Your eyes deceive you. Nothing is what it seems. People are not stick figures. Eyes are not football shapes. Cat ears are not triangles.
Homework assignment: go on Amazon and buy the oldest, most dog-eared early edition you can find of Betty Edwards’ book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Reason for getting an old copy is that each successive edition got a little longer and strayed a little further from Edwards’ central idea: that we see the world through a perceptual filter, one that turns things into symbols and words…and when we try to turn those symbols back into images, it usually ends in heartbreak.
The artist’s “gift” — the thing that makes them seem superhuman — we confuse it for technique, how one holds a pencil or works their brush strokes. But it’s a gift really of observation, that they’ve developed the knack to switch off or to tweak the parameters of that perceptual filter. This book is as much about psychology as art.
Even if you have no plans to draw another thing in your life, follow along with the exercises in this book…it’s startling, an eye-opener…and it’s entirely relevant, even if you’re making something like robots, if your aim is appealing, engaging robots. To accurately mimic a thing, or a part of a thing, you must objectively see its true shape first.
Another book recommendation…last one, I promise…is Cyclopedia Anatomicae by Gyorgy Fehér and András Szunyoghy. There exist tons of anatomy books, but pound for pound this one’s tough to beat as a one-stop reference. It’s an enormous volume, half devoted to the human figure, half to other animals.
Regardless whether you’re aiming for “realistic” or even “human,” understanding the shape and structure of things is vital. Exaggeration (caricature) requires first grasping the basic form.
Living things are complex and subtle. Each finger is a different character, with its own direction and length and girth. Ostriches don’t have knees that “bend backwards” — that’s their ankle. Getting a handle on anatomy…and comparative anatomy…is another essential skill in this quest.