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01/17/2003: of tights and copious muscle mass

I very rarely draw fan art. The main reason for that -- well, actually the main reason besides my general slackerdom because of which I don't draw much at all -- is that neither my drawing skills nor my drawing style are well suited for depicting humans with accurate likeness. I guess with some effort and patience I could sort of copy a photograph of an actor, but that's not how I like to draw, so for all tv and movie fandoms I'd have a really hard time to get the characters look right. There are other things that contribute to me not drawing fan art, but really that I suck with portraits is the main thing.

However, a while ago I've read Lucy's story Secrets, and I could really see that scene between Nightwing and Superman on the rooftop in my head. So I had this impulse to draw that scene, and since those are comic characters the portrait thing that usually prevents my rare fannish art impulses from ever materializing isn't a problem either. Finally today when I had some time on my hands, I gave in to the nagging picture idea in my head and started to sketch.

It turns out that drawing superheroes (something I haven't tried before) has its own problems, and that being able to draw regular humans somewhat adequately isn't much help. You see, it's the tights and the copious muscle mass of course.

I can draw normal humans, that is humans that look like regular people. Sure, my humans aren't photorealistic or anything, and I have my problems with unusual perspectives, or complicated movements, and of course drawing hands is really hard etc. etc., but I manage. I'm sure there are lots of approaches, but I can draw humans in two ways. The first I use when when someone actually poses for me (to some degree a photo of someone is similar), then I try to get the form right, try to ignore what I think stuff "should" look like, and to just copy what's there. To see the form, to pay attention to the "lines" and "shapes" and such. The problem with that is of course to find someone to pose for you (or to find a picture), especially if you don't just want someone sitting or standing, but other poses. The second approach is of course to "construct" a human based on the idea in my head, which I do like this: First I draw a quick "stick figure" with the right proportions in the basic pose I want. Actually it's more a mixture between a simplified skeleton and a stick figure. That way you can see movement, give it the right dynamic and center of gravity. Then with regular humans you just have to add some "bulk" and put some clothes on them. The lines in which most clothes fall are quite easy to sketch if you just want them to look reasonable and not like a photo. Some curved lines, some folds, some wrinkles were the body bends -- and with that you have sketched a regular human. Not hyper-realistic, but it'll look about like the intended human.

You don't need an degree in anatomy to make a human look like one. Even if you want to draw parts of the body without clothes, regular humans have arms, legs, stomachs, etc. that are fairly easy. It depends of course, but apart from body-building fans and such most humans won't show many of the underlying muscles, tendons, or bones in great detail. At most some of the arm and leg muscles show, maybe at the back a hint of the shoulder blades and spine, sometimes stomach muscles, some of the tendons in throat and neck maybe in some poses, but really for the most part it's a few curves on the arms and legs, and it looks fine (as long as the intention is not to be photorealistic).

That is very different for those humans and aliens in the superhero business. It's not just that the muscles you see anyway (i.e. in regular humans) are larger, with them and their gratuitous muscle mass they show a ridiculous amount of muscle detail that is just absent in regular humans with our charming flabbiness. And of course superheroes don't wear real clothes either. They wear bizarre tights, so that basically you have to draw them naked and then just paint them in primary colors or black instead of skin tones.

So I had to get out my copy of "Dynamic Figure Drawing" by Burne Hogarth, who has a penchant for drawing humans with lots of pronounced muscles. And try to alter my regular drawing process to put on somewhat realistic muscles on my stick figure skeletons instead of clothes. Needless to say, clothes are far easier.

I haven't given up on my drawing yet, but it's not easy to get it to look right. Though it might be just because the humans I see normally don't look like that (and I don't read superhero comics so regularly that their graphical appearance is second nature to me either).

Also in case any Nightwing fan reads this, what is yellow in his costume? The online pictures I've found (I've ever read a Nightwing comic) only show turquoise and black, no yellow, but the story mentions "yellow bands." Do those show? What are they? Or did the costume change over time?

I guess, I'll give myself some time over this weekend to see if I can get the drawing to a non-sucky state. For tonight I'm frustrated by muscle mass under tights...

Posted by RatC @ 03:41 AM CET
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Replies: 2 comments

Nightwing's costume has changed over time. The first one he had (the one in "Secrets") looked a lot like Elvis, honestly. You can find references for both costumes here: http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Stonewall/3088/Dickpics.html . The one with the yellow is the older one, then he's in the blue and black with the long hair, and then he cuts the hair, too.

Hope that helps; I want to see this picture! :)

Posted by sanj @ 01/17/2003 05:18 AM CET

Oh, please don't give up! I'm dying to see that scene drawn.

This is an interesting post. If there's one major aspect of comic books I want to become more informed on, it's the art. I'm slowly realzing I have certain preferences, slowly beginning to recognize certain styles (although I could not put either a name or a label to them), but I really want to learn more about the theory and process.

Posted by Lucy @ 01/17/2003 02:27 PM CET