A Crisis of Confidence
I’m 239 days into my project to draw one robot every day for a year. Naively, I thought that by now I’d have transformed into a capable illustrator. The truth is a long way from that.
I’m really no better than when I started. Looking back at my last week or so’s drawings – there’s nothing I couldn’t have done eight months ago. In fact I’m not even sure I’m doing much that I couldn’t have done 20 years ago. It’s pretty tough realising that I’m such a long way from where I want to be, but… I think I just expected way too much.
I started the Droid A Day project to make sure I drew every day, and to try to become a better artist, or illustrator. For the previous 20 years I’d barely drawn anything, I don’t know why not, somehow I’d just stopped drawing. I’d gone from a kid who drew all the time, to a bloke who never picked up a pencil. If people had asked me during those 20 years what my hobbies were, I’d still have said drawing. It was like a blind spot. Now I’m here, trying to become an illustrator, hoping at some point to be good enough to be doing this for a living – and those 20 years weigh so heavily on my shoulders. 20 years of missed opportunity. 7,300 days of missed practice.
I think that 7,300 number is important. It’s a big number, and it’s an awful lot of drawing missed. It puts in perspective the 239 days I am into this project. I’m kidding myself if I think that doing a robot drawing every day for a few months is going to turn me into an illustrator. It’s definitely better than doing nothing, but it’s not the panacea I thought, and hoped, it might be.
What I need, I think, is more structure to my drawing. I think I need, in effect, to educate myself – to teach myself to draw. The difficulty will be in critiquing my own work, deciding where I need to change or improve, deciding when I’m deserving of a gold star, and when I need a detention.
There are a lot of resources out there for someone who wants to improve their drawing skills – YouTube videos, Tumblr feeds, art technique books, anatomy references… So I just need to make a start, decide what needs fixing first.
Perhaps there are bad habits I need to unlearn, maybe I don’t look closely enough, maybe I’m too impatient when I draw…
The Droid a Day project will continue. I’m not prepared to throw that away, so there’ll definitely be 126 more robots, but I’m going to have to supplement that with some other drawing. Exercises, life drawing, sketching, perspective work…
I made a mistake of thinking that because I was good at drawing as a kid, that I’d get really good again if I put a bit of effort in. Actually, I need to put a huge amount of effort in (and not just for 365 days) to make up for those lost 20 years.
I want to be an illustrator. Starting from now.
I think the cause of your frustration is staring you in the face. As you know, I bloody love your robots (and spaceships and everything), and as a lapsed drawist myself, am really inspired by your work – I really look forward to your daily pics! So please don’t take this as any kind of criticism, rather a blunt nudge out of a rut:
You’re not illustrating, you’re drawing.
Without the inherent constraints of an existing text, even if it’s the simplest description of a bot, you’re missing out the actual act of illustration. If you were to only draw, say, a vase of flowers every day from your own imagination, eventually they’d get repetitive and missing any kind of real floweriness. Photocopies of photocopies of photocopies.
Illustration is about interpretation and constraints. As it is, I think you’re getting frustrated because you have neither of those. Maybe pick up some old 50s sci-fi anthologies or something, or even invite micro-stories on twitter, and illustrate them.
This will also force iteration: your robots live for one image and one image only, which is a shame. I’d love to see some of them in different poses, situation, conditions. Some of my favourites are the old battered ones that appear to be patched up and a bit creaky – how did they get that way? What other robots are they made up of? For all its crimes, one of the best details of The Phantom Menace was the idea that Threepio was originally a kit-bot, all exposed wires and gubbins. I love seeing that development.
So yeah: interpretation, iteration, illustration.
I hope that all comes across right! It’s not criticism, it’s just a “you’re brilliant, now be brillianter”.
There is a great channel from an even greater artist Will Terrel on youtube. If you haven’t watched his videos yet, give it a try.
[…] of the many responses I had to my blog post A Crisis of Confidence was a very thoughtful one from Daniel Benneworth-Gray. One of Daniel’s many insightful points […]
I can certainly relate to this both at a writing level and an artistic level because to me, confidence is like a Sandcastle being built at the edge of the shore. You spend so much time and effort building it up and all it takes is one good wave and it erodes it down into a lump of sand. The wave in this metaphor being real life, other people and so on.