Thursday, October 06, 2005

Thursday - A Day of Revelations

I was writing to a friend from DA (among other places) today regarding problems with young people that try, for lack of a better expression, to “cheat” and get to artistic notoriety by drawing anime or manga. It was very interesting to read his journal entry about them; he doesn’t like the style at all, and doesn’t consider it a legitimate art form. I beg to differ on that point, but I could sympathize with him on almost every other point. There are “artists” on DA that have literally hundreds of thousands of page views, with pages upon pages of visitor comments, and all they draw is a large, doe-eyed, stylized and over-simplified person – sometimes badly at that.

He raged against the fact that he, who works very hard at his craft to improve and to do good work, has a handful of visitors, and few comments … always from the same cast of characters. He also, I noticed, took the time to put the IDs of those that do watch and comment for his work in his post, and thank them for their time and their support. I thought that was classy.

When I answered his post, I countered about how I feel about manga/anime – it’s as legitimate a style of art as any other – but spent a lot of time trying to encourage him. I wrote that, in the end, the one that works hard to learn to draw, and draw correctly, will be the winner in the end. If an artist, regardless of ability and talent, can learn to draw correctly and “see” things the right way, he can also learn to capture those things on paper, and will find shortcuts to doing so. Those artists, who have invested the time and energy into learning to see what the world looks like and draw it, are the ones that can draw ANYthing, and ANY style, that suits them and their audience. They will be the ones that can adapt to the fickle desires of the art world, the comics world, the public, what/whomever … they will be able to draw whatever they’d like, whenever they’d like, in any style they’d like, without having to specialize in any given field.

I rambled on for awhile, but when he responded to me, it seemed he was less than impressed with what I said. That’s fine, because I was a couple of days behind his post and he wasn’t in the same place emotionally anymore, but something occurred to me as I wrote. I realized that, if you learn to draw a particular way, a particular “style,” if you will, you hamstring yourself; you are handicapped from the get-go because you don’t know how to draw. You only know how to mimic, and you aren’t able to actually create.

That’s what really came home to me – it became so very clear to me then, and is still rocking me back on my heels as I write, because I didn’t realize this until I was almost four decades old. It’s something that I should have realized when I was about 14.

I am a victim of that process. I am someone that never learned how to draw.

See, when I was a kid, I decided I wanted to draw comics. I would look at the way comic books were drawn them (in the ‘70’s), and watched the anatomy and facial renderings and tried to reproduce them. Over time, I used those things I’d learned to try and draw figures in original poses, and my anatomy got better, but in the end, I didn’t learn how to draw. I learned how to draw comic-style. I couldn’t draw a figure walking down a busy street to save my life; I couldn’t draw a car (and still can’t) to save my life; I couldn’t draw Peter Parker eating a doughnut to save my life (and still can’t probably). I couldn’t draw unless I was drawing Conan, or Spiderman (less so), or Superman (rarely). If I wasn’t drawing a bubble-muscled figure in a skin-tight suit, and possibly with his underwear on the outside, I wasn’t able to draw.

I remember in high school, I took a few semesters of “Art.” It was as generic as it could get, and I didn’t learn jack-diddly-squat, but some of that was likely my fault. At any rate, I would be asked to draw a picture of some kind, and I would do absolutely everything I could to avoid drawing an environment in which those figures could interact. And of course, the figures were bubble-muscled men in skin-tight suits. That way, I didn’t have to draw clothing and folds and wrinkles, didn’t have to learn about things like perspective and how to draw things that didn’t interest me, like dressers and windows and doors, houses and cars and trees and grass and curbs and gutters and buildings that look like buildings and not cardboard boxes with semi-square holes cut in them.

I didn’t learn anything at all, and when the time came to progress, all the less-talented people in my classes, who were taking it as a “blow-off” class for credit, grew more artistically than I did. And, I may – just may – have had the most talent of anyone in the school. Maybe.

