Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm Starting to Like the Smell of Graphite in the Morning

Since I've been sharing most of my what I've produced since I started drawing again, I'm going to continue doing so now.

I say this with some reluctance because, frankly, I don't think these pictures came out as good as some of the others--at least not after having them scanned and seeing how little of the shading came out.

Anyway, it's not the fault of my tools entirely. I still have a lot to improve and even if the scans reproduced perfectly what's on paper there's still a good bit to criticize.

Just last night, in fact, I was looking through a book called The Artist's Guide to Drawing the Head to see if I should buy it. I discovered a few things there. Namely:

1. I don't even know how to hold a pencil yet.

2. I need to learn how to shade better so that whatever I'm drawing looks more realistic.

3. I could probably double the quality of what I'm producing by reading a few good books.

Having just finished a 26-book reading project, however, I'm reluctant to jump into another one so soon. Better to keep at it, drawing a little each day, and noticing something I did well or something I did not so well.

So what in the world have I been drawing these days?

Do I have any more feet for you?

The truth is I have no more feet--none drawn anyway.

But I do have some heads.

You cool with heads? Here's one of 'em:

That's me of course. Or at least it's a quick drawing of yours truly.

Here's another drawing of a much prettier face:

That of course is Lily Collins, who I know just from being addicted to Cover Junkie and seeing her on a cover. If I had known she was in a movie with that kid from Twilight I probably would've drawn someone else.

Anyway, speaking of movies, one of the things that I didn't like about some of my drawings to date is that they're just sort of drawings. They don't capture "a moment"--just "an image."

But I could fix that rather easily, by drawing a scene or two from my favorite television series, Dae Jang Geum (which you can read an excellent review of at TOS).

So that's what I did. I drew this image, of when Jang Geum wants to get in the school training the palace cooks:

I don't know about you, but I've had moments like this--when everyone else is doing what I want and the doors are closing on that opportunity (seemingly forever).

With art, for example, this summer many people are going to be studying at The Grand Central Academy of Art. The artists who are doing that this year are, for me, like the girls in this drawing--and there I am on the outside, watching them learn to do what I want to do.

Now, however amateur the drawing is, it does capture that moment, and in so doing allows me to relate what I'm going through now with what Jang Geum did (in the series).

In many ways, then, I like this drawing better than a higher-quality, expertly-done drawing of something that says nothing (or next to nothing).

The above drawing wasn't all I drew from Dae Jang Geum though. I drew one more scene as well, to improve on my ability to draw a portrait. Here it is:

For those who haven't seen the series, this will just appear to be a Korean girl smiling.

Well, hopefully it'll seem to be a girl, who is from Korea, and who is smiling.

But for those who have seen the series, it's more likely to be seen as the culmination of Jang Geum's efforts during the time that she was on the outside looking in.

In this way, for me, it's something more than a simple portrait. It's a portrait-with-a-message, for example: to keep trying, to study yourself when others are studying in school, and to enjoy the moment when that studying pays off.

It's a good message, and one that could perhaps offer motivation to those who need it.

I'm not terribly in need of motivation to draw right now, however.

In fact, this drawing thing is starting to pull me in more and more and to tell you a little secret, I'm actually starting to like the smell of graphite in the morning.

Stay tuned to see how this all turns out.


There are four posts on this same topic now. If you're interested in reading them all, check out the following links.

1. How I Started Drawing Again
2. How That Drawing Thing is Going
3. I'm Starting to Like the Smell of Graphite in the Morning
4. 50 Shades of Graphite

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How that Drawing Things is Going

This post is a continuation of “How I Started Drawing Again,” and so to understand it, you should probably read that first.

To sum up, I used to draw, then I didn’t for a very long time, and then I started to do so again—becoming ever more desirous of creating something, anything, and actually doing that (with improving skill).

By the time I went and got a drawing pad, this was a couple weeks ago, I was getting rather ambitious.

This is routine for me, and not anything new, but in any case before I went to the store I had already figured out how long it would take me to be an expert—assuming that it really does take just 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. (Malcolm Gladwell wouldn’t lie, would he?)

If you’re interested in that breakdown, here it is:

  • At two hours per day, it takes around 14 years.
  • At four hours per day, it takes around 7 years.
  • At eight hours per day, it only takes around 4.5.

Easy enough, right?

Well, if you really want to be "an expert" and have a lot of time to spare, yes, I guess it might be easy enough.

But you know something?

Who cares what title I have? 

