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Sunday, April 28, 2013

A tiny secret about drawing

If you are just learning to draw, or just starting to keep a sketchbook journal, draw organic things. Practice drawing them accurately, of course. But organic shapes are more forgiving if you screw something up. Architecture and cars -- not so much.

That's it for Sunday advice.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Please don't use the h-word

I have a brother who has to run regularly to feel like himself and another who has to play guitar. They have both done these things long enough that, I believe, without access to these activities, they are not fully themselves. Not that they've ever said this, exactly, but I'm extrapolating because the pen in the hand serves a similar place in my life. Doing art of one kind or another can get me out of bed at 5 in the morning or keep me up till midnight, and this is true whether or not I'm getting paid for them. Projects have been known to occupy my dreams. I do not feel at all casual about art or writing.

If you have some activity or pursuit like this in your life, you are lucky. The downside is that when you can't do your thing, you feel a little unhinged, and perhaps less alive. The upside is that by doing your thing, even in the midst of temporary chaos, you have a route to some measure of sanity.

All of this is to explain my allergy to the word "hobby." Useful as it is to separate vocational work from that done for non-vocational pursuits, it's often used by people who don't do stuff to trivialize the stuff other people do. Whereas I find that the runners and musicians and sketchbook-keepers of the world, many of whom do other things to make money, bring startling passion to these non-paid efforts. They are not likely to stop these activities on a Friday and take up stamp-collecting on Monday. (Nor, I assume, would the fervent stamp enthusiast stop collecting stamps to take up jogging as a replacement time filler.)

If you meet someone who needs direction in life -- a young person, perhaps, or someone at loose ends after a breakup with a mate or a job -- don't suggest they find a hobby. Use the p-word. Help them locate their passion.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

So, ya think you're an artist, do ya?

True Story: Soon after I finished art school, another illustrator said to me, in a not-so-friendly way, "So. Congratulations. You're an artist."

The half-concealed sarcasm meant that it's stupid to think that doing art school makes one an artist (and perhaps he felt I was too dumb to figure that out for myself).

Despite the tone, the comment raised a good question that makes me wonder now then: When IS a person an artist? When they make a living off their art? When they sell their work? When someone else calls them "artist"?

Maybe it's when they:
a) just keep making art and
b) give no thought to labeling one way or another.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Embarrassment like the smell of crayons

A friend used to keep a box of crayons in his office. He'd heard that a deep inhale of that crayon smelling could offer a little break from the stress of the day because it so fiercely whisks you back to childhood. And it really does. If you haven't tried sniffing crayons, give it a go. It's astonishing how deeply connected that scent is to the feeling of being a kid.

Embarrassing memories have that same power to transport us through time. The page here started out as sketchbook play, and while I can't explain all the imagery -- it doesn't have a one-to-one relationship with the story, and I was never a skinny curly-haired kid -- it did put me in mind of this one memory from childhood.

For a long time, I experienced the memory only from my own point of view. Later, I started to wonder how my mother experienced this tiny little incident, and I could kind of get a glimpse of what it must've been like to have a weird kid like me. (Then again, I think all kids are weird up to a point, and that part of what adults to, for better and for worse, is attempt to pound the weird out of them so they can get along in society.)

But no matter how many times I think about it, I'm never quite able to NOT feel the shame of the moment. It's like a box of crayons gone bad.

Do you have a moment like this? Sure you do. Everyone does.

And now, here's the story typed out, so you don't have to squint. Even when you click to enlarge the illustration, it's difficult to read.

I was perhaps nine or ten. It was a sunny morning, probably spring, and I wanted to go outside just to test the air. There didn't seem to be a reason to let the fact that I was in my bathrobe stop me, especially because I had seen a commercial on TV that showed a woman going outside in the morning in her robe and stretching and smiling and taking in the fresh air.

I wanted to do that. So I did.

I pushed open the screen door and stepped onto our front porch and stretched in the luxuriating way of the woman on the commercial. I stretched and smiled and tried to feel the sensation she clearly had felt -- you could see it on her face! -- and the air and sun really were quite nice.

And then suddenly Mom was at the door and she said, in what I recall as a sharp, hushed voice, "Karen, what are you doing? Get inside!"

Naturally, I was embarrassed, but not because I'd been on the porch in my bathrobe imitating a TV commercial. It was that I had embarrassed my mom.