Bill Peet's "Cappyboppy" and a Recurring Rant...

I found this cool sketch on the site It's a drawing of Bill's son carrying a capybara.

I'm assuming that everyone knows all about the value of drawing so that your poses read in silhouette (if not, scroll to the bottom of the post for a refresher). This drawing is a great example of that. Also the contrast between the long, skinny legs of the boy and the plump animal provides a lot of interest to the drawing. And the nice lean over on the boy makes the drawing have a lot of weight and interest that it wouldn't have if the boy was straight up and down. The lean is indicated very easily and simply - the closer leg is stretched out and the far one is bent, helping to give the feeling of the hips tilting away from us, and one shoulder is higher than the other, covering up most of the near side of the head and indicating that he's leaning away and that his shoulders are tilted to compensate for the heavy weight.

It's a great little quick sketch with a lot going for it. If you've read the Bill Peet book "Cappyboppy", it's all about his son's experience with a capybara he brought home from South America. Here's a page on that shows photos of the real episode.

So it's a safe assumption to make that Bill did this sketch from life, or at least based on real life.

Which gives me a reason to nag you about one of my annoyingly persistent rants: if you're interested in being a good artist in any capacity, you should train yourself to carry a sketchbook (and use it).

I've seen artists on the Internet question the necessity for this, saying that you can't really learn anything about drawing by carrying a sketchbook, and that the drawings you do in a sketchbook are always dashed off, careless and sloppy.

So let me take this opportunity to clarify: I don't carry a sketchbook to draw pretty pictures in; in fact, I hate my sketchbook drawings. I'm not really a "sketchbook" kind of artist. I'm better when I can draw a rough version of a drawing and then put a piece of paper over it and redraw it and redraw it, trying out different things and solving problems until I'm happy with it.

I don't carry a sketchbook to do pretty drawings in it.

The real reason I carry a sketchbook is so that I can record and remember details that I observe. Drawing from real life is the best way to teach yourself how people look, act and move in a naturalistic way (and help you remember it later). Life drawing and studying the work of other artists and animators are great learning experiences, but those things aren't the same as studying real life. A great life drawing is an amazing feat and you can learn a lot about drawing and anatomy by going to life drawing. But very few life drawings give you a lot of information about the model's personality and what kind of human being they are. You're never going to create an original story or character based on a life drawing model you saw.

If you're not getting ideas about new characters from people you see in real life then you're probably basing them on some source material that you saw or read, and it will always feel false and two-dimensional to an audience, because it's second generation. It's like a xerox that's been xeroxed, and it's never as good as the original. You can't fake originality and sincerity.

The same thing goes for stories: there's so many great real things that happen every day around us that if you just open your eyes and check it out, it can give you infinite ideas about stories that can be told. Why base your stories on other stories that have already been turned into movies and TV shows?

That's the biggest problem I see with Movies and particularly TV shows these days, and particularly animated TV shows. A lot of them seem to be very pale copies of stuff that's already been done a hundred times.

I keep pointing out that everyone looks back at the stuff that was done in the 30s, 40s and 50s as the great age where animators invented and explored and weren't afraid to take risks. It's no coincidence that they didn't have an animation history to look back on (and steal from). They couldn't study animated films on DVD or read "art of" books to learn how to make a film. So they were free to try new stuff and experiment to figure out what works, and they were forced to base their characters on real people that they knew, and I think it made their characters more real and interesting and memorable.

In one version of the Famous Artist Course, there's a great chapter all about this topic. They even printed this admonition in big bold type:

The illustrators who created the school knew that good art holds up a mirror to mankind and shows us some truth about ourselves. Norman Rockwell's work is considered quaint and he gets knocked for a lot of things, but the fact is that his art endures because he had a knack for hitting on certain truths about human beings.

One thing that amazes me is how well his paintings are "cast" - the people in his painting always look just right for the part, with just the right face, body type and clothes. I don't know how you train yourself to be that attentive to detail without studying it from real life and observing the real people that you interact with every day.

Okay, there you go, I'll try and shut up about this topic for a while.

An old handout about silhouette: