The Fundamental Nemesis of Figure Drawing
You’re at the drawing board sketching up the final drafts for that next Comic Book hit… The story and the script are killer; now all that’s left for you to do is to illustrate that Super Hero saga with the level of visual impact needed to do it justice.
But there are just a few niggling draw backs to your artistic prowess which are making that ambitious endeavor near impossible... As much as you’ve prepped and practiced, your characters continuously wind up with poses more limp then powerful.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many times you erase and try to redraw the incredible idea you’ve got swirling around inside your mind. You just can’t seem to get your characters packing the amount of punch needed for them to really leave an impact on the page.
If that’s not enough, that disproportionate anatomy is also leaving your characters looking oddly stunted. The head is either too small, the arms are too big, or the legs too short. The worst part about all of it is you can’t quite pin down what’s gone wrong in the first place to fix it!
And let’s not even get started on those dramatic points of perspective you were gonna attempt – The last thing you need on top of everything else is to struggle through the distorted, foreshortened angles of perspective you’ve been trying to avoid.
Now maybe you’re just starting out, and hey, no one could really blame you for making a drawing boo boo here or there. It’s bound to happen multiple times, and in fact has to happen to conquer the most important lessons you’ll ever learn as a Comic Book artist…
But then what if you already have your anatomy and proportions down pat? You might actually be pretty decent at drawing your Comic Book Characters, at least from the front, side or even the trickier 3 quarter angles.
So why do those more dynamic poses pose such a problem? Is it that the angles you’re drawing them on are too difficult, or that they just lack the kind of action packed movement and energy necessary to bring them to life?
This is something I’ve personally struggled with myself time and time again, and often see in the work of almost every new student I take under my wing.
I remember how frustrated I’d get trying to live up to the same page popping poses I’d see the pros pulling off in their drawings. No matter what I did, no matter how good I thought I was with my anatomy, my designs or all the decorative detail I layered in on top to cover it up, my art work still looked flat and lifeless.
I’ll be honest with you… when I figured it out, I was a little surprised to realize how easily overlooked the key to solving all of this really was.
Here’s the good news, and the not so good news… the good news is that if you’ve got some drawing skills under your belt, heck even if you’re just starting out, it’s not necessarily the fact that you’re missing the boat on your anatomy and proportions. The bad news is, this little nemesis of ours has even deeper roots in the bare bones fundamentals of figure drawing.
The real kicker is that if you want to master drawing your comic book characters in a bunch of different poses from any angle you want - these fundamental drawing dilemmas must be conquered. And once you do – plotting your next comic book composition will be an absolute breeze.
So.. in this tutorial overview you’ll discover where all of that begins as we delve into the Mannequin Model.
Figure Drawing With The Almighty Mannequin Model
When it comes to drawing well proportioned, foreshortened comic book characters in perspective, there’s one thing you’ll need above all else – a sturdy, solid foundation to build them upon.
That’s exactly where the Mannequin Model swoops in to save the day.
You can think of The Mannequin Model as a simplified, test dummy of sorts. A character prototype that can be used as a base to pose, scale and place your Comic Book characters into any composition you like – weather it be for a series of paneled sequentials, pin ups or cover art; the whole shebang.
Basically the Mannequin Model is nothing more than a glorified stick figure at its core. It doesn’t have any overwhelming anatomy, no finessed details, no rendering or lighting to try and figure out.
Being neat and tidy doesn’t matter either, because most of the time it’s roughly sketched out on the fly.
This makes it the perfect starting point for easily picturing and drawing your characters down onto paper without all that added pressure.
Once you’ve nailed the scale, pose and placement of your characters, you’ll be able to dress them up with all the muscles, costumes and decoration needed to finish off the job.
As long as The Mannequin Model is pieced together in the right order and sized up correctly, you won’t have to worry about grinding away on the details for hours on end only to discover that the underlying structure of your character was doomed from the start.
Figure Drawing With Three Dimensional Thinking
But wait there’s more! If I haven’t sold it to you already, The Mannequin model actually has a few more, easy to miss, but incredibly powerful perks up its sleeve.
The greatest challenge we face as Comic Book artists is dynamically posing our characters, at difficult angles, in a way that makes them pop off of the page. The reason it’s so challenging is because we’re drawing on a flat piece of paper or canvas most of the time.
That gives us height and width, and makes it relatively straight forward to draw your comic book characters from say, the front or the side.
But to really nail that three dimensional look, where your characters are leaping out of the panel, we must harness the power of depth.
To create depth, our minds need to click out of 2D paper land and move into the 3D realm.
Viewing your characters as flat cut-outs just won’t do you any favors in the Comic Art game - we must be able to understand them as ‘form’ so that we can take their pose, turn it and view it from any angle inside our mind.
As I mentioned before, the Mannequin Model is made up of shapes which are so simple that posing your characters won’t be so much of a struggle now. After all, an arm made up of cylinders and spheres is a lot easier to pose then an arm made up of bulging muscles and tendons.
The Mannequin model takes the hassle out of posing because not only do your characters become easier to draw, they also become easier to think about.
So easy in fact that really, the Mannequin Model will allow you to almost animate the character into any position you like as well as to interpret it from variety of different viewpoints.
Animators plot their animation sequences out in the same way for this very reason. They have their own Mannequinized versions of each of the characters they need to animate, making them more maneuverable and easy to pose.
Once that pose is there, it’s simply a matter of adding in everything else on top of that frame work – just like adding clay to an amateur.
The really cool thing about the Mannequin Model is that because it’s made up of very simple primitive shapes, this 3 dimensional paradigm of thinking is inbuilt! We’re not viewing our characters as flat images anymore; we’re actually putting them together with 3D building blocks.
