Monday, June 7, 2010

Drawing From Life

When I started my college career, I knew exactly why I was getting my degree, and why I was majoring in Art: to become a graphic novelist. Now, I didn't come to college with this goal in mind: that came shortly after enrolling in classes, when I stood in the now-repurposed McKenny Hall bookstore, and read a little book by Scott McCloud called "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art."

I had spent most of middle and high school watching anime, reading manga, and playing Japanese video games. I had some talent with a pencil, so my plan was clear: learn Japanese, practice drawing, practice writing, move to Japan, and become a famous manga-ka (comic-book artist). All of a sudden, McCloud was blowing my head wide open! There was a whole world of comics right here in America, which I had largely ignored since I stopped watching the X-Men cartoon on Saturday mornings.

I rapidly reconsidered my life-goal: learning Japanese was looking pretty hard right about then. I declared my major to be Art, bought a portfolio and the rest of McCloud's books, and decided that I was gonna be a Graphic Novelist. There was just one problem: everyone in the entire world was about 50 million times better than me.

I couldn't help but look at the work of people like Amy Kim Ganter, Kazu Kibuishi, and Jeph Jacques and feel insignificant. Even if I practiced for hours every day, I knew in my heart that I would never draw like they did. I would call myself "stupid" and "lazy," and curse myself for not having practiced my art more often when I was in grade school, instead of playing all those video games. Gradually, I started to lose heart; who would ever hire someone who drew like me, when they could get something that looked better out of Mike Krahulik's waste-paper basket?

And so I quit drawing completely. I took everything off my deviantART page, gave away my pens and portfolio, and changed my major to English. I discovered that I was a better writer than artist; the words flowed more freely than the pictures ever did, and I was much more confident.

But about a month or two ago, glanced at an old notebook, which I'd used to take notes while playing an RPG with my friends ("Dark Ages: Vampire", if you were curious). In its pages I had drawn little sketches of our various characters. It struck me that these character sketches weren't half-bad. A little weak in the anatomy department, but their lines were clear and strong. I wondered if maybe I should offer to do the same for my friends' characters in my current adventure, and decided that yes, I should.

This time around, it was a lot easier. Maybe I've matured to the point where I don't need to compare myself against other artists. Maybe my fingers just needed a long vacation. Either way, I'm much more satisfied with my drawings than I have been in years, and for the first time in a long time, it's not a chore to practice, but something I actually want to do. And that's a really good feeling.

So, I guess the moral is that if you don't feel comfortable with doing something you used to love, it's okay to take a break. Even if that break lasts for a couple of years.

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