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From Amateur Art To Manga Illustration: Learning One Through The Basics of the Other

Updated on April 17, 2013

My Shortcomings As An Artist

Much of my development as an artist has been on my own terms. I took what I saw as my strengths and developed them according to what pleased me as opposed to what gave me the highest level of skill and versatility. I became particularly focused on detail and the effect of light and dark. So, for me, it was all about accurate reproduction and effective shading. This worked out well for producing portraits and the drawings I’ve been referring to as “fine art”. Being young and oblivious, I never really gave much thought to the lack of versatility in my chosen course of development.

As time went on, the pleasure of developing into an artist gave way to financial concerns and commercial use became something of a higher priority. I spent more time thinking about revenue and less time thinking about development. But now circumstances have taken a turn and I find myself in a position where the development of versatility has become an issue. As it turns out, the one thing that I thought was the least necessary to learn has become vital. If it is my intention to further develop abilities in manga illustration, I must learn something I passed up as unnecessary in the past.

The Basics of Two Disciplines

Figure drawing is a particularly large part of manga illustration. For myself (at the very least), if it is my intention to be productive in the area of manga illustration, then, a serious familiarity with the mechanics of human figure drawing must be developed. While manga figure drawing has a combined quality of simplicity and standardization, there are qualities about the mechanics that are shared with human figure drawing.

For both manga figure drawing and human figure drawing the drawing of the body is something of a process starting with very simple shapes and forms that follow the more detailed parts of the body. Human figure drawing is a more involved process, the human body being the intricate form that it is. As manga illustration seems to draw its strength from the simplicity of its stylization, manga figure drawing is simpler in its developmental process. Though, like human figure drawing, there are basic forms used to follow through to the more intricate, the levels of intricacy are far less than those found in human figure drawing. In some cases, there’s really not much intricacy to speak of. As a matter of fact, there is more than one way to framework manga illustration figures. The simplicity and standardization of the manga forms allows for this kind of versatility. It also makes the manga form easier to become accustomed to.

However, for the purposes of developing proficiency in one of two or more similar techniques, experience has shown that working toward proficiency in the most difficult makes those less difficult easier (and quicker) to learn. So, for the sake of proficiency in manga figure drawing, a thorough exploration of human figure drawing is in order.

Human Figure Drawing vs. Manga Figure Drawing

After having acquired some instructional literature on both human figure drawing and manga figure drawing as a part of manga illustration, I set out on my exploration of both. With respect to the development of a drawing of the human figure, there seems to be a systematic progression from the simple to the more complex. The body (or parts, as the case may be) is mapped out in a system of basic cylinders and shapes consistent with the parts of the body they represent. Depending on the part of the body, the respective shape is developed into the detailed portion of the body that it represents, or, it’s broken down into another system of smaller shapes.

(One of the things I had to become accustomed to was the fact that, in drawing human figures, the framework is a foundation from which to make changes. It is merely a tool to provide for the positional and proportional demands of the drawing. Detail is not an issue as the framework is typically, piece by piece, replaced by the actual details of the human figure. Easy changes to the position and proportion of the body can be made in the course of developing the rendering.)

The shapes developed into body parts or regions are augmented in their form by the addition of contours formed by muscles, bones, and joints. Other shapes are broken down into what some may call subsystems. A collection of shapes that make up the arm in its entirety (including the hand) will be broken up into more shapes to represent the elbow, hand and fingers. A collection of shapes that represent the leg will be broken up into more shapes that represent the joint at the knee and the feet and toes.

For manga figure drawing, any details will have a less detailed, softer appearance, consistent with the stylization. In fact, the stylization is simple enough to become habit rather quickly by the standards of some and may provide enough versatility to allow for a quicker, easier framework. Details like joints, particularly large joints like elbows and knees, are smoothly worked into the figure and sometimes, depending on the position of the body, are little more than a suggestion.

Conversely, human figure drawing, being more detailed by nature, calls for forms to represent parts like elbows and knees because they appear more prominently in a human figure than in a manga figure, usually, regardless of the position of the body. In human figure drawing, if the figure is rendered on a small scale, as with manga figure drawing, breaking the figure down into smaller shapes becomes unnecessary.

Anatomy vs. Style

Though both human figure drawing and manga figure drawing are facilitated in development by the use of basic shapes and frameworks, the further each of them progresses in their respective development, the greater the differences between them. The bodily proportions for manga figure drawings are a bit different from human figure drawings by virtue of the stylization (typical head to body size ratio for example). The breakdown of the shape systems becomes largely unnecessary early on in the development of a manga figure. For human figure drawings, however, the larger the rendering, the more necessary basic form breakdowns become. With manga figure drawings that may only be necessary if the character being drawn is possessed of some physical attribute that may require it (for example: if a character is very old or rendered with a bodily extreme like being very thin and boney or morbidly obese).

Where manga figure drawing is concerned, though it may not be necessary, such form breakdowns could help in the development of exotic non-human manga figures. Also, in the development of manga figures, more detail does tend to add a greater dramatic quality to them. Learning and exploring human figure drawing may be particularly useful in that the standard demands of the technique required for human figures could provide the groundwork for a greater range of creativity in the development of manga figures. The development of one could provide the foundation for the expansion of the other.

That being said, it should be easy to see how a thorough exploration of human figure drawing could be potentially invaluable to developing a proficiency in manga figure drawing.


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