Tips for transitioning from 'realism' to 'cartoons'
( this is mostly for @stiles-and-the-sourwolf but you’re welcome to read it either way.)
Okay so the thing about drawing in a ‘looser’ style (or a more cartoonish style) is you must must must MUST learn to trust yourself, and be forgiving. It’s really about loosening up the 'rules’ of anatomy and letting things become more exaggerated and fluid.
It’s a huge problem that I’ve found amongst many of my artist friends who tend to draw in a more realistic and 'refined’ style. They’ve gotten into the habit of working into a piece for long periods of time, and striving for a certain level of anatomical perfection that is often—if not always—on par with photo realism. This means that their process usually involves working into small, key parts of the art until it fits together like a lovely puzzle. This is typically called the 'grid technique’, whether you use actual grids or not, and it’s perfect for creating a well rendered, full-feeling piece.
The problem is is that it tends to set you up for a few different problems when it comes to a more cartoonish style.
For one thing, cartoon anatomy is never as it should be, and things are generally never WHERE they should be, either. Buuut, that’s kind of the point, because the style leans heavily on the motion, the shape of the character, and the fluidity of their form.
What matters most in these types of styles is showing the character through their forms as much as possible, and often as SIMPLY as possible. Think about all the hundreds of Disney characters out there, and think about how each one has a very specific body shape to match their personality.
For example: Bell’s father. He’s the typical Disney short, round-bodied, mustaches father figure that you see throughout many Disney films. He has a sputtering voice, a general doofy personality, typically kind of useless, and tends to bounce around like a bouncy ball. His round form encompasses his character much better than, say, a long, tall, skinny body would.
Another (not Disney) example: Miyazaki’s strong female lead-characters. They all tend to be sort of squat, strong bodied, slightly rounder (more trustworthy) faces, with a stubborn pout. You automatically know that this girl/woman means business, and is going to kick butt and take names and, like, save someone/everyone/herself.
Now, a lot of this all comes down to animation, and the fact that simplicity is necessary for something you’re drawing a million times. The simpler the design, the easier it is to draw frame, by frame, by frame. But, even without animating, a key part of drawing in a cartoonish style is always going to be expressing as much information about the character/environment/story as possible with the smallest amount of effort.
A prime example of that would be the Tintin comics, or Charlie Brown. Each comic has it’s own level of simplicity that is, seriously, basically down to single lines and blobs of color. And if you look closely at a comic panel, you’ll probably feel like you’re falling into some abstract piece of art. But, the thing is… they work.
Tintin’s head is about 14 lines total, and yet somehow Hergé manages to bring forth a vast range of emotions and expressions with very little effort at all.
This, again, is also due to repetition. Comic books have always had a tendency to lean towards the more simplistic styles do to the whole, you know, drawing the character over and over again thing. Not that there aren’t comic book artists who totally ignore that and go into some insane levels of detail for each frame, but as a general rule, you’re going to see the 'cartoon’ style in comics. It’s easier to draw, less time consuming, and is often contributed to easier/smoother reading.
Now, trust and forgiveness.
The thing about shooting out a quick sketch is that there’s a certain level of 'I don’t give a fuck’ that goes along with it.
You’ve drawn it, it’s done, it’s out there, who cares?
And to many artists, that’s a screech-worthy sentence right there.
But, it’s sort of an integral part of loosening up your style.
Sketching or drawing out a cartoonish character takes a lot of confidence, trust, and again, that forgiveness thing. You need to teach yourself to let those lines flow freely, to trust that you can complete this figure with or without mistakes, and to forgive yourself when it doesn’t come out looking 'perfect’. This can be hard, or even next to impossible for certain realism artists to accomplish. It can be infuriating for them, especially when they can render so masterfully, and yet this simple… doodle seems to be the bane of their existence.
The trick, for me, is to set yourself up with limitations.
Try drawing with only an ink pen. No erasing, no fixing mistakes, no sketch layer. It might smudge, it might leak, and the second eye might end up too high up. Take the risk, and draw.
Try doing very light blocking with the pen, try going completely free hand and see where some of your anatomy strengths and weakness are.
Try drawing the same face over and over again, until you can get the same amount of details/information down without a second thought. Try simplifying the first drawing. Try limiting the amount of lines or shading used. Challenge yourself to be quick, to finish a complete character in ten minutes or less.
Try using a medium you’ve never used before. Learn to love it or hate it.
Try drawing with your opposite hand. (Does it look terrible? Maybe, but I bet you automatically tried to simplify and expedite the drawing process.)
Try using only blocks of color or shadow to make a face. Do not add details. See how recognizable it looks just from shading.
Try focusing on character qualities and the shapes, poses/posture, and colors that they brings to mind.
Draw a loud, boisterous person. (What shape would they be? Are they muscular, tall, threatening? Do they stand with their chest out? Do they wear reds and warm colors?)
Draw a quiet, timid person. ( are they small, hunched, slim? Do they wrap their arms around themselves a lot? Do they wear blues and browns and colors that blend in with the background?)
Draw a hunter.
Draw a mother.
Draw types of people/animals/environments you’ve never drawn before. Push yourself to do create people with more exaggerated features or postures. People with bigger, longer, skinnier, wider, smaller elements of anatomy.
And, like I said, it will be a challenge. It will feel silly and frustrating and even demeaning. But trust me, learning to loosen up and trust yourself enough make mistakes and accept them can be extremely freeing no matter what style you use.