I’ve attempted to be open about my process to greater and lesser degrees over the years. I find that the more I think about how to articulate what I am doing, the better I understand it myself. I also find that the more I am struggling with something, the less I have brain-space to share about it, even though that would probably be the best way to come to terms with it.
My dad once talked about that phrase, “coming to terms”, and it has stuck with me. The idea is that we have things happening in our brains all the time, but until we can find the words orcome to terms with what it happening in our minds, we don’t understand them well enough ourselves to be able to talk about them with other people.
I am currently struggling with something I have only dabbled with up until now: storytelling. I love stories. I LOVE stories. I love to read novels and comics and children’s books. I love movies - good, bad, or ugly. I love a good comedian, like Louis CK, for the same reason. It all comes back to a well-crafted story. But I’m not so good at telling my own stories. Yet.
On paper, I have a facility with words, and I love to put sentences together for maximum impact, or for the way they sound, or for the way they feel in your mouth. But putting together the big picture is challenging. I have all these trees, but I’m still struggling with how to choose the right trees to build my forest. Telling a story well is something I need to practice.
For today’s studio day, I am trying to write a story for a character I thought up over two years ago. I just counted: I have 29 different text files of different attempts to make this story work out since I came up with him. I’ve made my character a horrible grouchy beast, he’s been a sweet, stupid, buffoon, and I’ve currently got him brooding on a deserted island. Each time I write, I think I have some shiny bit that is going to work, but more often, that shiny bit is just a distraction from the big picture, and I have to force myself to step back and back and back until I can see the whole sparkling arc that connects the beginning to the end. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a place for that smaller gem in the larger arc, but more often I have to toss it in the bucket at the end.
This struggle, though, is what makes it all worth it for me. When I was in high school, math and science stuff came easily. I never had to work for it, but I was good at it. My successes masked my boredom with it. When I got to college, I started down a path to do more science and math, but I also lucked into a drawing course. Again, the science and math came easily, but the drawing was hard! I had always been a decent doodler, but this was looking at an object or a person and trying to represent them on paper. Now here was a challenge!
Fast forward to now, and I’ve been drawing a little every day for years, and though it’s not as awkward and unfamiliar as it started, I still find it wonderfully challenging to make the vision in my head come out properly on paper. You never know if it is going to work, but it’s always worth the attempt to see if you can get it right this time. Like my writing, I often have many discarded drafts of an illustration: for one spread in the picture book I just finished, there are 10 different attempts at the final art in my folder - not to mention the dozens of sketches and roughs I went through before that.
With writing, I am that fresh college kid again. It’s hard! It’s challenging! It’s awkward! I love it! And since I have gone though a couple decades of trying and failing and succeeding at drawing stuff, I know that I can make gains with the storytelling over time, and the drafts don’t scare me, and the failures don’t phase me. It’s all part of the process.
Process is humbling. It is bare and true, and you can’t fake it. If you are making something, you have to get in there and actually make it. You have to figure it out, bit by bit, until it all comes together (or not) in the end.
Now to go foul up another blank page!
P.S. You may thank/blame Austin Kleon for my renewed desire to share.