When I started getting serious about drawing, I decided that wanted to be as good as a Renaissance master. Since I didn't have any talent at all except for being particularly stubborn, I had to start from zero. So a pored over anatomy and art books and did tons of masters studies. I drew thousands of boxes. I studied the biology of the human body down to the cellular level. I read up on biomechanics and the physics of light. I read almost every art history book in the library. I read up about color theory and paint mixing. I downloaded a ton of references. I tried graphite, charcoal, oil paint, sculpting, animation. I read my share of Loomis and other drawing manuals. After half a decade of this I was pretty confident of my skills. But looking back at it, I shake my head. All that pursuit of technical excellence lead to mediocre results.
After a while I asked myself; what exactly do I want to draw? Did I really need to be Michealangelo? I readjusted my expectations and decided that I wanted to draw comics. So I got a another stack of books, perspecitve manuals, 'How to draw manga' books, Scott McCloud, Will Eisner, Robert McKee's 'Story'. I studied panelling. I pulled apart the plots of movies, timed them and kept track of the story beats. I watched plays and short films and took notes about the story arcs. I studied character arcs and motivations. And after all that, I would read a script I wrote or look at a comic draft that I drew, and it was terrible. Too stiff and mechanical. By then almost a decade had passed and I was still less than mediocre. I would just lie in bed, frustrated but too exhausted to continue studying.
Thinking back on it, my main problem was I was totally obsessed with technical skill. Too caught up in the idea that I need to keep trying to level up. Video game thinking. Get the right item, complete the quest, then you will progress to the next level. When I consider all those miserable hours on studies, my own ego was pushing me to try to be extraordinarily techinically skilled. And my own ego stopping me from going to more experienced artists and getting advice from them. Trapped by my own ego and naive view of the world, I was running around in circles and wearing myself out.
How did I get out of my rut? I had to go on a trip, so I started a journal to keep track of it. I doodled a lot in it, and that continued after I got back from the trip. It became a habit. Just drawing without planning or thinking so much. I started drawing stuff that I liked. Bad sketches. Scribbled notes. Simple life studies. Simple one page comics that didn't have a plot or story. It was period of dumb and terrible art, but it really got me practicing my inking and my other fundamentals. I didn't need to be a photorealistic master, I didn't have to draw masterpieces. I could just draw honestly. I could draw secret things. I could draw raw things. Nobody was going to see this art anyway, so I could be as cringe and self indulgent as I wanted.
I stopped obssessing about being the best. I just needed to be adequate. I needed the bare minimum to be able to draw things that entertained myself. Learning is repetition, but it doesn't have to be constant boring box drawing. I still do studies and read up on techniques, but I don't obssess about leveling up. Incremental gains build up over time, so as long as I kept constantly trying small risks regularly I could grow as an artist. I didn't need to complete the whole syllabus to draw what I wanted, if there was something I didn't know I look it up. And I would pick up skills as I went. Also I was more mature and self aware, so I could keep an honest mistake log and learn to avoid my worst habits.
I wonder if this is the proper way of thinking (Is there even a right way to think?). Maybe I will look back at this in a decade and think that I'm full of shit for writing this. But I guess it's good to record my mistakes, past and present, as a cautionary tale.
I recently remembered a story that a friend of mine told me once. She had somehow found and read a draft of a screenplay. It was written by a man that didn't have any family, so when he passed away his writing and papers were given to a friend and subsequently lost. With only the memory of the screenplay as a reference my friend wrote her own version of it, and tried to find the funds to make a short film based on it. Mind you this was before consumer grade cameras got good at shooting video and it wasn't anything like these days where any asshole with an iPhone can shoot HD video. She failed to get the funding and her team drifted off with their own lives and projects. Ultimately nothing happened, the original screenplay having an audience of one.
That's artistic dreams for you, always at the mercy of being scattered by some slight misfortune or chance. A few years later and the technology would have been there to make a budget film. Or if they had managed to convince someone to make a gamble on them it might have turned out very differently. Missed chances, missed opportunities, wrong place, wrong time. There's a very high chance that those messages in bottles that you throw into the sea just sink to the bottom. Exercises to be forgotten. You could miss your audience and end up as just a half remembered story recounted on a random personal website. That's the risks of making art and having dreams.
Sometimes to make a longer project possible sacrifices have to be made. In many cases the sacrifice has to be drawing quality. I've had cases where I had to engage limiters and draw simpler just so I could get a project done. It's not ideal, but if I had to choose between perfect and done, I'll choose done. It's better to get something out into the world, flaws and all, than to keep fussing over it and never getting anything finished. As much as I would like every drawing to be an extremely detailed hatched masterpiece, there simply isn't the time and energy to feasibly do that.
