Review: Stephen Silver’s “Life”


Yesterday I received my copy of Stephen Silver’s latest art book, Life.

For those who don’t know, Silver is an amazing animation character designer whose credits include Disney’s Kim Possible and Nickelodeon’s Danny Phantom. He’s a versatile artist and I find his work very inspiring. Silver also teaches an online Character Design course through I took the course last year and I learned a ton. It’s expensive but well worth the investment for anyone serious about character design.

Silver has published several popular sketchbooks in the past, each one jam-packed with his amazing drawings. My favorite is still his first volume, The Art of Silver. It’s his thickest book—160 pages of sketches and sprinkled throughout with tips and advice on drawing. Highly recommended.

Life, Silver’s newest volume, is a hardbound book containing 43 pages of his life drawings. There is some nude figure drawing but most of the models are clothed in a variety of costumes from pirates to cowboys to mobsters. Each “chapter” shows the evolution of a character from rough life drawings and thumbnails leading up to the final design, inked and colored. As always the work is amazing.

Most of the sketches in Life are much rougher than his previous sketchbooks, but the point of life drawing (from an animation perspective) is not always to do a polished masterpiece. More often the purpose is to capture the action of a dynamic pose or explore the drama of an emotional action. These are rough drawings, but they are not dull. Even in the simplest sketches the model never seems to be “posing”. He/she comes alive and is thinking, emoting, feeling, acting.

My only complaint about Life is the lack of text. The book’s subtitle is “Life Drawing in Character Design: From Concept to Final”, which led me to assume I was ordering an instruction book or manual of sorts about how a character designer can make the most of his life drawings. Life drawing is an important discipline and there’s so much that could be said about it. Life opens with a two-page Introduction by Silver, but the rest of the book is just artwork. Brilliant artwork, but just artwork nonetheless.

It’s still a fascinating study, and the art is very inspiring, but without commentary by the artist those who don’t understand the principles of good character design might not know what to look for in the sketches. I wish there was at least a paragraph or two describing his process and thoughts while designing each character.

Still, I highly recommend the book. You can order Life as well as Silver’s other sketchbooks on his website. And don’t forget to check out his blog.