Drawing From The Mind With The Mannequin Model
As Comic Artists, we want nothing more than to take our audience on an unforgettable journey through an array of action packed, sequential scenes.
To be able to leave the kind of visual imprint that causes them to remember every panel, along with the powerful choreography of our characters; as if they were moments from their all-time favorite movie.
More often than not this means grabbing the bull by the horns and jumping right into the deep end of figure drawing. Not only do the poses of our characters need to have an energetic impact, they might also be drawn from tremendously tricky angles, depending on the kind shot we want to take.
As the best compositions are chosen panel to panel, we literally become our own movie directors, plotting the storyboard for every scene throughout the screenplay. The problem is it’s rare to find the perfect reference to copy these scenes out from direct observation.
That is unless you want to compromise or change your idea to suit that reference material…
But then, where is the fun in being confined to only what you can see? – a rather rigid limitation as a Comic Book artist if you ask me.
This is just another example of where The Mannequin Model comes to our rescue. Being able to build our Characters with simple, 3d blocks allows us the freedom to invent them purely from our imagination.
Now this would normally be extremely difficult to wing, but since we don’t have to worry about the details until later, our mind is freed up to concentrate purely on pose, proportion and perspective.
Admittedly, some points of view, depending on how extreme they are, may provide a worthy challenge. The Mannequin counters that though through its simplicity, making it very easy to visualize and comprehend a given pose from almost any angle you can think of.
What does this mean for you and I? Well, it means we’re no longer confined to only drawing from photos or other peoples work. That doesn’t mean we won’t use them for the details, decoration and stylistic choices of our Comic Art from time to time, but our ideas won’t be directed in the same way they were before.
Instead of our reference materials confining us, they’ll be used within the already existing context of our idea to enhance it, not to determine it.
Managing Your Drawing With The Mannequin Model
When you think about everything that goes into a drawing, it can be tough to tackle it all at once.
The reality is our brain can only juggle so much. Trying to figure out proportions, perspective, pose, composition, placement, anatomy, lighting, design and every other part of the drawing process in one fell swoop is a sure fire way to boiling over our brains with way too much information.
It’s just too overwhelming. If we don’t give up there and then, mistakes end up slipping underneath the radar and we find it a struggle to focus on anything at all.
What’s the solution here? Well, we need to small chunk our approach to drawing so that it’s more manageable.
Starting with the underlying foundations and working our way up into the more refined stages of the art work. In the foundational phase, it’s the Mannequin Model that will allow us to plot out and pose the characters within our scenes.
Because the Mannequin model is so simple and easy to draw it significantly decreases the chances of our brains blowing a fuse from information overload.
Instead of consuming your creative energy in one gulp with anatomy, rendering, and intricate detailing, you’ll be free to focus purely on the foundational structure of your drawing, such as composition, perspective, pose and proportion.
As simple and boring as those parts of the drawing journey may be, they are the frame work everything else will be built upon. If we mess those up, it won’t matter how much decoration we try to pretty up our art work with later down the line, it’ll still be a dud.
An out of proportion Mannequin arm is an out of proportion arm full stop, no matter how many muscles are clustered around it.
Mistakes Are Easy to Fix With The Mannequin Model
Best of all, mastering the Mannequin Model means mistakes are fast and easy to fix. The structure is so simple that it takes no time at all to resize, pose or layout the figures on your page.
Which is a good thing, because again, we need to make sure we get that base drawing spot on from the get go before we take the time to pretty it up with all those fancy details.
A Mannequin Model might take less than 60 seconds to scribble out once you’re comfortable with it. If we don’t quite hit the mark on the first pose, or the proportions are a little off it’s no big deal to test out a new one.
But imagine spending hours upon hours dousing your character in copious amounts of detail. Your lighting set up is oozing with cinematic moodiness, and every render line is carefully placed side by side to create those ultra-smooth gradients.
Then you take a step back. To your horror you realize that the way you’ve posed your character just doesn’t look quite right… and on top of that their head is slightly too small.
The only way to fix this now is to scratch the pose and start again.
This would have taken a relatively small amount of time to nail down using The Mannequin Model at the start of the drawing… but now you’ve spent hours piling the garnish onto a character whose pose and head size is fundamentally floored – meaning that everything else we’ve added on top is floored along with it.
And just like a building with a weak structure, the entire thing comes crashing down to ground zero.
So as simple as the Mannequin model may be, it’s an extremely important tool we can use to ensure our drawing is solid. That way later down the line the rest of the drawing should roll out smoothly.
Most of us don’t realize this, but the best of the best all start their masterpieces out in the same way. It’s just that because we only ever really get to witness the end result, we don’t think about what it took to get to that point.
That can be a little intimidating, even discouraging to see an epic piece of immaculately crafted comic art laid out in all its glory.
Remember though that it never begins that way. Every finished piece of art work goes through a process. Every artist faces their own trials and tribulations no matter how experienced they seem to be.
Bring Figures To Life With The Mannequin Model
In conclusion, the Mannequin Model is the secret sauce to any well-structured character illustration. It allows us to quickly figure out their proportions, pose and placement from the get go, regardless of the scenes compositional complexity.
Mannequin mishaps are easy to fix too since it’s so fast and easy to draw, making it a dependable test dummy we can trial over and over again until we strike the perfect pose. Best of all, the Mannequin Model gives us the ability to understand our characters in terms of depth and volume.
What that ultimately means for us is we’re able to truly bring our characters to life through dynamic, action packed poses that pop right off of the page.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that you'll put the mannequin model to some good use! Thanks for reading, and until next time - keep drawing!
Tutorial by Clayton Barton