I don't. On the way home, in fact, I was wondering why I was even thinking about this.

After all, I have a series of things I want to do, and it doesn't matter whether I'm called a newbie in comparison with others or the god of all things art—so long as I can create what I see in my head as I see it.

Anyway, I got home and ambitious as all get-out I drew . . . a foot.

That’s right, a foot.

What did you expect, the Sistine Chapel?

Here it is in all its glory:


I followed that up a few days later with another foot:

Getting bored yet?

What exactly do you have against feet?

Getting from point A to point B would be very hard without ‘em, right?

Actually, however, I probably know what you’re feeling.

Feet are just fine as transportation, but as a topic for art? There are better things.

So I set my sights higher.

Turns out there’s this guy called Bargue who taught people to draw back when artists were not producing collections of garbage or smears on a canvas—you know, when they produced something deserving of the term art.

What this guy would have students do is to copy what the masters did. And this seemed to me like a good approach—at least for an artist who wants to produce something similar.

For some practice, then, I drew the heads of some sculptures. Here, for example, is one:

Then I did a quick sketch of a drawing by someone who had copied one by Bargue.

“A copy of a copy!” you might have said.

And if so, I’d have responded by saying, “Exactly.”

Given my past flirtations with drawing, I didn’t want to buy the book and then have it arrive at my doorstep after I had already given it up.

(My feelings have since changed and it’s now on my wish list.)

Anyway, rather than continue drawing rough copies of rough copies, I decided to do one better by continuing what I began: making rough copies of originals!

In particular, I drew a copy of the Norman Rockwell painting, "Freedom of Speech." Here's one picture of my zoomed-in and slightly-modified version:

Since graphite doesn't show up as well in any of these pictures--it turns out that that's "a thing" about it--I took a couple more pictures. Here's one looking at it from the side:

And here's another, looking at it from the other side:

For some reason, the side versions look better to me--or more like what I drew looks like when you're staring right at it in person.

In any case, I finished this drawing still rather pleased.

I had been drawing for around three weeks straight. And, contrary to what had happened before, I didn't feel "the bug" leaving. Instead, the urge was getting stronger to create more and more.

I began watching videos on how to draw--and learning about basic stuff that I'm almost embarrassed I didn't know (except that there's no shame in being a beginner at anything, only in remaining a beginner, out of fear, at something you want to get better at).

And I continued to draw, gaining a bit more knowledge each time.

I drew, for example, a portion of a painting I liked by Serge Marshenikov:

...and I drew a photo of Marianne Bresleaur that I randomly came across on the internets:

Do you like this stuff?

Do you want more?

However you feel, more is on its way.

Because after finishing up that last drawing, I started in on writing this post, and right now, after publishing it, I'm set to draw some more.

Come back and look for it if you want.

There are a lot of areas I can improve, so chances are what follows will be better than what I've done thus far.


There are four posts on this same topic now. If you're interested in reading them all, check out the following links.

1. How I Started Drawing Again
2. How That Drawing Thing is Going
3. I'm Starting to Like the Smell of Graphite in the Morning
4. 50 Shades of Graphite

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

David Grann Does it Again

"What's so great about David Grann?"

That's a question that's rarely asked.

And the reason it's rarely asked is simple.

If you know the name, you have almost definitely read something by him, and if you've done that, well, you understand.

To my mind, Grann is absolutely brilliant.

He's brilliant enough to have me checking The New Yorker each week to see if there's anything new by him.

He's brilliant enough to have me reading everything by Jack Hart or Robert McKee or Rebecca McClanahan in order to write more like him.

And he's brilliant enough to have never let me down (something I can't say for many writers).

If you want to judge for yourself, however--and you should--proof is easily available.

Exhibit A: The Lost City of Z

This is a book by Grann that tells of the explorer Percy Fawcett's quest to find a lost city in the Amazon jungle. Read it, and let me know what you think. Seriously, don't wait for the movie that's coming out based on it--or watch the movie, whatever, but read the book too.

Exhibit B: The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.

This is a collection of Grann's work for The New Yorker and a couple other places. You can read the book, or for a sneak peak read some of the articles in it that are free online. For example, check out "The Chameleon," "A Murder Foretold," "Trial by Fire," or even "The Lost City of 'Z'"--which became a book.

Exhibit C: "The Yankee Commandante: A story of love, revolution, and betrayal."

This is Grann's latest and, as the title of this post says, he has done it again.

By "it" I of course mean penned a masterpiece that every writer should study.

