Illustrating Convincing Body Language | Thomas Pitilli | Skillshare

Illustrating Convincing Body Language

Thomas Pitilli, Illustrator

Illustrating Convincing Body Language

Thomas Pitilli, Illustrator

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7 Lessons (19m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Observation/Figure Drawing

    • 3. Character Acting

    • 4. Scribbling/Subtlety

    • 5. Comic Page/Using Reference

    • 6. Bringing It All Together

    • 7. Assignment

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About This Class

As illustrators and comic book artists, we are constantly faced with the challenge of bringing static drawings to life in the minds of our viewers. This class will hopefully help you bring your drawings to life and push your work to the next level.

Come along with me as we discuss:

1)How the use of body language can enhance your work.

2)We'll talk about the importance of observing your own body language as well as that of others and how regular figure drawing can help enhance your ability to pose your characters.

3)We'll look at how actors use their bodies to communicate feeling, either with subtle expression or exaggerated overacting.

4)I'll show you how I pose for my own reference photos and how those inform and enhance my drawings.

5)Finally, we'll put it all together as we create a comic book page from start to finish.

This class is for the aspiring illustrator or comic book artist who already feels comfortable drawing basic anatomy, but wants to take their knowledge of figure drawing to the next level.

Meet Your Teacher

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Thomas Pitilli



My name is Thomas Pitilli and I am an illustrator and comic book artist based in Brooklyn, NY.

I am currently series artist on the Riverdale monthly comic from Archie Comics and artist on DC Comic's upcoming graphic novel, Gotham High. I also create editorial illustrations for clients such as, New York Times, Playboy, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Scholastics, Scientific American, etc. 

In addition to my client work, I am an adjunct professor at Montclair State University, where I teach a class in Cartooning. I am grateful to Skillshare for offering a platform where I can share my knowledge of cartooning and illustration with a global audience.

Finally, I also enjoy creating images for prints and other merchandise in my Etsy and Society6 shops. See full profile

