There is a fascination to drawings and paintings in which many figures are arrayed in the same space, often in a semi-aerial view that allows for lots of them to be seen at once.
Argentinian cartoonist and illustrator Daniel Sponton has developed an illustration style that features hundreds of small figures arranged in sometimes complex environments that are wonderfully playful and inventive.
Sponton’s approach to this is in ways similar to, and takes inspiration from, the illustrations of Martin Handford, whose “Where’s Wally?” character became well known in the U.S as “Where’s Waldo?”. Sponton has an article on his blog in which he briefly explores the historical use of lots of figures in paintings and drawings.
The article, like most of Sponton’s blog, is in Argentinian Spanish, but non-speakers can try Google Translate. Also, many of his more recent posts have brief descriptions in English as well as Spanish.
Sponton applies this kind of drawing to more general uses, illustrating maps and doing a series of complex illustrations for children’s weekly magazine called Genios.
He not only takes on detailed arrangements of figures, but complex backgrounds and environments in which to place them. His compositions are filled with amusing characters, fun details and whimsical touches that provide rich environments for visual exploration.
He starts these with a written idea, sometimes suggested by his client, sometimes of his own choosing, that he develops into rough pencil drawings on thick A3 size paper (roughly similar to 11×17″).
He starts with the backgrounds and then arranges the figures, usually 100 per drawing on an A3 sheet.
He sometimes considers these A3 size drawings as modules, putting two of them together, sometimes more for some personal experiments, to create compositions with 200 or more figures.
Sponton refines the initial light pencils with sharp, softer leads, and then does a finished drawing in ink. He inks “front to back” starting with the foreground characters which often receive heavier outlines than the background figures, part of a process of visual organization which helps make the final images more readable.
This challenge of keeping the complex compositions visually readable continues into the coloring phase. (This is something that the multi-figure compositions you’ll sometimes encounter that are inspired by video games don’t always handle well.)
Sponton brings the inked drawings into the computer, composites the double ones, and applies color in Photoshop, sometimes assisted by friend Federico Duelli.
He continues to visually organize the compositions by applying the rules of atmospheric perspective, with darker, more saturated colors in the foreground and lighter desaturated colors in in the background objects and figures.
Sponton has an article about his process here.
There are numerous examples of these kinds illustrations on his blog, along with other work in both similar and different styles.
His complex, multi-figure illustrations have a variety of themes and subjects; most have links to versions large enough to see the detail and enjoy exploring the fun touches Sponton has added throughout.