Saturday, May 06, 2006

Words of Encouragement

That last post is a bit of a weird concept to grasp, I know, and as expressed in the comments section, we all have times where we feel like we're just not "getting it". In my opinion, there are two types of artists: artists who aren't "getting it" but know they will someday, and artists who aren't "getting it" and are convinced they never will.

The greatest of artists always feel like they have more to learn and that there is something out there they don't understand yet. Trust me, I can honestly say I have had the luck to work with some amazing artists at Disney. I'm pretty sure that the way 90% of they became great was because they felt from the beginning that they didn't "get it" and they worked hard to get better. That thing you don't quite understand is what keeps you driving harder and harder and makes you get better and better.

Dan Hansen, the great Disney layout artist, once quipped to me that there are two kinds of artists: those that hear it once and know it, and those that have to hear it over and over again. I started this web site for the second kind of artist. I am trying to repeat that stuff over and over again so we can all keep hearing it.

Which leads me to reveal a dirty little secret: I started this blog for selfish reasons. That's the same reason I give lectures and write handouts. Writing this stuff over and over again helps it get cemented in my brain. And forcing myself to write about it helps me put it into words and conceptualize it better. After all, I'm definitely that second kind of artist.

The other reason I started this blog is because of the old saying: the only point of having knowledge is to share it. I truly believe that.

Sometimes I see the work of artists who draw well but you can tell they are relying on the same tricks over and over. They're comfortable with what they've drawn before and don't feel the need to try to find a better way. Me, I struggle with every drawing I do. I never ever settle for the first version of a drawing. If I do, how will I know if that's the best solution? I need to try different ones to find the best way. I want to do a better drawing than I was able to do yesterday; I want to discover something new.

How can you even call yourself an "artist" if you're not always reaching for something you can't quite grasp yet?

That's why being an artist is so frustrating and so exhilarating at the same time. It sucks to struggle with trying to find a better way, but it's so great when you finally find something that works! The only certainty is that there will be another struggle in your future. So you just have to embrace that part of the process. Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it's a drag.

When I was a kid there were always "coffee table books" on our coffee table. Go figure! I don't know who bought them (must have been my Mom) or how she picked the ones she picked. For some reason, one day the "Smithsonian Guide to Newspaper Comics" showed up. Comic books weren't part of my life growing up and when I saw this book it blew my mind. I just think it's funny that such a "lowbrow" topic made it into our house wrapped up in a book published by a fancy museum. Anyway, E.C. Segar, who drew the original "Popeye" strips, used to have a little panel on his Sunday pages where he would talk about drawing and offer encouragement to young artists. I read these way before I ever started to draw and for some reason they stuck with me. When I was at CalArts I suddenly found myself surrounded by amazing artists who dashed off works of genius with no effort. I thought of these little strips many times throughout that peiod of my life - the idea that someone with less talent can go really far if they work hard to compensate for what they lack in natural ability. That message got me through some times where I really wanted to give up.

Anyway, corny as it is that message remains true. Here are those same strips scanned from that same book that I inherited from my family! Sorry the scans aren't too great - It's a huge book and hard to scan without some shadow of the binding.


RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

I love these Popey cartoon club panels. Thank you for such an inspiring post.

Sarah said...

Hi! I wanted to thank you for posting this... I've never been to your blog before, but I suspect I will now become a regular. It's so encouraging to the enternally dissatisfied artist, to know that an artist that's made it to the level that you have, experiences that same struggle. It's so discouraging to see the work dashed off by those few blessed 'talents'. It's great to know that good (or even great) art goes hand in hand with the struggle, the endless drive for improvement.
thank you thank you thank you!

Steve said...

Thanks so much for this post Mark, I'm definitely the second kind of artist, I guess it's the love for this type of expression that keeps me going, even though I look at so many talented artist and feel I'll never reach there level, I do keep drawing hoping one day I'll get a taste of that excellence...

that will be one sweet day =]

J said...

This is your most relevant post yet. Great work Mark.

Jayenti Collins said...

i find myself the type of artist that doesn't get it but know i will in the future as long as i don't stop trying to get it. thanks for the inspiration and motivation!

warren said...

I'll never get it. And I like that.

mark walton said...

You know, all the pithy sayings in those comics are absolutely true! Especially the part about how a hard-working, somewhat talented artist is better off than someone with a lot of talent who wastes it - I've seen that for myself more than once.