Changing Creative Lenses

I follow a number of friends and artists whose artistic skills simply astound me. They can bring characters and stories to life in ways I can’t possibly fathom, and they do it so well. Their sketches look like finished pieces, there’s a great deal of emotion and movement in their lines, and it looks effortless.

I know it’s not.

I took a number of art classes throughout my education, but it was never a main focus. I would doodle during my main courses and use that as a way to retain information, but I’d never used art as a tool to tell a story. Even though I loved comics and graphic novels, I accepted my role as a passive receiver of visual plot lines, not a creator of them. Even though I could see stories playing across my mind like a film, I accepted it was best for me to simply write them rather than draw them. I knew my abilities weren’t up to the task of the visions running through my head. I accepted that.

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An old sketch.

I accepted it until fandom plastered fan comics all over the place. Until I grew tired of having to commission artwork every time I wanted to see something of my own creation visually. Why couldn’t I do that? Why couldn’t I bring my characters and stories to life for others to see? I could do that. I’d have to practice every day and be exceptionally patient and understanding of myself, but I already had knowledge of some basics. I wouldn’t be starting from scratch. So the question became, why shouldn’t I do that?

It’s been a month since I decided to devote more of my time to art, and as I endeavor to improve my skills as a visual artist, I find frustration has become a constant companion in yet another part of my life. I work in my sketchbook every day, and have to continually tell myself that each piece does not have to be perfect because it’s a learning process. I need to take it one step at a time. Even though I want to work on anatomy, expressions, clothing, and perspective, I can’t do all of those things at once. Piece by piece. Step by step. Sketch by sketch.

And that’s when it clicked. The more I sketch and the more I write, the more I realize how similar the creative processes of the two mediums are.

In my writing I make outlines, lay the groundwork in paragraphs, reference scenes and dialogue to add realistic or relatable detail, and ink the lines of drafts before completing the writing as a whole. And there are always going to be little things I could improve, always details I could have added or cut. It’s the same when it comes to drawing, especially if I want to improve. That non-photocopy blue sketches my outline, and an H pencil turns the image into a draft. I’m allowed to use visual references to practice and enhance my abilities, to make the image more realistic and relatable. And once again, the ink is the final step.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve come to appreciate this new perspective. I’ve had so many years of training and experience writing creatively that it now feels natural and sounds effortless. I’m comfortable with a variety of genres, voices, perspectives, and developing characters. I am aware of my weaknesses as a writer, but I don’t allow them to dishearten or hold me back. I push forward, steadily addressing, tweaking, and improving those areas.

The artists I admire, they didn’t become that way over night. I know people always mention that when giving advice, but you have to be able to connect with that on a different level. Maybe people look up to you because you’re a great reader, gamer, athlete, or musician. You weren’t born that way. You had to work for those skills. You had to put in the time and the effort to reach a point where you could be happy with your abilities.

All that shitty poetry and those crap stories I wrote in my childhood, those are the equivalent of my art skills right now. The sketches I’d rather not have see the light of day. But I had to write them. I had to write those overly dramatic and emotionally charged poems of teen angst. I had to write those terrible fanfics containing countless Mary Sues. I had to write those dry sports columns for high school volleyball games. I had to write those poorly researched yet passionate papers on books I’d skimmed. And eventually, I learned how I wanted to write and what I wanted to write. That’s when I put all those had to moments to use.

Yes, I struggle with drawing anatomy and expressions, but like my writing, drawing takes outlines, takes drafts, takes referencing images or life, takes being confident enough to ink in the final product. It takes practice.

So keep going with whatever it is you’re working toward. Remember why you started, and remember you’ve done something like this before and were successful. You can do it again.

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