There were two voles . . .

BACK TO the exercises in Drawing Words, Writing Pictures and my next assignment is to draw a single panel 5 x 7 inch cartoon then come up with three different captions.

At first my mind went blank and I considered some traditional cartoon scenarios – the desert island etc – but then I decided on two voles, one I imagined with a kind of glazed but thoughtful expression, the other turning to ask it a casually dimissive question.

Hey, look, we’re still in pencil, shouldn’t we be inked by now?

But getting such subtlety of expression proved beyond me. I didn’t want a startled look (above, top) or a dumb ‘oops!’ look (above, lower left) – that vole reminds me a bit of Stan Laurel. With his pointing finger, the questioning vole (above, lower right) looks too much as if he’s giving important advice rather than being dismissive.

I’ve introduced too much drama for the gentle atmosphere of ennui that I had in mind; the vole version of Waiting for Godot.

You’re kidding! – you saw a body coming through the rye?!

In my next attempt the vole on the left looks too stunned while the one on the right should be turning in a peevish way but instead he looks as if he’s preparing to escape some horror. This is the problem with showing a sequence of actions in just one panel; has vole 2 been;

  1. facing to the right and he’s just turned his head back, or
  2. has he been facing to the left and he’s just turned his arms and torso to the right?

With all that unintended action in my rough, I’ve gone for a more dramatic caption.

And what does a vole do with it’s hands? I’ve heard animators say that they’re actors who work with pencils and the same applies to cartoons. Even the insignificant details that no one is going to notice still have to work.

Just think! Exactly which clump of meadow grass did you leave it next to?

The anxious vole and his annoyed companion in this one brought to mind the familiar lost car keys, or lost car in a huge car park situation. What ‘it’ is in the context of the everyday life of the vole, I leave for the reader to decide. A hazelnut perhaps?

But that’s quite enough vole cartoons. The great thing about doing this course is that it’s purely educational and I don’t have to come up with a working solution each time. I can now go forward to the next exercise, something fresh to have fun with.

Usually with these ‘how to’ art books I’m tempted to read through them quickly thinking ‘Oh yes, I’ll remember that advice.’ But there’s nothing like trying it for yourself to really get to grips with the principles and to understand how it all works.

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    1. I now realise how much effort goes into producing a gag, even one that might raise a wry smile, rather than outright laughter. It was good to go away from the results then come back to them. It might not have been quite what I intended but it was some kind of a solution to the exercise.

  1. The last panel gave me a really good laugh! And it is interesting to see how complex this style really is. Good advice regarding the flipping through an art book versus actually TRYING to do the exercises, too….an encouragement for me. Yesterday I went out to do a drawing of weeds (the next try in the book I’m working through) and had the unfortunate idea of doing that within the goat pen. Every one of them had to nudge me and smell my paper and rubs their heads for pats and taste my chair and nibble my shirt and just plain wanted to know *what* I was doing in there. Thankfully the weeds really ARE bumpy and swiggly. Sometimes the best gag is just in the attempt to draw!

    1. It sounds as if you’re going to have plenty of subject matter if you ever attempt a cartoon/comic course. Glad your drawing didn’t get eaten.

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