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Interview with Howard Tayler

I recently had the privelege of speaking with Howard Tayler on instant messenger. For those of you who don’t know, Howard Tayler writes and draws the online comic strip Schlock Mercenary, which I have been a regular reader of for some time. Howard is a very interesting person, being not only a focal point for my interests in Open Source software, but also drawing, science fiction, and humor. In other words, he’s a really neat guy and a geek’s geek. He recently managed to hit the East Coast (on a personal trip) and we barely missed meeting each other, an event which may come to be heralded as the beginning of the decline of Western Civilization. Or it may not. In any case, I IM’d him to express my gratitude that he’d been willing to meet, despite the scheduling problems, and we got into a discussion about drawing. He’s been so kind as to allow me to edit that discussion together into a coherent whole (which has been edited for your reading pleasure as well as some small amount of content and formatting/spelling). Without further ado, here’s my impromptu “interview with a webcartoonist”.

Chris Sanner : I’m trying to teach myself to draw….you’re relatively new to the field, as it were, having taught yourself to draw just prior to starting your comic, and I thought you might have suggestions for someone just getting started (apart from your suggestion to “draw something every day”, which I’ve already taken/am taking/willing haven on takeum)
Howard Tayler: Reductionism.
CS : ?
CS : Okay.
HT: Learn to reduce what you’re looking at to simple shapes.
HT: The best way to draw the human figure is to understand the shapes that govern it.
HT: The head is a rectangle (jaw) fastened to a sphere, for instance.
HT: The spine is a shallow S-curve.
HT: At a higher level, you can draw a female silhouette with a pair of point-down triangles.
HT: Smooth the edges a bit, add an oblong head…
HT: Reductionism allows you to learn shortcuts, and it trains your eyes and your hands so that you can be more accurate when you draw.
CS : is it difficult to draw the “real” figures over these reduced ones? Or is this something I should be doing separately to learn HOW to draw?
HT: Most good cartoonists and lots of good artists use the reduction shapes as building blocks.
HT: You start with those in pencil, you pencil refinements to them, until you have the outlines of your actual figure. Then you ink over the lines you want to KEEP.
CS : interesting….
HT: The rest of the lines are called “construction lines,” and you can scan in B/W at a high brightness to make them vanish.
HT: Or you can just erase them, which is what I do.
CS : I’ve been noticing how CLEAN most online strips look….I’d been wondering how those lines went away…
HT: The cleanness you see in some OL strips is an artifact of Photoshop, or even FLASH.
HT: Penny Arcade, for instance… their convention strips are not photoshopped. Their regular strips have much of the line-work ADDED on the computer.
CS : Howso flash?
HT: There are strips out there that are rendered in Flash. The lines are not “real” lines. They’re rendered vectors, and look absolutely as crisp as your display will allow them to.
CS : Gabe of PA has recently started uploading pages from his sketchbook….I’ve found those very interesting and more than a bit helpful. does looking at other people’s sketches help you too?
HT: A little.
HT: What helps more is watching people draw.
HT: It’s also useful for me to save a few concept drawings WITHOUT removing the construction lines. That way I can look back at “how I did it” and find ways to repeat what I liked and fix what I didn’t.
CS : Are there any instructional sources/books you’d recommend?
HT: There are lots of good books out there. Spend an hour in Barnes & Noble or someplace else perusing their “how to draw” shelves and find something that makes you go “a-HA!”
CS : I can’t tell you how helpful you’ve been….
HT: No problem.
CS : Glancing back through this, it occurs to me that others may find some of your advice helpful….is there any chance I could post an edited version of this chat on my blog?
HT: By all means. I’ll go ahead and link to it.
CS : thanks again. I’ll let you go for now.

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