Creators Corner: Adventures in Cartooning, Week 1

brunetti cartooning cover

I’m a writer, not an artist. But for the next 10 weeks, I’m going to be a cartoonist.

And you can join me on this journey–not only by seeing what I do, but by completing the exercises I do along with me.

The great cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, also a teacher of comics/cartooning, has a book that publishes his course; it is a 10 week “class” that has a few exercises for each week, some of which I might even use in my own graphic novel class.

I thought it’d be fun–especially since I’m a writer and need to challenge my skills as an artist–to run myself through his course and post each of my exercise on here. So without further ado, let’s take the first step in our journey…

Exercise 1.1

This exercise follows these guidelines:

1) Draw a car in 3 minutes.

2) Beneath that, draw a car in 1 1/2 minutes.

3) Beneath that, draw a car for 1 min.

4) And so on, using more intervals like 45 sec, 30 sec, and 10 sec.

5) Repeat with other objects like a castle, cat, and more.

The intent behind this exercise is to streamline your drawing until you have the most iconic and universal representation of that image, while still being detailed and polished enough to ground it in some reality.

This is what I did for the car and castle versions; I think my best in each was my third try, which was always around 45 sec-1 minute.  With less time, my drawings got even worse than my natural skills already are, and with more time, my drawings got too messy but in a different way: too messy with details.

Often, we love looking at the art with the most detail, like Bryan Hitch’s cinematic scope, but this exercise shows that creating too much detail can slow storytelling; we end up focusing more on the beauty of the image than the story itself.  While I’m not looking down on detailed, beautiful artwork, it is helpful to keep this idea in mind and focus on storytelling more than pure aesthetics, adding a gorgeous, detailed page every now and then.

The compromise I’ve seen many artists also take–and the balanced approach I gravitate towards–to find this balance between storytelling and detail, especially manga artists, is to add detail in setting but streamline characters and main objects to their bare essentials. This was a fun, low-pressure first exercise with some good learning opportunities.


Exercise 1.2

This exercise follows these guidelines: From memory, draw quick doodles (spending about 10 seconds or so on each) of about 25 famous cartoon/comic characters.

The intent behind this exercise is twofold:

1) It shows that the most recognizable characters are often still recognizable in the rushed pen of a layman or laywoman; this is generally because those recognizable characters have been streamlined, so we remember and recognize them from less detail than we would think.  This goes hand-in-hand with the streamlining focus of exercise 1.1.

2) It also shows that to draw these characters perfectly, most people would need a model to look at, which also raises the issue of consistency: if we want to cartoon ourselves, we have to create a character than can be duplicated relatively quickly with a constant consistency, and we should have models (showing the same image from different angles) to help accomplish this.

These are some of my doodles; I think the comic characters and Homer Simpson looks good, but some of the others aren’t very recognizable.


Exercise 1.3

This exercise follows these guidelines: Create a grid (like a big 10×10 tic-tac-toe board); spending no more than 5 seconds per drawing, draw whatever word comes to mind (people, objects, places, jobs, feelings, etc…)

The intent behind this exercise is twofold:

1) It shows that when a cartoonist simplifies and boils drawings down to their most basic components, the image is still recognizable and universal, which can actually make a simpler drawing better than a detailed one.

This simplification process is something Brunetti has really hammered in this week, and like any good rule, it’s a great guideline but can always benefit from exceptions when breaking that guideline for a purpose.  And for those familiar  with Brunetti’s work, it’s probably no surprise that he stresses simplicity and clarity above all else.

2) It also shows that obsessing over a drawing for hours isn’t the best approach, because we often add unnecessarily details that distract from the needed, fewer, universal details.

This is what I did, and I think it’s better than the previous exercise, partly because I was free to draw what I wanted (instead of other people’s creations) and because a simpler cartooning style suits my, shall we say, less-than-refined drawing abilities.

That’s it for this week!  It’s been a fun, and educational, experience so far, and I look forward to continuing this for the next 9 weeks.  Check my next post on week two of this journey next week for Graphic Policy.

However, if you want to follow me along for each exercise (not just the week recap), I post each exercise on my blog and at my site,