02 October 2016

[drawing] Art In The Land Of Christopher Hart

As the aspiring artist in any style knows, if you're on your own in learning the craft of art, you really have just one alternative if you have neither the time nor the money nor the connections to learn, at least to get started: the how-to-draw book.

In these days we are faced with an embarrassment of riches of all levels of quality and price. Go to your nearest Barnes & Noble, and you'll see what I mean. The number of art instruction manuals and how-to-do-it guides march up into the realm of the innumerable. Manga? No problem. Cartooning? What style do you prefer? Super-hero? Comic-strip? You wanna do 'em in pencil? Ink? Pastel? Crayola™ crayon?

You can even learn sumi-e (and finally put to use that imported Chinese brush and ink set that you got as a gift several years ago).

As you shop, you will run into a scad of books under the brand/author name Christopher Hart. This is not a chances-are sort of thing; it is a certainty, a destiny, a verity. YOU WILL MEET CHRISTOPHER HART SOMEWHERE ALONG YOUR AUTODIDACTING PATH. And it's not hard to see why: on his bookstore page at his site (http://christopherhartbooks.com/drawing-bookstore/) I count no less than thirty books with his byline (which has moved from a simple Christopher Hart or Chris Hart to the more brand-centric Drawing with Christopher Hart). Fully a third of that concerns instruction in manga styles, specialized into kawaii, chibi, shoujo, shonen, manga fashion, and a few more.

I think it's a fair question to ask ones' self, when deciding how to spend ones time self-learning art (and the attendant outlay of money to acquire the codexes of knowledge), does the method have any validity? Is it valid? Will it not only get me started but also get me going in the direction I want to go in. The size of Hart's oeuvre, which seems to be all over the place (but in a good way), to me, not only begs the question, it fairly well demands it. I own a few of the Chris Hart line, and have had the opportunity through browsing at Powell's City of Books and the Multnomah County Library to see others. and, bearing firmly in mind that I am neither here to bury Hart's books nor praise them but to be respectfully honest about them, I can tell you how I found them.

I have beside me two of his how-to-cartoon books, Figure It Out!, The Beginner's Guide To Drawing People, and Drawing Cutting Edge Comics. The constituencies of both books are obvious by the titles, and once you get a little way into Figure It Out!, you realize pretty quickly that the absolute beginner, likely to be intimidated by the idea of mastering figure-drawing by learning about muscle groups and skeletal structure, will hardly be intimidated by this. It's easy, quick to pick-up, enlivened by illustrations that are incredibly clear and self explanatory; the head is explained as an egg shape, and while the lines for positioning features are placed upon they are not explained as to why they're there; the clear illustrations make explaining that to the beginner rather unnecessary. If you're sufficiently movtivated, after about an hour with this book, you will be drawing the beginnings of a credible realistic-cartoon head. Figure It Out! moves on to the rest of the body by teaching general manikin princples, where the bits of the body are rendered into simple shapes and you draw the poses by arranging them just-so. There is also basic figure diagrams to give the idea of running and how to stand.

The other book, Drawing Cutting Edge Comics, also works very hard to deliver the knowledge in its title. The book follows a logical progression from basics (the head, again … another thing you'll find in aspiring artist-instruction-books, at least as far as my experience goes, that they usually start with the head and world their way down), with plenty of illustrations for you to follow along and try out in a step-by-step way. Hart prefers to lead by example, and the illustrations here, as in the previous volume mentioned, are great examples for the visual learner. Everything makes sense based on the way it's visually presented, and there are innumerable examples for the learner to practice on. This is a book on creating comics for the artist who wants to get started right now, and that's how quickly you'll get the upshot on these visual techniques.

Drawing Cutting Edge Comics takes it further in the second half of the book by exploring how the learner might create their own personal style, first by sharing some thoughts of some working artists from Top Cow Productions then delving deeper into the technical aspects of perspective, inking for an edgy look, foreshortening and page design, and a few other design aspects, and goes out with an interview with an agent (Studio 3's Doug Miers) and a very quick overview of the industry at the time of the book's publication (2001) with Chaos! Comics' supremo Brian Pulido.

Its 144 pages promise to pack a ton of information for the budding artist.

So, are they any good? Are they worth laying down your money on? My impression, after looking the books over is, that they certainly are a good place to start. Hart performs an authentic service to hopeful artists by making everything extremely accessible. His style is light, yet informative, and the thing that's always beguiled me about his books is that you look at the way he lays it all out and he does it in a way that, after a few minutes, you're saying to yourself that's something I can do, and after a few more minutes you're looking for pencil and paper to try it, and as I can tell you, just gettng over yourself and getting started are about 98% of the battle. The techniques are clear, do-able almost no-matter what level of artistic skill you think you have, and friendly.

How friendly? Well, as it happens, Chris Hart has a YouTube channel where he posts how-to-draw demos for instruction and inspiration. I was quite impressed with his aplomb and his obvious confidence with his materials. He every bit the pro, and it shows:

Et voila, a pretty girl character in under two minutes. The man knows his stuff. It's obvious he loves drawing, and enthusiastic artists make the best teachers.

Thing about being a mile wide, though, is that sometimes it feels an inch deep. This is palpable at times in the manga titles, to me; when I did a few faces out of The Master Guide To Drawing Anime (which wears the rubric a bit awkwardly as it's about creating characters from standard archetypes for anime and not actually animating anything) I found it, again, easy, accessable and fun and I got good results, but I felt as though it didn't go deep enough for me; at one point it mentions to use the 'standard eye template' but that template was not defined.

This light coverage gets under the skin of independent online creators who, I'm sorry to say, have not been terribly kind to him. Participants on this thread at ConceptArt.org get quite blunt at times, and this essay by a Deviant Art member  can perhaps be summarized best in two words, those words being run and away. And this tumblr blogger actually invokes the name of Rob Liefeld at one place to make his point.

I think the opprobrium is rather unfair, though somewhat illuminative. But then, the world of manga is a complex thing: you don't simply learn to draw 'manga style' because as we all know, manga art is a style first, then a state of mind, then a culture unto itself. Teaching tool-kit techniques in order to begin to master this world-beating style must seem more than a little like a local culture enduring a documentarist intoning they are a simple people yet with a culture all their own. In my experience, anyone commenting or touring manga culture and wanting to produce a respectful and respected critique had better be ready to go deep as well as wide.

So, you wanna learn cartooning. Grand. You got yourself a Chris Hart book or two and you're going to learn it. Absolutely. And if you manage to continue drawing and get the hang of it, more power to you; Hart's style will open the door and get the pencil in your hand. And, if you're drawing for pleasure, he'll introduce you to a whole new world you never knew existed and you'll be wowing yourself and your friends with drawings you never knew you could do.

But you'll need to remember; go in with your eyes open. Beginner's techniques get you drawing but they also sometimes teach the habits that will not sustain you. You'll know when you feel it; you'll be wondering is there more? Is this all there is? What new things can I grasp with the talent I've developed now? 

Then it'll be time to move on, grateful to Hart for the start he gave you, into a big wide world of artistic self-expression. Naturally, the best artist never stop learning and when the student is ready, the new teacher will appear.

But I'll bet you knew that … didn't you?

If you want to know more about Christopher Hart and is art, his website is http://www.christopherhartbooks.com, and he has a YouTube channel where all his affable demo videos can be found

If you reached the end of this article, I'm thrilled. I would be sincerely interested in finding out what others, triers and doers, have to say about Hart's instruction. Did you find it interesting? Did it open you up or limit you? PLEASE COMMENT!

1 comment:

Brenda said...

If you meet Christopher Hart on the road,
draw him.

- The Wife™