Does Art Have To Contain Realistic Proportions ?

A little while before originally writing this article, I was listening to a radio programme on the BBC’s website when I slowly realised that the background illustration for the program (an “Alice In Wonderland”-themed digital painting of Alice falling down the rabbit hole) wasn’t technically correct. Alice’s head was too narrow and her legs seemed to be shorter than they should have been.

And, yet, it was still a very dramatic illustration that conveyed a sense of drama and movement. It was also a great example of how art doesn’t have to be technically correct in order to be dramatic or striking.

Distortions are an essential part of making art. Even if you’re making a technically “realistic” piece of art, it is going to include some distortions because of things like perspective etc.. For example, if you’re painting someone stretching their arm towards the audience, then their hand will have to be larger than their head in order to convey this accurately. Here’s a very quick diagram I made in MS Paint to show you what I mean:

Although this quickly-scribbled picture is only roughly realistic, the person’s hand is taller than their head since it’s supposed to be closer to the viewer.

So, artists can add extra drama to their artwork by exaggerating these distortions slightly. After all, art isn’t photography. Art doesn’t always have to be an exact accurate reproduction of the real world. Art is meant to evoke emotions, to tell stories, to spark the imagination etc… So, exact precise realism isn’t necessary, and it can actually get in the way of the message that an artist is trying to get across to the audience.

For example, here’s a cartoonish painting of Sherlock Holmes that I made a couple of months earlier (and posted here a couple of weeks ago). His arms are too long and his head is too small, but this is designed to make him look lean and spindly, like some kind of otherworldly intellectual creature. This distortion also places emphasis on both the mysterious document and the iconic pipe in his hands.

“A Curious Case” By C. A. Brown

In addition to this, there’s also the subject of experience and skill. As an artist myself, I’ll admit that I’m not an expert at drawing realistic proportions. Yes, thanks to a few years of regular art practice, I’m a lot better at it than I used to be – but it often isn’t my primary concern when making art. Usually, my main concern is whether the picture as a whole looks good. As long as a picture looks vaguely right, then I’ll consider it a success.

And I think that this idea of “vaguely right” is a good rule for distortions and “unrealistic” proportions in art, since it allows these distortions to have a dramatic effect without confusing the audience too much. For example, the “Alice In Wonderland” illustration that I described at the beginning of the article looks fairly realistic at first glance, but it only seems unrealistically proportioned when you actually think about it carefully.

But, why aren’t these distortions always noticeable at first glance? Simply put, this is because the events of the picture are more interesting than thinking carefully about the technical details of the picture.

Because art is often meant to tell a story or create a mood, this is the thing that we usually look at first. Likewise, because the style of most art isn’t photo-realistic, we’re more likely to excuse other unrealistic elements of the art (eg: incorrect proportions) as part of an unrealistic style.

So, yes, art doesn’t always have to include realistic proportions.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Ways To Make Political Cartoons Quickly

2017-artwork-make-political-cartoons-quickly

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote about political cartoons, so I thought that I’d talk quickly about how you can make a political cartoon in a relatively short period of time. After all, political cartoons are topical, reactive things with a relatively short “shelf life”. So, they need to be made and posted online quickly.

1) Motivation (and research!): I’ve talked about this before, but (unless you are a professional political cartoonist) you should only make political cartoons when the idea of not making a political cartoon feels wrong.

In other words, only make them during moments of strong emotion. Make them during times when you feel like a political cartoon is the only way to make yourself heard or to laugh at a dismal political situation (that would otherwise depress you).

If you make them during these moments, then you’re going to be motivated to make them quickly. Just make sure that you’ve done some research about political cartoons beforehand (in other words, try to read political cartoons on at least a semi-regular basis). Strong emotion might motivate you to make a cartoon, but it won’t help you to make a good one. If you don’t know what you’re doing, then – at best – your cartoon will seem trite or preachy. And, at worst, it might overstep the reasonable limits of political speech.

In general, a good rule to remember is that your comic should include some degree of humour and/or surrealism. For example, here’s a cartoon I made the day that Donald Trump was elected as the American president. It’s dark and pessimistic, but I tried to include at least a bit of surreal humour to lighten the tone:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Editorial Cartoon - Optimism" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – Optimism” By C. A. Brown

2) Choose a fast medium: Since you’ll be making your comic quickly (possibly with relatively little planning time), you need to choose an art medium that you can work in quickly and which can be edited easily.

If you’re more used to making digital art, then this would be perfect. But, since I use a mixture of traditional and digital mediums, my go-to medium for political cartoons is either a black and white drawing (using black watercolour paint to fill in large areas) or a greyscale drawing. This uses a similar set of skills to the ones I use for my daily paintings, albeit without having to worry about things like colour schemes etc..

