The Artist’s Way

The Artist’s Way is a book written by Julia Cameron. When I came across it a few years ago I was intrigued by the title, and after a brief perusal decided I’d give it a chance. It seemed to come into my life at a time when I needed it (I believe this is called synchronicity in the book). There’s a certain twelve-steppy feel to the exercises, but I found it worthwhile. I can whole-heartedly endorse the morning pages, though. The idea of the morning pages is that you write three pages in a journal first thing every morning. You’re not supposed to worry about what you’re writing. You just have to do it. I found it liberating, and it helped me get through some dark times. I wouldn’t say it was a cure-all for my problems, but it did feel like a safe place to go. In fact, some of the emotions that were conjured up as a result of writing the pages seemed too raw and painful. But I kept at it. Sometimes it hurts worse before it gets better.

Fast forward, and I’m still writing morning pages everyday. What I’ve done is incorporate a sketching routine. I’m interested in the research behind right-brain vs. left-brain thinking, and I think sketching every morning is a natural progression (for me) of the morning pages. That’s the area where I need the most work, where my creativity is clogged up from the hyper-critical judgments I give myself.

    Here’s the routine:

  • Do the standard morning pages everyday. From the website:

    “The morning pages are three pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand morning writing. You should think of them not as “art” but as an active form of meditation for Westerners. In the morning pages we declare to the world—and ourselves—what we like, what we dislike, what we wish, what we hope, what we regret, and what we plan”

  • If you want to incorporate sketching into it, write a page or so and then start sketching something in a sketchbook.
  • Like the morning pages, you shouldn’t worry about what you’re sketching. This is meant to exercise your right-brain, and tap into your imagination. No one has to see these sketches but you.

What can you expect from doing this? From personal experience, I’ve become more aware of my thoughts. It helps me see the “big picture”, and not get bogged down by details. There’s no right or wrong way of doing this, no one’s going to judge you, or make you do it. Give it a try, and get rid of the blockage in those creative pipes!

Dreams

I believe dreams can tell you what your sub-conscious is thinking. I often have bizarre, vivid, and surreal dreams. They sometimes affect my mood for a while after getting up, but eventually dissipate in the light of day. It wasn’t until I started keeping a journal of my thoughts and dreams that I saw patterns in my conscious and unconscious mind. Take today, for example. I woke up from a dream about moving into a new apartment. Everything about the place was new to me, the rooms, the smells, even simple things like how to set the air conditioner. I felt an anxiousness that I usually feel when I move into a new place, but more than that I felt excitement. I felt the possibilities! Everything was new. The dream itself took a turn for the unusual, but by the time I woke up and wrote it down, I saw that this feeling of having possibilities was a powerful emotion for me. What if I could have this feeling right now? I’m embarking on a big journey, trying to publish a series of comics, trying to run my own business. I’m anxious, but at the same time I can also be excited by the possibilities. I can enjoy the newness of it all. Usually this excitement is replaced by routine and habits. Having to get up in the morning, the loud neighbors, and soon your new surroundings become a gray blur that you don’t even notice anymore. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe we can change our perceptions.

Each day presents new opportunities and new things to learn. If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, maybe going down the same path isn’t going to help. Sometimes you have to stop and look around, realizing that the best way to get out of the rut is to climb the walls.

We all have recurring themes that we dream about, and I believe it’s our sub-conscious mind speaking to us. Not all of it will make sense. A literal interpretation of a dream is often pointless. Try writing down the vivid dreams you have in a journal. It can reveal some important insights that get lost in the urgency of your everyday thoughts. If nothing else, these journal entries can be a humorous trip down the dark recesses of your mind.

2008 New Year’s Resolutions

I had a low-key holiday this year. It gave me a chance to think about my goals for 2008.

    Sedone’s 2008 New Year’s Resolutions

  • Publish one of my comic book projects
  • Lay down a solid foundation for my business
  • Be more effective and productive everyday
  • Work on self-improvement everyday
  • Increase visitors to my website

I think that about covers it, at least the major ones. Let’s make 2008 a year to reach our goals. Never give up on your dreams!