A lot of the compromise has to be done in the design stage. Cutting down on details and reducing the amount of lines needed to communicate what you need. Sometimes compromises can be passed off as stylistic choices. Choices at this stage really save on headaches further down the line. Either that or the project has to be cut short to accomodate better art. Reduce the amount of content so more time can be spent per piece. As much as I hate it, the economy and accounting of art is required to accomplish anything. Even for personal projects where your budget is your time and energy.
This probably isn't good advice for beginners where you need to try your best to get to bare minimum competency. But it's something to look forward to in a way. Where you can draw at 50% and still produce something decent.
I wish art didn't cost so much time. I need to think and mull over things. Plan out complex things. Wait for sketches to ferment so I can look at them with a fresh pair of eyes. Rest and regain energy and focus to work on longer form formats. Draw practice sketches and studies to understand things. Clear off work so I have free time to do personal projects.
Time is really the raw material that I need to make art. Too bad I also have to trade it for money. A lot of is wasted sitting around paralysed by anxiety and dread about the future too. And some needs to be spent on keeping my biological needs met. Screw anatomy and perspective, the biggest challenge of art is finding time.
Everything I post here is worthless, in a capitalist sense. I don't add any copyright information, I'm not trying to develop any IPs, I'm not trying to monetise it, I'm mostly anonymous so it's not like I'm building a personal brand. This whole website is a waste of effort, it doesn't profit me in any way. I'm sinking my valueable time into immature interests. In this world of time, money and opportunity costs, it might be worse than worthless, it might be a loss of capital.
But that's what makes it fun to create this type of art, there's no expectations or strings attached. I'm not answerable to anyone. I don't have to please anyone. I don't have any pressure to produce a masterpiece, I can just make whatever rubbish I want. I can choose any shallow self indulgent theme. I'm not making any important statements. It's just pure creation, I'm just expressing myself.
I'd like it to be juvenile and disposable. Something appreciated for a while and then discarded. I don't want to live with the illusion of permanence. It's as ephemeral as this cloud of internet that we are on right now. One thing that I think impedes the growth of an artist is holding on to all your art like it's some sort of masterpiece.
Some think that there is a need for profit to motivate people to do things. But profit can also sap motivation. When money is on the line, it's no longer just fun and games, it's work. I can draw as much as I want when I don't have someone paying me to do so, but when someone is paying it feels like such a burden. I don't have to get better so I can make it as a professional artist selling my wares, I can learn things at my own pace. And one less number attached to your art means one less thing to make your art look smaller and less skilled compared with other artists.
So repost, don't credit, burn it, I don't care. The art here is worthless to me. It's technically public domain. That's why I enjoy doing it. It's a luxury that I can have because I find work doing other stuff.
Sometimes when I read a manga or watch an anime, I'm like "I would be so into this shit if I was a teenager." But now, my eyes are jaded due to being exposed to decades worth of various media. It doesn't look new or fresh, someone has done the good parts better before, the bad parts are more obvious and flawed. I can't read trash without comparing it to something else in my experiences. Even looking back on the things that I enjoyed as a teenager I realise so much of it hasn't actually stood the test of time. There are some things that I'm avoiding just because I think the memory of it is better than the actual product and I don't want to contaminate it with a rewatch. There is an age where you can appreciate juvenile or half baked things, but as you accumulate more media experience it just isn't the same anymore.
On the other hand, sometimes when I watch kids programs that have surprising depth or nuance, I'm like "I like this, but it would have bored me if I was a 7 year old". There are some things that I can appreciate now that I'm not a kid waiting for the giant robots to come on screen and the action to start. As adults we sometimes pan kids shows for being dumb, but some do a really good job of keeping literal children entertained with flashing lights. Some of the bestselling fiction today is dumb and targeted at dumb kids, that's perfectly fine by me since I'm not the intended audience. But I do appreciate the small flashes of interesting ideas when they appear in childrens media.
I guess I have no other choice but to enjoy the different seasons of media enjoyment as time marches mercilessly on.
I don't set any deadlines when working on anything on this website, anything here is just what I work on in my free time when I want to relax. I have some ideas to do, some projects already in progress and things which I want to implement that I've put on hold for now. It's nice to not have the guilt and pressure to hit concrete deadlines, but I find that I'm jumping from project to project without much focus or prioritisation. Some days I'll actually work on a longer project where the payoff is quite far away, some days I'll just draw whatever I want, some days I sketch and some days I just procrastinate and write stuff (Like I'm doing right now). I do wonder if I'll get anything done without the pressure of a deadline or any form of accountability. I have a bad habit of allowing my hobby stuff to drag along for months on delays until I just drop it.
