Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 08:29 am
Since I've been doing my fanart prompts for a while, here's some somewhat undirected thinky thoughts.

I've encountered a lot of talk about writing The Other, trying to be inclusive and respectful when writing characters who are outside the "default" of white straight able-bodied male etc. I've pondered this with regards to my own (small amount of) writing, but about a year ago had the sudden realisation that it applied to my art too: When I tried drawing the original SGA team for a prompt I realised that my drawing style really didn't suit dark skin. And when I looked back at my art I realised I'd never drawn anyone very dark, and instead had lots and lots of skinny able-bodied youngish white people, both in my original characters and my fanart. Even the comics I drew about I and [personal profile] cameronm have us much skinnier than we really are.

So I've been trying to fix it. I made my mental default skin tone for original characters darker, and made an effort to draw more dark skinned characters in fanart. When I'd been doing that for a while I decided to branch out and asked for Fanart prompts: not skinny youngish white people.

And it's been a really interesting experience. I guess the two different aspects are the apolitical practical issues around drawing a different skin tone or body type etc, and the deeper issues relating to how we see such bodies and who we choose to draw.

For example, most women in fantasy drawings are not only white but seriously pasty, often with blonde hair. Even just drawing the same sort of pictures with a darker white (or paleish non-white/POC) woman can be quite striking and a bit of a challenge, eg I had trouble getting the colours in this Mucha-inspired picture to look right since all the women in the original images have much lighter colouring. (nb she could be read as non-white/a POC, but I was going for darkish white)

Something I discovered as I tried drawing darker skinned people is that darker skin has a much wider range of luminosity. This means that the common anime-ish technique of doing a flat colour and then shadows looks much more fake and flat than it does on pale skin (this is also an issue with dark hair and clothes etc, but the human eye is more prone to noticing flaws in faces). I'm still trying to get the hang of highlights on dark skin, and every time I screw it up I have this horrible vision of some black person feeling really insulted at the depiction. A lot of artists seem happy to just not do highlights but it looks wrong to me.

I wrote a fancomic with an Egyptian cast and was quite happy with it..until I realised that my Tintin-esque dot eyes were kind of hard to make out when not in a pale face. And then, after looking more closely at my reference images (modern photos of Egyptians plus some tomb art) realised I'd given everyone pointy noses which is totally wrong for those ethnicities (I semi fixed the noses, the eyes I was kind of stuck with). After some trial and error, I adapted my style to include the whites of eyes and I think it's become more expressive (nb the colouring on that picture is crap because my tablet was broken).

Similarly I've been learning about how to draw wrinkles, scars, epicanthal folds etc. It's been a really rewarding challenge as an artist.

But while getting the hang of drawing Afro-Caribbean hair may be roughly as challenging for me as getting the hang of drawing freckles or glowing purple eyes it is not equivalent.

By avoiding or badly representing the appearance of marginalised people we add to their/our marginalisation. I may find it annoying that freckles always seem to be drawn as discrete dark dots when my own don't look like that, but the effect this has on me is totally different to that on an Asian person who sees a "squinty eyes" drawing, or on a black person who sees Martha Jones drawn with a thin pointy nose and beige skin, or never sees her drawn at all.

And I developed an art style that didn't suit darker skin not because it's inherently harder to draw, but because all the people I drew, and all the people in art around me, were pale. The reason drawing myself as I actually look looks "wrong" is that I live in a world where the only people I see drawn positively are thin. Adding to this, growing up around visual stereotypes (like drawing black people with giant red lips) makes it harder to draw stereotyped groups without either making them look "normal" (white, skinny, etc) or falling into those stereotypes.

Some art styles tend to blur these boundaries, eg most people look pretty much the same when you draw them as a generic anime character. You also have the fact that anime characters look Japanese in the heads of their original artists, but often look white in the heads of Western fanartists. It's been a challenge trying to translate various features into my own stylised drawing style without descending into caricature.

