I often wonder how long it takes other artists to draw something. Not how often or how long they’re at the drawing table–rather, how long it takes them, say, to draw a guy leaning against a lamp-post, or how long it takes them to draw a squirrel, tree, or a squirrel scampering up a tree. How long they spend taking an image from shapes to cross-hatched, colorful wonders.
Trouble is, in my offline life, I don’t know too many people who put pen to paper for any reason other than to sign or initial something. So I don’t get to ask around too much.
I wonder–and want to ask–about it because I suspect that I take longer than most others to draw just about anything. And if I draw slowly, does this mean that I’m worse at it? That I’m more careful about it? Is it a fault? Do I need more practice?
And so on.
I don’t think ‘time spent’ drawing is totally conditional to ‘style’ or even quality. I mean, I’m sure that Anders Nilsen fills a moleskin journal a lot faster than Berlin series author Jason Lutes, but I can’t say it’s only because the former often illustrates with a mesmerizing, if not symbolic economy of detail. I think that when it comes to ‘time spent,’ why one draws may weigh in just as heavy as how one draws.
For most of my life, I’ve drawn to pass time. I draw to entertain myself, to occupy my pen and mind while waiting for the lecture to hit the next bullet point, for the dinner conversation to turn away from work-specific jargon, for the dummy to stop asking questions so the talk can move on. I start with a shape, or some particular curve of ink, and then dabble with it until lecture, seminar or dinner is over with or hits another stride.
Drawing for these reasons is a far cry from drawing something with intent to finish, polish or produce. It’s less about drawing a man leaning against a lamp-post, and more about placing a line that might become face or lamp, and might, with enough time to kill, become a whole image–or one that’s whole enough, anyway. This takes time. A lot of it.
It scares me a bit to think that I need some kind of boredom to become delighted by drawing, and I’m frustrated with the notion that this has made me ‘bad’ at going through with any idea I get excited about … because an exciting idea gets me thinking about the way I’ll design the image–what shapes I’m going to put where, if I want to texture the work and how much. Much as I draw, I haven’t built that kind of foundation to work from.
This lack of foundation, this … “boredom first” way of getting pen to paper is why much of my work is as repetitive as it is utterly random.
Sometimes, it’s great, and I end up with a kid standing in wavy oil, being attacked by something squid-like. Sometimes, it just seems to hinder something like what I’ve posted above. That rabbit tending bar–he started as a rabbit head drawn in a moleskin journal, then came the doo-rag–and then came the whole notion that he’d be an employee somewhere. A wonderful idea, I thought, but the fun of it stopped there for the most part, only returning in spurts (such as when I drew the guy behind the rabbit … that was fun).
The rest of the decisions felt like obstacles between idea and execution: do I add color? How many layers should I toggle between to get it i done? Should there be a light source? How much background should I draw?
Then, two evenings later, I have something, and I’m kind of proud of it, but I’m also thinking that it could look a lot better with a ceiling fan and some shelves and jars. And I think, “But how much longer do I want to spend with this? I’ve got a run to go on, a game to play and a wife to talk to.”
Off I run.