These tips are really helpful thnx for sharing and keepem comin! ive seen your page work so now i see you start off making cute lil stick men... awesomeness!
I've seen a lot of work around here that's pretty solid as far as the drawing goes, but could use a bit of help compositionally. What follows are some good rules of thumb to at least give you a starting point for a good composition. Many of you have probably heard of the rule of thirds, but may not be clear on exactly how to use it. On the other hand, "headroom" is a very useful and important compositional tool that I'd never even heard of until recently, and I've been drawing comics for years.
Remember that these "rules" aren't set in stone. They're guidelines. If you have a good reason to break the rules, then by all means, do. In fact, the extent to which we take these rules for granted even without knowing them (almost all TV and film is shot according to these rules) makes it especially striking when we break them consciously, for a specific effect.
The Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is a compositional rule-of-thumb in which the image (in comics, the panel) is divided into three equal spaces, both horizontally and vertically.
The lines that divide these spaces are good places to divide the image compositionally, or place compositional elements. The intersections of these lines are the "sweet spots", and are especially good spots to place your most important elements.
Often, the most dynamic compositions can be achieved by placing your main elements at the sweet spots that are diagonally across from one another.
Here's an example of this in one of my own images. The girl's face and the dog's mouth (the focal points of the image) are at the top-left and bottom-right sweet spots respectively. (The dog's mouth is mostly a bit above the sweet spot, but this is just a guideline -- you don't have to be dead-on. Just being pretty close will do.)
"Headroom" refers to the positioning of the subject's head within the frame. We almost always want to place the subject's eyes over one of the upper sweet spots. This goes for full shots, medium shots, closeups, etc. Placing the eyes too low is an extremely common mistake that you'll see in amateur photography all the time. People who aren't aware of proper headroom usually place the eyes in the middle of the frame, which leaves an uncomfortable amount of space above the subject's head.
EDIT:Thanks to F! for pointing out something I forgot to mention. It's essential that you always leave enough room for whatever lettering needs to be in the panel. If observing proper headroom leaves too little space above the characters' heads, and you can't make enough space elsewhere, you'll need to compromise.
There's also the issue of "looking room". We generally want to position a figure with the majority of the space in the panel "in front" of him. This makes it feel as if he has something to look at, and space to move. If the majority of the space in the image is behind him, it feels crowded and weird. This can be used intentionally, if we want to create a crowded or uneasy feeling, or if we want to conceal something that's just off-panel in front of the character. You'll notice this sometimes in film and TV when a character doesn't know they're about to run into a monster or something.
Here's an exception to the headroom "rule" -- in a closeup, if the character is looking down, we usually want his eyes to be on the bottom sweet spot.
Here are a few examples of proper headroom with multiple characters.
Headroom is most important in closer shots. All characters don't necessarily need to be on the top sweet spot, especially when one or both are far away from the "camera".
In exterior shots, it's generally a good idea put the horizon line at either the top or bottom third, so the sky takes up either 1/3 or 2/3 of the image. I'm not sure if this applies to interiors in any meaningful way.
With long shots, headroom kinda goes out the window. Here, I've put the characters at the bottom sweet spot, to better show their size and spatial relationship to the building.
I've used one panel size/shape throughout this tutorial, but this stuff all goes for any (rectangular) panel shape -- tall, wide, whatever.
I hope this has been useful to someone. I may add more as it occurs to me(or as I learn more). I welcome any questions, comments, additions, or corrections. Thanks!
@JC Immortal -- glad you enjoyed it. I don't actually start my drawings with those stickmen -- they were just a fast way to get the tutorial done.
Good stuff, thanks for posting it!
I best prefer the Eisner method of putting the lettering/dialogue onto the page at the earliest stages whenever possible. I want to compose the panels around the dialogue, because those bubbles are the one thing I know that the reader has to look at, and in what order. In this way I can both guarantee sufficient room for the lettering and occasionally use the position of the bubbles to guide the reader's eye over specific elements of the page.
Like what F! said, don't forget to design your composition with “word bubbles” in mind. For me I like to keep panels with “word bubbles” top heavy with extra space ¾ of the time. It's the easiest way of going about it. When your focused to cover up important parts of the artwork just to add text is almost like you just wasted sometime drawing there in the first place.
I like to use this as a template sometime to do composition, it's an old technique used in ages pass.
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You can flip it in any direction needed. I use it mostly for backgrounds. It helps because it creates a “Point A” and “Point B” for the eye to follow. Great for 2 or 3 point perspective.
Last edited by Guru_George; 05-10-2011 at 06:53 PM.
Thanks so much for posting that George, I hadn't seen one in years and it's one of those things that's been on my mind for a while now.
On a related note, isn't that spiral also a Fibonacci sequence? Most of this, if I recall correctly, boils down to various combinations of the Golden Ratio.
Very true Inkthinker. It's has a few names but mostly known as the Golden Ratio.
A list of other names.
Here are some examples as well.
this is super clear and helpful and exactly what i've been looking for!! thanks so much
By the way, one reason headroom rules go out the window when doing a long shot is that the focus of the composition is no longer (usually) the figures, but instead the scene. Your headshot rules still apply, they just apply now to the buildings and the environment as a whole, and any figures involved become subset details of the larger figures.
At least, I think that sounds right...