If you're an artist of any kind it's extremely important to hone your craft and technical abilities. After all, the better you draw and the better you are at mastering the drawing tools you use - the easier it is to convey your unique message for public consumption.
But how important is technical ability, really? Obviously, it's very important. Understanding anatomy, light and shadow and perspective are key to solid drawing. It's important to always be improving in those departments. It's also very important to master the tools you use to draw with. Learning to render or color professionally can only increase your appeal to both fans and other professionals.
But what about developing artistic appeal on a much deeper level?
It's not just about finding a pleasing style. Anyone can do that with enough practice. You can always choose a popular artist and emulate his or her style. The blueprint is right there. But why do artists that copy a style never reach the same heights as the artists they're copying? I'm sure you could say that they are always one step behind in a sense. And that's probably true. But a technically proficient artist should be able to not only copy someone's style but even improve upon it, right? But that's very rarely the case.
I know of so many artists that are at extremely high levels in their technical abilities but are missing one key ingredient. The people they draw, the compositions they choose are arguably perfect. The rendering: perfect. The lighting: perfect. And yet... - yawn-.... The drawings or comic book pages are boring. But if the drawing is technically perfect, what could they have done better?
What I'm talking about is basically something called charm.
There's a charm to a Norman Rockwell or a Leyendecker painting. Arthur Adams draws charming people and creatures. Neal Adams drew people that actually looked like they were saying and thinking the word balloons above their heads. Frank Miller and Klaus Janson created a very real and gritty world full of relate-able characters. Think about Berni Wrightson. Walt Simonson and John Buscema's figures are just naturally powerful and strong. Frank Frazetta is a great example of a charming artist. Jack Davis, of Mad Magazine fame, was able to convey a great deal of humor in his work. Animators like Chuck Jones were a breed apart when it came to charm. It seems like certain artists exude charm and others simply do not.
So how does an artist develop charm?
I'm not going to lie to you here and tell you that for some it doesn't come naturally. Because, I believe, that for some - it does come naturally. Some artists naturally infuse personality into their works and you see it immediately. Others need to develop it. The easiest way is to "let go". Let go of the technical side of drawing for a bit and practice conveying emotion in your subjects. You probably have developed a set way of drawing a face or a figure. But that set way of drawing can sometimes limit your ability to convey emotion.
Forgetting what you know and drawing from a raw place allows you to access parts of yourself on an artistic level that technically sound drawing cannot. It's too restrictive. There are too many rules. If you're trying to draw someone laughing - your lines and brush strokes and even the color you choose should mirror that emotion. You'll be surprised how much you can convey with a few "honest" lines. The same goes for a figure in action or drawing an angry or sad face. Take a break from drawing in your practiced style and try drawing how you feel. At first you may not be pleased with how such a drawing may turn out. That's natural. If you could hit a homerun the first time you were at bat or bowl a game of 300 - THAT would be unnatural. Everything takes practice. Including learning how to loosen up and how to draw from a very human and emotional space. And when I say human and emotional, I don't mean you have to get all weepy. I'm talking about just accessing the part of you that is truly relating to whatever is beneath what you're drawing. If it's cowboy smoking a cigarette while leaning on a wooden fence or a couple in love at a cafe - you have to put yourself there. In their heads. But you also have to feel what that fence feels like. What the air feels like. Get inside your subject's head like an actor would. Sometimes the drawing won't be pretty but the you'll truly capture a moment. Capturing a moment is so much more important than drawing the perfect, photo realistic, cowboy hat. It's about feeling. As an artist, if you want to truly deliver your message, you need to transfer that human experience. Your experience. Your perspective. That's the most interesting and entertaining thing about art. That's why art is so powerful.
Once you practice this skill it's rather easy to apply your drawing style and rendering techniques later on. It's like applying the body panels on an automobile frame and engine. Without the engine, the frame and the proper suspension - it's just a pretty car. With all the ingredients in place, the proper foundation, the car is more than just stylistically attractive. It's the full package. Beauty and performance. A masterpiece. Perhaps I'm getting carried away. But that's actually a good thing, right?