An open defense of the line.

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

I’ve begun working on a joint storytelling project with a friend of mine, which is a good thing for so many reasons. Somewhere on the list of those reasons is that it has given me the opportunity not only to practice my cartooning, but to practice writing about it, writing about my creative process in general. For instance, today I got the chance to defend an aesthetic decision I had made concerning the lines I was using in the project (defending them not to my friend, but to her professor, who coincidentally was one of my senior year professors!) Here’s a taste of what I was sticking up for:

Hi Molly,

I wanted to reply to your message… Considering I’m not technically a student of Lane’s at this point I guess it was some bonus feedback, which I have taken into consideration but will now, kindly, justify my choice to use a uniform line throughout the drawings. (To be honest, my only regret at this point is the hard-black shadows, since I am now envisioning that I will be adding color, I’d like to make the shadows more subtle (a shade of gray) but if I decide to go that route I can go back and change that with a bit of white out and no one will be the wiser.)

Anyway, Lane is certainly not the first to encourage line variation in my drawing (I had Samerjan for four semesters!) and I like to think that I’ve experimented with that a fair amount in my years as a drawer (as in one who draws, not a chest for storage) and continue to experiment with it. I understand the philosophy behind line variation and agree with it, if the artist chooses to draw in that style. Sometimes I choose to draw in that style. But that is where I’ll put my foot down–I think it is completely a matter of style. That is, I don’t think that a person who draws, comics or otherwise, is required to incorporate variation of line weight into their drawing. A person is not required to use color, they are not required to use shading, they are not required to use lines, even. I have had different teachers advise in all different ways about the correct way to draw and I’ve taken something away from each of them, but what I learned ultimately is that there is no one right way to draw, that an artist must experiment and find a style that feels right to them, or that works right for the particular project, their particular vision (it may change daily).

That’s not to say that anything goes. I think a person who draws must be deliberate and very conscious when they are making decisions about their lines. Sometimes this is a matter of instinct, sometimes it’s a pattern that we’ve settled into, or the result of trial-and-error, and sometimes it is an active choice which comes from careful planning and serious consideration (both of the vision of the project as well as the personal, aesthetic inclinations that the artist has developed through years of experimentation, emulation, revision, learning, practice, etc).

So when I sat down to work on this page I looked at my tools (currently I’ve been favoring a simple PaperMate Flair felt tip pen) and I looked at what I knew about myself (limits of time, unsteady hand, an urge to be react against current aesthetic cartooning conventions) and I looked at what I wanted my contribution to the story to feel like (quiet, calm, still, steadily-paced) and ultimately what I wanted the page to look like (and here I’ll be honest, don’t laugh, but one of my main influences is Marc Brown who does the Arthur books and cartoon… very uniform line weight and simple colors). So it was an entirely conscious decision on my part to do the first page in the linear style that I did, and unless your grade depends on it I don’t think that I will change this page.

I know that was a long-winded response to some constructive criticism that wasn’t even coming directly from you, but I felt like addressing it, and defending my visual decision (and not making you think that I would leave it as as because I’m lazy, but because I actually have an opinion on it). You can share this with Lane if you’d like, and actually, I think I may post this in my blog in some form because it’s been a good exercise in talking about my art, which I have gotten out of the habit of doing since finishing art school.

Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see the next installment when you finish it. Hope you have some good times between now and the next time we talk. Soon!


I cut out a few parts of that email before I posted it here, if you can believe it was actually longer (Molly and I have granted each other full permission to be as wordy as we feel like) and I couldn’t tell if it was nerdy to leave in the part where I said, “I think I’ll post this in my blog,” but here, we’re an open book in some respects. And maybe one day you’ll be opening our book!

Just one last moment of clarification… this wasn’t in response to criticism from my collaborator who has, so far, approved of my contribution (as I have of hers!) Nor does it mean that I won’t welcome criticism, from her, her professor, or anyone. I’ve taken my share of criticism, and generally respond in a way that is positive. But for some reason I am feeling stubborn about the issue of line weight, probably because it’s been the most frequently criticized part of my work (whether I’m using a uniform line or varied line, I can’t seem to win) and I feel like by now I’ve earned the right to say a few words in my defense.

I don’t take myself too seriously, I swear!

One Comment

  1. Posted October 3, 2008 at 9:23 pm | Permalink