Caricature and Drawing Newsletter for April 1st, 2005

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1 April 2005
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Your 1 April  2005, Communiqué 
Revisiting shadows and highlight shapes


Howdy all,

Today I want to quickly review an old but important topic. And it's one that comes up time and again. And it has to do with shadow and highlight shapes. A member recently asked me if there's any special formula a caricaturist uses or can use to zero in on shadow shapes in particular. And basically my answer to that was "sure - and the formula is this: there is no formula". 

I know, not a real answer. But it's the truth nonetheless. Seeing shapes is matter of practice and repetition and most of all letting go. And in particular letting go of the need to abstract and categorize shadows. Yes there are common areas within faces that have shadows in them, and yes there are similar patterns they follow, but you can say that about the eyes, teeth, hair, ears and snowflakes too. But the real trick here is to let go of that knowledge for the moment and concentrate on the uniqueness of all those shapes, flakes, and common areas of highlight and shadow. The real trick is to get the old noggin', the thinking part of the gray matter out of the way. 

One more time, let's take a brief look at how to do this. And let's use old Bessie the cow to help us.  


Lets look at cows! Yep, gone bats here, out to pasture... 

Bessie the First

In this first step I want you to just recognize each and every black shape in Bessie's coat as a unique and special dark area. Bessie has black fur in some spots, white in other. For now place your attention on the black spaces only. Pick just one at a time. Start on the spots over her rear end. See that kind of overall "H"-shaped spot there? Very good. Now move your gaze to the next set of spots: one or two small ones, then on to the one that looks like a really skinny Saudi Arabia or India. See that? Then you get into that big area of black that stretches from her spine all the way down to nearly her belly. See those? Great! If not, keep staring at each shape until it pops into your perception as a separate, unique shape. Done with that? On to the next Bessie...

Here's the more bleached out version of Bessie. Do the same thing. With your pencil right up to your monitor, outline all the shadow -- er, I mean dark patches in her hide. Run your eye over each spot. See each one again as a unique shape. Working for you? Great!

Bessie the Second


Now let's work larger. We're ampin' up the magnifying glasses. Here's a much more "in your face" set of spots: 

More Bessie Spots

Do the same thing -- run your eyes, then your pencil around each unique puddle of black shape. Squint your eyes if the fuzzy edges on the big spot in the middle seems to loosey-goosey edged. Then direct your attention to each corner of the "format". Format? You know, the frame around the shapes;  the rectangle that contains the the picture. Getting clearer to you? 

See, you're; starting to get good at this! Good work. OK. Time for a little switcheroo. When you're zeroing in on shadow shapes, you apply the same kind of mental ju-jitsu on highlight shapes. Before you do this, go back to the pictures above:

- gaze at each picture until you see each black shape as distinct and unique;

- once you've done that, flip your attention to the white shapes. Yep, throw the big switch;

- starting to see these white shapes as separate and unique shapes? Awesome! 

- Now flip your attention back and forth between black and white shapes. This is very similar to the "Vace-Face" exercises way back in Lesson One and in the section on recognizing negative space. Same basic cognitive somersaulting. King of fun isn't it? See the black and white parts all beginning to fit together like jigsaw pieces?

OK. Done with that? Excellent. Now get out a piece of paper. Yep, just do it. Now check out this next shape - and keep your attention on just the white space. 

On your first sheet of paper draw a rectangular outline ( a format ) roughly the shape of the square around the following picture (see the kangaroo-bat thing on the right side of the image?):


Yep, More Bessie

Did you draw your format? Great. Now in your format, draw the shapes of  just the white areas. Can you do it without looking at the black shapes? Pretty hard isn't it? But you can easily separate each  white shape as unique and each black shape as unique, right? Very cool :-) Remember to squint.

Here's another. Same deal. Draw just the black shapes. Squint. Concentrate on the shape between the bottom horizontal line and the edge of the black area. Now draw it! :-) Go for it! Draw another square and try to draw just the white shapes.


And Yet Even More Bessie


Keep squinting! Look at this next one and see if you can't see the little snake mouth of turtle head coming down from the top? Or the the fish like shape on the middle right border? Do what you did above: draw these within a  format. Draw one with your attention on just the black shapes. Draw another with your attention on just the white. Try and not name them. Try to remain in that mental space where you're concentrating on one unique shape at a time - either black or white. By now you should feel these little muscles in your brain starting to stretch a little. If you're feeling confused, get your pencil or pen or finger right back up here on the screen and trace along the edge of each shape's outline until you it pops back in your perception as unique.

Now, before you finish, scroll slowly to the very last picture. You probably saw this coming a long time ago. If so, fine. But if not, when you see the final picture, you're in for a leap of a surprise. Or maybe you'll re-experience that moment when the picture first made sense to you...

Bessie Who?

Recall that all shadows and highlight shapes are as unique as any other feature on the face. Learn to see them as distinct, unique and of infinite variety (even if they belong to a recognized group of dogs or cats or Hollywood celebs or Capital Hill noisemakers). Once you learn to see each shape as it is, and to keep seeing it as unique, and capture it's uniqueness on the paper, you'll have crossed a significant threshold. 

Perceiving negative space and light and shadow a very similar skills. See these other sections to see them worked in much greater detail.


The Real Bessie

Anything look familiar in this simple hi-contrast picture? Look back up the page until you can find the segment of this face in each of the other pictures...heck, they might even be in Bessie above :-)


Take care and keep on drawing!


Kasbohm & Company's

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