I have a lot of reviews of how-to books on tap for August but Facial Expressions: Babies To Teens; A Visual Reference For Artists by Mark Simon is probably the most unique and possibly the most valuable. It’s a big book, 256 pages (with a free Internet supplement available), and entirely filled with reference pictures of, you got it, babies to teens. Each model tends to get between 2 to 4 pages of 2 1/4 inch to 2 1/2 inch square head shots with a tremendous variety of expressions and poses. Other chapters include a skull gallery, hats and headgear, a phonemes gallery (mouth shapes for various sounds), and an age-progression gallery (shots of the same model over a wide range of years).
Well that’s it actually. It’s a big book of photos, well put together and incredibly handy to have in reach while at the drawing table.
Just from my own limited experience at trying my hand at making comics (which I’ve only picked up again after an almost 5 year break from it), having a reference book like this is insanely handy. Sure the Internet has made finding reference material a lot easier than ever before but for drawing people (and Mark Simons has an earlier book titled simply Facial Expressions which is a similar effort with adult models) this is so much easier because you have this variety of angles and expressions from each model that it really lends itself to building a character and getting not only the emotion of a scene right but giving you the flexibility of many different poses to choose from (thereby making it easier to work with a dynamic scene and still have an excellent reference to go to). Even if you don’t want to work in a more realistic style, it’s a good thing to work on your understanding of anatomy and that has to include understanding what a real face looks like when it’s happy, sad, mad, afraid or any of the countless combinations you can think of.
Above is a comic I did as part of my drawing lots of comics to practice my comic-making muscles project this summer. I used one of the models from Simon’s book to base the girl character on and was able to pick out three shots to build this simple montage of her falling asleep (despite protesting otherwise) (The references I used were on pages 62-63 of the book).
Used well, photo references can not only be a great asset in making yourself a better artist (or in my case hoping to reclaim some basic competency) but they’re a big part of many artists’ tool set. Allison Bechdel, the creator of the Eisner award-winning Fun Home graphic novel uses photo references extensively. She does so by acting out scenes and taking pictures of herself:
The specifics of that process are fascinating in their own right. Bechdel literally acts out each scene that she draws, complete with props and costumes, posing as each person in a frame and capturing it all in photographs. In a video clip available on her website she describes this routine from the studio of her Bolton, Vt., home of ten years as her cat ambles in one corner of the frame. “It indicates a weakness in my drawing technique,” she now says. “I can’t make stuff up in writing or in drawing; I can only reproduce it.”
And photo references are actually used in a lot of work on superhero comics as well. Noted cover artist Alex Ross uses photo references for his work (and explains some of his process in his book Mythology). However, artist Greg Land has gotten a lot of criticism for his alleged use of celebrity and pornographic photo references in his work. I suppose it all depends on how it’s used, like any other tool in the process of creating art.
Note: The publisher provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.