The 7 Habits

I’m reading Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People again after several years. I was interested in his thoughts on principles, and character versus personality ethics. The idea is that attitudes and behaviors don’t make up for deficiencies in character. This made me evaluate the things I’ve been doing. I have been putting emphasis on changing my attitudes and behavior, and this made me realize that there’s more to the picture.

I’d written earlier that there was not a single path that promised true success. After re-reading The 7 Habits I see that I’m thinking of values, which is like having a map of the territory, but the map is not the territory itself. I’ve been practicing the Getting Things Done system, and that’s allowed me to behave in a way that has me coming back and re-learning the 7 Habits. I feel like there’s a long road ahead of me, so many things to work on, but I’ve come a long way from where I started. I’m going to continue working from the book in the upcoming days. I stopped at the point where Covey says to teach someone else about what I’d learned. Hopefully this will connect with someone in a positive way.

Procrastination

I want to bring up this hairy topic because on a cosmic level it’s comical that I’m afflicted by this curse, yet on a personal level it can be crippling. My brand of procrastination comes from having a perfectionist streak, being too critical about everything I do, and insecurities about not being good enough. It’s a difficult thing to overcome, which is why I do it in small steps. What makes it even more difficult to overcome is that procrastination is in itself a reward, so I’m rewarding myself for feeling all those harsh things instead of dealing with them.

If anyone out there battles with this kind of thing, you have my support. There’s hope, you just have to keep fighting and go easy on yourself. It’s a paradox that the harsher I am to myself, the more I procrastinate. Small steps are good. I tell myself that I deserve to do my best. I sell myself short sometimes, and I shouldn’t. The thing that’s helped me the most is to be consistent. Procrastination is a habit. Break it with another habit. Consistency reinforces a habit, and the reward is that you get better at whatever it is you’re doing. Choose something that will add some quality to your life. I workout, write, do art, and practice guitar (but I’m procrastinating on that, too!). It’s a struggle, but I take small steps, and I do it over and over. That’s the only way I know of to break the procrastination cycle (hmmm…sounds like a setting on your washing machine).

So in summary:

  • Procrastination wastes time.
  • Procrastination is a way to reward yourself for not doing the work.
  • Feeling guilty about not doing the work just causes you to procrastinate even more.
  • Procrastination is a tough habit to break.

But there’s hope!

  • It’s not too late to do something about procrastination.
  • Take a small step right now to end procrastination.
  • Be consistent with your efforts.
  • Don’t judge yourself too harshly if you struggle. It’s human!

If you’d like more help on the subject, check out the Psychological Self-help website. It has a lot of good information about this and other topics.

The Perils of Being a Self-taught Artist: Books

One in a series of articles I’m writing called “The Perils of Being A Self-taught Artist”. This article is about how-to-draw books.

Being self-taught means you have to play the role of teacher and student. A real life mentor can be hard to come by these days. You can overcome this by hitting the books. I’ll begin at the beginning, by first reviewing books that will teach a self-taught artist the basics. There are thousands of drawing books to choose from. I’m always on the lookout for new ones. You could (and should) spend a lifetime learning new ways of mastering the craft of drawing. With that said, I want to talk about the ones that had an impact on my own journey as an artist.

How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way

I first picked up this book when I was twelve. It belonged to one of my friends, and the copy I have may very well be his. It’s written by Stan Lee, so you get his funky brand of dialogue, which I found to be hilarious at twelve (not so much nowadays). It has art by John Buscema, who I grossly undervalued at the time. That didn’t stop me from tracing just about every page in the book. The Good: It’s a breeze to go through. The drawings are clear and easy to understand. The Bad: It’s very tempting to just copy or trace the drawings (especially for a young artist). I think the problem is that complex topics are brought up, such as figure drawing and perspective, but not enough information is given as to how to go about mastering them. John Buscema is already the master. To a twelve year old kid, well, it’s tracing time! Recommended Use: There’s a lot of great material in this book, but you have to read between the lines. Each page can constitute hours of study and practice. Its easy-going format makes it easy to skim through, but to master the techniques can take years. I would take the basic skills they teach you in the book, and practice it until it becomes second nature.

