Action Drawing, by Ben Caldwell
The title says it all. Cartooning is more than drawing characters and shapes, it’s about getting into the emotion and action of iconic stylized visual communication. Caldwell is the master of this art, and he does it with remarkable style, skill, and appeal. He explains his approach to the medium and his philosophy about it, rather than just presenting tables of character features and line styles. He goes beyond step-by-step instructions and examples by showing how to think in solid cartooning matter, starting with skeletal structures that capture the feel and movement of a subject and building good anatomy over it. It’s clear that years and years of experience and resulting accumulative knowledge went into this drawing book. There’s more packed into it than I can describe in this brief review. Anyone who wants to be a strong artist and to be able to creatively manifest expressive characters entirely from the imagination should buy this book, do the exercises in it, and study it from cover to cover.
Keys to Drawing, by Bert Dodson
This is a methodical, comprehensive guide to drawing by sight. This approach to drawing starts with forgetting everything we know about what the world looks like, and reducing the activity of drawing to a mechanical imitative process, relying entirely on what we see in the subject of our drawing reference. The benefits of practicing this method of drawing are tremendous. It improves technical mastery, enables astounding realism, and requires that we think objectively about our subject. Dodson covers every aspect of sight-drawing, from warm-ups and stylistic handwriting to techniques for mastering the rendering of proportion, light, depth, texture, and composition. This book is beautifully illustrated, thoroughly explained, and has lessons throughout every chapter. Anyone who is looking to grow as an artist and to be able to create compelling works from reference should buy this book, study it chapter by chapter, and do all of the lessons.
Both of these books have a great deal to offer any aspiring, or even seasoned, artist. I have probably spent a great deal more time drawing from sight than I have on cartooning, so I believe I can benefit the most from concentrating on Ben Caldwell’s book right now. I know my sight drawing has a lot of room for improvement as well. My goal in drawing is to get to where I use both approaches interchangeably, committing what I learn from sight-drawing to memory so I can work convincingly without reference, and being conscious of how my comprehension of the subject influences my work. One thing I really appreciate in Bert Dodson’s book is that he encourages copying the masters and other artists with styles that we like. I recognize how my practice of this formed my own style as I grew up, and I like how this approach frees the artist from their own style and any limitations it may impose on their work.