Category Archives: This and That

Using photo reference for comic art

Lots of debate, discussion about photo realism, photo references etc. crossing through my Tumblr feed over the last while…  Was thinking about it a lot last night as I was colouring comics pages.

Ty does photo references for his super hero comics (occasionally, believe it or not, we even do them for Simpsons Comics—he’ll announce that yes, they have four fingers, but sometimes he just wants to see how a body would look doing something wacky, then he can go off and draw the Simpsons anatomy). He’s explained many a time to those who don’t understand that photo reference is REFERENCE. To refer to…to look at and say, “Oh! THAT’S what the arm muscles would do in that move.” If you’re tracing it, it ceases to be reference…

It’s not tracing, copying, and he happily tells me all the time, “Sometimes I don’t even use them!” (not understanding that when I’ve taken an hour out of my work day to take photos or pose for them, that might NOT be the thing I want to hear!). And although I try my best to pose him (I’m generally behind the camera) just like his sketches, sometimes what he discovers through the photo reference is that the problem he was having with the drawing is that it wasn’t natural—he was trying to draw the body doing something it just wouldn’t. Or just the opposite:  sometimes what is natural and real just looks wrong or awkward.

What I’m really aware of is the dichotomy between Ty telling me, “Get the pose just like it is in the drawing” and “I don’t need it exact—I need it natural”. Because sometimes the way something looks in life is just…wacky and strange. That if you were looking at a drawing of a pose you’d have a moment where your brain would be trying to decipher why the eyes look like that, doesn’t that nose look strange? Wha—why are the arms all akimbo like that? Or, in real life, there would be a big heavy black shadow across someone’s body—but an artist wouldn’t want to have that lying across a big portion of the art. It wouldn’t “read” right…so it gets altered.

So, sometimes, while I’m posing Ty, he’ll say, “no, no, not ‘real’—let’s cheat it. This is comics, not real life. I’m telling a story here.” And that’s what I notice as I colour someone who is using photo reference for everything—and who is using it not to see muscles or how the hands look, but using it to draw. They’re drawing exactly what they see—and sometimes, what they see doesn’t make sense in a static 2D comic book page. I especially notice it with faces—when Ty was doing the Dexter The Early Cuts animated series, Michael C. Hall looks completely different when he turns his face 1 centimetre to the left or right of dead-centre**. I would look at pictures Ty had drawn and be able to tell him which ones he would be asked to redraw because they didn’t look like Hall (he had final approval on his image). Ty would show me the reference shots he’d been sent, and that he’d compiled himself—and I would be surprised to discover that they were all of the same actor…but you just couldn’t tell. And with photo references that happens a lot—you might be drawing the same person, but from a different angle, it just doesn’t look it to someone not in the room with that person. Whereas, someone not wedded to the photo reference will tweak the drawing so that it looks more like the character—even if it’s not “real” or just like the reference.

(**I’m always amazed by Anna Paquin—straight on, she has an unusual face that one can decide if you think it handsome or plain. But in profile? I think she has the MOST gorgeous profile ever. Something Rossetti would have painted, very pre-Raphaelite)

Reference Photos

Have to shoot some reference photos for Ty and we’re out of toner for all the printers in the house. Pointed out that he can just look at the reference photos on his monitor which made him complain a lot–which makes me wonder how he ever managed back in The Old Days with those itsy little ol’ Polaroids.  (To be fair, I do know that it’s because that means he’ll have to sit in his computer chair at his desk to draw, rather than lounging in his comfy drawing chair on the other side of the room.)  And how much money we’ve saved with the switch to digital cameras! (Which got balanced out by all those children so…still broke!).

Ty always goes on and on about how good I am at taking all his reference photos–probably because I was always so conscious of how much that damned Polaroid film cost, and that you only got 10 (?) shots in a package. So, we had to make every one count.

And I always preferred shooting the photos to having to ‘star’ in them…I’ve told tales of being four days postpartum and having to sit on the exercise bike in my skivvies pretending to be Wonder Woman riding a kangaroo–seriously–and the baby started crying, so I had him in one arm, and posing the whole time.  The following Batman cover I remember well.  We would look at Ty’s sketches and try to figure out how to get the reference shot in just one photo–because of those pricey Polaroids! Nowadays, it would be three or four pictures. But for that one, I remember having to pile all the sofa cushions in the corner of the sofa and balancing precariously on top of them, head completely over the edge, preparing to topple to the floor at any moment. The Batman and Robin figures would have been so easy–either I would have stood at the top of our very steep stairs shooting down at Ty…or those might have been down with him lying down on the floor reaching out toward me.

I always wonder what the neighbours would have thought if they could have seen any of what we got up to for these shots…)

(I’ve Googled and Googled, and I can’t find Ty’s pinup of Wonder Woman riding a kangaroo…wish I could remember what it was for…  It would have been done in February 1996, so it would have been published probably that summer).

Prometheus Bun Toons

Normally, I try and promote The Guy’s weekend ‘Toons when I can (especially if it can be self-serving and promote me as well)…but I was a bit hamstrung yesterday as he asked me not to mention N*** or Sp*** or the Sp*** Sh*****…but it seems people have been able to find it, and read it.

Check out the artwork by Jason Laudadio which is incredible. And somehow, I neglected to add my lettering credit. I think I thought it threw off the balance of the the title and the names. Sometimes it just isn’t about me!

Click on the first page to read the full story over at ART LAND!!