FlameDragon poses this question:

One person on gamefaqs a while ago criticized my drawing as not having much life in it, and I found this to be an intriguing critique. How does one make their drawing have "character" and feel alive? I know mine aren't since I was just drawing from photographs but what about in general? And what would I be able to do to get my drawings to have life?

Kev Ferrera provides his point of view:

Photographs capture the surface of things for one static moment. Art captures the artist and life force.

Art exists by itself. You must invest dramatic spirit into your work. You cannot get this from a photograph because a photograph was "drawn" by mechanical means. You must feel emotional as you do art. You can be technical too, but never coldly technical.

Try to get imbalance and tension in your work. Design the smallest items to the figures to the composition as a whole to have dynamic angles, lightning bolt shapes, spirals/helixes, stepping stairs, teetering shapes... have your figures caught in the act of moving, in between one movement and another (thus off balance), have torsional twist not just to the hips, but to every limb, the wrist the neck the shoulders the jaw, etc. Of course the torsional twist does not have to be a violent twist, it can be subtle... but investing your forms with torsional twist at all, will give it life, even in poses that would normally be static.

Think of everything as silhouettes. And think of silhouettes as black ghosts in a disney film. Think how much expression, without words, a black ghost shape can have. Then apply that to every aspect of your art, from the stroke of your brush, to the largest compositional shapes in your pictures.

Give everything character. Don't just render something so it looks like what its supposed to look like. Make everything personal. And your work will become personal. And this will automatically bring life to your work.

Seedling says:

Saying that a drawing "lacks life" is a lousy critique on its own. A helpful critique will tell you something concrete enough that you can actually do something about it without consulting a mystic. Some examples of better critiques would be, “this drawing lacks life because the interesting patterns created by the silhouette of the potted plant are lost against the patterned background” or “this drawing lacks life because the figure is in a stiff frontal pose that doesn’t tell the story as well as it could if he were turning at the waist and reaching dramatically for the McGuffin”.

Yoshitaka Amano, no reason his art is here

Creatix says:

Experience life first. This goes well beyond the idea of "draw from life". Sure, if you can sit in front of live nude models and bring a sketchbook to a park and sketch all you see that works but experiencing it is getting out there and really paying attention. Even if you don't have your sketchbook with you, just observe - constantly. Go to a club, a bar, a restaurant. Sit at a coffee shop. Walk around a mall. Go to places you don't normally go but where you still feel comfortable. Go to a Pet store and watch peoples reactions to the animals. Watch kids at play in a Chuck E Cheese. Hang around some old folks playing chess in a park.

I have to believe that the small details and nuances of life as it goes by is rewarded at some point in your work. Just as people say the key to great communication is to shut up and just listen, sometimes you just want to stop doing and start watching. To watch though you have to be there. Don't sit in front of the tv or at a video game all the time. Don't just look at people in cool photos sitting along the beach. Drive to one and experience it. When you start drawing you will remember those little experiences and they will show in your work.

As far as technical stuff goes, maybe focus on the hands and eyes. Hands show great emotion and are often neglected because they are difficult to nail down. Eyes show great emotion. If you draw something, think of the function behind it. Make it feel lived in and there for a purpose. Sure a gas mask is really cool but does his outfit reflect that? Does he have the marks of some chemical burn? Does his costume show his world is post-apocalyptic? A dude with a huge metal plate over his mouth might look cool and gritty but think about how he would eat? That might lead into other design choices (maybe tubes to absorb materials, etc.). Overall, it will make the piece feel more "real".

Okay, I just added these pretty photos because I like looking at
pretty things when I read long paragraphs.

Check out Pixar movies and their behind the scenes stuff where they talk about why they made the choices they made. They do a fabulous job of giving life and emotion into everything - fish, robots, cars, whatever.

Kev Ferrera again:

I would suggest drawing from life a lot. And from your imagination a lot.

Copying over Bridgman's anatomy books will be a great help in the latter.

Maybe experiment and try out some styles of highly varied but all "alive" artists. Like Ralph Steadman, J.C. Leyendecker , Frazetta, Mignola, Djurjevic, Sienkiewicz, NC Wyeth, Fechin, etc.

You can always go back to photography once you find out what kind of things truly interest you visually.


This is not to say that one can't make fantastic drawings and paintings using photo reference. But the fantastic-ness would stem from the artist, not the photo.
To just copy a photo would not bring "the life" that FlameDragon means. (Assuming I have understood him correctly). Life is manifested in art by the will of the artist. If the will is to craft a duplicate of a photograph, the consideration of the artwork as a manifestation of personal force is bound to be neglected.

Chris Benett finally says:

Take a look at some good cartoons of famous people. Absolutely full of life and certainly using reference material but taking huge liberties with where things are that do not relate to the proportions on the ref material at all. When people ask me how I get likeness it is all to do with sensing the internal rythms of the structure - if you get that working then the thing will look right no matter how odd the proportions are. Have a look at Modigliani, El Greco, Giacometti, - stuffs all over the place yet feels 'right' and alive. Nearer to home, look at some of the character designs on here - nobody has the proportions and physiques of these things yet some of them are marvelously alive and 'true'. Look at the characters on 'The Incredibles' - proportions all over the place yet utterly convincing even in the static publicity stuff.

This is even going on in a Rembrandt or a John Jude Palencar, exactly the same principle, only it is a quieter version of it.

Some artists referenced by Kev Ferrera in his posts:

Bill Sienkiewicz, comic artist

At first, Bill Sienkiewicz was an exponent of superhero-comic artists. Then he went deeper into comics. Together with writer Alan Moore, he created 'Big Numbers'. The acclaimed mini-series 'Stray Toasters' he did alone, and it became a big success (re-released by Graphitti Designs). With Frank Miller, he created 'Elektra Assassin', another successful series for which he received the prestigious Yellow Kid Award and the Kirby Award. He also produced the acclaimed artwork for the painted biography, 'Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix', published by Viking Penguin.

Bill Sienkiewicz has won many awards, received two Emmy nominations, worked on many successful films, has exhibited all over the world, and has had a major impact on the field of comic books. His latest solo work, 'A River In Egypt', is published by Oni Press. (Lambeik, 2007)

N.C. Wyeth

Newell Convers Wyeth (October 22, 1882October 19, 1945), known as N.C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator. Born in Needham, Massachusetts, he was the star pupil of Howard Pyle and became one of America's greatest illustrators. (Wikipedia, 2007)

Mike Yamada's Silhouette Tip

Everyone has their own way of using this technique to problem solve and to resolve their design. I cannot speak for them, but I can explain my approach to this technique as a design exercise/step. Let me first say that I was trained in industrial design and I first used this way of working to deal with my shortcomings with drawing the figure. By eliminating the constructing of the figure and all the little bits involved in that, it allowed me to focus my attention mostly on the design of the silhouette and to break that down into simple components - gesture, shape vocab, massing, etc. I also found by working in this method, you could work back in with white (either photoshop or real paint) to expand the same shape vocab to interior of the silhouette.

I think one of the most important things to have in mind when using this method of working is to have a distinct purpose in mind when starting your silhouette which can be accomplished by asking youself a series of questions - what proportion is it? is it angular? is it round? is it top heavy? is it bottom heavy? etc. You can also taking this exercise further and add additional values, 1 or 2. This process works extremely well with hard surfaced objects. One thing to consider is to keep what you are designing in a draft view. If you introduce perspective/foreshortening, your brain feels the need to describe form rather than focus on the design of shapes.

Extremely helpful silhouette art tutorial. Check this for a better look.


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