Thursday, March 3, 2011

100 Words for Sad

Guess what? Wikipedia just told me that Inuit languages DO NOT, in fact, have 100 words for snow! This is a shame, as I've always liked the idea that you could know something so well that you have 100 words to describe it. Well, I'm still going to use this idea for my blog post, because one shouldn't let truth get in the way of a good story (which, according to Wikipedia, is not a quote from Mark Twain).

It turns out, one of the very hardest paintings in Olympig ended up being this one:

I was kind of surprised when my first- and then a second- attempt at the painting ended up looking awful! I had been excited to paint this one, and I thought it would be pretty easy. After all, I find pictures of people crying to be generally amusing.

But something wasn't working in the paintings. He looked TOO sad, and it wasn't coming across as funny at all. My art director, and some participants in my PNCA class liked his hands up closer to his eyes, so I mucked around with that a bit:

But it just wasn't working. So I sat back to think for a bit. What KIND of crying did I want to portray? With his hands up near his eyes, it suggests Boomer is kind of ashamed of his crying, wants to hide himself a bit- that he's kind of in control of himself. This is not the kind of crying I wanted. I wanted the kind of crying where you're so miserable you don't care who sees it- your arms go limp, your head goes back, and there's nothing to do but cry.

Once I brought a different body language to the sketch, I immediately liked it better.

This ended up being the sketch I used for the final painting. I tried to use every detail I could- his ears, his nostrils, his lips, his chin(s), his shoulders- to portray the quivering, wretched mess he is at this moment.
When you're working in a medium that relies so heavily on pictures to tell the story, it can take a lot of work to be sure you've captured the subtle and nuanced shade of emotion you want to get across. Just as writers labor over choosing exactly the right word, illustrators have to be sure they've chosen exactly the right expression.

Marla Frazee is a master at this. In the illustration below, from her book ROLLER COASTER, she manages to portray every character as excited- but a slightly different kind of excited, depending on the character. The little girl is excited, but still not quite sure if she likes the ride. Her dad is excited, but also nervous about how his daughter is feeling. The elderly couple have been on this ride before (or one like it), and they're having a grand old time. The two macho guys are excited, but have realized the roller coaster is scarier than they anticipated... and so on. Subtle, subtle nuances in their expressions that tell a complete story- despite the very sparse text.


Anonymous said...

So true. So many different emotions can look so different.

Paul Hoppe said...

Thanks for sharing, Vicky! I know this feeling…sometimes the same thing happens with smiling / being happy! It's a good tip to draw the whole body / posture / body language~

Art From Books said...

Not taking away anything from your pictures, i have to say the two funniest things was the realisation that there aren't 100 words for snow in inuit and the crying pictures! Loved the drawings as well

Rebecca Evans said...

Thanks for posting your sketches and the process you went through to get there Victoria. I've had the same battle with my sketches in the past. Drawing an emotion I know so well and yet somehow it's not coming across at all like I want on the paper! It feels as if my pen is doing battle with my brain. I've found that knowing something well somehow does not always translate into my being able to draw it well. Then I always head back to the computer and more research!