This afternoon I've been thinking about drawing, not about any drawing in particular, but about the process of creating a drawing as it is for me. Then I wondered whether the way I create a drawing is similar to the way I write, or rather to the way I work on a text, and finally I became aware that while once I decide to do a drawing (entire comics are a different matter, but then there's writing involved too) I usually manage to finish it (or rather finish something
-- it can turn out quite different from what I originally set out to do), with texts it isn't so. Which is quite unfortunate, since I'm not only talking about fictional texts (and about my particular problems creating those I've rambled at length in an earlier entry
) but also about non-fiction. For example the column I started to write for the fanfic symposium
about the lack of Jeremiah fanfic, and a number of other partly or even almost finished fannish essays, or more serious in its RL consequences the number of started and not finished term papers, for which I did the reading, the research, the oral presentation of my results in class, but somewhere along the line stalled in writing them in the form of one text, and thus didn't get the confirmation of passing that class.
Of course sometimes I manage to finish texts, but really often I don't, and this problem exists across all kinds of writing I do, regardless of any deadlines or real pressure (or lack of those), and even regardless of the interest I still have in that topic (I have unfinished term papers about stuff I still find interesting and did further reading on the topic long after the last deadline where I could have handed in my paper expired). Sometimes it also happens with things like emails and letters, and never posted blog posts, however it is more prominent in texts above a certain level of complexity in their structure. Before I've always thought that it was just because I was loosing interest, or just got stuck somewhere, or plain laziness, or that writing texts is just not my thing, which sure all play their part, but today, as I was thinking about how I draw, it occurred to me that maybe I'm just not creating texts in a way that suits my personal working style. Or rather that I maybe have never learned how to work with a text in a way that works for me, especially if something goes wrong in the process, while somewhere along the line I did learn it for drawings.
So to back up a bit, and maybe make it clearer where I'm heading with this, I'm going to talk about how I create a drawing. First I have some sort of vague idea for something. I'm not a person with really clear mental pictures, I don't visualize things I read or hear about or imagine in my mind with great detail or clarity, so it's not like I "see" the picture in my mind or anything like that. Way back, I used to start with drawing "the picture" right away, that is I took a piece of paper and started on it, and usually finished on that piece of paper. I know some people who can really draw that way, and get great pictures, they just start with something, they draw, and then miraculously they get a fabulous picture. However somewhere along the line -- I don't actually remember when I started to change my approach, I think it started with the first comic workshops I did, maybe with 14 or so, the time the art classes in high school started to become more serious in really teaching useful, technical stuff -- I realized that this is not my kind of approach. I mean, it would be great to be able to do that, but it doesn't work. If I attempt that the result will suck.
The thing is, it's still my first impulse to start with the "real" drawing right away, that is an extremely methodical approach of first doing things like composition sketches, or endless studies of a movement or an object before even starting the drawing doesn't work for me. I'm too impatient for that, and usually that is not what the vague idea in my head was about either. Often, though my idea is vague overall, there is something specific in it that I think is cool, and I want to see that on paper, right away, not some time later. Sometimes it is a detail, like a piece of clothing, or a gesture, or a specific viewpoint, and usually this is what stays throughout the permutations the drawing goes through, though not always. So I usually start as if I was doing the "real" drawing, and the first sketch can vary quite a bit, depending on what is the specific thing, however I'm aware that this piece of paper won't be the final drawing, not if I have a "picture" in mind and don't just sketch someone or something.
So I start trying to get my idea on the paper as if it was the real thing. Then inevitable there comes the point when I realize that the way the drawing is now, it doesn't work, and that it is not salvageable in its current form. Then I put that version aside. What comes next depends on what didn't work. For example with the Superman/Nightwing drawing
I did -- I still remember how it went there, usually I forget all the tedious steps quite quickly and more often than not I throw away the failed in-between stages. It went something like this: My initial idea was an image I had in my head while reading the story of Nightwing reacting to Superman's kiss, his legs wrapped around Superman's waist. Not a whole image but the pose in this moment, and that there would be a skyline with a large moon in the background. I didn't start drawing right away, after all my level of inertia preventing me from doing anything that is not more or less vegetable-like is quite high, but sometimes things stick with me.
