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Seeing what you believe, see?
posted: September 7, 2007
I started this as a doodle while I was on the phone. When I began, the proportions where "correct", but I didn't see Sean Penn in there, just his likeness.
After a drawing version of "Fight Club" ensued I finally whipped him into shape. ...
For a long time now I’ve wondered why I tend towards exaggeration. It’s not an intentional thing, but more a reflexive impulse to underline and emphasize the way I see things.

I’ve tried drawing over projected images a la Norman Rockwell (I used to call this “tracing”, but there’s more to it than that.)
I’ve tried grid drawing, and the drawing on the right side of the brain thing. To me, things never look quite right until I’ve thrown some elbows and pushed the subject around a bit until I get things my way.

I think I actually see in exaggeration. People look like this to me.

Lou Brooks put it best over on Zina Saunders great portrait of Joe Newton –“Same uncanny quality as the great comic book masters. By that I mean, if you begin to deconstruct their drawings, you can easily feel that it's drawn all wrong -- but really, it's oh so right! And moving anything in the drawing around causes it to start to collapse, because it is not a literal interpretation at all, but some weird delightful thing in the wiring between their eye and hand. They just see things incorrectly -- which is really 100% correct.

Jules Pfeiffer said something or other once (boy, do I gotta paraphrase here) about artists being able to paint the sky red because they already know it's blue... and them there NORMAL people GOTTA paint it blue, because otherwise, everybody will think they're stupid.”

