The Line Art for the "Trial of Socrates"
The Line Art for the “Trial of Socrates”
Some unique lessons learned about constructing “Big Scenes”.
What’s been especially unique about this project over others I’ve done so far, is that there is a lot of instances where a great many people are gathered together. I realised early that I would really have to get creative with the use of space and proportion, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Drawing large crowds of people can be daunting, intimidating, and simply complex and dubious to handle. This project wasn’t the first where I had the opportunity to work in grand perspectives, but it was the first that would require thousands of people to be seen it them. This is where all those books and tips on drawing with perspective start to pay off.
But all the perfect use of perspective and proportion is of little good if the image is muddled up with far too many details. Early on in the project, there is a page depicting a busy market place in Athens, the agora, and with this scene I had to choose a view that would allow for a lot of different “layers” of people to be seen. It would need to be close enough to show some details, but not too far out that the proportionality of objects would become pointless. These kinds of shots would become the norm for a lot of project.
Fortunately, it afforded me the great opportunity to get better at drawing lots of people very tiny. I learned there’s a subtle trick to it all: the shape is the detail. At a certain distance, textures become a mute point for defining an object, or at least need not be too embellished. You can see in the above image that the quality of the figures drawn isn’t all that great, but the quality of the image becomes interesting because of all the intersecting elements in it. Choosing the right height and angle to compose an image will allow you to better layer in objects and details needed to “place” the viewer as well as make it interesting. When doing “big scenes” like this, its important to simply get the shape of objects right, just with simple lines and shadows, and keep it clean. The more detail you start adding to the image, the more overpowering to the eye it becomes, and any sense of grandeur gets lost.
However, not all pages worked out so well. The first large crowd to draw was at the assembly meeting at the Bouleutarian, where a critic of the Thirty Tyrants calls out their leader, Critias. All in all, not a bad way to get started, but being the first shot at it, I made a few design choices that probably didn’t work out so well. First, the large crowd of fellow citizens was a staggering thing to portray. It was here, though, that I learned the lesson about shape and details. Some of the characters in the background have detail, and then some don’t. If I to redo this page over, I would probably choose to lower the camera angle closer to the floor, and put a bit more distance between Theremenes and the assembly. This way, I can show the same amount of people without getting too bogged down with details, and create a cleaner image in the process. Nonetheless, I would just have to get used to drawing lots of little objects!
Another important lesson learned about large groups of people in space is to help create separation through atmosphere. I utilised this approach more in the later part of the book, especially when the two opposing armies clashed. Oh, the joy of clashing armies!
These scenes, despite the complexity, were a blast to draw. We both want a lot of the shots to be low to the ground (fortunately) to be amongst the action, which required a different kind of perspective use, one through spatial layering. The above image shows this off pretty well. In the distance the background troops are in dark grey, which gives the illusions of lots of dust being kicked up from all the action. It also helps to keep the foreground elements separate from the background. In these instances other artists may also choose to make all the background elements a black silhouette, or even separate layers of action/objects by using a black/white/black layer order. However you try to do it, the same objective applies: keep it clean! Sometimes its better to withhold details entirely and simply allude the shapes and forms with minimal details, all so that the eye doesn’t become overwhelmed.
I learned a lot of great lessons while doing this project, and one is this: grand perspective shots are actually a lot easier than you think. When doing big city shots, it can seem like a lot of arduous work and detail (and it is), but it’s mostly just well placed straight lines and appropriate details. It’s mostly just shapes! Fundamentally, that’s the key to drawing anything, well placed lines and appropriate detail to construct shapes. But in these instances, one must also possess a keen awareness of perspective and how shapes change in proportion to perspective. The eye and mind does an incredible amount of filling in of details on its own without needing all the information. Its how you know a tree is covered in leaves by its shape and not by seeing every leaf. There’s a lot to know and master when dealing with perspective and landscapes, but for the most part, just keep it simple first, than work out the details.