On the other hand it is nice to handle everything on my own terms. To not have art as responsibility and monetisation and instead have art as purely creative expression. To be able to enjoy the pleasure of mindlessly doodling in school books instead of participating in a massively online popularity contest. I guess everything has tradeoffs, and inconsistant art production might be better for experimentation than the regular desperate repetition that comes with commission work.
So for now, no promises. Things will get done when they are done (or they won't). I'm not going to bother with proper workflow for now.
Whenever I draw people I tend to draw Asian faces. It's not a political statement or any form of media activism. It's just my lived reality. Round faces, small noses, almond shaped or squinty eyes. I find those features to be cute. Curly hair, dark skin, hijabs, all forms of ethic clothing; while I don't draw them that much they are all fun subject matters. It's part of the media that I consume and grew up with. I don't really care about representation in Hollywood or western media, I hardly watch it these days. I don't care if a token Chinese guy is cast as a secondary character in a big Hollywood movie, I've had my fill of Hong Kong action movies from the 80's and 90's where Chinese guys are kick ass protagonists. But the discourse on the internet is so American centric that it assumes that there is a burning need for representation when globally everybody most people have access to their own vernacular media. There may be a need for representation for some communities in the USA, but I'm so removed from it that it really isn't my battle.
As an Asian that lives in Asia, whiteness as the default is an alien concept to me. To be honest I see so few white people in my daily life that I can hardly tell them apart. Not to say that white people don't have distinctive individual features or I'm denying their humanity, it's just that I haven't seen enough of them regularly enough to be able to tell the subtle differences apart. Usually it's as easy as picking out the tourist from the locals, but it gets tricky when there are groups of them. Once I've tried to memorise a woman's hairstyle and ear rings to recognise her (I also don't remember names well, but I do that for everyone), unfortunately she changed it the next day and I couldn't tell her apart from her other white friends. This also seeps into my art, I'm pretty bad at drawing caucasian features. I can copy a photograph with relative accuracy, but I can't draw it from my imagination without copious referencing. But I hardly draw them as a subject matter anyway, so it's not much of a problem.
I don't like how everybody is in the same big pond these days. Giant sites that dominate the internet and user uploaded content mean that everybody at every skill level has access to the same audience. The two big ones left standing for artists: Twitter and Instagram, are basically free-for-alls with little structure to them. Communities blend together in the feed and there isn't space to forms smaller groups that share themes or interest. In practice this means that a small minority get the majority of the attention. It can be quite discouraging even, there isn't much space for beginners to put things up and grow, since they are a few posts away from seasoned professionals. It creates a treadmill where you're constantly running a marathon in exchange for some likes, with world class runners right next to you.
I like being in spaces where audiences are small. You're not doing public speaking every time you post something. There's more room for discourse and discussion. There used to be these smaller spaces in the internet, for all its flaws that's one of the things that DeviantArt did right. Smaller forums were places where people could meet and make friends and grow as artists. Or you could get into petty fights, but at least it didn't mean the end of your social life if you made a gaffe or bad take. You could even indulge in more niche topics instead of trying to chase the flavour of the month fan art to stay relevant to the algorithm. I'd even argue that furries have a vibrant art community because they were forced to create their own isolated art spaces away from the mainstream.
How big an audience would I be comfortable with? (Not monetarily comfortable with, but enough to be artistically fulfilled.) I'd say enough to fill a small room. I have a hard enough time remembering all the people that I know, so I'd prefer to keep it small. At least I would know some of them and it wouldn't be hard to chat. I often argue that bigger and more is not often better. Especially if you're still experimenting or learning it might be easier to expose yourself to people that you can trust and are supportive of you. This website has about the right amount of obscurity for me, that's why posting on it has been really comfy.
I don't draw robots as much as I used to. Like original robot designs, not fanart of other designs. I've been going through my personal archive recently and it's interesting how my subject matter has changed as I got better at drawing. At first it was mostly robots literally in the margins of schoolbooks, which looking back it probably was because I could draw a bunch of basic shapes better than I could draw people or portraits (I threw out most of my attempts at drawing humans from this period, it just looked terrible and wasn't worth keeping). I was also playing a lot more games, reading more sci-fi and watching a lot more anime back then, so that gave me more inspiration for more sci-fi illustrations. And being a teenager I was incredibly wealthy in terms of time (in a way that I could not appreciate then).
Then I got more into drawing comics (or more accurately the idea of drawing comics) and started drawing more studies of humans as a subject matter. There was still the occasional robot design to go along with ideas of sci-fi comics, but my focus shifted from just doodling cool sci-fi robots to more narrative driven things. Around this time scanlations and downloadable anime became a lot more accessible to me, so I started to devour these things and my design sense shifted more from primarily Western style mecha (Which is actually a branch of Eastern mecha but I don't want to get into that here) to more Eastern design philosophies. I was exposed to Seinin manga and started taking more interest in realism and drawing from life. I was drawing more, but life in general kept me plenty busy and I didn't indulge as much in my own pet world building and the attendant robot designing.
