Written by Jd Banks
Written by: Jd Banks
My former art teacher once told me, “When you teach a class how to draw fish your way you get a hundred fish drawn the same way.” My teacher’s words echo through my head as I delve into the pages of any “How-To” book I read on drawing.
Artists aren’t born from how many how-to books they read, yet many aspiring artists tend to fall for this myth. After all, if every person just went by a how-to book on drawing, there would be hundreds more of the same-looking manga in circulation.
“How-To” books can’t give you the information you need to read. First off, “How-To” books can never replace an actual living, breathing teacher in art. As much as books try to imitate humans, they will never tell you the sometimes brutal feedback you don’t want to hear. It’s ok if critiques make you feel sick to your stomach—nobody said that feedback was always nice—but the criticism helps improve one's craft.
Also, there’s no set formula in drawing the human figure, human interactions, nor creating compositions. Someone may groan, “Hands are so hard to draw!” That may be, but a book just isn’t a magic bullet for all the problems. Like a fingerprint, every artist’s drawing style and approach is unique.
Ironically, even the “How-To” books may contradict each other. Holding up Hikaru Hayashi’s How to Draw Manga: Martial Arts and Combat Sports next to Makoto Nakajima’s Let’s Draw Manga: All About Fighting is like day and night; they’re completely different from one another.
An example of such differences can be found in the sample scenes staged to look like excerpts from published comics. Hayashi’s Martial Arts (on the left) is reminiscent of classical manga—thick line strokes and toning done solely by pen and crosshatching. On the other hand, Nakajima’s fight scenes (on the right) hold less texture, lending itself to a relatively simpler image.
At any rate, the differences between two artists with how-to manuals could incite confused inquiries from beginners: “Who is right?” The simple truth is that, in art, there really is no right or wrong, and competition between artists doesn’t account for the different styles that suit the audience or the artist themselves.
What also goes often unsaid is that these books hand everyone the same information without any regard to the artist’s personal preferences or artistic style. Something that comes to mind was that in my high school days, I mimicked Aoi Nanase’s illustrations from Angel/Dust, but I was always off the mark. The eyes of my characters were much smaller and the proportions of my figures were different than Nanase’s proportions. Once I “fixed” my drawing to match hers, I was still dissatisfied. The image was drawn to scale but it held no life. Unfortunately for would-be artists, drawing and giving it life doesn’t have follow a cookie-cutter formula.
So what is the best way to learn the fundamentals of drawing and manga creation? There are many roads: studying Fine Arts in college, assisting for a more prominent artist, for starters. However, for all aspiring artists, going out into the world and drawing everything you lay your eyes upon is the best policy. Even sketching subjects that you see as a weakness can help tackle more challenging forms. Harder subjects also build confidence, and that’s something a mere $10 book can’t do.
If college life and apprenticeship isn’t your thing, being a self-taught artist is possible. Manga artists like Hitoshi Tomizawa (Alien 9), the shojo team CLAMP (Cardcaptor Sakura), and Tatsuo Yoshida (founder of Tatsunoko Productions) became successful in the industry, and none have formal instruction in art.
Whatever way you decide to expand your artistic skills, how-to books aren’t a part of the advice. If any artist believes they can survive in the art world based on how-to books alone, they’ll find themselves hosting an exhibition of lifeless fish.
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The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and not neccessarily those of Anime 3000 or it's staff.
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