Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

I suppose I used to be the same way, but now it really bothers me when people react so indignantly towards people who regard their anime-styled art negatively. I don’t think the debate should really be centered around creativity though. Creativity is too subjective of an adjective and just inherently not worth the grief that a debate on its definition or application would cause. It isn’t about anime having just one distinct style that people copy because I’ll be the first to agree that there are hundreds of completely different styles within anime and manga and that it isn’t just defined by big eyes, little noses, and weird hair. It isn’t even just anime, but any pre-existing style, be it that Western superhero look, the Disney style, or the Jhonen Vasquez style.

Art by CLAMP

Instead, I think the issue should be more about how so many people use these styles as a crutch and how and why it hinders their development as artists. If you’re only drawing as an unimportant hobby, and if you have no real desire to improve, then I guess it doesn’t really matter. But if drawing means something to you, and if you really want to get better, then it’s really imperative that you work on the fundamentals: it’s imperative that you draw real things, that you draw what you actually see.

Most professionals are able to draw in a realistic manner, regardless of what their actual commercial work is like. Mickey Mouse doesn’t really look anything like a mouse, but I’m sure Walt Disney drew plenty of real mice in his sketchbooks. Sometimes, I’m really not sure what the hell CLAMP is thinking in terms of anatomy, but I’d like to think that they are actually perfectly capable of drawing realistic humans and that their anatomical exaggerations are done completely on purpose. Honestly, I think it’s embarrassing otherwise. Take Rob Liefeld for example; the man is notoriously inept at rendering believable anatomy, especially in women, and even though his style sold comic books in the 90’s, there has been rampant criticism of his obvious weaknesses. I get the feeling this is because all he did growing up was copy comic books without understanding any of the hows and whys; thus, because he never studied real anatomy or real people, everything he draws is wildly off. The sad thing is that he still doesn’t seem to have realized this, and much of his recent work is still filled with inconsistent flaws.

Art by Rob LiefeldIt’s fine if you start off copying anime you like, styles you like. My first foray into drawing humans was basically copying and fanarting Sailor Moon (before that, I mostly drew animals). Ridiculously long legs and big eyes galore! I got more “serious” about drawing humans when I got into Dragonball Z. Hello spikey hair and gigantic muscles! You have to realize after a while though; Akira Toriyama draws eyebrows attached to eyeballs and it’s kind of creepy… and also, half of those muscles probably don’t exist. But I also believe that Toriyama has done drawing studies of real people with real anatomy, and that he could draw a realistic person if he wanted. Drawing off of someone else’s style is okay for a start, but eventually, you need to stop taking their word for it. The world isn’t actually how so and so draws them.

Take a look at the real world. (Highest definition graphics! No lag!) Take a look at real people. Draw it. Draw them. Look at real fingers and real faces and real arms and muscles and body structures. You shouldn’t be able to break the rules without knowing what they are first. You can’t draw a highly-stylized caricature without first knowing what the person actually looks like. It’s easier to make things up when you know how they actually are. You can’t make up convincing folds in imaginary clothing without having first drawn dozens of real folds from observation.

“When I was in college my art teacher yelled at me for drawing anime facial features instead of realistic ones…but I was like sorry I can’t suddenly draw realism when I’ve been drawing anime style for 4 years.”

Quotes like that really strike me. It’s true — you can’t suddenly draw realistically if all you’ve been doing for years after years is focus on someone else’s style. Or even if you’ve cobbled together several other people’s styles and have forged something for yourself out of the chaos, if you don’t understand why you draw things the way you draw them, then you own nothing. Why are arms shaped this way? What are all of the subtle curves and bumps in the contour? If you mimic a style, but don’t understand the underlying structures, it’s hard to fabricate different poses and pictures for which you don’t have a reference. If you don’t understand what’s under the drawing, you can’t do as much on your own — at least not convincingly.

But if you understand realism, then you can make anything out of it. If you know that ears are the same height as the distance from your brow to your nose, you won’t have proportion issues no matter what angle your head is turned to, no matter why style you’re drawing in. If you know that the distance between your eyes is one eye length, you can apply that knowledge to any style and it won’t look weird. If you know that your foot is roughly the same length as the distance between your elbow and your wrist, you can exaggerate accordingly if you want someone to have bigger-than-normal feet or smaller-than normal feet. If you understand the real structure of the face, then you can exaggerate certain portions of it to your desired effect. Bigger eyes and mouths portray more emotion, and smaller noses are a side effect of that. If you don’t know any of these things, and if you’re only drawing based on someone else’s drawing, then what are you going to do when things don’t look right? Will you realize what you’ve done wrong? And if you don’t, how can you improve?