Then I tried many other forms of art, finally settling on focusing on gouache painting and inking. Then only inking. I still drew some fanart for fun, but designing my own robots became rarer. My focus also shifted to understanding the graphic language of comics, so that necessitated drawing more people than robots. By then I was a working adult, so I didn't have time to daydream of epic robot sci-fi, and without a setting to put them in there wasn't really a need to design robots. Which looking back, is kind of a shame. It's been more than half a decade and I probably only have a a couple of designs that I like from that period. And the irony here is that I can probably draw anything that I can imagine at this point, but I hardly have the time or motivation to do so.
I'm still terribly immature for my age, but I still see the unescapable effects of getting older. Things change and there are things that you hold dear that just become so distant as you keep walking. Maybe one day it might even disappear beyond horizon of the past. That's a shame, but that's life.
Watching videos of mangaka drawing, they always talk about 'Balance'. I take this to mean some sense of pleasing proportion (I could be wrong). I don't really hear this discussed as much in American art instruction. There are certain patterns that people find attractive, these are a combination of things that we innately like and are culturaly familiar with. One of the fundamentals in design is having a sense of balance, not so much symmetry, but keeping elements in a correct proportion to each other. Figuring out what to include and what to leave out. Working with the whole and not letting one thing overpower the rest. I've talked with practitioners of Malay wood carving that have mentioned the need for a sense of completeness in their compositions, you need to have all the elements and they have to be in the right places. I quite like that philosophy.
I'll admit that I'm not much of a fan of the art styles that were popularised in tumblr and have now become quite mainstream in cartoons in the US. Maybe it's because I never grew up with the same cartoons, but I'm not a fan of that aesthetic. Like the eyes are too big, the noses too large, some feature is just overexagerated or the overall proportions not pleasing. Some of these are concious efforts to look ugly, which while I understand that that's what they are going for, I'm not much of a fan of it. But perhaps the underlying issue with me is that they lack a sense of balance. I don't really see it as much with European comics. Perhaps the lack of balance just a reflection of the culture that created it.
I don't view myself as an artist. At least not anymore. I found it to be a problem when my ability to make art was part of my identity, it meant that my performance as an artist also translated to my failure as a human being. If I couldn't draw that portrait accurately, I would take it personally and just feel terrible. I've seen it so many times, a lot of self described artists see art as something so central to their being that they start developing all sorts of maladjustments, like constant frustration, not being able to take criticism or just not being able to make art because of performance anxiety.
I didn't need to be a full fleged artist if the cost of it was constant neurotism. But for me that also took having some sense of self worth and achievement beyond art. I guess that's why you need some balance in life beyond sitting at your art station and painting all day. Honestly assessing yourself, developing other competencies, having social connections, helping other people and making contributions to society in a way make you less unsure of yourself. I think just growing older also helps too, there's just things that you start to see as you gain more experience. Despite the stereotype, the lone suffering artist rarely accomplishes much.
I went through that phase of being constantly frustrated and uncertain, until I realised that I was taking things too seriously and I needed to enjoy the process more. It was around the time when I started journalling and drawing almost daily, quality be damned. Coming to terms with the idea that failure in art didn't mean failure in life was really helpful. Failure in art is just another step in progress, and I need to keep on failing to grow. If you're not racking up those failures then you're not taking risks and growing (But then again constant repetition of failure is a sign that you're not learning either). At one point all I was doing was sketching and writing things that no one else would see except me, not all of it was good but it really helped me grow as a person to have that record of what I've accomplished and how much I've improved over that period.
I like doing art, but I don't put it on the pedestal and make it my life's central reason of being. It's a pastime, it's work, it's one of the many other things that I can do. Identities are not a bad thing, but be critical of them and don't let them turn into prisons. You are and always will be more than your art.
I recently rediscovered a comic storyboard that I made 4-5 years ago while I was looking for stuff to put in my gallery. When I was writing it I had no idea whether it was any good, and I was just experimenting with it and trying to draw as honest as possible with it. It wasn't bad, I didn't feel "What was I thinking?" that I sometimes feel when I look back at some of my old work. But what struck me is that I could never write something like that with the mindset that I have now. The rawness of my early 20's was still fresh when I did that, and it shows. Now that those wounds have scabbed over and I'm overall numb to pain of living, I don't think I can muster the passion to write in the same way anymore. This must be why teenagers are usually never written like real teenagers, the writers responsible are just too far away from the half remembered experience of being one.