Anyway, the first attempt failed because Superman's legs looked just wrong. Not anything as detailed as muscles yet, the whole stance was wrong. As I tried to draw that, I didn't to the stick-figure/skeleton thing I mentioned in an earlier post
, but sketched the proportions of body and limbs right away, and it showed, because the posture of Superman turned out very wooden, sort of like a brick wall. What I had of the basic Nightwing wasn't too bad though, and turned out to stay quite constant throughout. So this time the first attempt failed rather quickly. Anyway, I put that aside and did a stick figure drawing on a new page. The previous drawing had shown me what my (first) problems with converting my idea to the page were, so I addressed that, and did a stick figure that didn't look like a brick anymore, but more like just having taken a step towards Nightwing just before the kiss. Then I tried to add the bulk to it, the muscles (that involved looking at a lot of the examples in Dynamic Figure Drawing etc.), and for quite a while it didn't look to bad, however, even though the stick figure for Superman's pose had looked okay, as the thing had progressed further it looked wrong, albeit better than the first. So I did another stick figure drawing, keeping lots of the former, but changing the legs once again, during that I also noticed that I had made the legs just slightly too short for his proportions. Well actually there were two stick figure drawings, but they were both sort of the same stage, just trying slightly different fixes, for the problem of the previous attempt.
BTW, I should maybe mention that while unfortunately I don't own a real light box or light table currently, I improvise with glass or plastic plates, some support and a light source if I really need to. Not great or really comfortable, but better than not being able to transfer stuff and keep the parts of a drawing that work into the next.
Then I took the latest stick figure drawing, and copied that to a new page, however that time I decided to leave Nightwing out of it at first to just get Superman right, when previously I had sort of skipped over the parts that would be hidden anyway later, drawing both people at once, but obviously that hadn't worked right. So now I was doing the third version (not counting the stick figures) and in that sketch I did the whole Superman, now already pretty close to what you can see in the final drawing, just you also see the chest and torso parts later hidden by Nightwing. There I worked to get the muscles right, added a cape, though the head and face were still only a vaguely proportioned shape, with faint grid lines indicating where the eyes and nose will go. Anyway, then I went back with the last stick figure drawing put both over each other and added Nightwing's stick figure to the drawing. Then I started to work on Nightwing. Then I noticed that the drawing didn't work. It took me a while to notice what was wrong. It just looked wrong. At first I thought the angle might not work after all, something I had kept throughout so far, and I was rather frustrated, and did a quick stick figure showing them from the side, in the same posture, but that looked not like what I wanted. However, I noticed through that new stick figure drawing from a different angle that in my drawing they were just too far apart from each other. So I took another sheet of paper, copied the detailed Superman, and the by this time also fairly detailed Nightwing, but moved Nightwing's shape a bit to the right, so that he and Superman seemed closer. Finally
the drawing worked in its overall shape. In that sketch I added the faces, their hair and the rest of the costumes, the rooftop, the moon (which already was there in the very first, but not in the subsequent ones). That one is basically like the finished one, and I copied that to the sheet of carton where the final drawing was supposed to be on. In that I just cleaned up some details and at last added the skyline in detail.
That was a fairly lengthy and detailed example of how I typically work on a drawing. And I think with texts I might work best in a similar fashion, but I have never really learned how to do that efficiently.
When I want to write a text, apart from the general idea in my head is usually also a sentence, sometimes a paragraph, or a particular argument, that I really like. Sometimes it's the opening sentence, though not always. Sort of like the cool thing in my head when I start the drawing. And then I start with that and usually some sort of vague outline (especially with longer stuff, for which I took lots of notes previously), and write, and then I get stuck and notice that something doesn't work. And in the instances when I do manage to finish something I write, I often start at a different point, or start again, using parts of what I wrote previously, much like I do with the copying from the different sketches in drawings. But it somehow seems to work much less reliable than with drawings.