Since the pictures only include 1-3 colours (eg: black, white and/or grey), then editing them digitally is also significantly quicker and easier than editing full-colour artwork too. Plus, on top of all of this, it also lends the cartoons a certain gravitas too. Even when they’re silly cartoons about silly politicians:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "BORIS Is The New FOREIGN SECRETARY!?!?! WTF?" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “BORIS Is The New FOREIGN SECRETARY!?!?! WTF?” By C. A. Brown

In addition to this, I often use a very similar format/ panel layout to the one that I use when making webcomics. Since I’m used to working in this format, it means that I can crank out a political cartoon more quickly than I could if I had to work out a new panel layout before I started planning the actual cartoon.

3) If you can’t draw the politician: Some politicians are easy to draw, some aren’t. There’s no real logic to this, and it varies from artist to artist. If you’re not sure if yout know how to draw a politician, then you could spend a while looking at photos of them, making studies and trying to work out how to turn those studies into cartoons. But, even this might not help you to draw a politician (former Prime Minister David Cameron was one politician that I just couldn’t seem to draw well).

So, if you don’t know if you know how to draw a politician, but you need to make a cartoon quickly, then find a way to make the cartoon without actually drawing them. There are lots of sneaky ways to do this – you can show other people talking about them, you can show them standing with their back to the audience etc….

But, if it comes down to either not drawing a politician, or drawing them really badly, then don’t draw them.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Why Do The Cartoons In Some British Magazines And Papers Use Simplistic Art ? – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Simple art cartoons in magazines

I’ve probably talked about this subject before, but I thought that I’d take a more detailed look at it today. Even so, I apologise in advance if I end up repeating myself.

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to take a look at a copy of “Private Eye” from May.

If you’ve never heard of “Private Eye” before, it’s a British satirical magazine that includes both articles and large quantities of both political and humourous cartoons. It’s sort of like our version of “Charlie Hebdo”, but it’s more established and somewhat less controversial (although it’s editors have been sued for libel at least a few times).

The interesting thing about a lot of these cartoons is that the art tends to be very much on the minimalist side. They’re often black and white drawings, with minimal detail. So, this made me wonder about why many modern British press cartoons tend to have such simplistic artwork.

Of course, the most obvious reason is because the funniest part of the cartoon isn’t the illustration, but the caption beneath it. As long as the illustration either compliments the caption or provides an amusing counterpoint to it, then the level of artistic detail doesn’t really matter that much. In most cases, it doesn’t really affect how funny the joke is.

Another possible reason for the low level of detail is the fact that these cartoons have to be made within a relatively short space of time to stay topical. When combined with the writing time (and actually thinking of a joke is often the most time-consuming part of making a cartoon, a webcomic update etc…), simple artwork allows the cartoon to be produced quickly in order to meet a deadline.

This can be seen in daily editorial cartoons in many newspapers too. Whilst some newspapers include a roster of cartoonists who each produce 1-3 detailed paintings per week (eg: like in The Guardian), if a newspaper has a cartoonist who makes something every day, then the detail level will be significantly lower. A good example of this is the small single-panel B&W “Matt” cartoons that are published in The Telegraph.

This is hardly a new thing in cartooning – many American three-panel syndicated newspaper cartoons (eg: Dilbert, Garfield etc..) often use very simple B&W artwork for time reasons. Likewise, when I was looking through some old books in a forgotten corner of one of my bookshelves, I stumbled across a couple of second-hand books of British political cartoons from the early-mid 1990s. The artwork in virtually all of these cartoons also consists of relatively simple line art. So, it really isn’t a new development.

One possible reason for this could be to do with the history of printing technology. Although modern printing technology is quite advanced (and even some of the simple cartoons in modern editions of “Private Eye” occasionally feature greyscale shading and/or limited colour), this wasn’t always the case. Simple black and white cartoons were historically a lot easier and cheaper to print than more detailed colour artwork was. As such, this old practical tradition probably still has an effect on some modern cartoonists (who were inspired by these older cartoons).

There are probably also stylistic reasons why many modern British print cartoons have simple artwork. One is that, by definition, these cartoons are anti-establishment. As such, rougher and more unpolished artwork gives these cartoons more of a “punk” kind of look. They look like something that someone has drawn quickly because they want to make a point, rather than a more polished work of art that is designed to be visually pleasing.