There were some projects that I put off because "I want to get better before I try it". Looking back, when I got to the level where I could have drawn it the way I wanted, I had moved on as a person and wasn't interested in it anymore (and I didn't have the time or money to pursue it). And some of these were my dream projects at one point, at least the deluded fool in the past thought that they were. I would have liked to read them though, even if they were raw and unpolished at least they would be a record of my experiences at that point in my life. If you want to do something creative, don't put it off. Even if it sucks it still is a record of your growth. You don't want to grow up and look back and see the missed opportunity of making flawed art.
What makes art interesting is that you made it. I want to see your work because you made it, and there will be many different versions of you. Watching artists grow and develop is cool. Seeing your unique view of the world at the time you make it is what makes art interesting. Any skill or talent is just an added bonus.
Getting better at drawing is a process of getting to know yourself. I don't think I'm any better than I was couple of years ago in terms of hand eye coordination or knowledge of anatomy or any other artistic tricks. But I've drawn enough that I've gotten good at seeing my repeated mistakes. My experience isn't that I've gotten better, I've just made enough mistakes that I know where to look. And I still make them a lot, but I know enough to catch them before commiting to anything permanent. I keep a mental list of them and check it after each draft.
For my own convenience and as reference for others, I'm going to list them out here:
I never realised it had gotten this long until I wrote it down.
Drawing takes a lot of absorbing. The best artists are the ones that have seen a lot of stuff. Even when they draw something derivative, it mixes together with all the other influences in their heads and comes out looking like an original spin. That's why I think that one of the best ways to grow as an artist and a designer is to do something outside of art. Doing master studies are great for learning more about anatomy, light and form and all the other things that make technically skilled art, but there are so many other things that don't involve drawing naked Europeans. Take up street photography and learn more about light and the details of everyday objects, read forensic science journals and see the gruesome details of real dead bodies instead of the sanitised depictions of zombies, collect leaves and feathers and marvel at their form, catch cicadas and insects and watch their alien behaviour, do some gardening and get to know plants and how they grow, expand your visual library through close observation when building model kits, talk to people and learn about interactions and social cues, read a bunch of comics and absorb the art.
You can tell when an artist has only a very limited amount of influences. It looks derivative, a poor copy of the original but also lacking in it's own voice. I think it's ok to be derivative, but derive from as many sources as possible. Nobody has a the same mix of influences in their art, and that makes your art both derivative and unique.
This post was somewhat inspired by reading Tsutomu Nihei's Abara. The influence of H.R. Giger's Xenomorphs on the creature designs are so obvious, but he brings a lot of his own style, from the crazy brushwork to the forboding architectural details to create a unique experience. I could also see the obvious influences it had on the later parts of Tatsuki Fujimoto's Chainsawman (for which there are very obvious nods). The chain of being influenced and amalgamating it with experience to create something unique is something that's really nice to explore in art. That's one of the reasons I sometimes write about what art has influenced me and my sense of style, it makes me think about what I liked about those things in the first place and what I'd like to incorporate into my own style.
Not many people know about Robert Beverly Hale, he wasn't a praticularly reknown artist, even his obituary listed him as a "former curator". But he was a prolific instructor of anatomy, having studied with the Art Students League in New York. For me it was a chance encounter where I found out about his work while hunting for art books in second hand shops. I came across one of his books on Anatomy, "Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters". This formed the basis for my understanding of anatomy, although looking at my earlier work it took me a while to get it.
Hale's techniques were a bit different from the methods taught by other instructors like Loomis or Proko (although Proko does mention him). For example he used craniums as his unit of measurement for the body instead of the entire head. It's quite an elegant technique since a cranium is almost spherical, so it fits nicely into a even sided box (Which is why you learn to draw boxes before people). I still use the Hale cranial units unconsciously, although I count heads for convinience and speed sometimes.
Another technique he wrote about was the concept of planes and plane breaks. You can decompose a form into bunch planes, and where the different planes meet, there is usually a change in value. Quite an elegant way to explain changes in value due to lighting.
Overall, I find his books worth the study. Even if only to see some different ways of approaching drawing the human body.
Before I start inking in the pencils in a composition, there is a very important step that makes all the difference. I leave it alone.
It's really important to take a step back and clear your mind. When you're too into something you don't see the flaws in it. I can look back on art I did last month and see where I went wrong, but not on a sketch that I just completed. Once the sketch is done, let it set. Let it stew. Let it ferment. Give it a few hours, or a day or even a week. Pick it up later and the flaws will be clear.
I avoided reading Kentaro Miura's "Berserk" for the longest time since I knew that the story moved at a glacial pace and I didn't want to get attached to something that might not have a proper ending. It never will, since Kentaro Miura just died of a heart attack. I finally broke down around 2019 and read "Berserk" all in one go and enjoyed it for what it was, but because it was such a recent thing that I read in a rather long single sitting it never left much of an impression on me. It's good art with some amazing arcs for sure, but it was personally to me a small event rather than a lasting influence. Miura will be missed though.
