Monday 24 February 2020

How To Not Draw Things (with Mini Grey)

 For someone who is allegedly supposed to be drawing things, I spend an awful lot of time trying to avoid committing my pencil to the page. In today’s post I’m going to gaze deep into the abyss of procrastination and pull out a few ideas for fooling yourself into drawing and making things.
Being creative – it’s a risky business. It may go wrong. You may toil on something all day then realise it just doesn’t work. Time may be lost. You may have to look your idea in the face and then hurl it out of the window. Better to not start at all and avoid all the anguish…

Why your drawing is nearly always a disappointment 

When you start a drawing of an idea there’s usually a picture in your mind that you are aiming for. But your imagination has a limitless budget; it has the world’s best cast and locations and atmospheric lighting and spell-binding special effects. So as you gaze upon your drawn effort you measure it up against the gleaming image in your brain and you find it wanting and inadequate.

But there are so many ways to be wrong and just one elusive way of being right, when you’re chasing a particular picture. Comparing can be toxic beause comparing seems to mostly involve noticing what’s wrong..

The imaginary picture you are competing with – the feeling of it – is impossible to achieve. Disappointment is inevitable. 

BUT….try wandering away from your picture and forgetting about it a bit. Then, a little later, take it by surprise. Stumble upon it unawares. Suddenly, it won’t seem so bad. You’ll have forgotten that picture in your mind, and rather than failing to be as good as that, your drawing might be surprisingly saying what you wanted it to say.

The Power of Tiny
What do you do if you don’t know how to do something? You make a model. You do a test, an experiment. You draw it as a tiny thumbnail. On the scrappiest possible paper.
Recently I have been making pictures for a book of poems by AF Harrold. There are about 128 pages of them (I’m still not sure exactly how many.) I've never done anything with so many pages before. I had print-outs of the words but there was no way I could manage to draw rough ideas at the real size.  

The only answer was to massively miniaturise the whole thing so I could see it all at a glance. So I made little 13cm wide pages and then got out the scribbling materials and the pritt stick and scissors. And the good thing is, working teeny is fast. And if a teeny page goes wrong, you can doodle another version in a few seconds. And because it’s teeny you are forced to be simple.  So if I'm feeling daunted, drawing teeny can really help.

Here are my scribbled on thumbnails for the poetry book.

Safety in numbers – how multiples can help

So you’ve managed to be making a picture but now you splat Quink on it or your cat comes in from the muddy garden and tap-dances on it or everything goes the wrong colour… Now, (in snakes and ladders terms) do you have to slither down to the starting line again? Or do you have a SPARE (evil?) twin coming along at the same time? 

Nowadays I quite often print a couple of copies of the drawing for a picture I'm going to do so I can try things out on the evil twin and use the good twin. Or the other way round. 
Here messing about with painter-decorator mice.

Two goes at a swearing parrot.

The one that got used.

Rules and recipes can set you free
TOO MUCH CHOICE – paralyses you and stops you getting started. So do we need to take away options? Having a Style: is a way of cutting down your options, so there’s less time deciding how to do things. It’s a bit like wearing a uniform to work– you don’t have to spend any time deciding what to wear. Limitations can set you free – by giving you less decisions to have to make.

Here I am working out my Recipe for the Miniature AF Harrolds that are going to be wandering through a book.
The blank paper is a terrifying thing, because the possibilities and choices are infinite – so – you’ve got to help yourself out of the quicksand of infinite possibilities and….

Throw yourself a bone (something to get started with)

Anything can be a start. A shape. A stain. A smudge. Using old scraps of used paper.
Here's a stain I made earlier.
And a few more stains.
Let's see what they want to turn into...

Things that are changeable are good, which is why cutting things out and moving them around is my favourite way out of being stuck. Tracing Paper is a very useful secret weapon.

Character drawings with tracing paper & assorted bady parts.

It could be possible to fool yourself into doing your drawing by accident…. 

