How to draw from photo references

Way back when I first started drawing hootie comics, my first stab at drawing backgrounds was to freehand them from imagination, without any reference. I was really struggling in those days, and the results were pretty lackluster:
My second stab was to place a photo on a light table and draw over it:
Aside from the dubious ethics of drawing over somebody else’s photograph, the result looks like a tracing; dull, lifeless, unimaginative.

I needed a better way, and I had my revelation while reading Colleen Doran’s excellent article How to Swipe Like a Pro. My revelation was this: in order to draw with references, you must first draw without references.

Here’s what I mean by that: no photo is going to have everything you want in it, for you to draw verbatim. Every photo is going to be from the wrong angle, in the wrong light, with some stuff you want but missing other stuff you want, and so forth. So be it. Collect a bunch of photos; one because you like the street, another because it has a police station you want to put on the street, another for a man in a pose, another for the folds and wrinkles in a man’s suit, etc.

Now start your drawing by drawing cubes in perspective. This will ensure that all these different elements from different photos stay on the same horizon. For the police station, for example, start breaking the building down into smaller polygons in your mind’s eye, and draw those polygons in perspective, as though you were inventing the building from scratch, which, in a sense, you are. Refer to your photo for the details, not the basic structure.
For a good book on perspective drafting, I highly recommend Perspective for Comic Book Artists by David Chelsea.

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One week till Boston Comicon!

With so little time remaining, I had to hand-bind my books myself, because there isn’t enough time to do anything else. I used a method that looks like paperback binding but is actually stapled together, though the staples are hidden from view, for a durable and good-looking result. There’s a limit to how many you can do this way, but for now, we’re in business. I’m pretty excited about this. Last year, I attended the Boston Comicon as a fan, and the Mass Indy Comics Expo as a volunteer. Both were a good time; it’s fun top see the costumes, and experience the camaraderie. If all goes well, maybe next year I’ll expand my horizons and try Mecaf and RIPexpo.

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Bloozit Press at Boston Comicon and Mass Independent Comics Expo!

It looks like I will be exhibiting this year at BCC and at MICE. I have space at the Boston Comics Roundtable booth, along with my other roundtable compadres. BCC is Aug. 8-10, so I’ve been scrambling to get a book together. I’m quite proud of the results; the images are finally starting to look, on paper, the way they look in my head. I’ve even had to bind them by hand, because there’s no time to farm it out. They have a cool, handmade look to them. So here it is, the very first Hootie book, titled “You worry me, Mr. Rodent”
So if you’re in the Boston area, come check it out. In past years I’ve gone to these types of events as a volunteer. They’re a blast, and a great way to connect with the local comics community.

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First 46 Hootie strips moved to archives

I’ve been doing Hootie Comics for three years now, and my…er…learning curve is clearly visible. When I go back to those early strips now, I think, “Yeesh!” Actually, the strips I’m really proud of are still sitting in the queue; they haven’t even been published yet (part of the reason I stepped the schedule up to twice per week).

I wanted to still have those old strips available, but I didn’t want to necessarily showcase them. So starting May 25, 2014, the “first” nav button will take you back to strip 47, which is the earliest strip that doesn’t make me cringe too much. To see strips 1-46, you have to go to the archives.

I think many new readers hit the “First” button and start reading from the beginning, because that’s what I do myself when I discover a new web comic. This change will prevent the rawest of my early stuff from being the first thing those new readers see.

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Hootie Comics goes to twice per week!


Like most cartoonists, I tend to build up a queue because there are times I get busy and don’t have much time to draw, and I want to keep Hootie Comics coming out on a regular schedule.

Well, I’ve been getting faster, and now my queue is quite long. So starting Thursday May 1 2014 (that’s the day after tomorrow), I’ll be publishing every Thursday and Sunday. Also, since I’m constantly improving, my best stuff has yet to be seen, so this will get it out there a bit faster. Stay Tuned…


Check out Hootie Comics, every Thursday and Sunday

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How to Stink with Style

OK, so I gave this post a somewhat inflammatory title to get your attention…and for the record, I don’t really think any of the artists I’m going to discuss “stink,” I actually think they’re all pretty good, just not Enki Bilal sort of good, and I think that they themselves would agree. So with that out of the way, here’s what’s been on my mind. There are quite a few cartoonists who, by their own admission, are not the world’s greatest draftsmen, yet their work is incredibly appealing. Charles Schulz, Lewis Trondheim, Sergio Aragones, and Chester Brown come to mind. So what makes a cartoon appealing, besides sheer technical skill? Since I’m no Sean Gordon Murphy myself, this seems worth thinking about. If you look at enough of this kind of work, patterns begin to emerge, and if you note the similarities in the patterns, you begin to see rules. I have attempted to distill them below:

You always know what you’re looking at; there’s no mistaking what the artist is trying to show you. You’re never scratching your head going, “What IS that?! Is it a cow? Is it a bus?”

Everything is drawn in a consistent way, at a more-or-less consistent quality level; there are no botched panels, nothing sticks out like a sore thumb. If a world is consistent enough, the viewer gets pulled into that reality, and the quirks become part of the ambience. When we read Peanuts, we just accept that we are in Big-Head World.

Correct Perspective
Even cartoonists like Trondheim who don’t use a ruler and draw everything crooked, still draw scenes with fundamentally correct perspective.

When you look at the work, you immediately know whose work you’re looking at.

All comments are welcome, particularly counter-examples to these rules. I suspect the first rule to get attacked will be the one about correct perspective. Many artists from Picasso onward have deliberately violated perspective to produce impact, but I don’t believe this can be done successfully without KNOWING perspective first. Anyway, what do YOU think?

Check out Hootie Comics every Sunday

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New Feature: Archive Page

Tomorrow’s update will include a new feature: I’m replacing the old “jump to strip number” box with a link to a proper archive page

This is going away:

To be replaced by this:

Additionally, strips will now have proper titles, instead of just numbers.

The old jump-box was kind of a useless feature from the start. Why would you want to jump to strip 103 when you have no idea what strip 103 contains? Eventually I may get fancier and try to put thumbnails of the strips next to their titles, but for now, I think this is a big improvement.

Check out Hootie Comics, updated every Sunday

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