Like I said, if you have no real desire to improve, then that’s your own business, but especially for those that entertain the idea of doing art for a living — drawing your own comic, among other fantasies popular in the community — drawing from life and studying realism is an invaluable fundamental. This is not to discourage you from drawing in a style — I mean, come on, my art is predominantly “anime-styled” — but your stylized drawings look so much better when you actually have a grasp of what’s real. So I can definitely understand why art teachers and professors across the planet are inclined to frown when all you want to draw is anime. It isn’t that anime is uncreative or unoriginal so much as the style becomes a crutch. If you don’t want to draw realism, then you won’t improve.

Art by Kiriska (yeah, that's me, guys)Don’t be so indignant. It’s for your own good. Once you prove you can draw for realz, I’m sure they will have no problem letting you draw your silly animu and mango.

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  1. Emperor J on February 25, 2009 10:05 am

    I think a lot of people get the misconception that they can excel by specializing in just one aspect of their chosen field without regard for fundamentals. Trying to do so as a student at an art college seems especially ridiculous.

    On CLAMP’s style, I have no doubt that they could design characters in a more realistic fashion. However, they have determined that their “trademark” style makes the most economic sense and as long as people keep buying it will stay the same. That same logic also means Rob Liefield can continue to gain work despite an appalling lack of talent.

    So in conclusion there is a terrible feedback loop here. Professionals feel trapped because they obviously need the money a certain style gives them. Fans see this and it reinforces the belief that they can use one style as a crutch. What would break this is someone with a large fan base who works with a realistic style.

  2. Hinano on February 25, 2009 11:09 am

    lmao I've been quoted =P

    In other news you are right. I have no idea what the fack I'm drawing. half of my art looks out of proportion and many a times when I have an idea to draw something, I have no "base" to use as a guide. I sorta just slop it on paper and hope it turns out ok.

    Do i care? not particularly. I went to college for art but then I realized there was no jobs regardless of how much talent you had so I switched to a boring old major with a boring office job – but at least I have a job.

    Art is now my hobby and if what i draw satisfies me, then I don't care how bad it looks. It's good enough to score a few commissions here & there and entertain some friends which is serving its purpose in the first place.

  3. Joe on February 25, 2009 11:33 am

    People just don’t understand Rob Liefield. He’s a mannerist. His art style is just 500 years out of date. He’s attempting a post-modern revolution in style! The line! THE BEAUTIFUL LINE! Nature is flawed- we must invent! Liefield is ahead of his time!


  4. Kiriska on February 25, 2009 12:09 pm

    @Emperor J: I do agree that there’s a Catch 22 going here as far as style, but the funny thing is that there are plenty of comics, especially in mainstream American comics, that use a fairly realistic style. Sure, for superhero titles, there is an abundance of characters were defined musculature, but for the most part, it’s accurate musculature. Older anime from the 80’s and early 90’s were also a lot more realistic.

    But even where the stylization is minimal, readers tend to gravitate towards what little is exaggerated because those are the more obvious parts. I wonder how much it’d really help if there was a series or an artist that featured a more realistic style that got super popular. I almost think that people would just mimic that person’s brand of realism, still without truly understanding. Even if someone drew photorealistically, fans would mimic from individual images which doesn’t necessarily translate into an understanding of the human form. In the end, people really just need to realize that studying from life is the only way to understand.

    @Hinano: I hope you don’t mind the quote. :x But come now, there are obviously jobs in art because there is obviously art being produced. Talent isn’t the only thing though; I think too many artists lack the business sense to properly market themselves. Still, is it infinitely easier to get jobs in other fields? Probably. (And props to you for having a job while the world keeps crying about economic woes.)

    @Joe: I don’t think Rob Liefeld understands Rob Liefeld. =_= Unrelated — the photo on his Wikipedia entry is pretty hilarious.

  5. Omisyth on February 25, 2009 6:19 pm

    Sorry that this might seem completely irrelevant to the artistic focus on the post (I fail at art) but you could say the same thing about writing and/or blogging as well. Without reading some other form of literature, then you’re never going to be able to convey your opinions well/ ANNIHILATE YOUR ENEMIES WITH RHETORIC.

    I think many people fail at applying the basics to other aspects of their hobby in order to improve. Including me. Because I don’t read that much anymore, don’tcha know.

    I want to eventually be able to write with an air of sophistication but without the air of arrogance and pretention that comes with it at times. Better buckle down with some classical English literaure I guess.

