David Rickert

Andrew Loomis and Cartooning #1: The Importance of Line

This is the first in a series of posts applying the concepts of Andrew Loomis’s Creative Illustration to cartooning.

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard the name Andrew Loomis and Creative Illustration mentioned by a cartoonist, but I believe it was by Carl Barks in a book I read a long time ago. At the time I was infatuated with Barks’ work and was likely to try and track down any book he mentioned. However, this was in the days before the internet and I was never able to find a copy of Creative Illustration. The book was long out of print, and any copies that I managed to track down would cost a small fortune.

Somehow Loomis’s name kept coming up in stuff that I read, and any time I saw it, I googled it to see what I could find. Eventually entire pdfs of Creative Illustration appeared online so now everyone has access to this classic text. You can find it here.

However, recently the book has been reissued in print and you owe it to yourself to get an actual copy instead of going the cheap route. For one thing, the book is gigantic, and there’s no way you can see the images in all their glory on a desktop or mobile device. Second, it’s a terrific book to flip through. It captures a bygone era when you could actually make a living doing illustrations for magazines and the industry wasn’t dominated by photographs.

Because of the changing market, there’s a lot here that won’t apply to people working today (you might as well ignore the last chapter on markets for illustration work, and if you’re still using oils to create paintings to sell in the advertising field, good luck with that.) However, there are a lot of principles here that are worth studying. If it was good enough for Barks, it’s good enough for us.

I would add that a lot of what Loomis writes about is not for the beginner. If I had actually found a copy of Creative Illustration when I first heard of it, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Now that I’ve been drawing for a while I can see the value in using Loomis’s ideas to hone my craft.

You know Loomis is really interested in breaking things down when the first chapter is all about line. Really. Pages and pages discussing the importance of line. But once you start thinking about lines as the organizing principle of an image, your compositions start to make a lot more sense. You can control the way the image is read and better communicate the message you’re trying to convey.

Here’s a picture from the book that breaks down some compositions to show how the lines help shape the drawing. Notice the variety in the lines. None of the lines are in the same direction. The human eye likes variety.

Andrew Loomis - Creative.Illustration copy

Here’s another good example of how you can create contrast in illustrations. You don’t want to have all the same shape in a drawing. Contrast creates variety, and emphasizes important parts of the drawing. Put round shapes up against flat shapes, for instance.

Andrew Loomis - Creative.Illustration2 copy

I have this next one taped on the wall of my studio. This one illustrates the ideas communicated by various organizations of lines. I don’t always refer to this, but it’s a handy reference when I’m trying to communicate a certian feeling in an illustration and I don’t know how to do it.Andrew Loomis - Creative.Illustration3 copy

So here’s some pages from the Preston Blair school that illustrate the importance of line. Blair really emphasizes the importance of starting with a clear line of action when drawing figures:

Here’s another good example from Owen Fitzgerald. In the first panel, the diagonal staircase adds contrast to the woman standing while also framing the characters on the right. The next two panels use the line of action to emphasize the conflict and establish the sense of power. Without reading the dialogue, you can still tell who’s in charge.

For a long time I didn’t start with a line of action. I just drew bodies and heads without any thought to the structure behind them. I now see the value in laying things out this way first and it’s the only way I do it now. It has really helped me plan out the action in the drawing and add some variety to the way that characters are posed. I also found that I had a tendency to not position characters at the full range of expression. Drawing a line that is more exaggerated than I think it should be helps create dynamic motion. Most of the time my characters are too stiff rather than too loose.

Here’s some examples from my own work. Most of the time I’m not deliberately thinking about any of this. I just draw what looks right. It’s intuitive.

In this illustration I have the two characters standing upright. The horizontal lines of the hills and the tow rope add contrast. Because the primary direction in the drawing is the horizontal lines, the image communicates calm and stability.


Here’s the second image, in which the primary line of action is the curving of the sled. Referring back to Loomis’s chart, this image creates a feeling of motion and excitement, which is appropriate for the sledding course. Same setting, different lines.51image3


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