I have better memories of reading his short series "Gigantomachia", stuck in some rural village by myself without internet and only an FM radio as my other form of entertainment, I had a downloaded copy on my laptop that kept me entertained for as long as it lasted. I don't recall much of the story, but the circumstances made it a memorable experience.
As with most artists I have trouble accepting praise for my artwork. Not that I have much practice with it either. But it's always awkward when it comes, I'm often at a loss for words since my vocabulary is made up almost solely of self-criticism. Missed lines, perspective being off, poor tonal composition, anatomy mistakes, bad proportions. It's better to have a short awkward pause and some pleasantries than to say what's on my mind. On social media it's sometimes a counter-like and that's it. In person it's a mumbled thanks before moving the conversation in a different direction.
It's something that I should try to process, but I'd rather not. Seems like a better use of time to think about the other mysteries of art (like how human hips work) than to be better at socialising. Then again I don't think I've ever met a good artist that actually accepts praise without a certain look in their eye.
Ink is my favourite medium. I love putting down lines on paper. It's really meditative. All the hard thinking and decision making happens in the pencils, when I get to inks it's just pure absence of thought. But there are cases where things go wrong. A missed line, a splotch, a smudge, a fingerprint, accidentally hatching in something that you weren't supposed to. It's not like you can ctrl-z and try again. You only had one chance and you blew it. And this is where my golden rule comes in:
The idea of irreversible mistakes is one of the things that scares people away from drawing in ink. But mistakes are inevitable in inks. Nobody makes a perfect run, that's why correction fluid exists. You just need to accept that mistakes will happen, and you can find your way around them. Having that mindset give you the confidence to make a go for it with inks. Mess something up? Draw over it or incorporate the mistake into your illustration or draw a correction and paste it in digitally later. Part of the art of inking is learning how to deal with inking mistakes. They are part of the process, so don't fear them.
A lesson is learned but the damage is irreversible by Dale Berran and David Hellman is one of the great early 00's webcomics. Combining out of this world panelling with surreal dream logic, it really pushes the limits of the comics medium. The first few comics take a while to get into stride, but once they get into gear they created some of the most memorable webcomics that I've ever read. There's a strange sense of humor to it too which I enjoy and very unique color palletes and a loose digital painting style. It had some influence on other webcomics of its time, such a Dresdan Codak, but I think nothing really came close to matching it. The whole thing is still available on the internet (the navigation is a bit broken though) and it only takes a sitting to read through all of it.
I have to remind myself to once in a while draw art that is not meant to be seen. It's a bit of an oxymoron to make visual art that is not meant to be seen by anyone. But it is good practice to just make art for the sake of the process. Drawing without any pressure to have a completed piece lets you experiment with new techniques and take risks. I have some friends that start to stagnate when they start to do commissions because they have to be consistent with their results, that leads them to not try anything new and rely on the same grab bag of tricks. For me, my most consistent gains in technique are when I'm just drawing for the sake of drawing, and the skills and visual library start to build up from there. Stuff that you produce to show people and get your name out there is important, but the stuff that they don't see helps you grow as an artist.
I've been binding my own journal/sketchbooks for 6 years now, I can never find a store bought one that has the right paper quality, size and price point, so I do it myself. They're not the prettiest books, but they do their job. The act of private journaling itself has been very helpful in my own personal development. Just writing down my thoughts helps to put everything into focus, I can make sense of what's bothering me. I can write down the little interactions that I've experienced. I can practice my prose regularly. I can draw whatever my heart desires and take risks without caring about the outcome.
Perhaps one of the advantages of journaling is that it is not a performative act. I can write down what I honestly think because nobody is going to see this but me. I can be introspective and know myself and explore my own inner world. Writing blogs like this is a bit more public, so I tend to censor myself a bit more. Social media even more so, so things have to be more curated. But privacy grants you a different sort of freedom.
What amazes me about journaling is the discrepency between my memories and what I write down. I can hardly remember some of the horrible axieties that I had to endure 5 years ago. Some of the dreams from then look so distant now too, or perhaps they have been reached but twisted by the mundanity everyday life. If I didn't write it down, it would all be lost forever. Forgetting is coping with how bad the world is, but it's nice to have a record of things that you may have lost along the way.
I once came across a book on George du Maurier while browsing the visual arts section of my university library. His expressive anatomy, controlled penmenship, excellent character design and ability to tell story with just a single picture really stood out to me. George du Maurier was a staple in "Punch", a 19th century comedy magazine which was responsible for the word "cartoon" and possibly "punchline". Coming from a tradition of inking for woodcut engravers, he had very clear form and values amid the details, often the figures were much less detailed than their surroundings and that made them stand out. His works sometimes show how visual language has changed over time, He drew a lot of single panel "cartoons" that satirised Victorian society, multiple panel comics were still in their infancy at the time. His figures also tended to have a very theatrical pose to them, the whole figure always in full view as opposed to the more cinematic close ups and tight shots that we are more used to today. I always aspired to be able to draw like him, and his influence on my artstyle are pretty obvious once I point it out. A sampling of his art can be found here.
