Anyone who has played a musical instrument knows that you don’t get better unless you practice. I played the cello for 9 or 10 years, and I can tell you that there was a direct correlation between the number of hours I sat on my chair, bow in hand, and the way I sounded in concert. I imagine that something similar is true for soccer players, auto mechanics, and seamstresses – the more you practice, the better you are at your trade.
Given this, however, why do I (we?) tend to assume that “art” is purely natural and does not need to be practiced? I don’t know where this funny notion comes from, but the reasoning goes something like this: God made some people artists, and others he didn’t. If he didn’t make you an artist, good luck trying to draw anything (especially people). If he did, everything that comes from your pencil/pen/paintbrush should be just as good as God made you, i.e. doodles from a master artist should always look masterful and doodles from anime artists should always look like cartoons.
Maybe I’m just making excuses, but the above thoughts came to me when I sat down to draw the other day and was shocked (shocked!) that my pen didn’t do exactly what I wanted it to. Okay, shocked is an exaggeration…”displeased” might be more like it. Somehow, I wanted to believe that I can stop doing something almost entirely for a few years and then try to pick up where I left off. I would understand this if we were talking about my cello, but drawing? That’s different, right?
I’m not going to show you those first couple of drawings…these were some of the later doodles I made sitting on the couch with a big book of animal photos. I started with contour drawings because my natural tendency is to tighten up and try to be precise. When I was taking continuing ed classes at RISD, I would spend one night in natural science illustration classes (which were all about precision), and the next night in children’s book illustration classes (which were all about looseness and expression). Being in both programs seemed like such a good idea at the time, but it was kind of hard to constantly bounce between the two types of drawing.
But this time I’m not going for scientific accuracy, so I’m going to try to loosen up. Let my pen wander around the page where it wants to. Not care if the finish product doesn’t look exactly like that dog.
Wish me luck.