Friday, March 26, 2010

A Thousand Bad Drawings

Every once in a while I like to look at some of my old drawings from high school or college. What I see is interesting work, a creative mind, and a relatively mediocre draftsmanship. But I'm impressed that there were ideas I was trying to convey, and even in my youth there was an "original voice" in my work. And I didn't quit.
I do not recall when I first heard the statement, but it was early on. This one bit of advice is what kept me going: "It takes a thousand bad drawings to make a good one."

For myself, it was a great confidence builder because I knew -- or believed -- that if I just kept at it, I would produce something good some day. As a result, I proceeded to draw relentlessly, aiming to get those first thousand "bad drawings" out of the way as quickly as possible.

I filled more than fifty sketchbooks with drawings in my four years at Ohio University, initially a lot of ballpoint pen material (a handful) and then dozens and dozens of pen and ink using my favorite weapon of that time, the technical drawing pen. I loved the perfection of line, the controlled manner in which the ink flowed and the clean edges. Over time, the tentative strokes of my high school sketching became bolder, stronger, executed with confidence.

These thoughts have an aim. If you have children, or you work with young people in the arts, some might be frustrated because their skill sets are not yet at the level of their maturing vision of what they want to produce. I'm talking here of older kids in particular who can be so sensitive to criticism. At some point they need to be reminded that we're not "born experts." We develop as writers, as artists, musicians, and even as human beings, through a process that takes time... and usually a lot of mis-steps along the way.

Everybody has to start somewhere. Start where you're at. Learn by doing. Tell the "critical" part of your self to take a hike, to come back a thousand drawings from now. If you stick with it, you will get better. And even if you never reach the skill levels you aspire to, you can still have a lot of fun along the way. Enjoy it.

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