Be Like a Sponge! Observations on Animation & Sketching

The following in an excerpt from the brilliant 800-page, two-volume book Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes, written by Walt Stanchfield and edited by Don Hahn. (Focal Press, $29.95 each):

Animation! This is your main concern’this is the vehicle in which you have chosen to express yourself. A whole list of ‘tools’ are required: drawing, timing, phasing, action, acting, pantomime, staging, imagination, observation, interpretation, logic, caricature, creativity, clarity, empathy, etc.’a mind-boggling array of prerequisites. Rest at ease. You were born with all of them, Some of them may need a little sharpening, others may need to be awakened from a deep sleep, but they are as much a part of you as arms, legs, eyes, kidneys, hemoglobin, speech, etc. Reading and observing are two emancipators of the dormant areas of the mind. Read the classics, biographies, humor, mysteries and comic books. Observe, observe, observe. Be like a sponge’suck up everything you can lay your eyes on.

Carry a sketchbook’a cheap one so you won’t worry about wasting a page. Sketch in the underground, while watching television, in pubs, at horse shows. Draw constantly. Interest in life will grow. Ability to solve drawing problems will be sharpened. Creative juices will surge. Healing fluids will flow throughout your body. An eagerness for life and experience and growth will crowd out all feelings of ennui and disinterest. If you go on a trip, whether long or short, let your sketchbook take preference over your camera. You’ll find yourself looking and seeing more than ever before. You will find yourself searching for new things to see, new places to visit, and more varieties of people to ‘capture’ in your sketchbook’your ever-growing sketchbook. It will become your diary. Think of it as a graphic autobiography. A unique account of your personal observations of your all-too- brief journey on this planet.

Where are you going to get all this energy, you ask? Realize that the human body is like a dynamo’it’s an energy-producing machine. The more you use up its energy, the more it produces. A work-related pastime like sketching is a positive activity. It is an activation. Inactivity, especially in your chosen field, is a negative. Negativity is heavy, cumbersome, debilitating, unproductive and totally to be avoided. Take a positive step today. Buy a sketchbook and a pen (more permanent than pencil) and make a little rectangle on the page and fill it with a simple composition. Identify it and/or date it and feel good about it. Do not think or speak negatively about it. If it is not as satisfying a start as you would have liked, do not be critical’it is where you are’face it. Just turn the page and start another. All those faculties that are required to make a more satisfying sketch are being awakened’even now’as you search for a new subject and begin to sketch. No one else in the universe would have drawn it quite like you. If you think you would like to do better, make another and another, and another. Keep the first ones. Watch the growth of both your facility and your interest. Put an end to limiting yourself by drawing nothing but torsos in a life drawing class (do I exaggerate?) activate the potential crannies of the mind.

There is a law in the Christian religion that says (I paraphrase) if you can believe, so shall it come to pass. You can break a civil law but you cannot break a spiritual law. You have to be careful of your thoughts. Once you start one of the spiritual or mental laws working, all sorts of things begin happening behind the scenes to implement its fulfillment. So if you want to be able to draw well, start a sketchbook and get a good law working for you.

On Simplicity for the Sake of Clarity

Any of you who have studied Zen will be familiar with the practice of seeing everything anew constantly. You don’t dig up the past and use it to make judgments on the present’everything is new, there is only now, this moment, so each moment has that first impression newness. Applied to drawing each moment reveals the pose as if you had just seen it for the first time. Every stroke you make with the pencil is like a knife-edge that carves out the pose as if it were the first time you ever saw it. That is the reason we should learn to get that first impression down right away’while it’s fresh, while it’s still in the first impression stage’before it starts to fade.

The reason I keep harping on ‘forget the detail’ for this particular type of study is that the detail doesn’t buy you anything at this stage of the drawing. Doodling with detail will cause you to lose that first impression. The time to study bone structure and muscles is in anatomy class or at home with a good book on anatomy. In an action analysis class a rough circle is all you need to locate and suggest a knee or an elbow or a wrist. Two lines is all you need to locate and suggest the various parts of the arms and legs’preferably one of them straight and the other curved. The straight one is used on the stretch side and the curved one used on the squash side.

When I say locate and suggest, that is exactly what and all you need. What you are drawing is a pose, not parts. The simplest kind of suggestion is the surest way to a good drawing ‘ Keep it simple and expressive.