Getting THAT expression right

Hello Peeps! Today is a work blog. Welcome to the inside of my work brain. You might find this of interest if you are a writer who is looking for illustrations, or a budding artist looking for some indications about drawing expressions!

As a cartoonist getting THAT expression right is so important. Otherwise, the joke, the humour,  is… well.. simply not funny! My work is full of energy, a closely observed chaos. So I thought I would talk about what I draw and why in a shameless promotional blog. LOL

My characters express their emotion. You can gauge their mood by looking at them. This is one thing that really drives me forwards. When you are telling a character-driven story or trying to tell a joke, capturing the right expression on the page is everything.

An emotion. In lines. Drawing something still, unmoving, that has energy. THAT.

Silence please...

My great teachers in pose and character are the heroes of the silent era. Chaplin, Buster Keaton. Laurel and Hardy. Harold Lloyd. The ‘original’ clowns. Watching them on film, their often over-exaggerated emotions, were so theatrical, but so precise, that they rarely needed any words.

As a kid, I would be transfixed when I saw any of these on TV. And I had a colour TV by the way, I’m not that old, thanks LOL

I also watched a butt load of cartoons too, mainly Warner Brothers, Wylie Coyote, Bugs Bunny, and any other silent slapstick funstuff, so much so that my mum was yelling at me that “I was far too old to do so”, and “when would I grow up?!”

My reply. “I’m researching.” True story. I justified that eventually, by spending 15 years working in the animation industry.

A life long interest in mime, clowning, puppetry and animation has led me here, able to draw what I see in my head. And importantly being ABLE to imagine, first of all, that emotion, based on a lifetime of observation, and some clown classes.

Clown classes?

I certainly did! I wasn’t sure if clowning or animation was the right path so, you know, I had to try it out.  What I learnt there though was invaluable. The power of the eyes, the direction of the nose and how to make a great silhouette with a pose, so that the emotion is ‘readable’.

Is that funny?  

Take a look at this pose. There are no words, no sound, but you can read that emotion in a flash.

That’s what I love. 

An emotion shown in silence.

Contrast and exaggeration.

In the next simple cartoon of two cats my caption is “Who ate all the food?”  So by using some kind of contrast in this cartoon, it will make the punchline, and bring in the humour.

This first sketch of one of my cats. She nibbles and walks away leaving her food to get eaten. In her pose here I’ve exaggerated her skinniness, so we immediately understand she’s hungry, and also her bony shoulders and the extreme angle of her neck as she peers into the empty bowl. Try out the pose yourself and you’ll feel in someway that emotion.

So to understand who ate all the food. We need to show the other cat. We need a contrast.  So what’s the issue here. My other cat is a fourlegged vacuum cleaner. A FAT cat.

OK cute, but not really funny.

To add something more, I imagine how I might feel, being a cat, when I’ve eaten loads. Happy. Satisfied. Belly up. Sleeping it off.

Again cute, but not where I want to be with funny.

How about eaten TOO MUCH food?  More contrast and more exaggeration.

By widening the arms and legs, widening the pose, exaggerating the mouth and the angle of the limbs the pose takes on a stronger emotion… and its funnier.

I know it works as it makes me chuckle too. I like his balls. Cheeky.

In fact, laughing at my own drawings is one of the best hobbies I have. 😀

Acting for cartoons...

An exercise I used to do with a new group of animation students was to ask them to make a sad face and let their hands drop down by their sides. Try it. ( Try it later if you are public, or get others to join in and make yourself really popular.)

Then I would ask them to make a happy face and wave their hands in the air. Try it.

Then to mix those things. A sad face mixed with your waving hands in the air. A happy face with your hands dangling down. Try it yourself. The emotion changes dramatically. It feels pretty unnatural and raises a giggle. Draw it and it looks downright weird. Haha.

The ‘unclear’ poses are not immediately ‘readable’- Maybe in the first one the character is a little daft, and the second one he might need help? It’s not immediate and can disturb the communication. So an understanding of which physical body position makes an emotion means I can express it, as a cartoonist. Having an illustrator that understands that can make all the difference to the comprehension of a story.

** Ahh yes, the citation – In clown school, I was top of the class for making faces, which is something I am rather proud of. Ahem.

So if you have a character driven story that you need illustrated, then talk to me and I can put the life in it, and we’ll surely have a giggle along the way. 

Unless of course you are a smelly trout and have EVER said one of these things illustrated below… in which case walk away haha

Thanks for listening! If you have any questions then drop me a line or leave a comment!

Live well. Be kind. Be a proud cartoon fan!

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