There’s also the fact that these are serious cartoons that are aimed at adults. Whilst mainstream American superhero comics have gone down the route of including more realistic and/or detailed artwork, British press cartoons have tried to set themselves apart from this by placing less emphasis on the art and more emphasis on the ideas. They aren’t designed to be flashy, they’re designed to be funny and/or to make a point.

In addition to this, the simplistic art is also a sign of creative freedom too. After all, unlike some traditional comics that have a “house style”, all of the simple cartoons in “Private Eye” have their own unique art style. Even though the art is fairly simple, you can easily tell the artists apart from each other by the details of their art style.

So, yes, these are some of the possible reasons why British press cartoons often use fairly simplistic artwork.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

The Mystique Of The Cartoonist – A Ramble

2016 Artwork The Mystique Of The Cartoonist

Before I started making my next webcomic mini series (that will appear here near the end of the month – you can check out the previous one here), one of the things that helped me to get motivated to make it was reading about expert professional cartoonists online.

During this research, I learnt that the creator of “Calvin And Hobbes” (another amazing comic from my childhood that I’d completely forgotten about) avoids publicity like the plague, with only a few text interviews with him existing on the internet.

As well as being an uncanny glimpse into an unlikely possible future where my own occasional comics somehow become famous, this also made me think about what I like to call “the mystique of the cartoonist”.

Even with cartoonists who regularly interact with the media, cartooning is still something of a private and mysterious activity. Every cartoonist has their own slightly different sense of humour, every cartoonist has their own unique art style and every cartoonist has their own vaguely realistic fictional “universe”. Not to mention that the most important thing that a cartoonist does is often done in private.

Even though I make webcomics occasionally (and cartoonish paintings on a regular basis), whenever I hear a part of an interview with a cartoonist and they say something vague like “… and then it takes me a couple of hours to do the art“, it instantly conjures up mental imagery of some kind intriguingly mysterious secret ritual. Of an expert craftsperson using their magical techniques in secret.

Of course, making comics and cartoons isn’t really anything magical or mysterious. After you’ve planned out your comic, you sit down with a pen, pencil and eraser and you spend 1-2 hours drawing pictures and writing text. After this, you might add paint to the cartoon and/or edit a scanned copy of it on a computer.

If you’ve done this regularly for any period of time, you’ll know that it can sometimes be one of the most mundane and unglamourous things in the world. In fact, it can even feel a bit like a chore sometimes. If you aren’t careful, then this feeling can affect the quality of your art/ writing. In fact, at it’s absolute worst, it can even temporarily put you off of making comics (this happened to me during 2014).

Of course, it can also be the coolest thing in the world. And, if you’ve had a brilliant idea for a comic – then the feeling of satisfaction when you look at your finished comic can be one of the best things in the world. Seeing your awesome idea turned into an actual physical thing (that other people will want to look at) is a feeling that is impossible to describe fully.

So, in a way, I guess that “the mystique of the cartoonist” is more for the benefit of other cartoonists than for people who don’t make cartoons.

When we see famous professional cartoonists talk mysteriously about their work, it makes us feel better about our own cartoons. That is, of course, provided that you don’t make the foolish mistake of being jealous of those cartoonists.

This mistake usually happens when you don’t see yourself as a “real” cartoonist. The only qualifier for whether someone is a “real” cartoonist is whether they make cartoons or not. If you make cartoons, you are a cartoonist – you may not be a professional and you may not be famous, but you are still a cartoonist.

Hearing famous cartoonists talk mysteriously can also secretly make us wonder if this is how other people see our own cartoons. They probably don’t, but as a way to get motivated and to remind ourselves that what we’re doing is meaningful (if a comic makes someone laugh, think, feel an emotion or think “I can do better! In fact, I will!”, then it’s meaningful), there’s nothing better!

So, yes, making comics can be both a mundane and a magical experience at the same time. The mystery that often surrounds making cartoons is more for the sake of other cartoonists than for non-cartoonists. It can be a powerful motivational tool and it can be a way to remind yourself that cartooning can be really cool sometimes (even if it feels more like a chore at other times).

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

When Should You Make Political Cartoons? – A Ramble

2016 Artwork When Should You Make Political Cartoons

I know that I talked about cartoons and satire in yesterday’s article, but I had a rather interesting experience a few months ago that I thought I’d revisit briefly because of what it might explain about political cartoons. Or, more accurately, when you should make them.

Although I hardly ever make political cartoons, I suddenly found myself making one earlier this year. I didn’t plan to make a political cartoon that day, but I did.

