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On Using 'Shortcuts'

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, June 26, 2021

One of the latest twitter dramas seem to be around artistic shortcuts, and how consumers of comics and webcomics (often non-artists) tend to scoff at any artist that dares admit they use them.

Comic shortcuts could include pre-rendered backgrounds, using 3D programs to arrange spaces or make sure perspective is correct, using 3D models to properly position your character in the frame and draw over them (can I use the T word for this? heresy!), taking photos of yourself posing as the character or photos of your hands to properly draw a grip, etc.

Shortcuts can even be choices of paneling, certain angles to convey scenes, and a lot more.

Comic shortcuts are NOT tracing over other people's art. That's just art theft. Just wanted to make that clear.

What these shortcuts do is dramatically shorten the amount of time necessary for making a comic page, be it for print comics or webcomics. When artists need to crank out several pages in a short amount of time, shortcuts will help them retain their mental and physical health. Overwork and abuse of the hand happen a lot more than people not involved in art would imagine.

Especially if comics are to be updated regularly, while artists also hold down jobs and manage other aspects of daily life, shortcuts can be a lifesaver.

And as this artist aptly said, shortcuts can't be used by amateurs the way they are used by professionals. In order to be able to use a shortcut, you need to have a good understanding of how what you're doing works. That includes anatomy, perspective, proportions, etc. People that don't know how any of that works won't be able to produce work at the same level as those who do just by using the shortcut.

For example, let's take the 3D models of characters. Posing them and using them for a panel is only a shortcut to puzzling out the form in space. Everything else (the particular OC's body type, general posture, personality/body language, clothing, etc) has to be applied on the model by the artist. Otherwise the end result will look stiff and rigid and uniform across characters like… well, a 3D model!

Same goes for photos. I take photos of myself (or my mom takes them for me) for specific poses of ALL of my cast. But if I simply trace over myself I won't be able to depict a child, a teen, a tall man or curvy woman, and so on. Let alone that everyone will look like me in wigs. It won't work. The only thing a photo helps me do is understand how the form of the body will exist in the space I need it to exist and how movement can be conveyed.

Would I be able to do it without the photo ref? Absolutely. But it would take me triple the time it does with the photo ref because I would pose and repose the skeleton until I puzzled out the movement, weight distribution, and balance necessary for what I want to convey. And I don't know about you, but I don't think that's a smart thing to do when working on a deadline.

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EssayBee at 8:27AM, June 29, 2021

BTW, my point below is sort of tangential to the topic, but I think it's all symptoms of the same problem. This isn't to say nuts-and-bolts criticism is bad--constructive criticism is almost always good--but the pervasive need of some folks to belittle creative work because of issues that have no real effect on it's entertainment value is obnoxious--The Simpson's Comic-Book Guy was meant to be parody and not someone to emulate!

EssayBee at 8:15AM, June 29, 2021

So is Charles Shulz guilty of this? I think this all boils down to how consumers of creative works (fans) want to be smarter than the creators and oftentimes totally miss the point of entertainment with these attitudes. (Collider did a great article about this sort of "fan" criticism regarding Raiders of the Lost Ark--if nothing else, the last paragraph really hits the nail on the head about this fan toxicity: .) There was a meta gag in Invincible where Mark is talking to a comic shop guy (hope I'm remembering this correctly) about "lazy" artists reusing panels (this being done in-comic while the artist was reusing panels for the scene).

fallopiancrusader at 8:46AM, June 28, 2021

I'm always amused when I hear people say that drawing from references is cheating. In my opinion, drawing without references is cheating. If you draw without references, you are cheating yourself of the opportunity to become a better artist.

Xade at 3:08PM, June 26, 2021

everyone uses shortcuts. I myself used to use a bare-bones 3d model when I was drawing my comics. now that I went full 3d I even *gasp* use photo reference sometimes. Zeep is currently in a cat-like form so as I need them I use cat poses. It makes the 3d poses look more natural. Heck, even big names like Disney use shortcuts. Pay attention to any dancing princess with a gown and you'll see she uses the same poses. There are a few videos on youtube about it if you're interested. Everyone cheats a little. If you call reference poses and pictures of places cheating then you're a sad person. However, actually using the pictures as the background is definitely cheating. Google SketchUp and the like is too, but not nearly as bad since it has a nice toony render. My point is, leave the artist alone, let them do what they have to, and enjoy the work. Or just don't read it. Makes no difference to me.

bravo1102 at 2:45PM, June 26, 2021

Technical illustration is impossible without references. It has to be as exact as possible so it's identifiable. That would have been a main field if I had pursued illustration. Helps that I'm a long time model builder. I can still do the models not the drawing. I draw anything more than a few lines and the wrist and elbow need ice. :( Why do you think my drawn comic is about a straw?