Most of my recent gallery entries are really complex hatched compositions. It takes quite a lot of planning and referencing to get them done. And then I have to sit down and carefully put in line after line, with traditional mediums, to create the tones that I need. Why do I do it? It's because I have to draw really simple for my commercial stuff. Like it's the completely opposite side of the spectrum, flat simple forms. That has more appeal unfortunately. Basically this gallery is my release valve for my creativity and my need to do something more complex. Of course if I had to draw something complex for work I'm pretty sure that I'd start to draw simple stuff to relax.
If I had to make a list of reoccuring themes in my art, it would look like this:
I can understand why I tend to draw girls, they are aesthetically pleasing. I honestly don't know why I draw the other stuff though (Aside from the fact that robots look cool). Perhaps there is some room for psychoanalysis here.
To an English speaking audience Tetsuya Toyoda is an enigma. Not much biographical information is published, and the most that I've found out about him was from a machine translated Japanese wikipedia page. For his very long career he very rarely publishes anything, and at most they are short series (his longest story is only 11 chapters) or collections of one shots. He has received some critical acclaim for "Goggles" and "Undercurrent", but there is very little news about him and his output is incredibly sporadic and often linked to the monthly seinin manga magazine "Afternoon".
I first encountered his works as scanlations on the internet. I was mesmerised by his visual storytelling, all his characters had a kind of exhaustion and liveliness to them as they went about the story. And while most stories were short, they brought out really realistic and subtly expressive characters. They were very literary stories, but in the form of a manga. His short story collection "Coffee time" is one of my favourites. It's very little plot, mostly dialogue and nothing much happens. The characters don't learn or earn anything or grow as characters. Sometimes it's just a humourous situation. But I feel satisifed after reading it. I can't explain it, but it just works.
In terms of art style, he draws relatively realistically although he know when to drop the realism to emphasise expressions. Simple, direct and unassuming. That's how I would describe his style. You can probably find his work by googling his name, "Undercurrent", "Goggles" and "Coffee Time" have been scanlated and probably still exist somewhere on the internet. "Undercurrent" does have a French version, but otherwise most of his work lacks an official translation.
I seem to be drawing more since I started this website. Filling up a semi-public album of art has been a good way to relax, especially since I can take my time on each piece and I'm not rushed to do something every day. I think the one way interaction of it all, not having to look at likes or concern myself with comments helps a lot in motivating me to draw whatever I want. I'm taking more risks and experimenting more too. I didn't anticipate that I would draw so much when I was first designing the gallery, maybe I will have to overhaul it when it gets too big.
I first encountered the art of Duane Loose in the backs of Battletech novels, where there would sometimes be illustrations of the mechs that appeared in the story. Later I found more images on the internet in Battletech fansites and scanned pdfs of Technical Readout:3025 that I downloaded off Limewire (our local game shops would never stock Battletech products). Early Battletech art was a unique chimera, many of the mech designs were licensed from 80's Japanese anime like Macross, Dougram and Crusher Joe. Some mechs were completely original designs, while some others were partially original but traced over from the anime designs. The art was not particularly good in a technical sense, linework was a bit messy with not much variety, every original design had awkward proportions, the perspective of many things never lined up properly and many mechs lacked proper joints. In short it looked a lot like something you would find sketched in the back of a notebook of a bored highschooler (Battletech was a relatively small game made by a bunch of guys straight out of college, so it was not much of a stretch).
The limitations at the time were understandable, mecha design was almost non-existant in the west and the sci-fi vehicles that he drew were much better in comparison. The weird perspectives were also somewhat understandable since he was sometimes tracing Kunio Okawara lineart which already has a loose grasp on perspective and how joints work. But despite it all, the design sense of the anime mechs could still shine through and many of the original designs were really interesting. Many of my secondary school notebooks were filled with mechs in the margins.
He got better at drawing over time and you can see that in his later work, but I still love the retro charm of that early Battletech art. Technically poor art is not necessarily bad art. As much as I love looking at technical masterpieces, less impressive art is sometimes better motivation because in many ways it is more attainable. I always think back about this when I work on my own projects. There are times when you need to slow down and not go all out when drawing. I might not be perfect but it might still be fuel for other artists imagination. You may even inspire a few kids to pick up the craft.