It's a piece that surprises, sickens, inspires, saddens.

You could say it "moves you" but that's far too vague.

It grips you from its start to its end.

In this way, it's like everything else written by Grann (including his article on the NYC water system).

At this point, I could analyze Grann's writing like Slate did.

I could talk about how even Grann's mom is awe-inspiring.

But I won't.

I'd just be getting in the way.

And that's not half as exhilarating as reading Grann's latest at the New Yorker.

Do that, and I'll bet you'll never again ask:

"What's so great about David Grann?"

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How I Started Drawing Again

So, the other day I was talking about drawing with my friend Craig and I wondered if I still had any talent for doing so.

When I was a kid, I actually drew a lot. My favorite things to draw were ships. I’d draw them tiny but make absolutely sure to get all the details the same. I also remember loving to draw (of all things) an old barn. I drew that barn so many times as a child that I can close my eyes now and see it still.

But over the years, I drew less and less. Then I just quit. I may have been paralyzed by praise, but more likely than not I saw what they were doing in art class and wanted no part of that kind of thing.

Anyway, over the years, I’d get “the bug” for a while, draw for a week or two straight, and then give it up. More than a decade passed since that happened, however, and I would have thought it was out of my system if I thought of the subject at all.

Then The Objective Standard started its interview series with artists.

This series has so far interviewed the sculptor Sandra Shaw; a still-life artist, Linda Mann; and (just recently, to be published in the upcoming issue) a painter, Bryan Larsen.

Given my work for TOS, I was lucky enough to get paid for listening to and transcribing the taped interviews. In any case, however, in doing this I felt my old desire building up again.

This brings me back to the conversation with Craig that I mentioned at the start. 

After that ended, I had an old envelope in front of me, and a pen nearby.

So I started to draw.

It was nothing big really, just a picture of an author I like (called Ayn Rand). And I wasn’t expecting much either--which was good, because those expectations were realized. I got “a likeness” of her, but nothing much more.

The thing is, though, it felt pretty good.

So I continued.

I looked up a picture of one Sandra Shaw’s sculptures, called “Tranquility,” and I drew that quickly. It came out looking horrible! In fact, I have a name for this one, it’s called “Frumpy” and I don’t know if even that isn’t being generous.

But, again, actually creating this was good fun.

And I felt even more respect for what Shaw does.

Those lines are smooth, and sensuous, I thought, comparing them with my own. The next day, I drew the same thing again. And the day after that, I drew the same thing again. 

Professional golf players get better by repeatedly taking shots from the same places, I reasoned; it’d probably work for me, too. I’m certainly no professional, but after a few days I got to a decent “likeness” of it.

In between the above takes, I attempted to sketch “Vitality,” again by Shaw...

and then, after the Shaw copies, I tried to draw a study by Larsen:

It was in drawing the copy of Larsen’s study that I realized I didn’t know hardly anything about shading aside from just naturally making my lines look close enough like theirs to be happy.

It was in drawing the copy of Larsen’s study that I realized something else, too: You (or I) can only do so much when drawing with a pen!

Like any budding genius then I did the natural thing: I bought, wait for it, a pencil.

I figured I might as well start, as before, by drawing an author I liked—so I drew Nevil Shute.

Again, I think his face didn’t come out as long as it actually was, and it could have come out much better. But it wasn’t terribly bad--especially given the time I spent on it--and I felt that the shading was pretty good for a beginner.

Next up, I drew a painting by Leighton that I like. And, although I drew all the other ones pretty fast, I took my time on this one.

That was partly because I wanted to make good use of the pencils (now plural) that I bought and partly because I really like this painting. 

I should mention that the way I drew the old man’s face here is not as intense as Leighton has it—and that’s important. The Leighton painting is so vastly superior in a number of ways I could write a whole post just listing the differences.

While critical of my drawing, however, I didn’t have anywhere near that same rage I have when I see (a lot of) other artworks. You know, the kind where you want to scream “This is art” and kick the artist in the stomach, sending him flying backward into a deep pit, Sparta style.

I just saw that there was a lot of room for improvement.

And also that doing all this on better paper might help.

Oh, and that reading a few articles on how to draw might help.

You can guess what I did next.

In any case, I’ll be posting the results of what happened soon.


There are four posts on this same topic now. If you're interested in reading them all, check out the following links.

1. How I Started Drawing Again
2. How That Drawing Thing is Going
3. I'm Starting to Like the Smell of Graphite in the Morning
4. 50 Shades of Graphite