Chapter 1: Building Blocks

Working through this book is going to be more time consuming than I thought–and that’s a good thing. I’m keeping the craft and criticism books close at hand just in case I want/need to look into a specific topic further, but for now, Jessica Abel & Matt Madden’s Drawing Words & Writing Pictures has plenty of material to foster personal growth and creativity. Since this Independent Study was created to replace a cancelled Workshop class, I’m really going to focus more on creating art for the next few weeks instead of worrying about theory, criticism, and the specifics of craft. As my Director for this Independent Study said, this is the creation of my brick of clay, from which I can pull and sculpt my thesis. At least, that’s my tentative goal. We’ll see where this goes.

After reading through the first chapter, “Building Blocks,” I noted that I’m a bit at a disadvantage because I’m what Abel & Madden call a Ronin, after the solitary masterless Japanese samurai. Since I do not have any colleagues to work with and compare drawings, styles, effectiveness, etc., I’ll be referring to the book’s companion website,, and working through a chapter-by-chapter student guide as needed.

I won’t bore you with content stuff–I highly advise you to get Abel & Madden’s book yourself–unless I need to wax philosophical about something interesting I learned. This time around, the only thing I really learned was the word “emanata,” which are additions to the drawing to convey movement or emotion that you would not normally see in real life. For example, the sweat-drop that shows up in a lot of manga for embarrassment, and exclamation point next to someone’s face for surprise, a squiggly tornado above someone’s head to show that they are upset, or lines to show speed. You’ll see what I mean once you scroll down. I noticed I use emanata a lot, I just never knew what they were called.

Another thing I noticed (not so much learned) is that even being out of practice for drawing, what I produced in the span of a few hours really wasn’t half bad. I forgot to note how long each drawing took (I’ll try to remember for next week’s stuff), but I tried to keep things quick and sketchy. You can clearly tell which ones I spent more time on and which ones less; basically I worked on each prompt until I felt like I succeeded in portraying the described effect. Also–next time, I need to use a pencil that erases easier, because I make mistakes often, and as you’ll see, they don’t erase well.

Drawing Time!
These are the tools I used:

book, pencil, and blank paper

Abel & Madden's textbook, some blank printing paper, a pencil. (Not pictured but highly suggested: an eraser.)

(And look, you get to see my girly bedspread!)

Action within a drawing
I was given a list of five moving objects, and told to sketch them in five separate drawings, each one as a single image, none of them in sequence, and no panel borders. If you click on my picture, it will send you to the feedback given by Abel & Madden on their website. Here’s what I came up with:

A pencil sketch of a person-figure running

1. a person running

a pencil sketch of a car speeding

2. a car speeding

a sketch of a baseball falling

3. a ball falling

a sketch of a drunken person staggering, bottle in hand

4. a person staggering

a pencil sketch of a newspaper blowing in the wind with some leaves

5. a newspaper page blowing in the wind

Action within a panel
I was told to draw three boxes (about 4 inches high, 6 inches wide each) and draw each of three given scenarios in each box. Ignore the fact that I apparently can’t draw straight lines at right angles. This is what I drew:

a pencil sketch of the scenario described in the caption

Scenario 1: A ball crashes through a window into a kitchen and rips through the newspaper of a person sitting in the room. The person reacts to the window breaking. Optional: A dog catches the ball in midair after it comes through the newspaper.

a pencil sketch of the scenario described in the caption

Scenario 2: Person 1 trips person 2. Person 1 is laughing, person 2 is trying to catch him or herself and is knocking over a lamp.

a pencil sketch of the scenario described in the caption

Scenario 3: Two guys are fighting. Guy 1 throws a rock at guy 2. Guy 2 is hit by the rock, which makes him accidentally shoot his gun into the air. The bullet hits and breaks a chain holding up a heavy lamp over guy 1's head.

Personal Response & Feedback
Before moving onto homework, I referred to the examples of student work on the student guide (click on each of my images to see the examples Abel & Madden provide on their website), that way I could note things that were working for my art, and things that weren’t working and I should probably try to work on better. Clearly you can tell that Sketch 1 was me just warming up, hence the lack of detail; by the last sketch, Scenario 3, I think I was burnt out from the first two scenarios, which is why it’s pretty crappy. (I did all of these in one sitting. I’m not sure if that was a wise idea or not.)

