Half of my clutter is always a pile of books, and I noticed that every time, it is any of a combination of 5 books that have stayed with me since my years at SCAD. In the absence of teachers, books are key.
Starting with the one I use the most (or more like, every single time):
#1: Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers, by Marcos Mateu-Mestre
Composition is my weakest point, because I gravitate towards straight-forward, flat, centered, designs, a combination which generally doesn't create very alluring compositions (unless if you're talking about Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, where this worked beautifully). My illustrations would be pretty, yes, but they weren't stunning, and Framed Ink has taught me that this is because were lacking a story.
Jennifer Ely, a badass artist and friend from SCAD, introduced me to this book after I saw how much her work had improved after reading it (not that her work wasn't awesome before).
|Love me some popcorn clouds. Aren't they gorgeous?|
By then, the book was sold out and out of print for a few months, but I snagged a copy the minute they were available again on Amazon. It has since proved invaluable every single time I have taken it out for a new illustration.
Mateu-Mestre is all about storytelling and what he calls "composing shots with a purpose." The book is packed with stunning examples drawn by the man himself, with straightforward explanations of all the calculated factors he uses to manipulate the audience's emotions and draw their attention toward anything he pleases.
It's mountains more than just playing with the angles and positions of elements to make things look nice, which is how I had always approached composition. It's about the direction the character or object is facing, whether his eyes are above or below the horizon line, whether he imposingly fits in the frame or is the smallest, visually constricted speck, whether he is surrounded by light or dark, and just so much more that I can't fit anything substantial about it in a dinky little paragraph.
This book is invaluable because it teaches by example, that a stunning illustration is one that tells a story (and an emotionally stirring one at that). I've used it on a few projects so far, including my latest Gardenia illustration, and now it is never far from my desk.