Drawing on the Right Side of Brain

Ok, so maybe self-taught is a bit of a misnomer, because I did take art classes in high school and even went to art school. What I actually learned in those art classes is a topic for another day, but for the self-taughts out there who haven’t taken many art classes this book can serve as a primer. It has less to do with formulas and more to do with teaching yourself how to see things like an artist. I do many of the things in the book intuitively, but it helps to see it explained. The Good: This book is informative. You learn about the psychology behind creating art and what your brain is doing while you’re in a creative state of mind. The lessons are easy to follow. The Bad: I’m biased, but doing some of the exercises gave me flashbacks to high school art classes. Recommended Use: Go through the lessons. Pretend you’re in art class. If you’re committed to being a self-taught artist, you can learn a lot.

Drawing the Head & Figure aka “The brown book”

What would I do without this book? I may not have traced every page, but I’ve surely copied almost all of it. I was introduced to the brown book during my short time at the Joe Kubert School (Why the short stay? That’s a story for another time). This book entices you with formulas for drawing the figure, dozens upon dozens of formulas that if you could but memorize, would make you THE BEST! This book is great. I’ve spent years looking at it and I still find new things to learn. The Good: Lots of tips and shortcuts. The Bad: Lots of tips and shortcuts. You see, shortcuts are nice in the short-term, but in the long run you’ll have to figure out why things are the way they are. It doesn’t replace true observation of your subject matter. Recommended Use: You’ll get a lot of mileage out of this one. Use it as a reference when you’re stuck. Try out some of the tricks and see if they work for you. Observe and draw from life, and come back and see how the shortcuts help you memorize what the figure looks like.

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist

Studying anatomy is a lot like doing scales on a musical instrument. You know it’s important, but it can be boring. However, to be a self-taught ninja artist, you must master anatomy! The Good: There are several good anatomy books. This is one of them. The Bad: It reads like a textbook. Recommended Use: This is where I get hard nosed drill sergeant on you. Copy everything in this book. Seriously. Once you’ve done that, you’ll probably retain a third of it. Come back and do more studies when you can. Of course, nothing beats real observation, but it’s not often you’ll be able to study real life muscle tissue and skeletons, so this book will have to do.

All the Andrew Loomis books

These really are the Holy Grail of drawing books. I’ve yet to find anything better. My first introduction to Loomis came from these big, floppy art books they sell at arts & crafts stores. Little did I know that was only the tip of the iceberg. The Good: This is the real deal. Secrets from the Golden Age of Illustration. Of course, even these books only scratch the surface. The dedication it takes to master the craft isn’t something that can be taught in a book. The Bad: First, the books are out of print, so people are asking crazy prices for them. Second, you’ll cry yourself to sleep wondering why you’re not as good as the old-school illustrators. Recommended Use: There are no shortcuts. Dedicate yourself to learning what these books teach. Then you can finally say that your kung-fu is indeed strong.


I hope you enjoyed this precursory look at some of the books a self-taught artist can use to become the best he or she can be. There are many more out there. Find them and learn from them. Let me know of ones that have helped you grow as an artist.

The Perils of Being a Self-taught Artist: Talent

This is the first in a series of articles I’m writing called “The Perils of Being A Self-taught Artist”. They are my opinions and ruminations on doing art, all subject to change without notice.

I can imagine myself becoming a cranky old man, because I’m set in my ways and I’m a creature of habit. Creating art has taken on a ritualistic quality. The tools become talismans, the subject matter, fetish. It took me a while to have an appreciation for craft. I blame this on my so-called “talent”, which I tend to think of as merely a knack for doing something. Talent is a touchy subject. It’s like talking about someone’s looks. Many people don’t want to be known just for their looks, but we glorify beauty. We worship talent. We even say it’s “god given”.

My point is that talent can be a crutch. Just like beauty, it can only get you so far, until it reveals itself as the shallow trick that it is (truth is, I’m enamored with beauty, but that’s another topic). What I’ve come to realize is that true craftsmanship is difficult. Being excellent is difficult. It takes dedication. Dedication is that first wall you come to as an artist, the one that forces you to decide if you want to climb it, and if you do, there’s no going back.

Next time, drawing book recommendations!