I was worried about showing background stuff in the first couple of sketches, but I guess from the other examples of student work, context is a good thing. A lot of the student work posted is more detailed and higher quality, so I guess I need to up the ante a little. I’m not used to drawing in a non-digital format (apparently Volume 2 of Abel & Madden’s book is going to address that!), but that’s no excuse.

Specific feedback: My running guy is kind of boring. Putting him off the ground was great, but you can tell I had issues with the placement of one of his legs. He has good sweat emanata, and some speed lines, but other than that, he’s kind of plain. Like with the running person, I did a good job with having motion follow the direction of one’s eyes (left to right) for speed in the car. There is distortion of the car and wheels to imply speed, and there are speed lines, and it’s even off the ground, but having a blurred background (or blurring the car and keeping the background static) would have made it better. For the falling ball, I didn’t use afterimages like the newspaper, and I could have made the bottom darker to show heaviness and put more speed lines on a disappearing top, possibly elongating the shape, to give the illusion of speed. The staggering person is probably my favorite doodle so far; I gave him motivation to stagger (the bottle in his hand), but even with the squiggly emanata, he’s balanced. I should have put his body more off-center, and maybe had his hands out to save him from falling. The newspaper’s shape and afterimages are good, and so is the inclusion of leaves and swiggly wind lines, but I think I could have put a little more effort into my newspaper itself, it’s a bit lazy.

For the ball in the kitchen one, the path of the ball is a little arched so that it doesn’t imply bullet-like speed, but I guess I could have, and perhaps should have, made the path a little lighter so we don’t worry for the dog’s safety. I could have used sound effects, but for the most part I kind of find them immature (this is personal preference, mind you) and I have been trying to keep their use to a minimum, lately. (I also was under some silly impression that words weren’t allowed.) All of the parts of the scenario are present; I consciously made the choice to have the action of the panel read backwards. Notice the dog first, then that the ball ripped through the newspaper, the guy’s reaction, and then the broken window. I figured this would lead to the next panel, which would show the kids outside and their game of baseball. (if the narrative was kid-centered, then I’d mirror the panel–kids come first, then follow the arc of the ball to the guy’s kitchen.) The dog is a little cut off, and so is one of the guy’s feet, but in this case, I think it’s okay. (I might move the panel a centimeter down to adjust for the missing info.)

The tripping one is my favorite out of all of the “Drawing Time” drawings. I had a lot of trouble getting the girl’s arms right, but I think I succeeded in getting the action to flow across the panel, first starting with the laughing guy, then we clearly see his foot sticking out from behind a wall, then we see the girl’s foot, follow her body up to see her surprised face, and follow her arms down to see her knock over the lamp and try to catch herself. Again, I used emanata (but not too much) and some speed lines to convey her falling (note her pigtails and skirt flipping up with motion). I tried to make sure the motion made sense; I’m not sure I have depth perception down, but I think I’m going in the right direction.

I kind of cheated for the guys fighting by turning the panel from landscape to portrait. This probably distracted a lot, because nothing is going on up there except the lamp hanging out (and the lamp does not look nearly heavy enough). Unlike the examples, it’s very clear, lacks, context, but at least the order of motion is not confused. Emanata are present, of course, but I think the throwing guy’s hand gets obscured behind his head, so that was probably a poor choice on my behalf. Unfortunately you look at the guy with the gun first, see he’s being hit, and then something spewing… a “bang” would have been a good idea to show it’s a firearm and not a squirt gun. Having so much happen at once is hard to juggle, but the only way to get good at it is to practice. :)

I had to draw a 5″ x 7″ border and create a pencil drawing that contained:

  • two characters
  • one or more props (objects)
  • an action and its result
  • the reaction of one or both characters shown in in facial expressions or bodily gestures
  • do not include any text

Here is what I drew:

a pencil sketch of an embarrassed boy handing a box of chocolates to a young woman

I think I'll title it, "For You."

Drawing time: approx. 45 min.

