Take Back The Lines

Drawing was the first creative activity I engaged in. I drew various dinosaurs and violent action scenes the moment my drawings changed from formless abstractions to identifiable objects. In high school, the drawings evolved to a point where they served mainly as preliminary sketches before getting permission to do the final artwork for a project, a task that was always met with plenty of personal resistance.

College is when drawing began for me. It’s when the forms had to express much more than seemed possible. During my years in animation, I tried and failed many times to make a simple line drawing imply a character’s weight, emotion, build and fashion, and all in a way that made the drawing feel three-dimensional. My perception of drawing progressed as I was exposed to more and more influences. I learned that lines could actually make your drawing sentient and they would appear to come to life during animation tests. A good reference would be Glenn Keane’s rough animation tests exploring the character of Tarzan, for the Disney feature which you can view below.

However, in animation today there are no lines. The only lines that still exist in a production are the lines used to draw the initial preliminary designs. After a design gets the green light, it is passed to the 3D modellers and technical teams. Where are all of the displaced artists who used to draw all the incredible lines by hand? Have they been molded to learn technical 3D animation software so that they can manipulate digital puppets while staring into computer screens for the majority of their days? As someone who learned 3D animation software, I can say that it doesn’t feel the same as drawing. There is a certain lifelessness to it that is hard to describe, and only those artists who have drawn many lines can recognize.


After graduating from Animation, I missed the weekly figure drawing classes almost immediately. My father and I started our own figure drawing sessions from our family home in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. He is a retired high school art teacher, so it suits both of us to keep up our discipline by practicing drawing, and it turned out that others in our community were keen on the idea too. We’ve been running these sessions for almost three years now, with hardly any cancellations due to lack of attendance. It’s a modest beginning for something that I hope to see become much larger: a movement of traditional artists taking back the lines that have left the realms of the larger animation studios.  


In a world where most professional artists draw each line on a Wacom Tablet, only to see them forever exist as pixels, I hope to encourage others to ‘take back the line’. There are undoubted benefits to digital artwork, but it still feels like a regression of our sensory experience with the art form. Although I can understand the appeal of digital artwork, I challenge artists to pick up a piece of Nitram Charcoal from time to time in order to remember how it feels. Anyone who has felt the refreshing nature of switching mediums every now and again will recognize how the experience of using different tools impacts the design choices you subconsciously, or consciously, make when rendering a composition or form.  


I’m not declaring war on digital art, just merely highlighting the joy of making lines with tactile tools that have been collecting far too much dust lately. You can find out more about the figure drawing sessions here and listen to a radio interview discussing a figure drawing workshop here.

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