Plein Air comics
 
I took one of my private comics students outside to draw the other day. I think drawing from observation is absolutely essential to learning to make good comics. It trains the eye and hand and mind in a different way.

We went to a spot along the river where there was an interesting ridgeline, and a few bridges. I demonstrated drawing the ridgeline across the way, and I could tell that at first my student wasn't sure what I was drawing. Translating the view we could see into lines on an index card was a mysterious process for a few minutes. He had to discover how the eye "frames" a scene and then how the hand transfers it onto the page.

In art class in even a good school, I think too often students are copying from photographs or making still life drawings from collected objects on a table. The image is static and contained, or the frame of the room around the objects is small and strange. To see the big wide world and pick just a piece of it to draw - this was a new idea for my student.

He quickly got the hang of it, drawing the view across the river, some trees nearby, and then the bridges down the river a ways - and he almost immediately introduced a story into these drawings. Suddenly there was a speeding car on the bridge, followed by a police cruiser with flashing lights!

Drawing from observation builds a library of images for an artist to draw from again and again. Now that my student has drawn a bridge, he can reference his own experience of drawing a bridge and his own mental files on what bridges look like. If he had looked at a photograph of a bridge, I don't believe the experience of drawing it would be filed away in the same way - not at all. In fact he might sit for an hour trying to think of what a bridge looks like and resort in the end to looking up a picture of one. But the bridge he drew from life is part of a memory and can be accessed in a totally different way.

I look forward to the comics my student makes, full of bridges and rivers and fully realized backgrounds that I can dive right in to!