Archive for the ‘Cartooning’ Category


“There’s really not much to do. I’ve tried to do a little writing. I’ve been drawing again, which I hadn’t done in many years,   that’s been a wonderful thing, actually, having this time on one’s hands, to take up things again….A lot of my life I wanted to be some kind of artist, a cartoonist or some sort of illustrator…

All I can do is sort of weird funny faces…I just kind of do these faces…I got a lot of time on my hands….honestly, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing…I never really took any lessons….It’s been fun to do it again….it’s been a good thing.”

Giamatti is in a Zoom (or Zoom-ish) conversation with Stephen Colbert and he’s saying that this self-isolation has a good effect.  He has rediscovered the pleasure of drawing!

At that point the conversation had a chance of going deeper into how drawing feels in the mind, how it’s developed over centuries, how it’s taught or not taught and such, but this is TV, so Colbert takes the shallow turn and suggests Giamatti could do a graphic novel. That’s ok.

Nevertheless, we had witnessed a subtle moment in American television:   we heard a big star saying to another big star in the entertainment industry that being alone in your quiet room and drawing—that is a wonderful thing.

Yes, it is.


You can see that conversation at


All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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This person is powerful, authoritative and in control.  Not because of who she is (we don’t need to know) but because of how she sits.  More important than her pose is how the drawing sits on the page.  It’s the composition that conveys authority: the stable triangle.

The artist/student worked from a photo I had found in The New Yorker.


This woman clearly wants to intimidate us with her stare, her full-frontal symmetry,  the loosely clasped hands ready to attack, the machismo in the spread legs and feet firmly planted for maximum balance.

Despite these theatrics, the photo doesn’t work.  She’s ridiculous. She wants to look tough but, look, she’s a shorty—those platform shoes!

QueenVictoriaLinesI know, Victoria, queen & empress, barely came up to five feet and Alexander, the so called Great, was a runt, but photographers, painters and sculptors had tricks to make them look grand anyway.

That trick is composition. The most authoritative and  stable compositional trick is the triangle. This is nothing new.  If you look at the dozens of madonnas that Rafael painted you will always find him squeezing the figures into a triangle.  Here are two examples.

RafaelMadonna2Lines Raphael3LinesYou can be sure that he started his drawings for the paintings by roughing in a triangle, just as I’ve done here in green.

For our exercise in class, working from that New Yorker photo (magnified on the Xerox machine), the students started with a tall triangle on their page. Way at the top, a short horizontal line marked the chin line.  A little farther down, a horizontal line marked the end of the torso which coincided with the knees.  The assignment then was to fit the sitting figure into that A-frame.


In this drawing by Jeanne Mueller you can still see the lines of the A.  I encourage students to minimize erasing and to leave in preliminary outline and guide lines.

The drawing becomes powerful because of the composition.  Compositional thinking will free you from the temptation to obsess about details.  Notice that there’s no need to articulate  those staring eyes.  There’s no need for harsh outlines. The line quality is actually fleeting and open.  Look how asymmetrically the hair is drawn.  We don’t need any literalness or precision.  The power is in the composition.

Take the A-Frame and your drawing won’t derail.

RafaelMadonna1LinesRaphael, 1483-1520

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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Cartooning looks ease.  The only way it can be effective is if you make it look easy.  Like magic:  the rope trick can be learned, for example, but it takes a lot of practice to make it look smooth and convincing.  Similarly, cartooning is not an easy art form.  Practice, practice.

I teach a class called “Cartooning for Teachers.”  It’s not just teachers who sign up, but also therapists and public speakers, a population that knows the importance of practice and making things go smooth. This week one such class came to an end, after eight sessions.  It was actually organized privately, by teachers and a school psychologist, who were determined to get this skill under their belt and onto the chalk boards.  What fun!  But also, you guessed it, a lot of practice and perseverance.

We started with a simple pudgy bear and progressed to the cat, dog, tiger, bull, viper, and sassy bunny.  All of these characters were accessorized with hand gestures, tails, and attitude shoulders.  Gotta go for attitude, it’s the name of the game!  By the middle of the course, the students were eager to get into human forms.  The whole thing is about humanness, of course.   Animals in themselves are not funny.  We think they’re drole because we project  human attributes into them. So, when you’re learning to draw the pudgy bear, for example, you’re actually learning a lot about what makes a face a face and what makes for nuances in expression—meaning human expression.  In the course of these eight weeks the nuances got more complex and the layers of meaning piled on.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that I recommend this course for serious portrait artists.

During the class I drew with marker on three-foot- high brown construction paper taped to a board.  Shown here (above) are some of the sections from that paper.   I also sat next to students and drew along with them (white paper) so they could see how I would develop a character, face and gesture.  We easily transitioned from animal to human faces.  The value of the course was obvious to all.  But it was just a beginning–like most everything else we do.  Practice, practice.

See also, www.khilden.com

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