Around four years ago (wow, has it been that long?) I started working on a graphic novel. The pictures were rudimentary at best, the characters all drawn as stick figures with different hats. For someone who had not a single artistic bone in his body, I’d say it came out rather well. But it definitely wasn’t good enough. There was a scrappyness that was missing – a dynamic sense of movement and of, well, artistic knowhow that I simply didn’t possess. Basic anatomy was a complete mystery.
It was frustrating as all hell. I knew I had a good script, but matching that artwork up to the standards that I had just wasn’t happening. It wasn’t until my buddy, Mark Luetke, turned me on to an Ira Glass quote. In it, Glass speaks about Taste versus Ability and that, because our taste is so refined, what we create as beginners won’t live up to what we consider to be publishable or “good.” And it won’t be until we’ve assembled an enormous body of work that our own creations will begin to reach that sense of “this is good.”
It made sense to me. I knew I had the potential to make good art. Hell, the scribbles I was jotting down, page after page, were example enough that I could make that good art. That I had the capacity to push towards an artistic style that would fit my story. I just had to keep doing it. To not stop, as Ira Glass says, when I hit that gap and find only disappointment (which was precisely where I was standing). So, about one year ago, I said to hell with it. I’m going to get good at art. Then came the trickier question:
Where do I start?
I asked around and almost unanimously was pointed in the direction of a fellow named Andrew Loomis, who, back in the 70’s, wrote a series of books that covered everything a growing artist needed to know – from proportions to vanishing lines to perspective! I was ecstatic. Where do I get the Loomis books, I asked. Again, Mark Luetke pointed me in the direction I needed:
A good Samaritan named Alex Hays has apparently taken pity on the cash strapped artists of the world and hosts a few of Loomis’ expensive (and vanishing) books on his website for free! As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to learning the utter basics, Loomis is the man. Sure, some of his tutorials might be a little…racially insensitive. But the 70’s were a strange time and should offense take hold, there are plenty of unoffensive exercises to utilize.
From drawing circles to understanding the proportions of the anatomy and the lines that make up the human form, Loomis covers every aspect of artistic construction in incredibly easy-to-follow steps. Many of his exercises are as simple as “Draw a triangle. Now connect it to this triangle. Now you have a human torso on which we will now sculpt the muscles.” In many ways, Loomis (for me at least) is like the Bob Ross of human composition. The ease with which he teaches how to curve legs and shoulders is reminiscent of the soothing simplicity of Ross’s “painting clouds” videos.
The best part about Loomis (and learning about art in general!) is that I’m able to take what I learn from these old books and apply that knowledge to different styles I see all over the internet and in the comics I read. If you check out my Instagram feed or my Tumblr page, everything I draw on there is a mimicry of some artist I see posting their own work online, yet with my own personal touches that I cultivated from practicing with Loomis’s techniques. Even though much of what I draw is far from what I’d consider “good,” I can still look at it and not feel that biting disappointment any more. In those drawings I see progress. And with each picture I sketch, I’m slowly filling that damn gap.