Mistakes Were Made
Yes, mistakes were made and, like a blundering seamstress whose sewn the neck-opening shut, I’ve come out sideways when made to wear them. It’s hard to admit, I must say, but freeing to say it. Indeed, how in this world of manufactured reality and “candid” Instagram selfies will humanity rally itself around the flag of genuineness when our hearts masquerade lies as truth. Well, I say we should rise up! Rise up and then…then…sit back down because I have no idea what to do at that point. Let me think here. (First, though, I should wet a cloth and dab, not wipe, this raspberry jam off my shirt before it sets. Hold on, I’ll be right back.)
Okay, where was I? Ah, yes, mistakes. “Mistakes were made” is one favorite phrase used in the public sphere because usually the “mistake” in question was carried out with intent. Further, unlike “I made mistakes” or “I really screwed up,” our mistake-maker nearly dodges any personal culpability for said mistake the maker made. Locking my keys in the care is a mistake while acting incompetently, deceiving people, or behaving unethically is not.
In the social circles of art and artists I’ve found the polar opposite to be true, perhaps, not on the personal side, but definitely on the craftsmanship. One of the best pieces of advise a drawing teacher gave to me was to not admit to any mistakes in my work until someone pointed them out. The wisdom behind her advise became apparent after nearly every critique in which I have participated. A few, if not all, artists would begin by pointing out the foibles of their piece before a person could rain any words of condemnation down on them. Sure, there’s always one or two individuals you’ll run across that seemingly enjoy heaping scorn on your work, but not many. We’re all in the same subjective boat ready with buckets to expel that sloshing criticism and remain afloat.
My brain, unfortunately, works like a sieve. After working so hard to acquire the whole knowledge I’ve set out to learn, given enough time, details slowly leak out, I think, by way of ears and nose to leave only the vague sense that an idea/skill once resided there. That’s when I start making mistakes in my craft in which even the most genteel of critics would struggle to sound kind. The best remedy I’ve found to overcome my shortcomings as an artist, and as a human being, is to surround myself with a trusted few willingly to direct my attention toward my mistakes while I might be unable or unwilling to see them.
The second best remedy I recommend is to fix for yourself a point of reference to guide you through those rough patches when you’re producing nothing but difficulty in your work or embarrassed to discover problems exist which were at first unseen. The first, and best, drawing book I bought as a child: How To Draw the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema.
This is the first art book that really made an impact on me and the starting point to all my illustration knowledge. It runs through the basic tools, perspective, anatomy, gesture, composition, and inking with that Stan “the man” Lee panache and the dynamic, liquid skills of John Buscema’s pencil. I remember copying the Namor chapter page out of this book half-a-dozen times; the first few times I drew him with “quintaceps” instead of the more standard quadriceps, but I got better. I’ve always been able to find a copy of this gem in a used book store for pretty cheap.
The second point of reference I always return to is Andrew Loomis. He was a commercial artist in the 40s and 50s and a contemporary of Norman Rockwell. He wrote several How-to books that remained out of print which illustrators, myself included, clamored to collect. Book sellers used to charge exorbitant prices for still existing copies and while the rest of us passed around fuzzy xerox copies to each other. Titan books started republishing them a few years ago and I bought them as quickly as I could beg, steal, or borrow the cash. Loomis forgot more about art than I may every know. If your serious, and a little lost, flip through Successful Drawing, Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth, Creative Illustration, or even Fun With A Pencil and Loomis will have you back on track. The writing is a little anachronistic, but still clear and understandable to the art student.
The great thing about the current age of information is the ability to connect or just observe other artists posting tips on their blogs, creating videos, or sharing their journey of creation through social media. There are so many I could mention but for sake of time I’ll give you my two current favorites:
First is Proko or Stan Prokopenko. He’s an artist that has created videos for artists hoping to better understand human anatomy. I’m a cheapskate so I’ve never purchased his premium package, but I’ve been tempted. The free videos found on www.proko.com or the Proko YouTube channel are engaging with clear language, models, graphics, and a good dose of humor. Remember, though, we’re talking human anatomy, so save your viewing for home, okay?
The second artist I follow to help keep my focused and honest is Jason Brubaker, the owner and creator of Coffee Table Comics. He comes across as incredibly earnest, heartfelt, and ambitious. You can watch his journey from the beginning, where he struggled to sort the whole mess out between working for Dreamworks and making comics, to moving his family to Idaho and finding his path. He just launched his fourth or fifth(?) successful Kickstarter campaign. He shows his mistakes pretty plainly and speaks to how he’s overcome them, both personally and professionally, without devolving into gratuitous sentimentality. And he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
If you have any other advise or wisdom regarding professional or personal mistakes and how you address them I’d love to hear them.