It's not always easy to tell the difference between a valid and a dodgy stylistic choice eg the difference between making everyone look skinny because of a bias against fat people, and doing it because you're doing pseudo-stick figures. Sometimes a stylistic choice can be valid and tend to support pre-existing bias, and that's something anyone using that style has to keep in mind. EDIT There's the difference between marked and unmarked eg the assumption that all stick figures are white men unless otherwise stated.

A body doesn't have to be visibly different from the default to be marginalised. Most POC/non-white characters in visual media have relatively pale skin and european-ish features thanks to racist casting choices, yet are still treated in a racist way by canon and fans, and it's still racist to draw them as out and out white. And as someone with an invisible disability I know that people can still look at you funny when you don't look "different" at all.

Something I've noticed the more I draw outside the default boxes is how much other artists don't. Every time I add a picture to DeviantArt I do a search to see who else has drawn that character (to see if mine is better :D) and I will think for example "Really? There's only 7 pictures of Bra'tac? But he's the coolest!" When I look for reference images I keep finding pictures of the more conventionally attractive members of the cast, or in the case of disabled characters only finding them looking able-bodied. I do enjoy feeling like I'm giving under-appreciated characters some love, but they deserve better!

Overweight, non-white/POC, old, visibly disabled etc characters are underrepresented in our media and underrepresented in our fanart, and it is really unpleasant for people with those types of bodies to feel so invisible and unimportant. The only way to fix that is to make a concerted effort to work against the trend.

Anyway, I'm really glad I've been doing this and strongly recommend it to other artists. Feel free to use some of the prompts my reading list came up with. Two shows that have a fantastic variety of types of people to draw are "The Middleman" and "Avatar: The Last Airbender". I'm not looking for more prompts for myself, mind you, I think I have enough.

I still have a lot further to go, and sometimes it's really scary and hard to try and draw this stuff without screwing up in a hurtful way (if only hurtful to my ego), but what's the fun in creating art if it's not a challenge?

I'm aware that Racefail was started by a post called "Writing the Other", hopefully artists are less prone to imbroglios than writers :) Anyway: this post is kind of stream-of-consciousness, I've probably got giant holes in my argument, I look forward to hearing other people's thoughts. I am very much open to any critiques of this post or my art etc for ending up inadvertently racist etc despite my best efforts. I am not so open to people being all "But my intentions are good, why are you accusing me of being a NAZI just because I think blondes are hot?". That argument has been done, and frankly I'm kind of sick of it (if these ideas are new to you I recommend looking through the links on that post, there's some good stuff).

Since I want to post this to metafandom and they apparently have rules about this sort of thing: I have left (signed-in) comments unscreened and the comments policy is for now more a set of suggestions. Please follow them anyway! And note that I go through long periods where I'm not up to answering my mail.

Also: I've only been really talking about fairly traditional drawn fanart. The issues around manips, icons etc are a bit different but I would say broadly similar.

Two possibly useful tutorials (I must admit I've only poked at them vaguely):

Note: I've barely scratched the surface of the issues and techniques relating to this topic, and I definitely wouldn't take anything I have to say as definitive, I just wanted to describe some of the stuff I've personally encountered.
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 02:41 am (UTC)
I won't say you're safe from imbroglio, but I'll note one (IMO significant) difference between you and Elizabeth Bear: you are pondering the process and examining your own fallibility, while Bear was writing an instructional post, from the POV of someone who Knows How It's Done... except that she didn't know as much as she thought she did.

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)
::wry half-grin:: Too true. It's pretty much a given that they'll do so, somewhere; here's hoping is that they don't do so all over the comments to your post.


(Edited to put reply in right place)
Friday, January 1st, 2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
Beat me to it. It's amazing how much difference a little humility can make.

This post was really great! It's interesting to see the challenges an artist finds and how they're dealt with.
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 07:22 am (UTC)
I've noticed this in my own drawing style: there's no vocabulary within it for "fat" nor for any racial phenotype other than white. And solving that on the fly, mid-drawing, doesn't work so great. So far I've been copping out by not marking anybody, but as we all know, "unmarked" defaults to white and thin, especially when the characters aren't known to the viewer (which in my case, they're generally not). It's easy to justify that copping out with "Oh, just stick figures, which are almost by definition unmarked" but I've got two styles, and I notice that when faced with a character who has a "marked" body, I'll choose stick figures "just for today."