  6. P. Static on February 25, 2009 11:17 pm

    the link about rob liefeld is actually pretty lols :D

  7. Kiriska on February 26, 2009 1:34 am

    @Omisyth: I would almost agree, except that I think writing is different because there’s no real, tangible thing for you to really study from. Of course reading other people’s work gives you a good perspective and exposes you to a wide variety of things, but since there really isn’t a right way to write, you can really only cobble together various styles and try to forge something of your own from that. That’s a big contrast from art where you have real, tangible, physical things to study.

    Even grammar, which some would consider to be the “foundations” of writing, is subject to the time period and whims of culture. I love the English language and I love grammar, but I will be the first to admit that English is one of the most fucked up, illogical languages EVER. Things that were once considered incorrect are eventually added to the grammar books and dictionaries because despite being wrong, people continued to use them until so much of the general population believes it to be true that grammaticians have no choice but to follow. It’s kind of depressing in a way, but that’s just the way things are. It isn’t really like that with visual art.

    That said, I do wish more people would give grammar the attention it deserves. It’s so refreshing for me when I can read a colleague’s work and there are no comma splices, no misused semi-colons, and no run-on sentences. If only more people knew the rules to begin with, maybe the rules wouldn’t need to change so often!

    @P. Static: Oh, man. Rob Liefeld is the reason one of my Sequential classes got completely derailed for about an hour and a half because my professor pulled up his website on the projector screen and we just spent a stupid amount of time going through his galleries and wondering how the hell he got published in the first place, and why the hell he’s STILL WORKING.

  8. Martin on February 26, 2009 2:21 pm

    Hmm, there isn’t much I can say to either agree or disagree with what you’re saying here since I can’t draw to save my life (as in, I find it PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE in the same way that I can’t sing in tune, whistle or hit a ball with a baseball bat)…my eye sees one thing, my brain another and my hand refuses to coordinate with either!

    You’re dead right that you have to know what the rules are before you choose which ones to break though. When I read people complain about the simplicity of Lucky Star’s artwork, I disagreed – there’s actually a lot of expression conveyed with very simplified imagery, which takes some doing I think. Similarly the art style of Masaaki Yuasa’s work is very sketchy and stylised, but things like proportion and movement are very fluid and lifelike. His art department knows their stuff, no matter how rough the edges may appear to be at first glance.

    If there’s one graphic artist I really look up to it’s Yoshitoshi ABe. He has a gritty and detailed style but the way he draws characters’ eyes is so wonderfully haunting. He didn’t study in the traditional manga style either iirc, which makes it feel to me like hearing a rock/pop musician who’s classically trained…it adds a little extra something that his rivals don’t have.

  9. TJ on February 28, 2009 2:18 pm

    Interesting article. I guess I’m one of the those people who is using anime art as a crutch, but that’s mainly because my people-drawing skills suck and I’m still learning, so I thought I’d start with something that’s easier. Of course drawings is mainly just a hobby for me (engineering student here lol). I want to be able to draw realism one day though. It’s back to the drawing board (or tablet in this case).

    On a side note, I agree with P. Static, that link was pretty hilarious.

  10. Kiriska on February 28, 2009 2:35 pm

    @Martin: Yeah, usually, I will give artists the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re perfectly capable of realism and that all stylization choices they make are purposeful.(Well, sometimes I have my doubts about Eiichirou Oda, but he’d be among the ranks of those who are just awesome enough for that not to matter…) That’s a pretty apt comparison with musicians though. :O

    @TJ: Hobby or not, if you’re open to improving, I’d definitely recommend drawing more from life. :) It’s hard because you will make a lot of mistakes and things will look pretty terrible on paper for a while. Sometimes it’s hard to see that you’ve improved at all, but if you keep a sketchbook and draw everyday, I don’t think it’ll be long before you start seeing the difference between page one and your current page.

    Rob Liefeld is everyone’s motivation not to just copy from other people’s styles. =_=

  11. gaguri on March 1, 2009 9:23 pm

    I think drawing real people, real spaces, is important because you’re looking at a 3 dimensional space, and trying to capture it in a 2 dimensional plane. Comic and anime drawings are highly stylised to not realistically depict how a person should look, but infuse something that you want to be expressed in a character (moe? gar? etc). So I agree. If you take anime drawings as a foundation to develop your style (the way you draw characters in particular), it is very dangerous as the final result is likely to fail.

  12. dotdash on March 2, 2009 5:17 pm

    I think writing and drawing are pretty similar in this case, although using such imperfect tools as words leads to the end result being abstracted. In writing, things like grammar, punctuation, and use of language are the tools, but the content of what you create is still based on real, tangible things.

    “Write what you know” is pretty much the unquestionable mantra of writing teachers, and stylistic exaggeration of/deviation from reality is still predicated on the idea that the writer is coming from the perspective of being able to write realistically.