It was prompted by reading a few news articles earlier this year about the (then) Culture Secretary’s planned changes to the BBC Charter (like this one and this one ). As soon as I realised the full horror of what these proposed changes meant, I suddenly felt compelled to respond with a cynical political cartoon.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Editorial Cartoon - Our 'Culture' Secretary!" By C. A. Brown [1st May 2016]

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – Our ‘Culture’ Secretary!” By C. A. Brown [1st May 2016]

The interesting thing was that I didn’t really set out to make a political cartoon, it just kind of happened. Amidst the emotions that these articles had provoked, a fully-formed idea popped into my mind and, within a couple of hours, I’d made a cynical political cartoon. To say that making this cartoon was a cathartic experience would be an understatement.

This, I think, is when political cartoons are at their absolute best. When you feel like you absolutely have to make a political cartoon, then it’s probably going to come straight from the heart and it’s probably going to have real meaning behind it (or at least it’ll feel like it does).

If making a politcal cartoon genuinely feels, even for a moment, like it’s a way to fight back against some event or possibility that you feel powerless about, then it’s worth making. As paradoxical as it might sound, political cartoons that come from a feeling of powerlessness are often the most powerful types of political cartoons.

If you have an attitude of being reluctant to make political art, then – as counter-intuitive as it might sound– it usually means that you’ll only produce political cartoons when it really matters to you. In other words, you’ll be intensely focused on trying to find a way to get your opinions across as powerfully and effectively as possible, because anything less just wouldn’t be right.

This is when the very best political cartoons are made. In situations where the idea of not making a political cartoon is more strange/frightening/unusual etc.. than actually making a political cartoon is.

There have been a couple of times where I’ve tried to make more “light-hearted” political cartoons, because I thought that they’d be funny or topical. But, because they don’t really have the same level of passion or emotion behind them as my more “angry” political cartoons, the quality is significantly lower as a result. Like with this mediocre cartoon I made about a silly publicity stunt by the Labour party before the 2015 UK general election:

"Ed's New Tablet" By C. A. Brown [4th May 2015]

“Ed’s New Tablet” By C. A. Brown [4th May 2015]

So, ironically, you can sometimes produce better political cartoons by not making them regularly. Unless, of course, you plan on becoming a professional political cartoonist (in which case, practice, practice and practice some more).

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Sorry for the ridiculously short article, but I hope that it was useful πŸ™‚

Why Cartoons Are Perfect For Satire – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Cartoon and satire article sketch

Although this is an article about why cartoons and comics are one of the best mediums for political satire, I’m going to have to start by talking about a TV show for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

The night before I wrote this article, I was reminded of a TV show that I used to watch regularly when I was a teenager, but had almost forgotten about. I am, of course, talking about “2DTV“. If you’ve never heard of this TV show before, it was an animated political/social satire show that was shown on ITV in the early-mid ’00s.

One of the things that really set this show apart was the fact that it is probably the only animated political satire TV series that I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of show which could very easily be turned into a comic or a series of political cartoons, without losing too much of the humour (although some of the voice-acting is hilarious). As such, it made me think about why cartoons, comics, 2D animations etc… are the perfect medium for political satire.

First of all, one of the great things about cartoons is that literally anything can happen in them. As long as the artist is skilled enough to draw it, then it can happen. Because of this, satirical cartoons can easily take things to the kinds of exaggerated extremes that other visual mediums (eg: films, computer games etc..) may have trouble doing.

For example, in “2DTV” one of the sketches is about George W. Bush (who always acts like an overgrown toddler in the show) turning the White House into a giant bouncy castle because he believes that this will protect it from terrorists. He then bounces around the Oval Office (much to the chagrin of his military advisor), before becoming bored and deciding to pass the time with a fun game of darts – with predictable results….

If this hilariously surreal scene was to be re-created on film with live actors then, even with modern CGI technology, it wouldn’t be an easy or a cheap thing to do. However, since it’s a cartoon, it requires about the same amount of effort and money to produce as any other part of the show. The same would be true if it was a comic strip, rather than an animated cartoon.

Another great thing about cartoons and comics is that they allow artists to play with the very fabric of reality itself. Since the artist and/or writer is in total control of what appears in a particular cartoon, they can depict reality in any way they want. This can be best seen in political cartoons, where the politicians are often drawn as exaggerated caricatures rather than in a realistic way.

This means that the artists can say much more about the politicians than a written description or a stand-up comedy performance ever could. For example, during his tenure as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith was sometimes portrayed as a vampire in editorial cartoons. Not only is this funny because he bears a very slight resemblance to Nosferatu, but it was also a clever way of commenting on his attitude towards poor and/or disabled people (which could probably be described as “cruel” or “heartless”, if I’m being polite).

