Friday, December 7, 2012

About Curves and Lines

-By Serge Birault

My students are very surprised when I tell them it's very difficult to do good stuff with few lines. Indeed, most of them are more impressed by very "technical" pictures and they think simple linework is very easy to do. They quickly understand they're wrong.

After several attempts, they realize it's very complicated to find the good shapes and the right curves.

Most of the students in digital art schools want to work for video game companies, so they only want to do "speed paintings". For them, it means it has to go fast and be dirty (and they are wrong). So when I ask them to do very clean outlines with nice curves, it's a real nightmare.

It's a real nightmare for me too. I'm a painter, so I always think about my volumes. And it's sometimes impossible to paint logical volumes and keep a good and simple shape in the same time. I try (under the influence of my good friend David Dunstan) but I fail very often.

Ten years ago, I worked a lot with Flash. Flash was (and is) an incredible vector software for web animations. I did a lot of "flat" characters without any respect for volumes. It was ten years ago, I forgot how to do that. Indeed, I only do character designs for 3D animated series now, so the volumes are the point.

Animation industry is now full of 3D. It's a bit sad because 2D animations have so much to offer. A lot of 2D characters would be impossible to do in 3D. For example, Mickey Mouse's ears... No wait, it's not a good example, you can cheat in 3D too, but you know what I mean ...

By the way, what is a good curve or a good shape ? I don't have the answer but I can try to explain a little bit.

Here's a (not so good example). I did a very quick sketch of this Little Red Riding Hood character. Her body is not very interesting because the volumes are quite logical. Her face is not so bad ...

I tried to simplified a lot all the curves without any respect for the volumes. In order to do very smooth curves, you have do mathematics. No, it's not a joke... Please stop screaming!

So you think mathematics have nothing in common with "Art"? You're wrong. A good curve is usually a Bézier curve. You don't believe me ? Take a look on this :

We use to see this kind of curves everywhere : design, 3D, fonts, ... When you draw a nice curves, you draw a Bézier curve, even if you don't know what it is. By the way, a line or a circle are a Bézier curve too.

A Bézier curve has control points. A lot of softwares have this kind of tool, even Photoshop.

But let's try with a vector software, Flash (or Illustrator) for example. I just put my sketch on it and redo the outlines. It's quite easy to use and it's a very good exercice. Just try to have very few control points.

Ok, it's not so simple. You cannot do a good design only with mathematics. You sometimes have to break the curves, to do stright lines and angular shapes. But I think, it's a very good training.

You can easily find some free vector graphics editor on the internet , like Inkscape :

And now some few helpful links. It's, of course, not a complete list. A lot of this artists work for animation industry but not only. I think you can find some inspiration for your future curvy picture :

Guillaume "El Gunto" Poux
French (but kind) illustrator
Alberto Ruiz
Curves and angles genius/ Publisher

Robin Mitchell
Concept artist/Traveler

Spanish illustrator and very good dancer

Shane Glines
The Boss/ Probably-The-Best-Drawing-Skills-On-Earth

Craig McCracken
The Legend

Stephen Silver
I'm sure you know that

Otto Schmidt
Damn russian !
(And yes, girl and tentacles... this picture was a gift for me)

And some links for character design and animation :


  1. Amazing post! I'm trying to make some cartoon, and I'm going pretty well, just trying to work with shapes, I first draw what I want on paper, transfer it to photoshop and make a silhouette of it, if it works, i just add a line effect around it and start inking inside.
    unfortunately I'm always having problens with the idea of, what to draw. I'll maybe try to make alist of things that I want to draw in the week or, read a book and ilustrate it...

    1. Yes, it's sometimes easier to "illustrate" something ;)

  2. Super Serge! Et très vrai!
    Je ne connaissais pas cette technique dans flash, assez intéressante il faut avouer! Merci beaucoup pour ces articles

  3. it is right.. when i try to make a line art from a sketch why do i feel that the line art its no better than my sketch :(

  4. May I suggest Celia Calle, Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, Chris Sanders and Bill Pressing to the list? :)
    Nice article. Gotta respect graphic minimalistic artists, the amount of thinking they put in each drawing is completely underrated. People think "yeah that's easy", and sure, is easy to copy 'cause all the thinking and simplification was done already, but to create a well balanced, elegant and composed drawing with a couple of lines from scratch is quite a task.

    1. I agree with you ... Doing good stuff with few things is the best achievment possible.

  5. Thank you, Serge! I have a lot more respect now for "simple" curves. They are difficult to achieve but I never appreciated how truly complex they actually are.

  6. This is a great article. Also, if anyone wants to do vectors in Photoshop, I made a small intro tutorial. It is not about good curves like this one, it's just a survey of the vector tools, in case someone is interested but doesn't know where to start.
    I hope it's not in bad taste to put a link here.


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  9. Merci pour ce partage! Ce serait tellement intéressant de suivre des cours sous votre baguette, les conseil sont très constructifs.
    Merci de m'apporter la motivation et les trucs et astuces pour rendre l'art encore meilleur! =)

  10. Awesome post! During your classes I got very intrigued when you shown Shane Gline's work since you talked about those "perfect curves" and I had no clue how was that different of other stuff.
    Since then I've been studying gesture drawing and now it's noticiable how brilliant it is!


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