"Just today" has had a lot of days, so far. :-/
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
*mutters something about not being good enough to draw fanart*
Thursday, December 31st, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)
Seriously, there's nothing for Smash? Nothing? *sigh* I assume that means there's double-nothing for Waverly, then. And Waverly totally needs adoring fanart. I have a crush on her this big. (Setting aside the squick that she's canonically sixteen or so, and that if I knew her in real life the age gap is such that there's no way I'd have a crush on her. TV is weird.)

And yeah, I know better than that muttering, never fear. ;-) It's more properly a question of where I want to be putting my time and effort, and what investment-level it'd take to feel some satisfaction about it.

This is a completely noob question, but I've never participated in fandom. Where/how does one check to see if there's fanart/fic for something? Are you straightforwardly googling, or...?
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 07:39 am (UTC)
Some art styles tend to blur these boundaries, eg most people look pretty much the same when you draw them as an anime character.

Try spriting. :p Size differences are difficult to do! (Also darker skin/hair tones is difficult, for me; finding shades of brown that aren't too green is haaaard.)
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
I'm loving the cat-versus-Goa'uld in ancient Egypt fan comic. :-)

-- Steve Sloan
Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 04:34 am (UTC)
(here via metafandom)

The Cat-Goa'uld story was very cute. :)
Wednesday, December 30th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks for addressing this constant issue from a new viewpoint!

What you say here is particularly wise: A body doesn't have to be visibly different from the default to be marginalised. Most POC/non-white characters in visual media have relatively pale skin and european-ish features thanks to racist casting choices, yet are still treated in a racist way by canon and fans, and it's still racist to draw them as out and out white. And as someone with an invisible disability I know that people can still look at you funny when you don't look "different" at all.
Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)
gallo_de_pelea at LJ, here via metafandom.

This is something I've been wrestling with for quite some time - I work primarily in black and white, do all my shading with graphite, and as such have been relying mostly on facial structure and features to indicate various ethnicities. (Graphite shading is terribly blotchy over skin, unless it's a close-up)

I've started laying in flat gray tones over the pencil, but am not too satisfied with that, either - Hoping to work out a decent technique on my own, but if anyone here has found one, please let me know!
Sunday, January 3rd, 2010 05:20 am (UTC)
I... it honestly had not occurred to me to do a sepia tint on the comic pages. (which is weird, because I usually add a slight sepia tint to sketches and inks before posting them on the web.) Just put it up in straight grayscale... and the gray tones on Amal just look so cold. I bet it'd look better to do the whole thing in a slightly warmed-up shade. WHY DID THIS NOT OCCUR TO ME BEFORE

Woo thanks! I can't wait to give this a shot.

Monday, January 4th, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)
Chapter 3 goes up tomorrow with new and snazzy slight sepia tint (well, more like Warm Gray). Amal's skin still doesn't read as dark as I'd like (without obscuring tiny facial lines, at least), but it's a hell of a lot better - the previous pages look cold by comparison, so I'll be warming them up too.
Thursday, December 31st, 2009 03:16 am (UTC)
Very interesting post.

I've got a rough and rather undefined thought in my head about background colour, and how the fact we default to white 'paper' must affect how we then interpret adding or removing colour, even in media where it shouldn't be directly relevant. Would setting a different default background maybe help challenge that?

But it's 3 in the morning and I'm not sure I can carry the thought through more than that.
Thursday, December 31st, 2009 12:33 pm (UTC)
I've noticed that in drawing books on human anatomy and such. You very rarely find a good mix of people. And little to no attention is paid to how different bodies look, when bodies are conceptualized in books on drawing humans. Of course the obvious thing every drawing book will tell you is to study humans, draw from life, carry a sketchbook with you, blablablah practice-cakes, which is of course as true as it is supremely unhelpful. Nobody needs a book to know that to draw and study real people is good practice. OTOH drawing from life has also limitations, which is most likely the reason why you got the drawing book in the first place, to help you solve the problems you have. Which is especially true if you want to do fantasy art or action scenes rather than some sitting nude.

