Ever seen Crumb? It’s one of my favorite documentaries.
It’s a biopic on Robert Crumb, the famous underground comic artist from the 60’s and 70’s. Mostly it deals with his sexual perversions and totally screwed up family, which is definitely where the film is at its most interesting. But there are also some really interesting observations in the film about the nature of art & illustration. For the most part, these are observations that Crumb himself makes, or sometimes one of his totally deranged brothers.
There’s a part, for instance (the whole reason I’ve brought up this documentary in the first place), during which R. Crumb is looking at a network of transformers and power lines, sketching them down in his notebook. He turns to the camera: “you can’t make this stuff up.” (Or something like that, I don’t remember exactly). In any case, the point is that systems like wiring, pipes, and basically any details related to technological systems are really hard to produce from memory unless you’ve spent time sketching and looking at them yourself. For instance, take a look at this pic of an industrial water softener:
You see what I mean? Look at the network of piping, those weird cylinder thingies.
I have a number of friends who illustrate steampunk/cyberpunk comics, and I always give them the same advice: you have to actually make a study of technological devices if you want to draw it convincingly. You just can’t make that stuff up! At the same time, there’s an internal logic to it, a consistency & veracity that can be recognized, so if you do make it up, and inevitably fail, your illustrations will look like crap.