“Citizen Kane” Sketches


One of the gifts I received this Christmas was a two-disc special edition DVD of Citizen Kane. Many movie buffs consider it to be one of the greatest films, if not the greatest film, ever made, so about two years ago my wife and I decided to rent it and educate ourselves (actually, I really wanted to see the movie and she graciously went along). While the pacing is a little slow in spots, it’s a great film that has really grown on me. It’s probably one of my top-ten favorite movies.

In 1941 the gifted wonder-kid Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Citizen Kane at the tender young age of 26! The movie tells the fictional story of Charles Foster Kane, a powerful multi-millionaire, newspaper mogul, and would-be politician. The film is allegedly inspired by the real life of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and many key events in the film mirror Hearst’s own life. Much of it is less-than-flattering. Hearst tried everything he could to get the film destroyed before it could be released into theaters. He attempted to buy the original print so it could be burned, and attacked Orson Welles’ career and reputation. Hearst couldn’t stop the film from being released but he did strike fatal blows to the career of the brash but talented young filmmaker. Welles never again approached anything near the success of Citizen Kane. It has been said that Orson Welles started at the top and worked his way down.

The first disc of the DVD set includes two audio commentaries. One is by film critic Roger Ebert, and it is one of the most informative and fascinating audio commentaries I have ever heard. The second disc contains a two-hour documentary entitled “The Battle Over Citizen Kane”, which chronicles the dramatic behind-the-scenes battle that raged between Welles and Hearst.

From an artistic standpoint, what makes the film so impressive is not just the intriguing story but the dramatic visuals. Long before computers, green screens, or even color (the film is black-and-white), Hollywood directors had to rely heavily on simple tools like composition and lighting to keep their images interesting. Welles had a masterful eye, and Citizen Kane makes great use of powerful compositions, stark lighting, deep focus, and dramatic camera angles. Great stuff for sketching and study!

I’m busy working on a large client project and can’t post any current artwork. So here’s a few pen-and-ink studies from the film I did almost two years ago when I first rented it. It’s a mish-mash of main characters and background extras with interesting faces. I posted these on my blog way back when I first drew them, so some of my long-time blog readers might recognize them.

I promise to post more new artwork as soon as I can! In the mean time, if you want to watch a good flick and then do some fun sketching, I highly recommend renting Citizen Kane.

Sketchbook Update


To warm up each morning I’ve been trying to fill a page a day in my sketchbook. However, I’ve been so swamped with freelance work that I’ve only been averaging about a page a week. Better than nothing, I guess. Here’s a few heads I drew the other day from some old photos.

Sketchbook Update


Lately I’ve been trying to discipline myself to fill a page a day in my sketchbook, usually first thing in the morning as a warm-up. I’m not a morning person so this is a good way for me to clear the morning fog out of my brain. So far I’ve managed it about once every 2-3 days. This page combines some of my better warm-up sketches as of late.

I wish I could say these were all done from life (that is, after all, the best way to draw). However, my crazy schedule hasn’t allowed for me to leave the studio just to sketch. Most of these were done from photos. I keep a file of interesting faces and poses that I find in books and magazines, solely so that I can sketch them later. I also get a lot of good images by typing crazy terms into Google image search.

This Little Piggy Stayed Home…


I received a letter from a man in Germany who collects autographs and sketches from cartoonists around the world. In broken English he politely asked if I might someday have time to send him an autographed sketch. He also asked that it be of a pig, since his wife likes to collect little pig knick knacks.

Normally I don’t make a habit of doing free sketches for strangers. But this guy was extremely polite, and he wrote all the way from Germany. He even sent a self-addressed envelope and a dollar bill (American) to cover the return postage. How could I refuse?

It took me a while to get around to it, but when I did this little doodle came out of my pencil. I hope he likes it. I mailed him the original, but first I scanned it in and then later splashed in some color.

It also got me thinking, it might be fun to do a series of illustrations based on the children’s rhyme, “This little piggie went to market…”. Maybe some day when I have some free time I’ll illustrate a story about ’em. Wee! Wee! Wee!

Schoolism.com: The Importance Of Sketchbooks


For eight weeks now I’ve been posting my assignments from a character design class I’m taking at schoolism.com (taught by Stephen Silver). Only one more week to go!

This week’s assignement was another two-parter. For Part 1 we had to go to a busy public place and fill a page with observational sketches. The Mall of America is near my house, so I went there to sketch the above page. Part 2 (which I’ll post tomorrow) was about memory sketching.

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of keeping a daily sketchbook. The only way to get better at drawing is to draw. As Stephen likes to say, “A page a day keeps the competition away”.

A sketchbook isn’t for polished drawings. Rather, it’s a private place where you can stay loose, experiment, stretch yourself, and make mistakes. Lots of them! (Mistakes are the best teachers). If you want to keep growing as an artist, the worst thing you can do is fill your sketchbook with things you already know how to draw.

Going to a busy place to draw real live people is something you should do regularly. (Stephen fills a page every day over his lunch hour). Most people don’t sit still for very long, so it forces you to stay loose, think fast and make bold decisions, which over time will increase your confidence. Don’t sweat the details; focus on the essence of a pose (which can usually be captured in just a few lines). Try to capture the overall physical attitude of the person, which is the foundation that breathes life into a drawing. You can always go back and flesh out the details later.

In his lecture, Stephen talked about what a character designer should focus on as he sketches the people around him (i.e. balance, gesture, line of action, negative space, rhythm, attitude, etc.) He also talked about not just seeing, but studying what you draw. Observe the different ways people walk, talk, and gesture. Notice body types, hairstyles, and clothing choices. Study how fabric clings and hangs around the body, how people position their legs when they sit, how they lean when they carry things, how their posture changes with their attitude (i.e. excited, bored, annoyed, etc.) These are the things that give your drawings personality and character.

Stephen also talked about “frankensteining”, that is, assembling parts of several people into one character. You might start to draw a man reading the paper, but as soon as you rough in his body pose he gets up to leave. Don’t abandon your drawing. Add the profile from another person, maybe the hair from a third person, etc. Frankensteining keeps you from getting frustrted when your models keep moving (or leaving) in mid-drawing, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the new character you’ve created.

The point is that you keep drawing, keep experimenting, keep learning.

Now get out there and draw!