Start Small & Appreciate the Depth of the Stars

I love this interview in Nerdette with Felicia Day, which wasn’t only hilarious, but insightful: she talked about the incremental development of progress. How she, as a child, would practice the violin out of sheer boredom, and learned the lesson that in  order to master something big, you first have to break it down to the little parts and learn those. There is no “become a virtuoso in three seconds.” Instead, it’s “let’s learn this move over and over and over again,” until it becomes real; until it becomes muscle memory, and then you add it to your repertoire.

Thinking about that, it feels like mastery is really mastering a bag of smaller tricks. Like, marbles. Masters of the craft have simply filled their marble jar of tricks, and you’re just beginning. don’t worry about being a master; just focus on the marbles. I’m kind of learning that with Poi. Every move is composed of figuring out a lot of smaller moves, then eventually putting them together.

That’s how I feel with drawing. Only, with drawing, I also like the aesthetic of noviceness. I like my drawings to look hand drawn and imperfect. Because there’s play and freedom in that. If I work too hard and something is too realistic, then I don’t want to use it. That’s why I love drawing the Henri series: because it isn’t perfect, and I’m being so far far from well-drawn, it lets me try to draw anything without fear. Because it’s SUPPOSED to look messed up.

Like, I drew this picture for The World’s Best Auntie Book and couldn’t use it. Why? It was trying to be too realistic and perfect, and there wasn’t enough play. It wasn’t messed up enough, silly enough, etc. And when it starts to look too life-like (for me) then it’s also easier to compare with reality and to see where it doesn’t pick up.

girls playing instruments, illustration

But if it’s a silly drawing/cartoon where messing up is part of the whole shebang, then the expectations are totally different. That’s the freedom of play. This picture is way more fun and was way more fun to draw.



Silly girls playing instruments for the World's Best Auntie (who lounges by an unseen pool).
Silly girls playing instruments for the World’s Best Auntie (who lounges by an unseen pool).
World's Best Auntie Lounging Around
World’s Best Auntie Lounging Around
Filling in trees and drummin' with the World's Best Auntie, Ever....
Filling in trees and drummin’ with the World’s Best Auntie, Ever….

However, drawing over and over and over kind of naturally leads you to a better drawing place. You figure out how to draw an arm going one way, or a head turn, or ruffles, or whatever. and then you’re leading yourself into the more realistic and out of the place you want to be. And then… you’re intentionally deciding if you like that or not and you’re developing a style, and choosing a way to draw. That’s where Im kind of finding myself, which is a weird position to be in–one I’ve never been in before.

Also, I’m kind of in love with Katie Daisy right now. Aren’t her illustrations old-world and beautiful? They remind me of my childhood favorite, The Golden Egg Book. Where is that beauty? Lost, lost, lost… ah, the tragedy! 😉

Michelle and I were discussing children’s books today when I gave her an armful of ones left over from my nieces, and she said “I really love the pictures. I love them more than adult books, actually,” in an apologetic kind of tone… but I totally agreed! They’re AMAZING. Stunning. Visually pleasing. A lot of hard work goes into them! They’re beautiful and silly and graceful and works of art. And they’re hard to do.

Little things, like drawing the same person over and over, can be hard. Drawing it once? Easy. Drawing it twice yet different? Whole New Story. Or drawing, say, a bunch of kids and making their proportions all match? No head too big or body too small? Hard. A challenge. So now, when I look at children’s books, I REALLY appreciate all the work that went into them. It’s talent and design. It’s practice, practice, practice.

I remember listening to an interview of an illustrator who became one in her thirties (or was it forties?) who said that she had to get good, first. She had to learn how to draw! And Kelly Rae Roberts kind of says the same thing in her book Flying Lessons. She wasn’t an incredible artist at first. She had to learn and develop her craft, and it took years.

All of this to say… starting something helps you appreciate those who do it well in a deeper, more satisfying way. You’ll love it. And, at the same time, starting something means to master the little marbles and add them to your jar. Don’t worry about all of them–they’ll come. Just go for the one-by-one for now. Eventually, your jar will overfillith…. it just takes a lot of fun practice.

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