Perfectionism and the Anatomy of the Bad Drawing

I am a perfectionist. Not an amateur perfectionist whom merely dots every “i” and crosses every “t”; I’m a pro whom makes sure that the dot above the “i” is perfectly round and the cross through the “t” extends out evenly on both sides. And to be sure, I zoom into the letters at 6400% in Illustrator just to check. It’s always served me well as a production artist, where exactitude and methodical perfectionism are mandatory for creative deliverables. It has, however, hampered me as an artist and illustrator.

I’ve always been a left-brained artist, not so much “creative” as technical. I don’t look to blow people away with out-of-the-box thinking; I just look to tantalize eyes with aesthetically-resonate artwork. Of course, artists are more animal than calculator, and in the past, I’ve had to fight against this perfectionism. In art school, I quickly became proficient in realistic oil painting, but the slow tediousness drove me crazy, and I took up watercolors just to have a degree of lost control. And as much as I love conceptual and quirkily-executed art, my pen always looks for the straight line and the 90-degree angle,  which is why the sketch featured here, a “bad” drawing, is for me a good drawing.

Much about this coffee cup, quickly scrawled in about ten minutes, is wrong, or in the lingo of perfectionism, “bad”. The proportions and perspectives are wrong, the circles on the lid are not concentric, and much of the detail is not perfectly recreated in relation to size, placement, and detail. But then again, how often do you think about the perspective of your coffee cup, the concentricity of the circles on the lid, or the placement of the most finite details? Instead, as you sip your overpriced coffee, you may just catch glimpse of the warnings around the cup lid, the corrugation of the cardboard sleeve, or the graphics here and there.

Perfectionism may be fine for InDesign layouts of a government proposal documents and branded marketing campaigns, but for sketchbook drawing, you have to decide where and when to halt perfectionism. For this drawing, all that really matters are the details that are unique to the subject, essentially telling its unique story. And I’ve always felt that when art like this goes wrong, it’s really just taking on a life of it’s own, and this is when it truly becomes alive. So if you’re a hopeless perfectionist like me, then buy a cheap sketchbook and draw badly, also known simply as “drawing”.

And drink more coffee!

One Year of Sketching

On June 12th, 2011, I cracked open a new sketchbook, my first in almost three years, and with nervous trepidation, touched pen nib to paper and embarked on a perilous and uncertain journey to reclaim a part of my life that had seemingly been lost the deadening demands that forced me to swap illustration for production and design to pay the bills and keep me afloat. Until that point, I had barely drawn in years, my creative streams had all but dried up, and my confidence and eagerness to draw had all but wilted away. I had no idea what to expect as I teetered on the precipice between fear of failure and excitement of reclaimed opportunity. Would I be wasting time, money, and hope, or would something of any worth come out of this?

One year later, I’m almost finished with my second sketchbook, I’ve gone through a good amount of ink, I’ve drawn almost daily, and I’m constantly exploring new techniques, new styles, new subject matter, and most importantly, having lots of fun, ranging from the artistically intense to the carefree and lackadaisical. The daily rituals of spilling ink and unleashing lines, shapes, values, and expression have served as therapeutic counterpoints to the digital precision that is my professional life. The daily and weekly reviews of my sketchbooks reaffirms that I am alive as a person and an artist, and not just a pixel-pushing pimp for profit. The growing pages of drawings and sketches in my books reconnect me to the art and artists in the world around me.

It’s been and awesome year for me. Thank you to everybody whose clicked onto this blog and took the time to check out and interact with the postings, and amass with me into this bigger community of those of us that take on the mantle, in some form or another, of “artist”. It’s been a great journey over the past twelve months, and I hope to bring you all much, much more work.

– Jason.

Blonde Hair, Random Face

There’s never a guarantee that there’ll be unique looking people (read: challenging or exciting subjects for sketching) on the train, and sometimes you just grab any face until more interesting subjects comes along. This page shows just the case, where newly-boarded beautiful blond hair trumped an average 3/4 profile view of a random window gazer.

Sketchnote Practice

Recently I’ve also been making forays in to the disciplines of graphic recording and sketchnoting. If you’ve never heard of or seen graphic recording or sketchnoting before, they’re worth the Google search.

Here are some practice sketchnotes I made from NPR podcasts, and I’ve recently enrolled in the Alphachimp Studios graphic recording course, which has been great fun, incredibly challenging, and an excellent foundation for me to continue pursuing the truly awesome disciplines that are graphic recording and sketchnoting.

Fountain Pen Failure

I love drawing with fountain pens. There’s something very old-world intriguing about them, they’re wonderful to hold, and they produce rich lines with occasional unpredictabilities and surprises. However, they are writing instruments rather than drawing instruments. Fountain pens are designed for controlled fluid up-and-down motions rather than random aggressive side-to-side motions. When they work, they work great, but every now and then, the aggressiveness of fast sketching on bouncing trains can occasionally cause the ink to skip and even stop flowing, as was the case here.