change things away from the blank sticks, because we have a pose that looks feminine. A picture that communicates on its own. Now that it's talking, we can teach it some new words.

No.... everything I said above still stands. How about:

Adding a face, rounding the hips. It looks like she (or he) is smacking her butt, I suppose. This pose probably isn't what you're looking for, right? So try some other poses.

Okay, enough with the hot chicks. That's just to show: even a stick figure can be imbued with a sense of emotion. Without adding any details (aside from a happy-face style face). This minimalistic approach can serve anyone well.

And, if you're a high school artist, you probably aren't yet thinking about things like spine curves and flow. Or, if you are, you're thinking like the examples above: it's a feminine thing. Like, say, these females?

A zombie and a blind guy. Both use a curved figure to get across something nonfeminine. You can use this sort of thing in any way.

Notice, these two use the same basic picture. The difference? Well, aside from the snarling mouth, dark classes, and cane, the hand posture is the biggest difference. At this stage, it's all about trial and error. Start with the spine, work from there. It's a stick figure. If it sucks, try again. Oh no! Five seconds wasted!

Each type of primary body curve (the arc you would draw through their spine and down through their legs) has its purpose. There are, in my opinion, five basic types of body curve, named after the body part they project most.

Knees (previous figure)
Pelvis (winking girl)
Stomach (girl next to winking girl)
Chest (next guy)
Head (blind guy and "curses!" guy)

All of these body curves are useful in more than one type of situation. For example, a head-heavy body curve can be used for aggressive villains, blind people, and zombies - three very different character types. Although I think a blind, aggressive, zombie villain might be a fun bad guy.

You can tie them together. Say that the head-curve is for people who don't see anything outside their little world, or something. I think that's largely pointless: just let your right brain learn the various things the poses can be used for.

Of course, these are really only useful from angles which aren't right in front. But, in honesty, the number of figures you need to draw from straight in front is pretty low. So we'll skip the "from in front" lesson. :)

Okay, chances are you haven't drawn a single stick figure. Maybe you did draw one, when I asked you to. So here's your five minutes of work:

Draw three different poses five times. Each time you draw a pose, draw it using a different body curve. This will establish very firmly what tints the different body curves give a picture, as well as get you a bit more confident in your ability to use them. Fifteen stick figures. That's less than five minutes.

Here are the three poses. Remember, draw each with each body curve type. Feel free to really overdo the curves.

Running fast
Punching someone

I guarantee that after drawing these fifteen stick figures, you will feel like a better artist. Chances are high you will actually be a better artist.

Next lesson, I'll teach you how to get on your knees and beg. ;)

If you scan them, post them in the comments. I'd like to see them. :)


Darius Kazemi said...

Okay, I will definitely try this.

Craig Perko said...

Your method of presentation might lend itself very well to stick figures. :)

Craig Perko said...

In order for this to be a good exersize, you shouldn't see anyone else's work before you do your own. You will have trouble making certain body arcs (hip and knee curves are particularly difficult for "punch", because they aren't energetic stances).

You can see what I did here:


However, if you look at what I did, you should do these three stances instead:

Angry, dancing, and jumping.

GregT said...

Fantastic post! Forget game design; write a book full of this! My stick figures still suck, but now they suck in a better way. For instance, when I draw a surprised person, people now say "That's not a very good surprised person," instead of, "That's a fantastic elephant!"

Craig Perko said...

Err, thanks. I think.

I do plan on making this a series. But I'm still going to do game design, I'm afraid. :D

A Nakama said...

Interesting and good exercises, but I feel like these are more oriented towards learning to draw cartoons than other forms of drawing. Not that there's anything wrong with cartoons. S'what I started with.

Craig Perko said...

Of course they're about cartoons. I think cartoons are more fun and more expressive than life sketches, especially for people who are just starting.

I've always admired artists who inject a good kinetic feel into their art more than artists who have great detail work or realism. Detail work and realism can be used as crutches, if you aren't careful.

I know I've used them that way in the past. :)

A Nakama said...

I'm much more of the surrealist type. I enjoy seeing a master of depicting the real shredding it into some new intuitive landscape.

I'm actually no good at cartoon-like drawings. I can take what I see and depict it on paper, but I have trouble taking something I've visualized and properly expressing it. I see the big picture, and have trouble stopping to focus on the details that imaginative drawing requires.

That's why I life-draw more as an exercise of enjoyment than a skill to develop in and of itself. But I do enjoy seeing your work here -- I admire a good cartoonist, and they're few and far between at WPI.

Craig Perko said...

I don't know about "good", but thanks. Personally, I have a hard time with surrealism. I like looking at art, and surrealist art usually gives me a headache after a minute or two.

sitsonchair said...

*runs to drawing board*

I THINK THIS WILL HELP ME. My drawings are good but not quite GREAT yet. Thanks for the tips.

Craig Perko said...

My pleasure

berry said...

I may be a lost cause.

Knees, Pelvis, Stomach, Chest, Head:
I see the differences in each body line example that you give, but I'm lost on how to recreate it without just copying your work.

Craig Perko said...

Recreate the work. Then try it with a slightly different pose. Then try it with a slightly different pose. Pretty quickly you'll determine what you like and what you can draw. :)

Anonymous said...

Your stick figures look good and are very expressive. But, it I copy one and try to flesh it out, something goes horribly wrong. How about showing one of your stick figures as a skeleton to a body.

Craig Perko said...

That is a lesson on its own. :D

Maybe I will, but not real soon. I'm up to my neck.