The word "cartoon" is often used to say, "Not to be taken seriously." Odd, because I have seen breath-taking artwork in cartoons that I take very, very seriously. Good cartoon backgrounds are serious art: http://www.wimp.com/paintingtechniques/ (incidentally,Walt Peregoy later became the Scooby Doo show's first art director).
One thing i like are old clapboard houses. They are all around the country but it seems in Southern California they are slowly vanishing as they are bulldozed in favor of "development." Such is progress.
I took a spin on Google Maps to see where I might find a nice juicy clapboard house and in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, I came across this one:
|The dual doors tell me this is probably a rental. Hope the tenants treat this place well.|
Now this pic is so loaded with perspective that if all I did was trace it and Ta-Da! check out my clapboard house!, not so good. The perspective is so alarmingly distorted. Well, I'm not a big fan of when people load their camera pictures into Photoshop or Corel or whatever and simply apply an "oil painting" filter. It looks.... again, to me... phony. I prefer to draw the house. I prefer that you draw the house. I prefer that we all draw the house.
That's not to say we don't want to first create a guide. We want to lose the crazy amount of perspective in this pic and we want to emphasize those things that make this house interesting.
Photoshop allows you to play around with the perspective and to change the dimensions. Thus we can take an ordinary photo of a house and transform it into something we cartoonists can use.
After really messing with it I came up with this:
Next, I created a blue pencil guide:
|Note that I changed a duplex into a "one-plex."|
This is just the guide, don't forget. I did this in stages. Houses, after all, are a series of boxes set in, beside, or atop one another. By using the photo to justify my perspective angles - every vertical line in this one is straight up and down, no variations - I created my boxes with sloping roofs and got something that is pretty true to the picture. I might be off by a bit but that's what makes it a drawing.
Incidentally, I created each box in its separate layer so that a bad decision in one box was easily correctable and didn't translate into a disastrous decision for the whole composition. It was time consuming but this is how we learn.
Now don't forget this is a clapboard house. Meaning I have to draw... or at least imply... all those clapboard slats in the siding. That makes for a perspective headache. You ever drawn a picture where your lines are nicely in perspective when you start and wildly out of whack when you finish? What's a cartoonist to do?
Well, Photoshop also has an answer for that. It might seem like cheating... but if you think the backgrounders at Nicktoons are above using it due to professional scruples... well, dream on.
Photoshop permits you to impose a perspective grid. You can make is as fine or as large as you want. By establishing a vanishing point (hence the name, Vanishing Point tool) you can keep all points in your plane in perspective. Let's see it in conjunction with the facing plane of our house:
So what comes next? Now we draw.