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Levels of Detail - Little Rivkah's Journal — LiveJournal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Rivkah רִבְקָה

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Levels of Detail [Sep. 12th, 2013|10:21 am]
Rivkah רִבְקָה

I have never been much of a videogame player, but the games I have enjoyed have all shared one thing in common: the quality of exploration and discovery. Secret drawers to unlock. Filing cabinets through which to sift. Boxes and desks to be moved to discover what’s beneath or the hidden door behind them. Dusty attics and moldy basements are my playground. Once, in the early months of my move to New York, deskless and bedless, I acquired an ancient teacher’s desk from the basement of a Catholic school to add to my then-empty room, and upon opening and cleaning the drawers, I discovered magic: Yellowed handwritten letters in a spidery, illegible scrawl. Dusty pins with the Virgin Mary embossed upon them. Stamps from Longe Agoe. The discovery of objects was almost more of a treasure than the desk itself, and when eventually the desk was handed off to a neighbor, I tucked inside the crumbling letters and pins for the next curious explorer to unearth.

So what is it within us that is so clearly drawn to this feeling of discovery? For the natural storyteller, the answer must be obvious: objects are the bearers of stories. Within each object is a hidden tale, and objects separated from their owners inbibe a certain magical quality all their own. What was once a whole story must now be constructed from partial cloth, and where there are gaps to be filled with the imagination of the storyteller (or the reader, now become the storyteller’s sleuth), those options are only as limited as our capacity to think. The infinite is possible.

In the stories I have been currently drawing, I have spent perhaps a ridiculous amount of time on clutter, clothes, and an attention to background detail that I think would drive most people to insanity. Because for me, every half-open drawer, every stitch of scrollwork on a boot, every random scrap of paper must have a story, or it has no place in MY story. Every Objecte is a story within a story, sometimes within another story, and while the reader may not be aware of the layers, the specifics, the history of every object or the hands it has passed through, I am, and it creates a world for me that is more real, more alive than it would be if I just placed random objects in a room without thought or drew from a photo or a hat. Everything comes from within.

This is the reason, too, why I generally prefer writing comics to prose (but not always!). Being visual, I can tell a primary story through dialog and a secondary story through visual narrative. But then there’s the tertiary tales: the frames within frames. It turns every page into a unique treasure-hunt  full of discovery and wonder. Some of my favorite books as a child were the Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem. Her lush cutaway illustrations of tree-stump mouse mansions, murky underground mazes, and glittering ice castles left me enchanted and entranced. For in the stitching of every sack of flour, in the icing of every cake, were drawn minute details that the casual observer could not catch until they leaned closer, nose practically to her sepia and yellow-pink page, and peered deep within the story. And every single item had a story and a history of its own.

The objects in our homes, on the streets, in our workplaces, in our restaurantes … they did not just magically come to be. They were placed there by somebody at some point in time, influencing the lives around them. It is through these levels of visual narrative that the storyteller is able to not only bring the story to life, but bring the WORLD to life so that it’s practically sitting in your living room and whispering like an old friend in your ear.



[User Picture]From: tormentedartist
2013-09-14 12:39 pm (UTC)
I love your attention to detail. My question is how much do you like drawing people? Because I tend to feel like I spend 5% of my time drawing the people and 95% of the time drawing the environment. And that bothers me. Because of me drawing people is where the real fun and challenge is at. How do you feel?
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[User Picture]From: lilrivkah
2013-09-14 05:16 pm (UTC)
I absolutely love drawing people. In general I spend about 50% of my time figuring out the composition and layout (what goes where, what the camera angle will be, close-up or zoom out, etc), 25% on backgrounds, and 25% on people (broken down equally into body language, facial expression, and clothing). Used to be I didn't spend so much time on backgrounds and far more on facial expressions and body language and clothes (ie: people), but that has shifted as I've gotten better with perspective and backgrounds have become less of a drawing challenge and more of a mental challenge.

Long, long ago, I used to have a job converting photos of buildings into illustrations for screenprinting onto various items (ornaments, mugs, etc), and I've found what's crucial with backgrounds is figuring out less what to leave in and more what to leave OUT: sketching just enough texture on a roof to indicate if it's Spanish tile, slate, tile, thatch, etc. Because these books are going to be in color, I don't want the blacks to compete too much with the colors, so I've had to really think about exactly how much detail to leave in and how much to leave out. Which is difficult, because I'm tempted to spend forever on backgrounds, too! But I like nice bright candy colors, and too much detail inked in muddies color (IMHO).

I believe that finding that perfect balance of detail between people and backgrounds is crucial to grounding the characters and keeping them from feeling too cartoonish or like they're floating on the page. I do think the visual storytelling benefits from having somewhat more detailed backgrounds than characters because it creates texture that keeps characters from feeling like they're floating, but too much detail and you end up with a mess of penmarks behind clean, clear, cartoonish-looking characters.

Btw, do you mind if I repost your question and my response in my main blog (http://www.rivkah.com/)? It's a great question!
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[User Picture]From: tormentedartist
2013-09-15 07:05 am (UTC)
No not at all please repost it . And I agree with you on the backgrounds...but I tend to use colorholds on the backgrounds to mute them if needed. So they look good to me before and after I color.
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[User Picture]From: shipperamy
2013-09-16 04:15 am (UTC)
Thank you for mentioning Brambly Hedge! I'd never heard of the series, but I looked it up on Amazon and I'm going to order a copy of the collection. It sounds wonderful!

Your illustrations look very cool! And I also like video games where you can poke around and find things. :)
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