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1. Intro: My name is Thomas Patil and welcome to my class on illustrating convincing body language as an illustrator and comic book artist myself, I spent a lot of time trying to effectively communicate emotions and feelings through the use of my characters, body language in comic books. Specifically, we don't have the use of sound movement voice. So the way we draw characters movement is crucial to effectively communicating our stories visually. In this class, I hope to make your illustrations stronger, but further developing your ability to act through your characters as illustrators and comic book artists were constantly faced with the challenge of bringing static drawings to life in the minds of our viewers, this class will hopefully bring your drawings to life and push your work to the next level . Come along with me as we discuss just how the use of body language can enhance your work. We'll talk about the importance of observing your own body language as well as that of others and how regular figure drawing can help enhance your ability to oppose your characters. We'll look at how actors use their body to communicate feeling either with subtle expression or exaggerated overacting. I'll show you how I pose for my own reference photos and how those inform and enhance my drawings finally will put it all together and create a comment page from start to finish. This classes for the aspiring illustrator or common for gardist, who already feels comfortable drawing basic anatomy but wants to take their knowledge of figure drawing to the next level. I'm looking forward to working together on this and hopefully shining some new light on the subject of illustrating body language. So enough talking, Let's get started. 2. Observation/Figure Drawing: all right. So when it comes to illustrating body language, I think a great place to start is with observation. It's the most fundamental, most basic and probably the most important thing. Um, it's really important to observe yourself how you use your own body language, depending on what you might be feeling or what you might be thinking, and then also observe other people the way they use their own body language to express themselves. I'm sort of, naturally like a people watcher. So when I'm in a crowded space or any kind of public place, I'm always watching the way people carry themselves and the way they use their hands to talk the way they might be seeded or slouching, sitting upright standing, whatever it might be. Um, I find that stuff fascinating, and I've I found that it definitely helps inform my drawing of people because I feel like art in general is always stronger and much more effective when it's informed from reality. Doesn't matter what your style is. It could be super cartoony or super realistic and anything in between. But when it's informed by reality, it's just that much more effective, and that much more believable to the reader, So I think it's It's always It's kind of like a responsibility of an artist to observe nature and observe people because it just makes their work stronger. So definitely observation is super important. After that, I would say to put make those observations and take them and put them onto paper. I recommend bringing a sketchbook into public, and you know, it could be in a park or a museum or a train station anywhere where there's a lot of people doing a variety of different things. You're essentially just making quick little gesture drawings trying Teoh quickly understand the figure in different scenarios and in different positions. These things are really just exercises. It's not meant to make perfect masterpiece drawing. These were really just quick gesture drawings to help you understand what the body does in certain kinds of situations. These kinds of, um, just quick notes could be really helpful. You can call back upon those when you're drawing, for instance, like a crowd scene, and you have to draw a ton of different people doing different things, or when you're joining a scene where someone's doing something really mundane like reading a book or, you know, sitting on a train or something like that. A step up from that would be to go to some sort of model drawing figure during session where there's a live model there and they're holding a pose for a specific amount of time. For an artist, this is invaluable because every time you draw the figure as an artist, you're learning something new. And, um, it's a great education just to be able to draw the model live right there. You know, it's one thing to draw in public, but a lot of times those people can shift their position really quick where they could get up and walk away. But the model kind of has to stay there for a certain amount of time, so it definitely allows you to kind of throw yourself into that pose and really work on it . Over the years, I filled up many sketchbooks with poses at figure drawing sessions, and, um, I sometimes refer back to those sometimes those those sessions inform specific poses that I've been put into my professional work into my comics or into my illustration. So I definitely recommend it that that kind of stuff. If you're an illustrator, a comic book artist is really invaluable. So, um yeah, those are my three tips. Observe yourself, observe others, and then put that stuff down on paper. Um, you can always call upon that stuff as need be. 3. Character Acting: all right, so actors often engage in the use of their own body language to sell a particular idea or emotion. Their body language is an important part of the storytelling process, and the great actors know how to use it to enhance their performance. I'm no actor, and I've never studied acting, but I have observed that there are two types of acting methods. One type is for film and TV, and the other is for stage stage. Actors often use their body and voice a whole lot more in order to communicate with the entire audience from the front roll all the way to the balcony. Because of this, they often exaggerate their body and expressions in film and TV. However, the opposite this is true. As an actor for the screen, subtlety goes a really long way because of editing close ups, special effects, you can get away with a lot more that you wouldn't be able to on stage. All right, so what is any of this have to do with comics and illustration? Well, depending on your style, the tone of the story, the type of shots you create and your audience, you might want to decide how exaggerated or how subtle you want your characters to use their body. So is your comment closer to a stage production or a film? It's a good question to ask yourself before starting a comic. Now, let me show an example to further illustrate my point. All right, so I created a couple of sample house. Hopefully better. Can you keep that by varying levels? Characters fresh, Be a body language. Here we have a character who is pensively calling out to someone off battle. Now, depending on the tone of my story and the boot I'm trying to create this pose might be just right. As it stands right now, I'm seeing This is somewhat of a serious tone, something that might be better for ah, semi realistic comic. Now, if I wanted to do something that was a little bit more exaggerated in high energy, and its tone might be more appropriate to pose my character more like this same text, same sentiment, but this definitely gives off a very different kind of first off getting back to the comparison I was making before with actors on stage versus actors on film, I would say that this one is much more in comparison with the stage analogy than the other version. So perhaps next time you're about to start a common story, try out a sample panel or a sample page, where you draw the characters and varying degrees body expression, just to see which one works best for the tone of your story. 