Yet another reason why cartoons and comics are the perfect medium for satire lies in the fact that they don’t look realistic. Because a cartoon is obviously a cartoon, the people making cartoons can sometimes get away with more than satirists working in other mediums can. After all, it’s” just a cartoon”. By lessening the “realism” of the message via unrealistic artwork, cartoonists can sometimes say things that the average stand-up comedian might think twice about.

Finally, cartoons are a fairly democratic and attention-grabbing form of satire. Regardless of your level of artistic skill, if you’ve got a good idea for a political cartoon, then all you need to make it is a pen, pencil and piece of paper (or a computer). Even if the art isn’t that great, your cartoon may still make people laugh or think for the simple reason that it’s a cartoon and the dialogue in it is funny/ thought provoking.

Cartoons and comics are attention-grabbing for the simple reason that they combine both pictures and words in an interesting way. Since most cartoons are dominated by pictures, they grab the audience’s attention quickly. Since most cartoons contain a relatively small amount of writing, they’re quick to read too. So, they have much more of an impact than – say – a satirical newspaper or blog article might do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

The Joy Of… Old Newspaper Cartoons

2016 Artwork The Joy Of Old Cartoons

A couple of days before I wrote this article, I was looking through some old books of “Giles” cartoons from the 1960s and 70s (which also contained earlier cartoons from the 1950s too). This was an absolutely fascinating experience and it kind of made me think about the whole subject of old newspaper cartoons.

If you’ve never heard of “Giles” before, he was a famous newspaper cartoonist in 1940s-90s Britain (here’s a hilarious old 1940s British PathΓ© newsreel of him at work).

Although few of his cartoons were published in newspapers during my lifetime (although, when looking online, I managed to find the cartoon that was published on my original birthday), there are countless collections of his cartoons out there. Along with cartoonists like Low, he’s probably one of this country’s more famous 20th century editorial cartoonists.

The interesting thing about “Giles” cartoons is that they show a world that is both familiar and totally alien to me. They have a brilliantly cynical sense of humour and there’s a lot of stuff in there that seems very apt and instantly recognisable, but they’re set in a slightly different and older version of this country.

They’re set during the many strikes of the 1970s, they’re set in the world of the “Carry On” films, they’re set during the postwar austerity of the 1950s, they’re set during the swinging sixties, they have a simultaneously deferential and rebellious attitude towards authority etc… Although these “Giles” cartoons often focus on mundane everyday life, they almost always included topical issues from the time that they were published.

In other words, these “silly” and “disposable” daily newspaper cartoons showed me more about mid-late 20th century history than a lot of actual history articles and history books probably would.

Why? Because they show a stylised (and mildly exaggerated) version of what everyday life was like back then. They show what kinds of issues were in the news back then. They show public attitudes back then. In addition to all of this, all of this historical information is filtered through the mind of just one cartoonist – which adds to the sense of historical immersion.

You get to see the past through the imagination of just one person who was alive then, with all of their opinions and strange and amusing quirks (eg: for some reason, Giles seemed to have an absolute hatred of pipe smoke. As soon as someone in his cartoons actually lights a pipe, it often belches out vast conspicuous plumes of ink-black smoke that blot out large parts of the cartoon).

This reminded me a lot of another fascinating book (which I actually own two copies of, for some bizarre reason) called “The Cartoon Century” (Ed. Timothy S. Benson). This is a book that collects British editorial cartoons from every year of the 20th century and it is absolutely fascinating. Although this book explains the historical context of a lot of the cartoons, it’s fascinating to see the popular humour of decades past.

Likewise, another newspaper cartoon series that is absolutely fascinating from a historical perspective are Peattie & Taylor’s “Alex” cartoons. Although this is still a current cartoon series, it’s been going for quite a while and I’ve got a few old second-hand books of these cartoons from the 1980s and 90s (as well as some from the ’00s).

These are timelessly-hilarious cartoons about the life of an unscrupulous businessman called Alex and, yet, you can see the gradual passage of history in these comics. Over time, the characters get slightly older. Over time, the background details change slightly. The topics of conversation change, the jokes change etc…

Of course, this might just be a British thing or possibly a European thing. The few classic American newspaper cartoons that I’ve seen seem to be frozen in an almost timeless state. For example, in Jim Davis’ “Garfield” cartoons, everything seems to take place in some bizarrely frozen version of 1970s/80s suburbia. Likewise, in Scott Adams’ “Dilbert” cartoons I’ve seen, they also often seem to take place very slightly outside the space-time continuum (with the possible exception of changing computer designs in the background).

Still, as historical documents go, old newspaper cartoons are – by far – one of the most fascinating types.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