4.4 Using basic narrative structure

The purpose of this exercise was to explore basic narrative structure by developing and modifying previous sketches.

Key words from the brief:

  • There are three tasks
  • Take a single image from any point in your sketchbook so far and duplicate the image three times
  • Alter two of the images to create a beginning, middle and end-sequence
  • Repeat the same task. This time when creating your beginning, middle and end, change the passage of time across three images to a different unit of time
  • Finally, imagine a different possibility for the shape and form of one of your earlier drawings by morphing it into a changed shape, using a series of drawings to get there

How I answered the brief

Task 1

Task one involved reviewing my sketchbooks to identify an image that I could modify to create a sequence of three images showing a beginning, middle and end.

I used one the characters I had drawn in Brick Lane as part of Assignment 3 – Illustrative people and places.

Brick Lane sketch 04

One of the challenges I have is drawing characters from imagination i.e. taking an observed character drawing as a starting point and then redrawing the same character believably from different points of view or doing different actions. A good example of where I struggled with this was Assignment 5 – Seven Days (Key steps in illustration). The character’s gestures on Page 3 are wooden and not very believable:

Seven Days – Page 3

I used the first task to challenge myself to see if I had improved technically and creatively since Key Steps in Illustration.

My original reference sketch was drawn standing behind a book stall on Brick Lane. Books were stacked neatly in boxes and customers would browse through the books, pausing to pick out and examine anything of interest. The fact that they stayed still for a short period giving me time to rapidly sketch was my reason for choosing this spot.

The brief I gave myself for this task was to draw a simple 3-panel sequence of my character browsing through and selecting a book to buy. The original sketch was used as reference only, with the artwork in the three panels drawn from scratch.

I have read several books about ways to construct characters using the underlying structure of posture and movement. Conceptually I get it, but the bit I struggle with is the execution.

So for this exercise I cheated a bit. I took reference photographs of myself and then retro fitted the underlying structure to the photos.

I then redrew these on a lightbox adding more of my characters details, and then finally inked the final artwork using pen and Indian Ink on Bristol Board. This ‘traditional’ comic technique was also new. Although I use pen and ink frequently I’ve never tried using it in this context.

The final images were a composite of my pen and ink drawing of the boxes of books in the foreground, the character drawings in the mid ground and another sketch from Assignment 3 – Illustrative people and places, this time a market stall from Spitalfields Market, for the background.

Book stall sequence

I think I achieved my objective to more convincingly portray a character’s actions, but it does not work as an enjoyable narrative sequence because all three panels are from a single point of view i.e. there is not enough action/reaction or variation of framing/composition to provide the viewer with the information they need to better understand the narrative.

Task 2

The brief for this task was to take existing sketches and create a three panel sequence with a beginning, middle and end, this time changing the units of time between each.

One of my favourite and most dramatic examples of a sequence showing the passing of time is in Scott McCloud’s graphic novel ‘The Sculptor’. There is an action scene that takes place over 4-pages where the main protagonist in the book, David, tries to throw himself under a subway train but is rescued at the last moment. The artist combines text, extreme close-ups, obtuse camera angles, facial expressions and reactions and different points of view to create a really memorable and powerful tipping point in the book.

Scott McCloud The Sculptor
Two pages from Scott McCloud’s graphic novel ‘The Sculptor’

I’d already inadvertently started this task by drawing different scenes from around the Barbican Centre at different times of the day as part of 3.0 Observation.

Rather than just rationalise and consolidate these three images into a single cohesive sequence I decided to use the same concept but add a lot more subtlety and additional layers of narrative to the sequence.

The three panels would all be from a fixed position and consist of several objects on a table in front of a window. The drama is created through changes in lighting as the summer sun move across the sky.

Many of the elements in the image were repurposed from earlier work. The tower blocks in the background were lifted from 3.3 Illustrative drawings. The rose and ashtray from a test illustration I did for An unknown intimacy, and the framed portrait was from commuter sketch. The remaining elements were new drawings.

The creative challenge was altering the light and shadows to reflect the different times of the day. There was quite a lot of subtlety in colour balance to achieve this. Photoshop has some great tools that allowed me to be very selective about changing and manipulating only specific areas and layers.

Task 2 development

Following tutor feedback that suggested it would be interesting to have ‘the sequence run day-to-night with lights coming in in the opposite blocks’.

I created a fourth image at night to complete the sequence:

Rose sequence artwork image 04

Task 3

The brief for this task was to take an earlier image, and morph it into something else through a sequence of in-between drawings.

I’ve used this technique before but always using a lightbox.

For this task I was quite experimental working at large scale (A2 sized). The key point is that the start and end subjects are almost the same, the morphing involved moving from a rendering in one media to another.

I chose to work with two of the everyday drawings I made in 1.2 Making mistakes – working fast and cutting up work.

These images were created very rapidly (in under 5-minutes each), and they are A2 sized, so too big to fit onto my A3 lightbox. The challenge was how to create a series of in-between images that maintain the same look, feel and dynamism of the originals.

My method was to lay the images out on a large table and create the in-betweens by physically working on them side-by-side.

The final layer was added using Posta acrylic pens.

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What went well

  • I enjoyed the combination of analogue and digital techniques and building on previously created drawings and reference materials.
  • Taking a rapid Brick Lane character sketch as my starting point for Task 1 validated how useful this form of observational sketchbook drawing is.
  • I think the movements and stance of the figure in Task 1 are believable and a development of where I was at the end of Key Steps in Illustration.
  • The three panels of the rose in the window in Task 2 work well and demonstrate the strength and flexibility of the tools provided by Photoshop and Illustrator.
  • I like the visual quality of the morphing images in Task 3 and can easily see that (with a bit to tightening up), they would work as a convincing animated sequence.

What I would do differently/better

  • I would redesign Task 1 to change the framing of the subject so that the sequence is more satisfying for the reader.
  • It would be interesting to further develop Task 2 using the same scene at night.
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