Outside-In I: From General to Detailed

This is a quick post to share and organize my thoughts while I wait for our new dishwasher to arrive.

Focusing In

I think it’s interesting that most skills in life are based on focusing in on the details, working from large to small, or outside in. Not to make too much of it, but that reminds me of the holographic principle of the universe, or the the more traditional “as above, so below.”

In the computer applications for what I do, I’ve noticed the same process. I originally used Adobe Photoshop for all my digital art, but then switched over to Clip Studio Paint by Celsys. Photoshop has a generalist tool, with zillions of options for however you intend to use it. CSP, on the other hand, is aimed at illustrators who work in the world of comics, manga, animation, anime, etc. Yes, you can use CSP for general illustration purposes, and I often have, but it approaches art from a comic creation perspective. There are still things I use Photoshop for, because CSP doesn’t offer all the options PS does.

In writing, I have recently made the same move. I originally wrote in Professional Write, but switch to Microsoft Word when that became the norm. Over the years, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words in MSW.

Not long ago, I added Campfire to my tools. This is a plotting and world-building application that gives you a great deal of control over stories you may be writing. It’s quite innovative, and I’ve already made a lot of use of it.

Now, I’ve tackled Scrivener. This is an all-purpose writing and publishing tool. It’s intended use is long, complex documents, be they books, reports, fiction, non-fiction, etc. It is amazing. I am sure that there are some things that MSW will still offer that Scrivener does not, but I guess that’s all part of the “General vs. Detailed” theme.


This leads into a few thoughts about my drawing process, or how I create finished art. For years I’ve called my specific process “drawing outside-in.”

I’ve done a little internet research to see if my particular approach to art already has a label, to see if maybe I’ve stumbled onto something that already exists. Not so much, as it turns out. The closes I’ve been able to come is there are some similarities to the “Scribble” style, also called the “Blind Contour” style. So, for now, “Outside In” is what I will call it. I have also toyed with calling it the “Deductive” method, because it proceeds from general to specific.

The basic concepts in creating art this way is:

  1. You could qualify this approach as “life drawing from the imagination.” In other words, the same drawing skills that you would use to draw from life or a photo is used here, but the life or photo is in fact in your mind’s eye.
  2. You need to develop a high level of active visioning techniques. For example, if you can imagine a character, can you pose him, rotate him, change the lighting, or generally manipulate the image in your mind as you would a 3D character on a monitor?
  3. Contours are far more important that interior detail. This is one of the reasons silhouettes or simplified art is so effective.
  4. Building visual memory is a layered process. For example, you need to understand anatomy, proportion, perspective, and light to know who to make up realistic images from the imagination. This means there is no secret short cut or hack to the style, you have to do the work and study.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that some artists have the ability to jump right to the finished image. Just watch videos of Kim Jung Gi, for example, or look at the work of Jack Kirby or Gene Colan. There is very little under drawing or build-up in these artist’s works. It almost looks like magic.

For years I wondered about this ability–I can’t draw like Kim Jung Gi, for example. He picks up a pen and puts down a finished drawing. It’s like magic!

But, it isn’t magic. I realized in my early years of drawing that I did key-line drawing like so many beginning artists do. That’s drawing from a line-drawing figure, then filling the figure out with simple geometric shapes, then turning that into anatomy, then doing clothing, shadow and light, and so forth over the top of that. It’s a laborious way to draw characters from the imagination. The trouble is that it works, and the three-dimensional thinking is an important step in the artist’s learning process.

I haven’t drawn characters that way for years, however. Sometimes I draw from a light sketch of the anatomy first, and more often then not a light sketch of the clothed, almost finished figure. In other words, I skip past most of the beginning steps, because I’ve already composed a three-dimensional, correctly proportioned and dressed character in my minds eye.

In a recent Imagine FX tutorial, Gi explains that he does not have some supernatural photographic memory, and that he used to draw the under work before making finished drawings. He has gotten so good and experienced that he simply sees the finished image in his mind now, and and he can jump right to that stage of the art and amaze people with the results.

My basic premise is that skills, like computer applications or drawing, are arranged from the specific to general, that as artists we are on a continuum. This is reassuring to me, and I hope to you.

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