View Full Version : Luna's Mini-lesson #1: The Importance of Silhouettes!

07 July 2005, 08:53 AM
I've been meaning to post some lessons and tutorials, but haven't had time. I'm still learning myself, and have lots of improving to do, and while I'm certainly no master like Craig Mullins, I think I can still share some of the stuff I've learned in my artistic journey thus far. I'll try to do these mini-lessons whenever I have time. I hope you guys will get something out of them.

So, here we are.

Welcome to Luna's Mini-lesson #1: The Importance of Silhouettes!

An important lesson for cartoonists, animators, and character designers to learn is silhouettes. If you can tell a story with just silhouettes, your artwork can have more impact visually. Here's a good example:

Take a look at the following two silhouettes and pick one that explains the narrative with the most clarity:

Obviously, you picked the silhouette on the right, as it clearly shows that it's a man holding and pointing a gun in front of him. It even gives an indication of the man's profile, that he has short hair, that his shirt has a collar, and that it is long-sleeved. With the silhouette on the left, there is no clear indication what what he's holding--he could be holding a banana for all we know. There's also no indication whether he has long hair tied in a ponytail in the back, or whether he's wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt. We wouldn't even know if it was a woman with healthy-sized breasts and no nose.

The same concept applies to easily identifiable characters. One of the first things a character designer learns is to create easily reconizable shapes for the characters--shapes that you can identify even in silhouette. If you took a picture of Mickey Mouse or the genie from Aladin, and then blackened the whole figure, would you still be able to identify those characters? That's exactly what this lesson is all about--recognizable shapes.

That's it for mini-lesson #1. I hope you had fun!

07 July 2005, 09:17 AM
A similar thing my trad. animation teacher told me:

Some movements, such as a hand grabbing something, are often quite straight in reality, but are more effective and easier to understand if you animate them, er, a bit like I drew in the thumbnail below, I think.

07 July 2005, 12:50 PM
thx for the quick and easy to read lesson, should be fun to read the rest of them! :D

Maybe Sin City is a good example of lesson 1. :)

07 July 2005, 04:53 AM
negative space anyone?

07 July 2005, 06:07 AM
This technique is also used in architecture and urban design, called "Mass & Void" diagram. It enables the designer to examine many attributes that relate to the process. It is more analytical to an existing or proposed condition than sythetical. "Threashold" in Photoshop, is a great tool for such studies, Posterize is multi-level but useful too.

An interesting origin of the word Silhouette (

07 July 2005, 08:01 AM
cool yep,learnt this a while back.

07 July 2005, 02:32 PM
Just for the sake of argument:

(In case that link doesn't work, it's Glen Fabry's cover to the comic "Preacher" issue #16)

I definetly follow the intent of this rule in terms of clarity, but there's always room for exceptions.

On a similar vein, I was looking today at a cover for an upcoming Conan comic:
It's a nice cover by Cary Nord, but the spikes on the blue guy's shoulders are hard to read.


07 July 2005, 06:04 PM
These simple art foundation rules and theories are not cast in iron. They are just there to equip you with more creative decision making choices. For example, common wisdom says that warm light will give you cool shadows, and vice versa--that is not something you follow 100%--it's just a guide. Same thing with the silhouette thing.

07 July 2005, 11:23 PM
Nice! Make more!:D

07 July 2005, 01:00 PM
I think the best example of silhouettes and good usage is Frank Miller and his work, Sin City. He creates incredible mood and atmosphere with silhouettes and empty spaces.

07 July 2005, 08:31 PM
then again....

07 July 2005, 05:28 AM
Yeah... you never know.

07 July 2005, 03:31 PM
This reminds me of the basic concept of negative space and drawing what you see, not what you *think* you see.

It's a good point to remember. Thanks Luna


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