Friday, April 11, 2008

Draw 80 Characters in 15 Minutes

The challenge that I put to my cartoon class on its last day was to draw 80 different characters as quickly as possible. I handed out sheets of paper, all sectioned out in grids. In each grid was a word:

Robot, Mad Dog, Doctor, Baby, Cowgirl, Sea Captain, Superhero, Mugger, Artist, Teacher, Astronaut, T-rex, Frankenstein’s Monster, Police, Vampire, Nerd, Musician, Robot, Devil, Shark, Athlete, Goth, Caveman, Cartoonist, Cowboy, Baseball Player, Abraham Lincoln, Batman, Truck Driver, Businessman, Bunny, Martian, Fish, Hydrant, Lone Ranger, Mouse, Angry Waiter, Skull, Man with Big Nose, Snake, Bird, Clown, Hippo, TV, UFO, Guy with Beard, Runner, Cool Car, Unicorn, Lightning Bolt, Alien, Penguin, Chef, Presidential Candidate, Munchkin, Cartoon Sound Effects, Melting Snowman, Bee, Octopus, Crook, Fast Food Employee, Cactus, Lion, King, Ballerina, Rock Star, Spongebob, Lobster, Ostrich, Snoring, Skateboarder, Paperboy, Hydrant, Astronomer, Centipede, Bicycle, Charlie Brown, Santa, Mean Kid, Frog

Above: all 80, all done, in 15 minutes. Click to super-size!

The first time we did this drawing exercise, we picked a square on a page and drew that particular character, and then passed the paper on to the next person to the left so he could draw another one and so on and so on, in a round robin fashion until the pages (five pages, 16 squares each) were completed. It took us almost a half hour, even with me filling in some squares.

Favorites: Skull, T-rex, rock star, Alien, Robot, Mad Dog

Least Favorites: Presidential Candidate, Charlie Brown, Cowgirl, Lion

The second time, we did it in 15 minutes. OK, so the last minute there were the guys, all pencilling on the same page, as the others counted down the seconds. But we did it.

What was great about this exercise was seeing how fearless the kids were in drawing ANYTHING. I reminded them that they are cartoonists and as cartoonists, you gotta be able to draw a lot of different characters. It's not easy, but it's a learnable skill. And so many of the guys put in some great touches in their drawings: for "Munchkin," the Dunkin' Donuts donut holes that are brandnamed "Munchkin" are depicted; "Fish" is drawn as a grinning, snaggle-toothed shark with a knife and fork; look at the TV-14 rating for the "TV" square; the "Ostrich" laying an ostrich egg; the "Artist" painting a painting, complete with paint palette; the "Alien," with his UFO whirring around in the background. Some really wonderful, conscious choices made here to help communicate who these characters are!

(And, yes, I know there are 2 words above that are repeated. I need an editor!)

Related: Finish This Comic Strip!


Daryll Collins said...

What an awesome and fun exercise! Your students are lucky to have you as an instructor.

It's true that as a cartoonist you have to draw a wide variety of things. You can also take some liberties in how you depict particular characters.

But don't make the same mistake I did on a character design job early in my career. To quote the art director,"Please remember that the cow has 4 teats, not 3."

My words of wisdom for a Friday.

Mike Lynch said...

Sound advice, Daryll!

Marek Bennett said...

Yeah, I want a T-shirt with a cartoon of that art director dispensing advice...

I love this exercise! It's all about producing before your mind overthinks it, and botches it all up.

It reminds me of
a Joel Orff cartoon...

Daryll Collins said...


It's an odd thing about cartoon cows and utters. Sometimes I'm asked not to even draw them, let alone how many teats to draw. I guess I figured, my cartoon people only have three fingers, so why be such a stickler for accuracy when it comes to cow teats?

Then again, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to draw cartoon women with one breast.

Mike Lynch said...

Marek, what art director drawing? I can't find the one you mean.

Mark Anderson said...

What a great idea, Mikey! How do you come up with this stuff?

Mark Anderson said...

Hey, would you post (and email me) the grids you used? I'd love to try this myself at home!

Isaac said...

You might want to know that we've taken a couple of stabs at this exercise over at the Satisfactory Comics blog, with mixed results.