As an art student, you can spend countless hours learning to draw models and still lives as realistically as possible, mastering the subtleties of shading, form, and anatomy. But as a cartoonist, if you try to convey that same level of detail and accuracy in each panel, you'll probably go mad, and you'll miss a lot of what makes cartooning so magical. It's taken me a long time to learn that lesson, and I often need reminders.
Maybe there are times when you need to sink whatever amount of time is necessary into an illustration to show off everything you can do. The cover illustration of your book? Sure. But as I've developed a career in art and illustration, I've learned the importance of doing more with less. There are deadlines to meet, hours to bill, priorities to make. Do you want to sink more time into fewer pieces, or get a lot done in a simpler style?
Which of these drawings is better? I don't know, that's a complicated question. But I can tell you that the goofy drawing on the right took me a lot less time, and I like it a lot more.
When I was first diving into my own comics after college, I was trying to make every single page as gorgeous as it could be. But I had a hard time making any progress, because I would keep going back, fixing any perceived mistakes, doubting every step.
A good cartoonist is quick. They develop a set of tools and tricks that get the job done: they're efficient, effective, and they're fun.
One of my very favorite artists working in superhero comics today is Chris Samnee. He manages to capture a sense of solidity and life with minimal details, clever compositions, and simple use of shadow. (Seriously, check out that gorgeous work on the left! He's great.)
All of us develop our own style, one that involves our own ways of simplifying the world – whether it's through playful abstraction of the human body, whimsical linework, or whatever. That's the magic of cartooning!
So what are some ways to simplify?
- Stop worrying about what looks "real" and concern yourself with what works.
- Don't just copy. Or don't ONLY copy from other people's work. You can definitely learn a lot from other artists, but you'll only develop your own distinctive style experimenting on your own!
- Draw small! I love doodling in a tiny sketchbook to keep myself from getting too detailed.
- Set time limits! When I drew my comic MANTA-DAD, I limited myself to 2 hours a page. It wasn't always pretty, but it got done. Plus, I learned a lot and drew so many hunky men.
- Give yourself deadlines! I send out dozens of original drawings to my Patreon supporters every month, so I keep them quick, and I keep them fun.
- Doodle when you're tired and don't care! Weird stuff will happen.
- If you're working digitally, don't let yourself zoom in past a certain point. And zoom all the way out every few minutes to make sure that the full page looks amazing.
- If you're not working digitally, take frequent breaks to step back from your desk and see how it looks from afar.
- Use the biggest, thickest line you can. Don't get hung up on fine lines, hatching, all that small stuff. Try using thick Sharpies and see what happens.
- Insert some chaos into your process. I like to use a rough, textured drawing tool when working digitally.