Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hair: The String Mop

Like water and foliage, hair has always presented a unique challenge to both the traditional painter and the digital artist.

If you define individual locks too much, there’s a tendency for it to come out looking like a string mop. And if the edges are too hard, it tends to sit on the head like a leather helmet.

To solve the “string mop” problem, group the strands of hair into large masses and look for soft edges. This detail of a painting by Harry Anderson has the hair flowing in broad, wavy shapes. He has also softened the edges at the temple, just to the left of her eye, and where the hair meets the neck.

Tom Lovell has kept a soft edge on the temple, all the way from the ear to the bangs. The hair grows back from this point, and it’s almost never a sharply defined edge. Note, too, that the curls along her neck are stated in large masses, without inserting many lines in the direction of the hair growth to define individual hairs or locks.

Anders Zorn uses a big bristle brush to sweep up individual locks into simple patches of highlight.

On Friday, don't miss Part 2: "Hair: The Ribbon Secret"

And if you're in New York City, tomorrow, Wednesday, please come to my digital slide show "Dinotopia: Behind the Scenes" at the Society of Illustrators, 128 E. 63rd St., 6:30-9:00. Admission to benefit the Society $10/$6 (Students).

Tomorrow: Art By Committee


Erik Bongers said...

Some time ago I tried to digitally model a pitch-black hair mass by adding streaks of light blue-gray to it.
Without smudging afterwards, it looked like the hear had been soaked in an oil bath. I'll remember it for when I have to do a John Travolta Grease look.

Some personal advice to Mr. Gurney : don't be to scroogy on the toupet budget.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful read. I never considered softening the area around the neck, so I'll have to give that a go soon.

What would you recommend though to a comic book artist, where you have only black and white contrast to deal with and can't do a softening technique as you described?

James Gurney said...

Drew: Sorry to overlook black and white work. You got me looking at the classic pen and ink guys like Charles Dana Gibson and Charles Sarka, who often used feathered pen strokes to soften the edge where the hair meets the neck and shoulders (or where it frames the face). Check out the cover of Jim Vadeboncoeur's Black and White #2 Collection for a good example.

Of course, if the whole aesthetic of the B&W work is for clean shapes, then the issue of edges doesn't really enter in, and a hard edge would look right.

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Michael Damboldt said...

Great stuff! Although blue may not be your color.

Just kidding!

Unknown said...

Ah! Every time I see a Zorn painting, it's like getting punched in the stomach! His work is beautiful.
I've ruined some paintings because of the hair.
This will help.

Michael Damboldt said...

I can say that as an observer of comic art, hair has been portrayed from a stringy, chaotic mess to one giant jello-like substance. I'm not sure which is better, or if both are equal. I tend to, in comics, draw it as an organic shape with defined areas, simply because most of the time every strand is drawn, it takes up too much time and it ends up looking like spaghetti.

Jack Kirby, the guy who really set Marvel Comics and the comic industry in general as a form of art drew every strand, but it was able to execute it in a way that didn't detract from the whole. I guess no matter what form of art hair is being portrayed in, it's still a rather difficult job.

Unknown said...

Milton Caniff!

Andrew said...

Ah, Jack Kirby and Milt Caniff! I forgot about those two giants...I have to admit I'll have to go back and look at how they approached the whole "hair meets neck" ordeal. This is something that always crops up whenever I draw long-haired women, and every single time I mean to figure it out, but forget later. Reminding me about those two certainly aids the solution process, many thanks.

Enzie Shahmiri said...

Ok, you made me laugh out loud!
Yup, I know exactly what you are taking about and this is one of the best examples to make a great point! LOL, still chuckling....

John Laura said...

I was willing to bet that this new scheme wouldn't work. See, this time I knew what I was talking about. I was raised with a sponge mop and they work miracles..
string mop