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The Ugly Scaffolding that Surrounds a Drawing

We’ve all seen skyscrapers that are under construction and the ugly scaffolding that surrounds it. For months, sometimes years this messy scaffolding is on display. Yet, the day it all disappears - the ladders, planks, safety nets, barricades; a beautiful flower stands tall. Architecture at it’s finest. There is something romantic about the scaffolding itself. Buildings couldn’t exist without it.

Neither can a good drawing. As artists, we can learn a lot from studying this kind of scaffolding.

I used to work in animation at Disney. My desk was next to the pencil test machine. A small area where animators would take pictures of their drawings and play them back on the monitor to see how the characters were behaving. The camera was attached to a pole with a big, hand crank for adjusting the height. I always thought it looked pretty ghetto for Disney standards. I wondered if it was left over from the days of Snow White and we were too cheap to buy new equipment? But it was good enough and got the job done. Watching master animator, Mark Henn was incredible. Frame by frame, he’d photograph a stack of his barely legible, chicken-scratch drawings of Simba from the Lion King. After a while, the pencil test area got quiet because he finished shooting. It was time to see the magic. I’d look up on the monitor and watch Simba come to life.

These drawings were his scaffolding. They were necessary during the construction of the scene, but quickly discarded, and Simba was pushed through the production pipeline.

All kinds of visual art have some form of scaffolding. Not just animation. I’m currently doing a series of articles on my blog that focus on this topic. If this sounds interesting and you want to participate or know someone who would, let me know I’d love to include what your scaffolding looks like. I’d like to get a variety of artists and discover what they use to get to the finished piece. It’s a very specific step I’m looking for. Not how the artist gets the idea but that painful place right before the final art.

As an example, you can see some of the ‘ugly scaffolding’ I used to create a Sissy Spacek/Carrie drawing I did during Inktober. Don’t be afraid to share your own failures; it’s how we grow as artists.

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