Personal Response & Feedback
I used a mechanical pencil this time around so that I didn’t have to keep sharpening and so that I knew I could erase and get nice, clean lines. At first, I didn’t really know what to draw, especially because this assignment was so open-ended. Since Valentine’s Day is around the corner, I thought I’d go with that theme. My goal was to show more subtle action driven mostly by emotion. I drew the boy first (actually, I drew the box of chocolates first), and then I was going to draw a little girl, but I thought it would be more cute if the girl was older. I’m really awkward with body positions, so figuring out how to get her to lean down without it looking rigid or uncomfortable took forever. There was a lot of erasing of arms and legs. I had his and her faces down almost exactly right the first time around. (I always draw faces everywhere; it’s true what they say about practice.) At first I had the boy looking at her, but since I needed more emotional reaction, I had him look away. My thought process is: characters (boy and girl), prop (heart-shaped box of chocolates), action (he gives her the box) result (she leans down) reaction (he is embarrassed, she smiles).

After looking at the examples posted on the web, I feel better about my choice of a subtle emotion (I’m referencing the proposal one). My frame totally lacks any background to give context (a classroom could clarify she is a teacher, for instance), and maybe her response should not be so subtle (should she also be embarrassed? maybe she is ecstatic!) for this assignment. Overall, I’m happy with the clarity of the frame and how easily it reads.

Extra Credit!
I couldn’t do it this time around because it requires a group of people. :(

All in all, I believe this week was incredibly productive. I’m looking forward to Chapter 2. :)


5 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Building Blocks

  1. You need a tablet! Scrap the idea of using pencils. If you work better with digital media get a nice tablet and learn how to use it well. It’ll add so much versatility to your comics. The ability to draw in layers is a life saver! In the end the amount of versatility you’ll gain will save you an enormous amount of time. On paper, you’d need to completely redraw something from scratch each time. With digital media, you could copy paste a whole character onto a new backdrop and change just a few minor things for a completely new scene. Using this technique, you’ll amass a repository of images that you’ll soon be able to start reusing in some ways.

    I highly advise that you just start making a comic with your examples. There’s no need to have your current drawings disjoint. Throw a few creative words in there and BAM you have a graphic novel before you know it. Make a website dedicated to it with 1-3 updates a week and then you’re swimming with fans.

    Then whenever you want, end it, and make a new one from scratch using everything you’ve learned.

    I liked your sketches, I’m excited to see what you’ll be coming up with next.

    Which web comics do you follow?

    • I have a tablet! My Wacom Intuos 3 is my best friend.

      My goal in using paper and pencil is to get reacquainted with physical mediums. I’ve been drawing digital art for about a decade now (started with just a mouse on iSketch and oekaki boards, eventually got a small Wacom and started experimenting with Adobe Photoshop Elements, then upgraded to the Intuos and I now prefer Corel Painter Essentials) and you’re absolutely right, ctrl+z, copy/paste, and layers are the best thing ever. <3 I want to try and get a feel for the "traditional" style of making comics, though, since I've already made several digitally (one of which is forthcoming in The Southeast Review‘s 30th anniversary issue, another is currently trying to find a home). It’s kind of refreshing to work with pencils again, and I’m contemplating charcoal or markers next time. I need to ground myself back in the basics.

      I’m deliberately following the Abel & Madden text step-by-step because I’m also working through this as a part of a formal directed independent study with the idea in mind that I may create a syllabus for a Drawing Graphic Narrative class sometime in the future. It’s a little pedantic at times, and yes, and the best way to get into making comics is just jumping right in (which I did in high school without even thinking about), but I’m trying to at least follow some semblance of structure, at least for now. I’m also a graduate student with a full-time load of classes, and I’m holding two jobs, so extra time for doodling is not exactly abundant right now. But once the chaos of this semester is over, I definitely plan on keeping this site up and further posting my progress.

      You have great suggestions and I’m glad you’re so enthusiastic about comments and keeping up with what I’m doing. :) Thanks!

      (As for webcomics… jeez. I haven’t really been into reading webcomics religiously since high school. I got a new computer when I went to college and forgot to transfer over all of my bookmarks. (Some off the top of my head that I read before and still sometimes check up on are xkcd, MegaTokyo, Penny Arcade, PvP, Eidolic Fringe and Schism. You can tell how long it has been since I’ve really read webcomics since the last two haven’t been updated in years.) I started reading mostly manga since then, but all of the online sites that translated and hosted have gone down, so I can’t really link you to those. :/ It’s kind of sad. Only just recently have I gotten into reading Western comics. I’m trying to get back in the habit of reading online comics, so if you have any suggestions, please send them my way!)

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