I’ve been enjoying just plain drawing lately, and there are times when I’d love to say to an art director that we shouldn’t go past the sketch phase, because it won’t get any better, it’ll just be more “finished”.
19 comments
Peter Hermann September 7, 2007
Amen Dale. great drawing.
Stephen Kroninger September 7, 2007
That Feiffer line's a good one. I may have to use it in my lectures and workshops. Keep doodlin', Dale. Did a quick search and found Feiffer's quote "Artists can color the sky red because they know it's blue. Those of us who aren't artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we're stupid." I like Lou's twist on it.
Scott Bakal September 7, 2007
Hey Dale: Well, isn't it true that 'all artists draw themselves'? Nice drawing man!
Tim O\'Brien September 7, 2007
I guess the answer Dale is to put these sketch drawings out in a portfolio; perhaps on Illoz, and see if they gets some nibbles. I bet they would.
Daniel Zalkus September 7, 2007
I think when a work of art isn't perfect but still "feels" right it shows the artists hand. That they were actively involved in making it, which ends up showing in the final product. Egon Schiele is a good example. Many of his figure drawings, if you look closely, don't have pefect proportions but they feel right. To me they have more life to them than if he traced or tried his best to make it as real as possible.
laura t. September 7, 2007
we ain't no stinkin' cameras ;) i like the sky quote... although i am pretty consistently a blue sky person. i always go to change it, but i just can't seem to do it. plus, sky blue is just so pretty <3
Zina Saunders September 7, 2007
Cool Penn, you really captured his weaselly glare. Lou Brooks and everyone he quotes is a genius.
Stephen Kroninger September 7, 2007
Laura, the difference is that you have the option to color the sky blue or red.
David Flaherty September 7, 2007
Classic Characture 101: Find the most obvious physical feature and expand upon it. I guess I never thought of Sean Penn having a big nose, but then I never have drawn him or studied him too much either!
Rob Dunlavey September 8, 2007
Dale, this is a fascinating post. I suspected your drawing was inspired by Sean Penn; more from the shape of the head than the nose. Exaggeration: in illustration, we need to create something that arrests the viewer's attention as quickly as possible. We exaggerate elements, we create memorable silhouettes, we prioritize the details. It has to be "graphic". These graphic silhouettes arrayed on the page in a comic book assume an almost typographic quality. Rhythm and spacing keep the viewer engaged. Artists who demonstrate this fact are many. Daumier, Rackham, Hokusai, and yes, Schiele are warhorses (personal favorites) that come to mind. And don't forget Mort Drucker! I'll just throw this idea out there: exaggeration as a formula unto itself, becomes tedious and limiting. Illustrators are almost expected to default to the same type of exaggeration consistently. I imagine that they are more engaged in other pursuits (golf, a stock portfolio, raising kids). In solo celebrity caricatures it's fine but if everything in an illustrator's portfolio has a big nose, it's just weird and self-defeating. Like using the same Photoshop filters over and over. Laura, in some respects, being a "camera" is not so horrible. We can't help putting our personal interpretation on what we're seeing. No need to exaggerate it. Just the fact of publishing (making available to the public) becomes a statement about the artist as much as it is about the thing which is depicted. Michael Brewster, one of my sculpture professors at Claremont was of the opinion that Art was not "about" anything. Art just "is". But I digress.
Graham McArthur September 8, 2007
A fantastic post. Thanks for sharing.
Leo Espinosa September 8, 2007
Great drawing Dale. imperfectly perfect! I had a hard time when I first started using Illustrator to do my work because the program is so precise that I started to change my "imperfect" strokes into vectorized lines that stole the soul from the drawing. Things become very Lego-like and that affected the kind of assignments I was getting (a lot of scientific, technical or business related stuff that was insanely boring and repetitive). Just recently I started to feel more comfortable letting the drawing show through again, but it has not been an easy process. My new assignments are way more fun.
Tim O\'Brien September 8, 2007
I appreciate Rob Dunlavey's words here. Kudos!
Dale Stephanos September 8, 2007
Great points all around, and thanks for making them. Rob, as usual, got to the heart of the matter in that when something becomes formulaic, the viewer's b.s. meter starts to go off. That should also be when the creator's (small c) does the same. I think that's one reason that I find myself shooting in a few directions at times. What can be mistaken for flailing around and grasping at possible commercial opportunties is really more a case of trying to shed an old skin and grow a new one. It ain't always pretty or quick, but at least it's growth. I guess the key is to stay in business while you're at it.
Rob Dunlavey September 9, 2007
Amen to that Dale. I might repeat myself and even quote myself, but I vow not to COPY myself!
John Dykes September 9, 2007
Nice piece, Dale.... Let it flow! I like the fact that you started this while 'doing' something else - and letting your creative side flow. And whatever your particular inspiration was - it seems effective exaggeration builds through the drawing process. A mark is made, a nose is drawn, then successive marks and features are drawn in relationship to previous details that somehow 'work' with those previous ones, and also as a whole. Agree with Tim... Post 'em!
Mike Moran September 10, 2007
Makes me wonder how things would have turned out if Dickie Betts read this post before he wrote Blue Sky. Nice drawing and post.
Peter Cusack September 10, 2007
Boy this guy has changed over the years. This is such a beautiful drawing. I love the collar and tie too. His look is so intense. Your comments on your drawing process are great. Thinking about this drawing, I'm going to try a few likenesses.
Brad October 26, 2007
First, I'd like to say that Rob's post is nail on head. It's something every artist should consider daily. There's a strange partnership between being an artist and being a professional. It's very easy sometimes to fall into professional mode and do what people want, use the same formula over and over. BUT, this totally goes against the definition of artist - the explorer, the creative, passionate, individual. Where's the balance? Always keep in mind what got you to the point of being professional - your ARTIST. Never forget to include him and listen to him when he gets frustrated. Okay, about the piece... and the reason why I had to mention that above. In all my years of drawing, instructors and college courses, the most resounding and significant input from people their intrigue into the "real." Like there was some sort of merit attached to being able to draw something photorealistic. Making it appear "perfect." I was actually quite good at this, but I didn't totally understand until later (what two of my most insightful teachers said over and over again) that the most important work that you do as an artist is the stuff that has a mark on it. There's a difference between what looks real and what IS real. The mark on the paper says a lot more than the proficiency with which you capture the photographic qualities of the subject. Your marks can add more power, emotion and influence. I like this piece because it is "raw" when compared to your other "finished" work. It talks about the process, the subject and the influences behind all of it - much more than some of the others do. Consider what makes your work real. You don't have to cover it up to be professional. B
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