Monday, September 5, 2016


I've mentioned a couple times in the last few entries that I consider myself to be primarily a writer but also enjoy being a hobbyist in music and visual art. Lately I've been spending a LOT more time with my hobbies--and spending more time with them than I have been with my "primary" art--but I know it won't lead to anything professional. Probably not even if I wanted it to (which I don't). I just basically want to be confident in these arts. For them to be things I can do. Things I won't claim to be able to do and then feel embarrassed of how much of an amateur I am when people look at or hear my product.

So I have to keep in mind the lessons I learned as a writer. Progression generally requires two things:

1. Practice

2. Guidance

Over-reliance on either leads to crashing and burning. (Or at least not getting anywhere.) I've been practicing drawing for my whole life, and have been maintaining a tight schedule on a webcomic that requires 10 drawings a week for over ten years. But except for occasional peeks at references and even more occasional consultation of a drawing book, I have had next to no guidance on my art, and I think it shows. For instance:

Here's a drawing I did when I was eleven.

Sometime within the next couple years, I met an art teacher and got a few tips from her. This happened.

Clearly still not high art, but there's a huge difference--and it didn't come from just trying the same thing over again. 

A couple years later I reproduced the cover of a book I liked, paying a lot of attention to the source material. I got this.

Years later, I can do a decently sophisticated, but not-anything-special piece of pencil art.

I still pretty much have no idea how light really works and really suck at doing clothing that looks like clothing and what are backgrounds anyway but . . . I mean, that's not too bad for being self-taught except for one art teacher who wasn't even actively giving me lessons. (I was helping in the art room at my after-school program, and I picked up some stuff.) 

Nowadays, in my pencil sketch webcomic, most of the characters are drawn hastily and sketchily, but the idea of them comes through for the purpose. There are a lot of frames like this.

A lot of scribbles, more or less nonexistent backgrounds, and low on the detail. But it serves the purpose. I'm happy with it. I probably plateaued with this a long time ago.

When I started drawing more cartoons as of recently, I was kinda tossed back to the drawing board (haha). It was a new style for me and I was much more used to working in pencil. Color is hard. It's a whole different dimension of being confused by how light works, and it's so cool when it works out right, but most of the time it doesn't. I was paying a lot more attention to very small things that I wouldn't on subjects I felt more comfortable with, like exact proportions and little bitty details. And the end product was much more satisfying than the sloppy, stagnant cartoon doodles of the Simpsons characters I used to do in middle school.

(I'm still clearly baffled by how light works tho guys.)

I used references for all of these little sketches, and after a while of playing with them, I now have a handle on some of the shapes that make up these characters. So I can give them different expressions or try different angles, or put them in different clothes. But I had to start with something not too ambitious, and just . . . draw shapes. Draw faces. Play with colors. See what comes easily and what doesn't.

And now, though I'm not going to go into details, I'm working on some music stuff I've never tried before. The progress is . . . well, slow. I'm brand new to it, and with my music theory background being quite solid, I guess I expect more from myself. I expect to be able to plunge forward and pick things up quickly, even though this category of music stuff is nowhere in my vocabulary. I have an advantage only in that I know how to read music already and I have a very good ear--I know if I'm doing something wrong instinctively, and can dig around to figure out how to fix it. 

But I'm also looking up and reproducing very, very basic beginner stuff. The stuff I can imagine child beginners being taught--not actual how-to-play-this-song instruction, but positioning, best practice, terminology. Of course an impatient music nerd expects to be able to jump right into the part where you play songs. I'm working on that, but I'm also a complete beginner and I have to remember that. I'm at the point where I can't do anything without a lot of guidance, but that's good because it means I'm constantly checking in to make sure I'm not learning bad habits.

And now, I'm dealing with an awful lot of practice.

I literally started with this less than two days ago and I've already seen practice work wonders. Things that seemed ridiculously difficult--things I couldn't really imagine seeming natural or easy for me--fell into place with repetition. I keep reminding myself of that every time the next step is hard. Practice will smooth the edges off. Practice will make impossible into difficult into doable into easy. Practice will build the stairs for me. I can't climb by skipping too many stairs. It's just going to make the journey up the staircase harder if I don't build every step.

Writing is like this. There are so many steps. You have to learn letters, then learn words, then learn how to use sentences. There's so much right at the beginning that we master readers don't even think about anymore. But then we use those skills to tell stories. And storytelling also has its alphabet; there's sentence structure and punctuation to worry about, and there's character development, and there's plotting, and setting, and bringing a message the way you want to bring a message. It's so much and it doesn't come fast--or it doesn't seem fast while you're building that staircase. But once it's built, you can use it to climb up and down, turn around, pause where you want to, focus on where it takes you rather than what the steps are.

I can do a lot for my eventual competence and mastery by focusing on my own individual stairs and the next few ahead--while still admiring people who have already nailed down their stairs and are climbing to places I want to go. Sometimes watching them and the ease with which they use the stairs as a tool can be a little intimidating: why can't I do that? How long will it take before it's that effortless for me? Where will I even go once I have enough stairs? Why is this one stair giving me so much trouble when the previous ones weren't this bad?

Practice. It won't be like this forever. Keep looking at the people who have benefited from practice, and respect that countless hours you didn't see are behind that effortless ascent. If you want to follow in their footsteps on your own path, you've got to be the one crafting the stairs.

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