4. Scribbling/Subtlety: a lot of times I find some interesting poses and natural body language expressions for my characters through something I love to do, which is scribbling. I call it scribbling because oftentimes I don't know where the lines are gonna take me. It's more of an exploration process. If anything, this is where drawing from life and observing really comes into play. Because even though these poses air just coming out of my head, I'm calling upon things have observed from real life. I found that this is a good way to warm up before working on a drawing with a lot of different characters and people in it. I could draw some pretty standard poses as well as poses that are a bit more organic and natural. So whether your goal is to draw superheroes or more realistic comics, I think warming up with a variety of poses is probably a good idea. Here I drew two characters did on standing straight no real life or expression to them, and I wanted to show how sometimes even the most subtle movements can really change what the character is expressing. Making big dynamic drawings is a lot of fun, but I also think that there's a place for subtlety as well. Sometimes these little gestures can really help place a character within a story and have the reader identify with what they might be feeling, depending on what you want your character to be expressing through their body language. Pay attention to certain key areas, like the placement of their head and in which direction it might be tilted where their hands are, their shoulders slouched or crunched up high. What side is their weight leaning on? Mainly, all of these little things can taken otherwise. Boring and stiff pose to something more expressive in relatable, sometimes starting with a boring pose like I did kind of help you build on top of it. So if you're drawing traditionally, you could do an exercise like this using tracing paper. Revising and changing the characters pose with every new sheet or, if you're working digitally, have fun with lowering the opacity and creating new layers to make something new and fresh every time 5. Comic Page/Using Reference: Okay, so we spoke about observation. We spoke about various levels of character acting. Now let's put some of this into practice on an actual comment page. What I'm going to do is attempt to create a sample common page where I use a character's body language to communicate the story and hopefully make it more believable for the reader . All of my pages start off as a rough layout, which is pretty much a sketch, but I want page to look like. Since this is a rough sketch, I'll walk you through some of the action panel by panel. Here we have our main protagonists cast out on the sofa after what seems like a rough night . His phone is ringing loudly on end, and in the second panel he finally reaches forward broccoli. He answers Hello, alarmed by what he's told on the other end, springs up into a seated position and quickly he's on his feet, running out the door. Now, from here, I'll often take some reference photos so that I can understand some these poses a little bit better. I don't usually do this for every single panel or drawing that make, but I'm gonna show you how using reference can greatly enhance your drawing of characters, body language and just make your work stronger. In general. Reference is super important for a comic book artist and illustrator, but I do want to make clear the point that using reference is to be informed by rather than be a slave to it and just copy it line for line. Someone was kind enough to help me shoot some of these overhead reference photos. I pretty much assumed the role of the main character and imagine what kind of positions my body might go into if I had the kind of night that my character, I like working from several different reference photos just so that I can kind of piece together different elements, creating something unique at this point. Now I'm just trying to bring that original sketched out posed toe life by working and reworking the post until it feels right. Like I mentioned before, my objective isn't to copy the reference line by line, but rather use it to lead me to a more believable pose that I might not have thought of otherwise. When you're working in the context of comic book illustration. You have to take into account your own style and what might look right in reality of war in reference photo might not necessarily look correct in the context of your style. So during this stage I'm just trying to stay loose and keep my options open. If I start to worry too much about making the drawing look exactly like my photos, I'll miss out on some of the spontaneity that occurs when creating an underdog. As you can see, there's a lot of trial and error happening at this point. I'm simultaneously trying to bring my character to life while making sure the proportions look correct, and he really feels like he's in a deep sleep. There's a bit of perspective that comes into play on this angle is. Well, once I'm at a stage where the under drawing is starting to feel right, then I'll go in and focus on the specifics of the particular character like his wardrobe and features. This is where the drawing slowly starts to come to life. Next up, I'll show you how I work on some of the other panels and bring the page to final wings 6. Bringing It All Together: now moving on to some of the other panels and using some of the other reference shots to help me out. Like before. I have a couple of pieces of reference that I'm working off, which prevents me from getting too locked into one specific posed, As you can see here, I'm using the reference to help me out with most of the upper body positioning of the pose . But I'm deviating from the reference in regards to the delays. I see the characters legs being posed a certain way. That makes much more sense to me. So I'm gonna allow myself the freedom to disregard the reference. In that case. Now I move on to the part that is most one for me, which is the final linking process. This is where I really get to define the lines and pay attention to the smaller details, like hair and facial features with comics and illustration. Everything that artist puts down onto the page is there to contribute to the overall story , and the idea that the creator is trying to communicate body language is definitely one of those elements. This pages hopefully an example of how one particular characters body language can help move the story along. In this one page, the main character goes from sleeping too groggy, toe wide away to running out the door with our well thought out variety of poses. Hopefully, the reader could get from a to B pretty seamlessly. At this point, I don't really look at the reference all that much, other than the little details that might help me out, like how the hand is holding the phone in this one shot. Otherwise, I'm focused on making this drawing my own and trying to complete the original vision I had for the page from the start. Here's about a minute or so of me just completing the Yanks, adding lighting and texture. I'll check back in with you. After this, we could look at how the whole page came together with lettering and all. Okay, so here's the finished page. I threw some lettering down so we could be a little bit more like a Finnish comic. Let's take a look and see how it all came together, panel by panel and how hopefully it's all making sense. Although I added some text for effect. The true test of visual storytelling is to see if it makes sense without the use of lettering. I think the effort and thought we put into our characters body language on this really help sell the idea behind the page and made it clear for the reader to understand. 7. Assignment: I hope that brief rundown of illustrating body language helps you approach this topic more clearly and helps make your comic and illustration work that much stronger. Thanks so much for joining me on this class. I'd love to hear your feedback on what you thought. This topic is very broad, and we just kind of skim the surface here so hopefully I can expand and go into even more detail in a future class. Sometimes before you go, I want to give you an assignment where you can hopefully put some of these things we learned today into practice. Try telling a one page story where the characters body language is the main element. Moving the story along. It could be something like a character waiting for a train over the course of a couple hours and how their body language might change over that span of time. It's up to you go get created. Feel free to come up with any story you like, and something I would suggest is to try focusing on telling the story without any words. This will force you to figure out ways of letting your character tell the story through the use of their body and not have to rely on text. Also, if you're not interested in making comics, don't worry. Feel free to use the same ideas and approaches on a single standalone illustration. Feel free to share these with me as well. I'd love to see what you created. Anyway. Thanks so much for taking this class. And I hope you join me for another class in the future sometime. Take care.