A little ambition is a dangerous thing

Thursday March 24, 2011 @ 03:33 PM (UTC)
8-year-old gaming sketch
A drawing I did of an Exalted character c. 2003. “Good enough” for what?

I’ve never thought much of myself as an artist. All right, that’s a lie: as a child, I thought I was pretty awesome. But I was also pretty sure I would someday find a magic sword in a stone, so take my cherished beliefs with all the salt you like. And even then, I could tell that I didn’t have an overpowering natural gift: it took a lot of work for me to get a drawing up to second-place snuff, when the first-place kid tossed his off in no time. I admit, this may have discouraged me. While my mom, herself dissuaded from trying at art at a young age, forbade me to say I was “bad at drawing”, I decided to be cheerfully “mediocre at drawing” or at best “okay at drawing”.

In my adult life, I mostly use the “okay” drawing skills I nursed through Drawing classes and Scientific Illustration activity to draw my roleplaying game characters. (It’s okay, if you were on this website you would have worked out that I’m a giant dork eventually.) My spotty skills are enough, usually, to falter out a much-corrected portrait of my character that satisfies me. The clothes are usually just right. Often I am pleased with the face. The pose is almost always awkward.

I made the dreadful mistake of showing these things to my friend Lee Moyer. Lee is an immensely talented and prolific professional artist and illustrator. Very professional. I can’t remember why I committed the mad act of showing him my sketchbook, but probably because we were going to Ambercon together, and he would inevitably see me scribbling at some point. Might as well preemptively show him the whole ugly mess, I must have thought.

Well, he didn’t cry out in horror, and to my knowledge he didn’t lose sanity points. Instead, he did the next-worst thing: he encouraged me. He told me that with more discipline, I could draw well. He told me that with better tools, I could draw more quickly. Somehow I’d managed to get my innate ambition and perfectionism to overlook this one area, but now it has noticed art again, and all may well be lost. Because if I can do well at something, then of course I had jolly well better. All these years, I’ve been trying to make the individual drawing better without working on my overall skills, without spending time preparing, working things out, or getting references. The end results may have been within my bounds of satisfaction, but they could have been much better much faster if I’d been willing to work on my drawing as a whole and give the activity a little more time.

Now that I am ambitious about drawing again, it’s hard to believe I managed not to be for so long. I try to imagine someone with just an ounce of talent telling me, “It’s okay, I don’t need to get better at writing: I only use it for my RPG character journals.” Why wouldn’t you get better at something if you could? Why do something if it’s not worth practicing? What was I thinking?

And what am I in for now? (One thing’s almost certain: you will be seeing a lot more “cross-training” posts about the similarities between writing and visual art.)


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