And you see, I have this suspicion that this might be because nobody ever taught me how to really work in such fashion when writing. Whereas this has been taught to me with drawing. Or maybe I just understood better what was said and taught to me in the art classes, and sort of missed it in the writing related classes, though I don't really think that this is it. All the subjects in school where you learned writing (usually non-fiction here, at least I didn't have any "creative writing" in higher grades) it was really about the content, answering essay or comparative questions in subjects like history or philosophy, or literature analyses in German, English and other languages, at most learning by doing. I mean, I never had much problems. As long as you had a more or less coherent idea what to answer, it seemed okay. I don't remember being taught how to create a text, or what to do when something doesn't work with the text. And in university there were no classes for that either. I mean maybe there are if you study journalism or something, but there aren't when you study physics and history of sciences. It's just expected that you sort of manage to write what you have to write, I guess.
Also I see much more easily what's wrong with a drawing. I mean, things like proportions and perspective are obvious when they are wrong, so usually I know what I ought to fix, even if I don't always have the skill. With a text I often don't know what's wrong. Also composition has been taught rather extensively both in high school -- with all those written tests where we had to analyze painting, which I thought sucked then, because I didn't see why one should have theoretical written tests in art, but which turned out to be rather useful -- as well as in some drawing classes. However the technical writing advice we got in high school didn't really go beyond doing an outline, thinking about your argument and then writing it down. And sometimes that's enough, and sometimes the idea just works, and a good texts happens, but when it doesn't I often have no clue.
In art classes, just talking about high school here, from grade seven onward we were more or less systematically taught how to create paintings and drawings (sculpture and such stuff didn't get much room). A sort of basic "if you want such-and-such you do it like this". Sure there are a myriad of other ways of doing things, and sure it's more a starting base than a how-to if you want to do anything really great, and obviously it wasn't taught how to do the innovative things, that make some art truly exceptional and new and exciting, but still a sort of safe collection of basics you can come back to, if you don't want anything too fancy. We started in grade seven with pencil and ink and creating illusion of room in still life drawings through overlap and cross-hatching and other pencil and ink techniques to give flat things texture, and from that it went on. There were lessons about basic human and face proportions, lessons about recognizing and doing composition, about what looks harmonious and stable, and about what looks dynamic and dramatic. We were taught how to do preliminary sketches for our stuff, after we had to learn how to analyze the composition of famous paintings through simplified schematic sketches. We learned about different different styles in art history and had to recreate things with that quality, for example decorative art nouveau illustrations, with flat ornamental shapes, and then ornamental jewelry design as a craft application (we didn't actually make the jewelery, just the designs), or about the breakdown in perspective in cubism, we learned about the principles of surrealism and did all kind of stuff from dadaist techniques of seeing things in frottage structures to creating metamorphosis paintings a la Magritte. We did photo collages, and theater posters, half a year we even did just abstract shapes and then single color collages just based on structures we created with the paint. We learned about colors and how they work with the human eye, which colors are warm, which are cold, how they influence perception, how to fake effects with colors, like using opposite colors in certain ways, we learned about one, two and three point linear perspective and had to apply that in our drawings. We learned a few basic things about light and shade. We learned a bit about materials and using tools. There was more stuff, but basically it was a lot about techniques and how to use them, in different sets of difficulties, so that you could do more complex things if you liked to (and were better at it), but didn't have to. Most of what I know about basic art techniques I learned in high school. In the extra art classes and workshops I did both during high school and later I learned comic specific things, tried out aquarelle and other different techniques, we didn't do in school, practiced drawing humans (in school the essentials were taught relatively briefly, with not that much practice), learned about drawing humans in motion, learned a bit about drawing emotions and body language, about drawing animals, a bit more about light, shade and textures.
If I have a problem with a drawing I can go back to that, and go through a checklist: composition, proportion, perspective, textures, light and shade, colors, etc. and if the "goal" of the drawing is not too fancy, there is a way to fix that. Basically I want an equivalent checklist for creating a a text. There must be something similar that will lead maybe not to a great but to an adequate result if a text doesn't work.