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:33AM, June 26, 2021

It's always the same. People when they engage with art only sees the finnished results and they naively assume that it's all just fun and games because "hey, the person is doing something he or she is passionate about". They don't see all of the scope involved, all of the elements that must be assessed and carefully executed and not to mention all the time and concentration that it actually takes to do it well. It really isn't until you try doing it yourself that you truly understands. I'm proud of myself that I was able to use referencing to draw a fairly realistic-looking Beretta in in the grip of the villain in Molly Lusc. But maaan did it take me time to get it right. There are so many little details going into a real life gun that recquires a good sense of shape, placement, volume and composition to make it look convincing enough on a drawn page.

plymayer at 1:25AM, June 26, 2021

Some of my shortcuts take me longer to pull off than just doing it.

bravo1102 at 1:16AM, June 26, 2021

When in my classes I was told you don't know a program until you routinely use the keyboard shortcuts. That separates the amateur and the professional. The professional doesn't need to click on drop down menus just a couple of key strokes. ;)

bravo1102 at 1:13AM, June 26, 2021

Models have been used for drawing of things as long as there has been drawings of things. Artists have always used shortcuts for backgrounds using stencils, tracing and models going back for as long as there has been representative art. You got to illustrate all the walls of that temple, you're going to come up with ways to make the job easier and faster. So this is nothing new, just a trade secret of sorts artists kept hidden to increase their worth and stature in society. And in most societies artists weren't exactly respected as anything but another craftsman. And as hushicho said being a professional is all about knowing the shortcuts.

cdmalcolm1 at 1:05AM, June 26, 2021

I more or less use shortcuts all the time. More so as tools. Drawing everything from scratch does take more time for me. However, if I’m only doing one or two jobs like rendering in black and white with word contexts, my shortcuts use are cut down to maybe 2 to 4. No color. The shortcuts I use are mainly for writing direct on pages, pre drawn backgrounds I make, go directly to coloring instead of inking over pencils, take pictures of my wife’s hand holding something and inking out my sound FX over pencils. Ppl have to remember that making a comic by yourself takes on 8 jobs at once. If I had a team like a pro, I wouldn’t need to do as many shortcuts like I do now. I also want to make clear that doing shortcuts for comics vs display pickups are two different things. If I’m just doing color pin ups, I hardly use shortcuts, if at all. It’s only one picture compared to drawing many panels. So yes I cheat.

Jason Moon at 12:54AM, June 26, 2021

Nothing wrong with finding shortcuts and nitches in making your art. But it's very impressive when an artist puts the time and detail in every page. I also love to see artists write their own comic font. Drawing in all those backgrounds and character details really helps improve as an artist.

hushicho at 12:43AM, June 26, 2021

I'd be tempted to say that a large part of being a professional, and furthermore being an authority on any subject, is knowing the shortcuts that an average person wouldn't know. Highly-trained and experienced people in a field know the ways to quickly reach the goals they need, whether that is performing a certain task or finding a specific piece of information. It makes it even clearer that this whole twitter fuss came from a place of profound ignorance on the part of the would-be critics. They can't even reason out that this is a part of not just art, but most everything in the world.

hushicho at 12:39AM, June 26, 2021

If we spend hours on an elaborate background hand-drawn and detailed, these people will look at it for less than ten seconds and never think of it again. If we spend a few minutes using an image material or other time-saver and integrating it into the work, we're whined at for that, usually by people who weren't reading the comic in the first place. These are the same people who complain that you don't update enough, and they want coloring, and it has to be exactly how they like it, and there isn't enough of this, or that, and ultimately they will always find something to bitch about...but you certainly aren't allowed to use shortcuts, heaven forfend! Because we have nothing but time to slowly chug out the dozen huge pages a week we'd have to do in order to please them. Makes me chuckle a bit though, to think of all the shortcuts they have no idea artists use, that these people never notice and never will. 3D models and such are just modern tools, which we should make free use of.

hushicho at 12:28AM, June 26, 2021

Ah, the twitter crowd -- rarely relevant, and able to say remarkably little, even with the inherent restriction to be concise. Ultimately, shortcuts are essential in efficient production. Even if you can afford a team or assistants, which most of us can't, they're still going to be using shortcuts. Every artist does. There was an especially stupid trend a few years ago where similar know-nothings railed against artists using references (and thus models of any kind), which was about as asinine and accomplished as little as you might imagine. It's the typical effect of a large group of people speaking in total ignorance. And these types of people are the absolute worst to try and appeal to, because ultimately nothing makes them happy, and they will never support you for any significant length of time, to any significant extent.

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