Mark Ewbie & The Surprising Effectiveness of Stick Figures

If I were to ask a random Hubber to name another Hubber who is known for original illustrations, chances are Mark Ewbie‘s name would pop up. This prolific Hubber is famous for his signature stick figure style (and entertaining humor), hence it is only a matter of course that we would ask for his advice on the creating custom graphics for Hubs.

Amidst his insights and advice, you might be surprised to find that this award-winning Hubber didn’t actually start doodling until he joined HubPages two years ago. Once again, we are reminded that you can embark on new artistic endeavors at any time.

Have you always doodled and sketched things?

I certainly drew stuff as a child but never had that ability of real artists to make something come alive on a page. So I gave up, thinking that if I couldn’t draw a realistic human face or a cat there was no point.

I started doodling again when I joined HubPages. Now I feel that I have missed out if a day goes by without drawing something. It is something I enjoy which I had never previously felt a need to do.

Am I an artist with years of experience? Absolutely not. Ask me again in twenty years.

Have you always created illustrations for your work?

If by ‘work’ you mean the variable quality nonsense I have produced for HubPages then the answer is yes. I realised early on that everyone said “You must have pictures” and so it began.

At first I did simple pictures to occupy some space between the text and give my pages a less wordy feel. They were a very minor element because I thought my writing was far more important and hey, I can’t draw!

Now my ‘illustrations’ are a key aspect of what I do and often the main purpose for the article. Frequently the words are breaking up the pictures – rather than the other way around.

How did your practice of creating custom images for articles come about?

When I first joined HubPages, I realised with horror that I needed a profile pic. No way! I’m not saying I am not attractive, in some lights and wearing a floppy hat I’m quite passable. The occasional lady has… well anyway.

So I drew a rough face with stick legs and used that.

What surprised me was that not a single soul on HP said how rubbish it was. In fact, one or two, two actually… or maybe one now I think about it… said they liked it. “Cute” was the compliment.

This came as some surprise.

I tentatively tried a few more and the feedback was favourable. Now, there is no stopping me!

How did you develop your signature style?

Having decided on the name Mark Ewbie I regularly practiced a signature to go with it. Oh I see. I love this question because it makes me sound proper arty.

This artistic ability stretches as far as stick figures which I pass off as minimalist representations. The truth is they are my limit – although as I practice and learn they get slightly better.

My aim is to represent an idea well enough for others to see it. It is surprising how a few lines, especially with a helpful caption such as “this is a cat”, can illustrate just about anything.

As for ‘style’. If you asked ten people to draw a stickman you would probably get ten different results. I’m fairly content with the way mine look, black lines, and yeah, maybe they have some style.

Why is it that you have decided to create images for your work rather than use photos? Do you think it gives it an edge?

My original reasoning was that it was easier than looking for a picture that fitted and then making sure it was correctly used in copyright terms.

Now I am happy with what I do and reasonably confident I can create whatever I want – within my limits of course. I find it relaxing, enjoyable and fun – and I am building a collection of pictures for every occasion!

As for edge. I believe that a unique hand drawn stick figure stands out among the hundreds of perfect photograph pictures when a potential visitor scrolling through pages on the net.

What do you use to create your images and convert them into a digital format?

I use felt tip pens on good quality A4 printer paper and scan them into my computer. Open the file with Paint, add captions and my name, tidy up any obvious smudges. More technical people might use an iPad or some tablet drawing device but I like the immediacy and ‘realness’ of pen on paper. In my opinion any imperfections say this is a personal drawing, not just a generic computer graphic.

One thing I notice sometimes with other people’s rather good doodles is that they don’t bother much with the ink or the paper quality. They do a neat picture, but it is in biro on lined paper or similar. I take this seriously. Although my art isn’t wonderful, I put care and attention into the ink and paper I use.

These images appear in Google images alongside thousands of others. A casual viewer might just click through to the source. It’s worth putting a little effort in.
I also sign everything. If a picture ends up somewhere else on the net – my name gives a possible search route to my work.

Many Hubbers don’t create their own images for Hubs (or other online articles, books, cards… you name it) simply because they don’t know where to start. What first step would you recommend to get people off to a good start?

A stiff drink. It takes nerve to publish your writing or self-created images. I’m not sure which one – writing or drawing – is a more daunting step. To put yourself out there and say “Hey world – what do you think of this?”

More seriously, I think anyone should try it. As adults, we forget so many things that used to give us pleasure. The first step is to get a pen, paper and see if you enjoy the process. Without enjoyment, and not everyone wants to draw, there is no point.

If the act of creating the drawing gives you satisfaction then that, in my opinion, is reason enough to carry on.

Oh, and good luck to you!

