Saturday, May 8, 2021

Banana Miranda


For the past couple of weeks since my pandemic project ended, I’ve been using the time in the morning when I used to draw my hand to instead practice drawing from imagination. I’ve occasionally shown here examples of how I’ve been practicing imaginative drawing during the past year, and it’s a huge, ongoing challenge for me. I’m sure that it will get easier over time with regular practice, just like drawing from life eventually did, but right now it feels like I’ve gone back to Square 1 nearly a decade ago. Drawing from imagination is obviously using my brain in a way that never otherwise gets used (and hasn’t been used for most of my adult life).

A large part of my current study is reading books by Lynda Barry. One day when I had mentioned on Facebook how challenging it is for me to draw from my head compared to drawing what I see, an artist friend said she has the opposite challenge: She does most of her drawing from imagination, so to look at something and draw from sight takes more work. Our interesting discussion led me to ask for reading recommendations, and she heartily cited Barry’s books. I immediately checked out Syllabus, What It Is and Picture This from the library, the three titles my friend thought would be especially helpful. (I like Syllabus so much that I ended up buying a copy.)

My intention was not necessarily to draw comics, and it is still not my goal, but as a comic artist herself, Barry believes that the comic medium can give people a direct line to memory and expression. Eventually my goal is to move in the direction of drawing from my head in a more realistic way, but I figure comics are as good a way as any to engage and stretch that under-used part of my brain.

Above you see the result of my first finished attempt. It doesn’t look like much, but the steps I took to get there are interesting. Always fascinated by the creative process, I am documenting my study here. Barry’s work and teaching methods are all about being intuitive and allowing imaginative characters to grow on their own and not be pushed by their creator. I like her attitude and approach. 

When Barry teaches college courses, she takes attendance each day by requiring her students to draw a two-minute self-portrait on an index card. Using that assignment as a cue, I started out by drawing a page of selfies. With all those selfies I had made a couple months ago still fresh in my mind, the face wasn’t difficult (key was the somewhat frowny expression that I tend to have when I’m focused on drawing). To keep my pen moving (important in Barry’s process), I gave them a variety of hats.

The next day I picked the Carmen Miranda-like headgear as my favorite and elaborated on it to complete the character. Almost immediately I realized that the hat would have to be simplified if she were to become a comic character because it took too much time to draw.

Often citing the work of cartoonist and comic scholar Ivan Brunetti (whose recommended book I am studying now), Barry described the way he teaches development of a comic character: Draw a round head, rectangular body, simple limbs, simple features. These marks are intended to look not much more than stick figures. Then just let the characters move and act as they want to. This puts the emphasis on the actions of the characters instead of “how to draw them right.” I had fun with this for several days even as I struggled (below). Around this time, I gave my character the name Banana Miranda, which helped to define her attitude. (She seems to practice yoga and carry a pencil constantly. If my character is accused of being autobiographical, I will deny it vehemently and point out that I don’t have a hat with a pineapple and bananas on it.)

Eventually I knew she would need a sidekick to interact with. I chose a character who was already fully developed: a bird that came out of my scribblings from Alexandra Gabor’s Sketchbook Revival workshop.

Barry likes to work in the four-panel comic format, and I tried a few, but I had difficulty stretching a story to that length. I settled on the single-panel format you see above.

What’s next? I don’t know if Banana Miranda is a one-trick pony or whether she will have more to say in the future, but I’m open to wherever she wants to take me (or not).

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