When I'm sketching ideas on those graph paper pages, I feel more creative, and the ideas just flow!
I've been doing art for other people for nigh on half a century, and it's been my day job for big chunks of that time. I've illustrated a couple of dozen books and drawn about 500 houses, farms and businesses. I've made bazillions of birthday cards and valentines; I've designed and sent hand-made Christmas cards for years and have the art on file to prove it. Most was done for a client or a deadline.
Because it might be helpful, let me indulge in a little self-examination. As in: why didn't I play more with my drawing? Why did I tend to pick up a pen only when I picked up an assignment?
Well, my quick response is, I was an English major.
Why were you an English major, Mary?
Well, I was scared. That I didn't have enough talent. That I wasn't as good as lots of people I knew.
The kind of thinking that causes many art careers to die-a-bornin'.
So, I majored in English and drew on the side, and fell into an illustration job through no merit of my own when I left college. The credit due me is that I stuck with it, got better at it, and didn't quit when the magazine I worked for changed direction. I persisted. Yay, me.
Anyhow, after many years of freelance illustration--I just discovered Instagram and its scrolling walls of eye candy. A visual feast, and I'm gorging myself. The side effect I didn't expect is a huge uptick in my creativity. I'm posting sketches I did twenty years ago and sketches I did yesterday, and instead of running out of ideas, I'm finding them under every rock and box of markers.
And I'm finding the freedom to do stuff, even dumb stuff--see illustration at top of page--just for fun. Art should be fun. (And don't get me wrong, almost every job I've ever done had an element of fun. Mary Poppins was right.) But the fun I'm finding in my sketchbooks, old and new, comes with freedom to play, freedom to explore an interesting direction.
There's an Old Testament prophecy about the tribe of Issachar as "a strong ass couching down between two burdens." (Stay with me here.) I was astonished when Dorothy Sayers quoted this in Murder Must Advertise, describing the plight of the artist who has to arrange a writer's copy and another artist's sketch in an ad. It applies equally to the artist-for-hire, who must carry and balance the burdens of the client's taste with the demands of line, color and composition.
I'm amazed at the effect of occasionally working with only one of those burdens, and the resulting freedom. It feels like a vitamin for my soul, administered through massive doses of eye-candy. Would that physical ailments responded to the same therapy!
So here's to the benefits of eye candy and a prayer that each of our souls gets whatever vitamin inspires our creativity.
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