TBT: Photo Referencing, and How Not to Do It

It’s that time of the week again, when we do a “Throwback Thursday” post. Today, I want to reflect on old unfinished cartoon, which I will rename Grandpa Tells a Story*.

Grandpa Tells a Story

Let me start with saying I still think the conceit of this cartoon’s conceptualization is still a sound one: The senile grandfather, with a crown on his head, his Monty Python-esque eyes piercing his scared to death grandson, preaching, dictating, moralizing. But visually, it all feels off. I know now what is wrong with the way it looks, but back then I couldn’t really put a finger on it, and I had nobody telling me the posing of the characters and the sense of perspective just plain suck.

Nowadays I tend to draw from the imagination, with little reference material. But back then I heavily relied on photo references to create my drawings, to the point where some characters look “Frankensteined” together in a non-sensical way. See, for example, above, the grandfather’s right hand. Perspective-wise, it doesn’t match up with the overall pose of the figure. And that’s the first reason why you should never over-rely on photo reference or… well, at least take heed not to do a single figure drawing based on multiple photo references.

The second reason is because photo poses don’t always make good art poses, especially not cartoon poses. This is because when we draw, we want our character figures to have a strong silhouette so the audience can cleary read their shape and action. When dealing with cartoons, this becomes all the more important since — well — you’re already dealing with simple, cartoony designs. So as a cartoonist, you really have to exaggerate their gestures and postures as much as possible. Now if we look back again at the cartoon above, we can all see photo posing at work here, one-on-one translated in a drawing, presenting us a boring, flat silhouette at best and, at worst, an unreadable mass.

So, kids, now you know, and knowing is half the battle of doing better figure drawings.
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*) The original title was (is) a bit too racy to be repeated here.

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