How to go running: put on your running kit and before you know it, you’ll be going out of the door…

And anyway, the thing you don’t draw can be the main event

The power of things you don’t draw is huge – because our reading accomplice, Your & My Imagination, supplies all the extras. The horror film is most scary when you haven’t properly seen the Thing. Take advantage of the full budget power of the imagination, and hide your Thing.
Here I am hiding William Shakespeare in a production of his last play, The Tempest.

Here I am avoiding drawing a nasty rabbit and using the power of the shadow.

Here I am attempting to hide a bear in a packet of cornflakes....

...and here I am hiding a cat in some soup.
Words, pictures & our storytelling brains are our accomplices  

In the picture book world, we’re using pictures and words, so don’t forget that words can help you. You don’t have to draw it well, if a label can help explain what it is.  Stealing is an option, also known as borrowing. Find the thing that’s a bit like the thing you’re after. Something old, something new, something shoplifted. Random things are useful. Given a set of random images, we sequence them automatically into some sort of bizarre narrative, we can’t help constructing stories.

Here are some random objects if you'd like to borrow a few.

Édouard Manet’s Illusion of Effortlessness and the Iceberg of Hard Work

In his last years Édouard Manet wrote adorable letters decorated with beautifully dashed off watercolour sketches of delightful things – peaches and cats and ankles and watering cans and gardens and the lovely snail shown above. But he dashed them off on thin paper, and I think this may be key. 

In the letter above there's a charming liquidly drawn happy cat.
But have a look at this letter here:

There's a really similar almost matching cat appearing in Manet's assortment of decorations.
And it is possible to trace the motifs in his letters back to little studies in his sketchbooks. 

Above there's a sketchbook study of some nice ankles. And you can spot them adorning the letter below:
The sketch and the letter exactly match in size. So Manet would work out his picture in advance - in fact have a repertoir of motifs to draw from again and again - and then trace it into his letter straight off with a brush – so it looked like it fell effortlessly, sponaneously – onto the page – with no struggle or mishap. And maybe Manet wanted the receivers of his fresh and beautiful letters to feel they'd happened immediately and spontaneously - but what he was creating was an illusion.

When you see a published picture book, you are looking at an iceberg, and lots of it you cannot see. With the iceberg 80% is invisible and lurking below the water’s surface. Hiding there are all the other things it has been and the work that was wrong, the many versions in drawers that didn’t work, the ideas that had to be cut or abandoned, the rethinking and sweat and struggle. Just as in a magic trick, we don’t see all the practice that went into making it look effortless. So sometimes it seems obvious to assume it was easy and effortless to make - which means that if you're struggling, that is unusual and it is because you are not somehow talented enough. But you are being sold an illusion. 

Struggler, you are not alone.
What’s a drawing for anyway?
Drawing is a way of finding out, a way of discovering: you draw to explore. The process of exploring might be more important than the thing you make. So as school visit time rolls around it could be good to model to children the surprisingness and unexpectedness of the process of making a drawing.

What if there was…A World where Nothing Went Wrong

Things going wrong is an excellent opportunity to find things out. In a world where nothing went wrong there'd be no progress and no evolution. So every mishap, every slip-up, every disaster is an opportunity to find something out.

In the words of Roman Krznaric: "Everything’s an offer" – accept the offer and see where it takes you.

There are more insights on the journey of a drawing and an illustrator's odyssey with their pencil and rubber in this excellent post from Garry Parsons.

And lastly, here is your seven step guide to:

Today: How to Not Draw an octopus.

1. Try using a placeholder label for the thing you are not drawing, a post-it note is good.

2. Go hunting - there may be one you can use in a book that can do the job.

3. Collage is always a nice option - get out the scissors and glue.

4. It's amazing how really small drawings look brilliant really big.

5. Copying is never wrong.

6. Begging or blackmailing your son to do it for you may be a bit wrong, but it's possible.

7. Hide the thing you want to Not Draw inside something you like drawing - I very much like drawing boxes.

 And that's it! Do you have a favourite way to not draw things or get yourself unstuck? Do let me know!

Quite a few images in this post are from artwork for Not Entirely Useful Advice by AF Harrold & Mini Grey, due to be published by Bloomsbury.
Mini's latest publication is the pictures for Money Go Round, by Roger McGough, published by Walker Books.