A gallery of his Battletech art can be found here
A lot of people that are interested in art aim to become pros that can make a living off art. After doing some work on it, I can say I really hate drawing for money. It feels like a chore, and you have to deal with the guilt of having to meet an obligation. Having to draw hundreds of pages, even if you do have some creative freedom, takes a lot of discipline that saps away whatever you enjoyed in the first place. I'd rather do something else and work at my own pace on my own projects. Or at least I would if I didn't need the money. I think that's some good advice, always have backup to fall back to if the art thing doesn't work out. There's no shame in doing art for leisure instead of as a job. We live in a capitalist society that tells us everything has to be a hustle, it doesn't.
Blade of the Immortal or Mugen no Jūnin by Hiroaki Samura has fantastic art and it's a masterwork of illustration. The linework and energy in the fights is amazing, and the spreads have really great composition. The story is a bit on the weak side, although with strong (albiet over the top) characters. There is of course lots of graphic violence and perhaps too much weird sexual violence, so be warned. When I first encountered it I read it in a local manga magazine that put shrank the pages so it could fit 4 of them onto a single magazine page. That mislead me into thinking that the linework was incredibly finely drawn as I tried to immitate it. But the detailed linework and well defined forms stuck with me and greatly influenced how I planned my illustrations, although I probably will never be as good as Samura. Of course that also led me down the wrong path of trying to add a ton of hatching to everything, even when it wasn't necessary. Which took me years to fix.
Incidentally I did recently watch the Blade of the Immortal Live action movie on netflix. It wasn't a good movie, very much trying to cover too much in a limited run time and ending up poorly handling everything. I liked the action and the acting, but the plot was a rushed compression of the first 10 or so volumes of the manga and a movie original ending. Also they changed Manji's iconic swastika icon to a different kanji, which I found to be a poor choice to appease an international audience. It wasn't even THAT swastika. If you ever want to experience Blade of the Immortal, skip both the movie and anime and just read the manga.
I really shouldn't be writing too much about nostalgia, but there's something about the html interface that makes me think about the past. But let's talk about an obscure webcomic whose artist seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth: minus. Debuting in 2006, minus was a bunch of sureal sunday page style strips about a little girl with supernatural powers named minus. There's very little continuity to it and it ran on a kind of dream logic similar to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo. It had really simple but beautiful water color artwork. At the time such a large format strip was something only possible as a webcomic, since newspaper comics at the time were shrinking even their Sunday spreads to fit smaller pages. minus was a love letter to comics art and represented a mix of the past and the future. That was the kind of freedom that webcomics were opening up at the time, there was a feeling of the great potential of the medium. It's a bit lost now that most webcomics are hosted in vertically scrolling sites or smaller squares to fit into social media. It's really a great strip that I still think about to this day and it has amassed quite a cult following. The original site is gone, but thankfully you can still find it on the Internet Archive here
Looking back at my history of drawing. I first started in 2006, and it was probably 2016 until I got decent enough to be an average artist. It took me about a decade of effort to get to a decent level, that’s the journey I had to take starting from absolutely zero talent and no proper instruction. I’m pretty sure I would have gotten further faster with better guidance, but those were the circumstances at the time. I’m still learning and I realise that I’ve got tons of limitations, it’s a long journey.
Talent is a starting point, but long enough down the journey the starting point hardly matters. That’s a property of Markov Chains and it applies to art as well (I wasn’t only learning art during that decade, I had to do statistics and other shit). If you work long enough at something nobody can tell where you started at, but I guess the current youth obsessed culture can’t wait that long.
For younger artists, art is not a 100m sprint. There is the temptation to catch up with those 100k follower savants, and if you are one more power to you. But for the rest of us, it’s a walk. A slow journey where you have to keep moving forward, putting one tired leg in front of the other. You might get tired once in a while, it’s ok to take a break and rest. Just keep walking and you’ll eventually reach something. It might just be a small corner the web where you post stuff, but at least it’s still something.
Bad webcomics. That’s what inspired me to start drawing. I remember spending a lot of time discovering a lot of webcomics from 2004 to 2006 and that planted the seed in my head that “Hey, I can draw comics too!” It was a wild time since comics were for the first time unshackled from the limits of publishing gatekeepers. That of course resulted in a lot of terrible comics and a few gems.
It was around then that I started trying to draw. It sure was a different time, almost no drawing resources were online aside from a few tutorials and whatever you could torrent or download off a file sharing site. Visiting physical libraries and buying second hand books were my only way of collecting these rare resources. Eventually I went to university and pretty much read almost every book in the illustration and visual art section (which wasn’t very large).
But back to bad webcomics. By the time I was good enough to draw with a quality that I wasn’t terribly embarrassed about, I hardly had any time to draw left. My career had taken off in a wildly diverging path from art, and while I still use the artistic skills that I’ve picked up, it will probably never be my main output. But still, I’ve always wanted to make my own bad webcomics...