As I mentioned in an earlier post, I asked for a textbook about comic book art as part of my Bloggin' for Books deal. I ended up having a strange emotional reaction to the book.
My initial thoughts were these:
Every time I pick up a book about drawing, I end up learning more about myself than I do art.
I ordered Foundations in Comic Book Art: Fundamental Tools and Techniques for Sequential Artists by John Paul Lowe from Blogging for Books this month because I’m a frustrated artist.
I love comic books. I love drawing. From the moment I could pick up a pencil, I’ve been doodling, sketching, and drawing comic book characters. During high school, I would easily spend an entire Saturday at my drawing board—(and yes, I mean that literally. Eight hours. Plus, I was so into art that my parents bought me an actual, honest-to-god drawing board.)
In college, I don’t know, something happened.
I think it was time.
I suddenly had so much less of it between classes, work, and a budding social life that I lost the opportunity for what Lowe calls “daily practice.” Sure, I took art classes. I even went to a co-op art studio from time to time and paid my fee to sketch nude figures in a swanky part of downtown north Minneapolis. By a weird twist of fate, after graduating with an English and history degree, I ended up teaching an afterschool/summer cartooning class to very young kids on and off… for probably close to a decade.
Technically, I guess, that made me a professional artist. I mean I got paid for my art skills (though it may have been more for my patience with six to ten year olds); I even sold some of my art as greeting cards and at craft fairs. That’s pretty okay in the great scheme of things, right?
Yet, despite all that, I never felt like a real artist. I’m crap at perspective. Backgrounds? No, just… no. Foreshortening? What even is?
Eventually, I decided that I’m an awesome copier. Show me something—a real person, a still life, a photograph, another artist’s work, my own foot—and I can give you a fairly recognizable rendition of it. Sometimes it even turns out pretty awesome, frame-able, even.
But… I still can’t get the pictures in my head to come out right. All the science fiction ones, the fantasy ones, and all the ones that require something I just don’t seem to have. I can visualize an awesome space battle or a Gorgon queen, but what comes out isn’t at all like I want. I know I need something to push me to the next level.
I need a power-up.
This book isn’t going to be it, but not because of some failing of Lowe’s.
In fact, I can tell by the way this book is written that it would be tremendously valuable to take a class from this man. Plus, from the sound of his forward, he’s an awesome teacher who teaches for the love of it and because he believes, like I do, that talent is overrated and that anyone can learn to draw if they have the drive and the discipline.
The problem, you see, is me.
I’ve thought about this a lot. Because, if you knew me when I was fifteen, you’d say: that girl is going to grow-up to be an artist of some kind, probably of those comic books she’s so into, but clearly art is going to be the center of her life. Yet, I went off in an entirely different direction. I ended up in a similarly creative career that also requires me to be self-disciplined and focused. So, it can’t be that I lack the two “D”s Lowe talks about (Desire and Discipline). I think, for me, comes down to time… and probably one letter up, “C” for confidence. You see, I could see myself getting better at writing faster, and, possibly more critical to my success, I was able to make teachers out of my peers. I could talk to people about writing every day. I could bring my writing to the bi-monthly critique session, read work, critique it, and come out stronger, because my ‘daily practice’ was super-energized when I had someone to bounce off. One thing I learned about myself is that I’m the sort of person who needs a teacher… or an audience.
If I could learn from books, I think this book could work from me.
But I can’t.
Believe me, I’ve tried.
Lowe talks very wisely about ‘daily practice’ and gives real, practical exercises that I know I should do. I might even try them for a week or two. The truth is, any time there’s a book that talks about the importance of working through the chapters in sequential order (and especially any that have a lot of exercises,) I end up stalling out somewhere. What happens is, even with the very best intentions, I’ll hit one exercise or project that I can’t find the time to do or find somewhat difficult, and there the bookmark will stay. Forever.
It’s funny, because I have the opposite problem with books about writing. I still rarely finish the book, but I’ll get a chapter into it, hit something interesting, and go off and write. I’ve read Elements of Style fifteen times. I swear I learn something new every time.
Maybe the difference is that, like I said above, I found away to make teachers out of my colleagues. If I could do that with art, I might be on to something.
In the meantime, this book will sit on my shelf with all the others that I picked up hoping to find the key to leveling up. Sadly, I think the key isn’t in the books. I think it’s in me, and it’s already unlocked something else.
Something I devoted all my “D”s to. I’m plum out of capital “D”s. Maybe I’ll have to content myself with the other “d,” the lowercase one, for dabbler.
Which is a lovely confessional/whine about my art skills, but I'm not sure it says enough about the book. I mean, I suppose I could go on and say WHY the book crushed me so intensely... if I knew what that was. It might be the art. The pictures used as examples are like already twenty times more awesome than anything I could do. Plus, they have those ones where, you know, they start with a circle and the next picture is a fully rendered apple and you think... what? HOW???
(Actually, to be perfectly fair, that particular example in the book was meant to show how everything is made up of fundamental shapes, but STILL.)
The point is, I think the review still needs something. Thoughts? What would you want to know about a book like this?