The Artistic Process, Animated

The Artistic Process, Animated

Space Ship by DaveAs a child, I used to draw lots of spaceships. However, I never mastered 3D rendering by hand, or any kind of real expressive drawing. I was puzzled why it was so difficult for me, and asked the artistic people in my life how they did it, and they would tell me, “just draw”. I would and get frustrated; I felt like I was missing something. Was it drive? Talent? Eventually I gravitated towards computers and programming, taking the occasional stab at illustration but feeling like I was still not doing something right. It was very difficult, and my head hurt whenever I did it.

It was a few years later that I realized what was wrong: I was trying to previsualize everything in my head before drawing it. I thought that’s how it worked; think of what you’re going to draw, and then put it on paper. I was watching my buddy Alen do some concept work, and and I asked him how he knew how things would come out. He said, “I don’t. I just draw and work with what happens.” Bing!

Since then, I became aware that there’s at least two places where I think : inside and outside my head. I have a strong predisposition toward thinking before acting. This is kind of how programming works for me; I intuit the approach, then I build it.

Many artists, however, literally think on the paper. I found several examples of the artistic process from around the web. Unfortunately, I couldn’t track down two of the artists’ names; please leave a comment if you know them.


0112-dg4.jpg0112-dg5.jpg0112-dg6.jpg It’s fascinating to watch an experienced artist at work. This animation of an artist drawing a portait of a girl shows the process from start to finish; note how the drawing builds from a foundation to the finished product. That’s not unlike what a technical person might go through; it’s just a different expressive space.

For example, I could make the following analogies between drawing and software engineering:

  • sketching out the structure == architecture
  • filling in the base colors == designing the API framework
  • detailing critical focal elements like eyes == implementing key base classes
  • adjusting relationships between elements == tuning, tweaking
  • cleaning up == packaging up the release candidate

0112-dgf1.jpg0112-dgf2.jpg0112-dgf3.jpg This animated drawing is even more structural in its approach: it starts with a skeleton, adds flesh, and then layers clothing on top. I imagine that there’s an interesting feedback loop happening: there’s internal knowledge of anatomy and proportion that exists in the artist’s head. It’s tossed on the paper, and adjusted until it “looks right”. The underdrawing forms the foundation for further drawing; look how much erasing and overdrawing occurs as part of the creation process.

0112-hitler.jpgOver on Brad’s Illustration Weblog, he has a movie of him drawing a caricature of Hitler in Macromedia Flash. Here, he’s starting with a scanned underdrawing, and he goes around filling in shapes and adjusting things. He’s in pure production mode, and it’s interesting to see how he solves the problem of creating the most efficient—yet expressive—representation he can so he can make a buck :-) Absolutely fascinating.

Scary Go RoundOne of my favorite webstrips is John Allison’s scary go round. Over the years he’s refined his style and process into something all his own…I love it. His strip is very much dialogue driven, so it’s interesting for me to see how he puts together the strip. Yeah, I know this one isn’t animated, but at least it’s sequential.

So what’s the point of all this?

All of these examples show the creative process happening outside the head. So if you’re feeling blocked…try making some marks on paper and work it out there. That’s the power of externalized thinking…by engaging the make, assess, make again cycle, you can kickstart a lot of things. Even when I’m not comfortable with it, I find that it augments my main creative process (thinking) with new ideas and directions. You just need to be looking for the connections and the opportunities as they unfold.

It’s also fun to try using unusual mediums of expression like legos, wooden blocks, shotglasses filled with beads, or even ground beef…using a different medium than you are used to when you’re just playin’ around is a great unblocking technique.

Excuse me while I go make some hamburgers. :-)


  1. Beth 19 years ago

    After being in school for illustration, I can’t really imagine drawing a figure without at least sketching the skeleton first.  It totally makes your drawings more natural.

  2. Dewayne Mikkelson 19 years ago

    This is a great way to learn for any of us poor aspiring artists. All of the books that I have looked at rarely give enough of the interim steps to help me understand how to move from one point to another in my drawings.

  3. Krishna 19 years ago

    just came across your site from Brad Fitzpatrick’s weblog – the animation process you’ve put together looks amazing!

  4. Dave Seah 19 years ago

    Hi Krishna! I didn’t put together the animation process pieces, so I’ve clarified the post so I don’t get the credit for it! But thanks for the nice comment!