There’s a little more I have to say. Early praise and encouragement from fellow Hubbers gave me the belief to continue with my scribbles. I really am grateful.

THANK YOU!

I want to mention one person.

Shadesbreath showed me the way with his beautiful illustrations and writing. When I first read his pages I realised the possibilities. He has since moved on to book writing, and I’m still drawing stickmen – but I’m on his tail….

Illustration Tips from Shadesbreath

Shadesbreath is one of HubPages’ long-time artists; he has been incorporating original sketches into his Hubs for years. As he has quite a lot of experience with creating custom graphics for his work- as well as making the tough decision of when they should be used and when it is better to use other images- we asked for him to share some of his wisdom with the community at large. Lucky for all of us, he obligingly agreed. I hope that his helpful tips inspire you to have a go at creating sketches for some Hubs of your own!

How long have you been sketching? Have you always had a habit of occasionally including sketches in your work?

I’ve been sketching since I was a kid, even considered majoring in art for a while. As for putting sketches into my Hubs, that crept in more gradually. I started out trying to be serious—and I used graphics resources like everyone else—but then I realized I am far too immature for serious articles, and there are no Flikr or Wikimedia Commons sites with stuff goofy enough or sarcastic enough to help me.

How did you develop your signature style?

It’s sort of a combination of laziness and the careful black and white shading that I can do reasonably well if I take the time. My Vlad the Inhaler Hub was the first one I illustrated, and I think I spent about twenty-five hours drawing the pictures for it. While I thought they came out well, especially the bat on the roof, I knew after that hub I was going to have to tone illustrations wayyyy down. I don’t have twenty-five hours to illustrate on top of the time spent writing a hub, so I started going for faster sketches. That quick use of light and shadow eventually turned into the style you see on a lot of my stuff now.

What makes you decide to create an original illustration for a Hub?

Mainly it’s when I can’t find perfect graphical fits for my work anywhere else. I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to my writing, and I figure if I’m going to choose my words carefully, I should choose my images carefully too. Plus, obviously, I don’t have to deal with copyright issues if I make my own stuff.

What media do you use to create your illustrations? What process do you follow when scanning them in and preparing them for final presentation in a Hub?

For the goofy quick sketches, I draw on the backs of manuscript pages since I always have tons of those lying around. Then I scan them on a little scanner my wife got cheap at an office supply store, I think for under a hundred bucks. Up until the last six months or so, I used to do any modifications to the drawings in the simple MS Paint program that comes with windows, but now I’m trying to do everything in Photoshop—even though it is a thousand-million times more complicated and totally drives me to drink.

What would you say are the biggest benefits of using illustrations over photos?

Precision and “voice.” For me, I can sketch something that has the same attitude, the same mood and rhetorical flavor, as the prose in the Hub. And of course I can sketch something that is precisely what has occurred in the text which, when you are going for absurd (think of the whale lifting thing in my Hub about joining the gym for example, or the one where my wife is a mutant from the forbidden zone… where am I going to find that kind of stuff?). I suppose I could doctor photos for that sort of thing (and sometimes I do), but sketching gets me straight to what I want it to be.

What advice would you give to those who might be hesitant to consider creating handmade art to put in their online articles?

If you love making art, go for it. Don’t worry about what people might think. Just do it. You never know what will work until you try. Look at Mark Ewbie’s stuff. The guy draws stick figures for Pete’s sake. And yet, somehow, he manages to make them brilliant. If stick figures can work, and the silliness I put up can work, anything can work. Draw, paint, write from your heart, make is as good as you can, and that will resonate with people.

 

[For more illustrative inspiration, check out Shadesbreath’s Hubs!]

Using Illustrations to Augment Your Hubs

We put a huge emphasis on using original (or at least super high quality and legally used and properly attributed) photos in your Hubs, and with good reason. We live in an age where some of the most successful online content is very visual. Attractive images encourage people to pin their sources on Pinterest or click through when they see alluring thumbnails on Facebook or Google+, hence those looking to build an audience should make a point of including as many alluring visuals in one’s work as possible.

While photos are a great option, they are by no means the only option. Many Hubbers also augment their Hubs with custom illustrations, and in many ways, these have an even more meaningful impact.

Original, author-created sketches, drawings, images, and graphics:

  • Stand out, as they are different from photos (which are still the most popular form of visual media on HubPages)
  • Show that the author was willing to go the extra mile to create a special graphic to support his or her content
  • More effectively illustrate complex situations or make it possible process statistics (via the use of diagrams, graphs, and charts)

As original illustrations can be so effective, we hope you’ll consider working more into your Hubs in the days and weeks to come. To help you do so effectively, we’ll be sharing tips and tricks on including custom made graphics throughout the month of October.