Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Challenges Of Photo-Realism

Glamourpuss #25 (May 2012)
Art by Dave Sim
(From Cerebus TV Episode #103, 30 March 2012)
The pretty girl is the archetypal challenge in photo-realism. She's made up of tiny, precise, parabolic curves. Whether you're tracing her or creating her, if every line isn't exactly where it needs to be, she isn't a pretty girl. I have plenty of time to write the gags in Glamourpuss. A single figure and face, depending on the complexity and detail, can take several hours to tight-pencil and ink. Add-in trying to try to achieve an actual physical likeness in the case of Kyla, yeah, there's plenty of time for writing and re-writing that page’s dialogue.

I always start with the clothes. Women's fashions are, not surprisingly, like a pretty girl's face - intricate, precise and finely detailed. Everything has to be in the right spot, but it has to appear casual, as if the folds and billows just, y’know, landed that way, instead of being the result of a designer’s life-time of expertise of how a given fabric will behave, where the seams have to go to create a specific visual effect. Translating that effect involves the same sensibility - black blobs, slashes, darts and brush-strokes that look causal but have to be very specific black blobs, slashes, darts and brush-strokes. Same thing with the density. I have to look at the fabric in the photo - in this case, remember what it looked like in person – and then match that relative density with a specific density of pen-line, in this case a slightly broken-in (as opposed to brand new) Gillott #303, and then retain that density over hundreds of hand-drawn parallel lines.

Same deal with the hair. It's meant to appear casual, but it's a lot of work. This photo was shot outside, so odds are it isn't going to be a 100% of what Kyla intended. A stray breeze can knock a woman's 'do 10% out of whack. My job is to use a Winsor Newton Series 7 brush and a Hunt #102 pen-nib to get it back to a 100% of what I think Kyla started with.

And then there's the really finicky-detail. "Er, how would Al Williamson have rendered these?" "One at a time, Dave. Exactly the way you're gonna do it. One at a time."

By the time I'm inking in the little folds of the dress between the tiny perfect parabolic curves of Kyla's left-hand, I'm going, "Okay, that's Kyla done, now for Zootanapuss", I starting to wonder "Maybe there's something else I could be doing for a living that's a little easier in my mid-fifties."

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