    Writing good characters requires an understanding of how real people behave, speak and react in different situations. I suspect that a lot of professional anime writers don’t really know or care much about this, which is why the current anime scene is such an acrid, otaku hellscape/gleaming, postmodern paradise (delete as appropriate).

    Writing from outside your own experience (historical, SF, otherwise exotic scenarios) requires research in order that the illusion of realism can be sustained. Starting from that basis of knowledge, you can then twist things to suit your artistic goals, for example making the lasers in Star Wars go “pyoo pyoo” when there wouldn’t really be any sound in space, or making the characters in Deadwood use modern swear words because the profanities of the time would sound hopelessly twee to modern ears.

    P.S. Nice blog!

  13. Authoritaters on March 3, 2009 5:16 pm

    Hey, I checked out your portfolio art site, you really mean what you say and what you do.

    I noticed that I can’t follow your blog, is it possible for you to add that option? ’cause I would be keen to be able to check out your latest collections!

    Only if you want to that is.


  14. Kiriska on March 3, 2009 5:47 pm

    @gaguri: Exactly!

    @dotdash: Well, you’re talking about creative writing in particular, for which I would agree: writing what you know and have experienced is pretty much the best way to go unless you’re willing to put forth mountains of research. It’s one of the reasons I think Michael Crichton was so successful as an author. But as far as other types of writing go — nonfiction and opinion pieces such as blogs — I think it’s hard to pinpoint just what the tangible thing is. There is no correct way to portray an experience, really, so building up a style and voice is mostly a matter of doing it and seeing what “feels” right, but that’s pretty shaky anyway.

    @Authoritaters: Thanks! And as far as following the blog goes, I found that I didn’t much care for the widget that contained the “Follow” option, but you can still manually follow my blog by inputting the URL into your dashboard. Sorry for the trouble! I prefer the RSS feeds myself, so I don’t really use it, haha. ^^;

  15. dotdash on March 4, 2009 6:00 am

    Sure, yes, writing is more abstract than drawing and the tools of the illustrator and those of the writer naturally lend themselves to describing different things. A writer can describe a person’s inner feelings or opinions vividly with just a few words, (e.g. “he had a lot on his mind”) whereas it would be very difficult to draw that. On the other hand, a picture is very good at describing a person’s physical appearance in a way that would make them instantly recognisable, and words are the equivalent of childish stick figures next to the power of images to describe such things (the combination of these is of course one of the great advantages of comic books and animation as media).

    “There is no correct way to portray an experience”

    There are surely incorrect ways though, i.e. ways that fail to convey what the author intended. This isn’t as vulnerable to individual readers’ perception as people think, and I’m not sure this is so different to drawing

    “building up a style and voice is mostly a matter of doing it and seeing what “feels” right”

    Style and voice are surely more closely equivalent to an artist’s use of pencil or brush strokes to convey things like shape and shadow. The techniques can be learned from teaching and observation of other people, but it is how you apply them to the content of your own work that is important. If your content sucks, not matter how good the style, you’ve got nothing.

    As for doing what “feels” right, I agree completely. The writer tends to work with less tangible substances than the illustrator due to the respective strengths and weaknesses of the two media. The writer who deals more with feelings and opinions erases and repeats until it “feels” right. Drawing is a visual medium so the artist erases and repeats until it “looks” right.

    What I’m saying, I guess, is yeah, I agree.

  16. Kiriska on March 6, 2009 12:39 am

    Ahh, I guess you’re right about there being incorrect ways to convey things — indeed, writers should intend some message and if the reader misses that completely, then something is surely wrong.

    The funny thing is that I might well consider both writing and drawing to be both a thinking and seeing medium, at least as far as creative writing goes. The most successful images are effective in giving a message and a thought; the most successful passages are those that can create a precise image in the reader’s mind. The two mediums are very much alike in that respect.

  17. Anime Art on March 29, 2009 8:56 pm

    you are right. I have no idea what the fack I’m drawing lol just practiving the same old style again and again.

  18. cetriya on May 15, 2009 11:21 am

    Agree, though I dont know the rules of things in a mathematically way, I do a lot of life drawings and it really helps if you get stuck on a pose. posemaniacs.com helps if you want a crazy perspective.

  19. Kiriska on May 15, 2009 1:53 pm

    Posemaniacs is an awesome site, though I do wish they’d add some children poses on there. Kids are damn hard to draw, haha.

  20. codename:v on June 27, 2009 2:16 pm

    No matter which styles you choose, your basics are more important than both anime and superheroes styles. I’ve seen many young punks adopting anime/superheroes without brushing up their fundamental drawing skills on realism, angles and colour studies. Now you know why most fanarts sucks