This last Tuesday, I spent most of the afternoon tidying up my writing-slash-drawing desk because I found it difficult to be creative in such a mess.
You could say it was an excuse because in truth, I wasn’t feeling particularly creative on Tuesday.
You might also give me a side-eye because – let’s get real here – have creatives ever been known for their tidiness?
And if we’re being completely honest, this need of mine for tidiness and order has always led me to doubt whether I truly am creative. (Again. Excuses.)
In any case, while I was tidying up I found a few things. For instance, I came across some sketches I made a few years ago, after we moved to Minnesota and I realized I couldn’t bribe Daughter into providing my blog illustrations anymore.
I had checked out a library book on drawing cartoons and followed their tips. Here’s a few I did:
You’ll notice they focused on faces, in particular how to draw them looking in different directions. You’ll also notice I greatly favored the looking-to-the-right pose. (Still do.)
Overall I didn’t do too bad, only the book left me cold. Basically it was about copying their drawings. Once I tried creating my own, I was back at square one.
And then I figured if I was going to copy someone, why not copy a style I like? So I looked up some New Yorker comics and tried my hand at copying them…
This was more fun, but I was no more closer to developing my own style.
Another item I found buried on my desk was a small book I had picked up at a museum gift shop: Steal like an Artist, by Austin Kleon.
Which, now that my desk is tidy, I can easily find.
I highly recommend this little book. It’s chock full of great quotes and tips to get you off your duff and creating. As he puts it, don’t worry about being an original because in truth, all artists steal (Picasso said, “Art is theft”).
They study the masters, sketch pieces they admire, collect things that inspire them, over and over and over again. Eventually, their own style emerges.
And you know, I think he’s onto something. For right there on my drawing pad were some of my past illustrations, including one I was rather proud of.
It was for a Bad Joke Monday a few weeks ago. The one where a chocolate rabbit is seeking therapy because he feels hollow inside…
Look, I know no one is going to confuse this with a New Yorker comic, but it’s kinda close right? Especially the psychiatrist. And I wasn’t even copying any one! That’s the amazing thing.
I was just drawing, over and over and over again. Never quite sure I was doing it right, just doing it anyway. Somehow in the process, my style emerged.
So after this monumental discovery, I decided to see what other marvels I could create. Because another point Austin Kleon makes: you are creative if you choose to be so.
You can’t wait for someone to give permission and you should never wait until you’ve learned how, because it’s in the doing that you learn how to do it.
And you never stop learning. Ever.
So here I am, learning how to draw (and write, play clarinet, etc.).
Since most artists do a self-portrait at some point, I decided it was time for mine. A picture where I would show the real me. Let my inner self be exposed for all to see.
As well as a few grey hairs.
And now that I think about it, maybe it’s totally fine I like my outer world tidy. It allows me to keep a more messy world in my head.
One more thing I’ll share before I go — this is a piece that came as a result of wanting to create something from nothing, so to speak. Not looking at anything for a reference point. Just keep drawing until something comes of it. (FYI: this often describes my writing process, too.)
So I was scribbling away and having fun when it started looking like flowers. And then I noticed that one of the stems curved like a profile.
After about six more revisions, I finally finished the picture.
I call it, “At-Home Hair Color: Results May Vary”
Fun to create? You betcha.
And maybe that’s the real lesson to all of this. The more we create, the more creative we become. The more creative we become, the more fun we’ll have.
Just as long as my desk stays tidy. That’s all I ask.