There was my chance – my opportunity to be the best at something. I could have been the best artist in school. I could have tried so much harder and done so much more. I could have practiced more. Instead, I allowed myself to get side-tracked into almost anything else: bands and music, friends, football, Jennifer … you name it. I was just convinced that, because all I wanted to do was draw comics, all I had to do was draw comic-style art, and no one would be able to teach me except those doing that particular style of art. Which was no one I knew, and certainly no one teaching at my school; I was out of luck. I’d have to learn on my own.

The chance to go to art school passed me by then, and that was the end of that consideration. No one could have convinced me that I wasn’t going to be a physician at that time anyway. Even if they’d managed to do so, my parents weren’t about to foot the bill for art school, which in their ignorance would have been me sitting around painting fruit all day. What did they know? What did I know? Now, we come to the problem.

At every major juncture, when I fall in love with drawing all over again, I realize that I’m not as “good” as I want to be. That is to say, I lack the skill needed to make what’s in my under-developed mind’s eye move onto the paper. And my frustration drives me to spend money – in some cases hundreds of dollars, on ways to improve. I buy materials, books, videos (not really, but I would if I could find them), anything I can think of to teach me how to draw. I don’t ever get there, though, and in hyper-frustration, I walk away from art, sometimes for years. Why?

Because I never learned how to draw. I have to learn the fundamentals before I can learn the fun stuff. Just like math – you can’t start out with differential equations and advanced calculus; you start from addition and subtraction, and before that can happen, you need to know how to count. I got the basic numerals, then tried to skip to algebra. No such luck, buddy.

This revelation, which was falling out of my fingertips as I wrote a few paragraphs (nothing near as long as this diatribe) to my DA friend, hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized, I never learned to draw at all; all I did was learn to try and mimic the great comic artists of my childhood. And I did a poor job of it at that, and still do.

Sure, I went back and learned the basics of figure drawing – I learned how to “construct” a figure with basic shapes and a “skeleton,” but I never studied anatomy. I never drew the muscles as they appear on the skeleton, despite the anatomy and physiology courses I took. I never took the time to take “life drawing” – and this is still somewhat a mystery to me today. “Life drawing classes will help the most” is the advice everyone gets when they’re asked how to get better. “Draw from life, that’s the best thing.” I don’t get it, even know, but I will capitulate to it. I have no idea how that makes you better, but somehow it seems to do so, and thus draw from life I will.

So tonight, I decided to whip out my 18 x 24” newsprint and my graphite sticks and go after some things in a life-drawing bonanza. I drew things I knew I hated to draw, like a lamp, a blanket with all its folds and interwoven “Y” pattern wrinkles, and I drew my wife’s hand. I drew anything I could see. I did not permit myself to draw anything I was comfortable with and would consider “fun.”

Then I realized that, I’ve seen some stuff done online by a kid who’s less than half my age that I thought was phenomenal, mostly due to its light/shade rendering, and it made me realize that he was farther along than I am. Because all the years I’d been “drawing,” I hadn’t been; I almost am starting out from scratch. I got the same message when I saw the website of another artist acquaintance with his work online – he was so good, and I’m so not. While I feel my anatomy has come a long way, because the LAST time the bug hit I did get some books that helped me learn to render anatomy better, I couldn’t do the things he did. I couldn’t do the pages, the layouts, the environments, and then place the figures in them. I was astounded.

And here I am, trying to learn a new “style” again. I don’t know … I really don’t. You’d think, by just looking at my behavior artistically over the last fifteen years, that I never learn. And you’d be right.

Life drawing and drawing from life. I don’t think a class is in the cards, but we’ll see what happens when I spend some time doing speed drills and trying to draw from photos and from life around me. Can I sketch the people I see? Not now I can’t, no. Can I draw the cars in the parking lot? I doubt it. Is that what I’m going to work on? You bet.

Thanks for listening everyone. I’m sorry to have to admit this all over your shirt, but it will come out if you pre-treat. And I’ll learn to draw; I know I will.

God bless, and I’ll pray for you if you pray for me, okay? (Psych, I’ll pray for you anyway.)

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