And in every drawing book that breaks down humans to help you that "generic" human is usually a young(ish), white man, though young, white women appear too, and they are usually drawn in a way that is considered "well-proportioned" at the time, which fluctuates a bit. And the one book (by Ron Tiner) I've encountered that is a bit more decent about different body types and ages (and to a lesser extent race) turns "scientific" classification systems from the 19th/early 20th century into artistic tools without any reflection or even notice that they were racist crap, for example the craniometry with its cephalic index. I wouldn't even mind the use of the terminology from outdated racist anthropology to describe skull and body types descriptively (I mean, late 19th and early 20th century anthropology was kind of obsessed with measuring and categorizing humans, so they do have a lot of specific vocabulary to describe differences in humans), but the book presented those as if this was actually "neutral" anthropology and it was from the 1990s and apparently did not at all realize that it is of the racist, debunked type.
Thursday, December 31st, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
the one book (by Ron Tiner) I've encountered that is a bit more decent about different body types and ages (and to a lesser extent race) turns "scientific" classification systems from the 19th/early 20th century into artistic tools without any reflection or even notice that they were racist crap

I don't know if that's the same specific drawing book I encountered, but the one drawing book I ever found that had detailed advice on drawing a range of ages and drawing different races was also full of "cacausoid/negroid/monogloid" terminology and other language straight out of 1920s anthropology textbooks. I think it was actually a couple decades old as opposed to from the 90s, but it was still recent enough that the concepts the writer was using had already been repreatedly debunked when it was published.

Interestingly, one of my fiancee's "How to Draw Manga" books from the 90s uses some of the same stereotypes and language, except it depicts Japanese people as the norm and African, Europeans, and Chinese people as the "here's how you change the default human to look like these people" Other. I kept wondering when reading it if the dated and racist terminology was the product of a really clumsy translation of the Japanese-language original, or if it had been intentionally added by the guy who translated the book (and if so, why, in 1992, did he think "negroid" was exactly the word he wanted to use).
Thursday, December 31st, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
When I reviewed Tiner's book a few years ago, I scanned a couple of pages so people could see,you can see an example page here, so maybe that helps you to remember whether it was the same one, but I think not, because I don't remember him using "negroid" and such. But I am not surprised that this happens in drawing books, where also the "classics" from the 1920s and earlier get recommended again and again still. And it's not that they don't teach useful things, but it would be nice to have some updated standard works on drawing the human figure by now, that would be more inclusive. But then too often the newer ones still aren't any better. Like I have a drawing book by Gary Faigin that is really good for breaking down facial expressions, and shows you what is involved in even subtle changes, how age changes a face, but the example faces are almost all white people. There are a few others with whole faces, but all the looks at details of how to draw eyelids, noses and lips showed white people iirc.
Friday, January 1st, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
Drawing books are frequently disturbing, both with sexism and with racism. In the recent Wizard book series on drawing comics, in the volume on character design I found one single black character, tellingly in the section "brutes" drawn under some sort of gorilla monster.
Friday, January 1st, 2010 12:23 pm (UTC)
♥ the Mafdet story. The daughter at the end is reading The 99! Hahaaaaa brilliant!
Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 12:11 pm (UTC)
This post and its links are just what I needed. I'm trying to draw this comic I've had in my head for over a decade, and since it happens over much of the world, it's important to me to get the various ethnicities right. Thanks so much!
Sunday, January 3rd, 2010 10:27 am (UTC)
Thank you for asking the question. It's sad to keep seeing Teyla drawn as a white blonde chick in SGA fanart, so I'm glad you've at least recognised the problem.
Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 04:21 am (UTC)
Black hair, comics and you.
Sunday, January 10th, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC)
This post has been added to a linkspam round up..