Monday, October 13, 2014

Inktober, Inkdulgence, Inksanity

So Debbie posted about one of those monthly artistic challenges, you know, like NaNoWriMo and such. Only this one was for doing a drawing a day for the month of October, in ink only, called #inktober. I never do these things because I never have enough time and energy to commit to something like that for a whole week, let alone a whole month. Except this time I just sort of slid into it without a whole lot of thought as if it were a comfortable pair of handknit socks.
I've always enjoyed doing ink sketches; my sketchbooks are filled with lots of ballpoint pen drawings, fountain pen sketches, that sort of thing.
Pen has the advantage that it's more permanent and doesn't get as smeared over time as pencil. The big disadvantage, of course, is that you have to be honest; you can't erase. So you need either a lot of confidence, to be bold and just make the strokes and to heck with it, or a way to draw the initial lines lightly, and then go over them later with more confidence once you have your basic shapes laid in. Both ways are valid to me, it's more a matter of your mood and the particular tool you're using; a decent ballpoint pen is pretty forgiving and lets you do light lines and subtle shading, where the fountain pens and flowing ink pens are very decisive.
A big part of this challenge is that you have to post the results online to keep yourself accountable. So in the process of getting the drawings into the computer I had to photograph them and take them into Photoshop to convert them into a reasonable format to post them online. And once in PS, a side effect of my process resulted in a nice grey background which looks oh-so-temptingly like tinted Canson paper. I love using Canson paper with colored pencils, and there's a wonderful push-pull of lights and darks you can do with tinted paper. So I went ahead and added lighter highlights to the drawing as if it were tinted paper, just using the burn tool to lighten a few areas. Now it's not strictly an ink drawing anymore, but I don't really want to get constricted by rules for this whole challenge; my purpose is to get myself to draw and keep drawing.
I love drawing people, but they have a lot of built-in drawbacks; we are so hyper-attuned to faces, searching for every nuance of meaning and mood, that we are hyper critical of drawings of people, especially realistic ones that aren't obviously caricatures or cartoons. The slightest imperfections of proportion or anatomy in a realistic drawing pulls the entire drawing down into a downward spiral of criticism. Drawing people and then putting the drawings up for anybody to see takes a thick skin or a fool. I decided to opt for the latter and just go ahead and enjoy drawing some interesting people. There are tons of amazing historical photos on the Library of Congress' Flickr site, so I went and found people I liked there to draw from. I like to use the drawings to look at, as a point of reference for faces and body proportions and details, but the drawing always seems to have a mind of its own and comes out quite different from the original photo it was based on.
It's harder when you're trying to draw someone you know because then you have more expectations and preconceptions about what the person looks like. With this drawing of Casey, I turned my reference photo upside down to try to just draw the actual shapes of the face. It's a common lesson used in drawing classes, to try to trick yourself into letting go of what you think your subject looks like and just drawing what the shapes really are. It's always an interesting exercise to see what comes out. 

At least in this case, I found that I still was too connected to Casey as the subject matter and it really constrained how I handled it all. Even drawing upside down wasn't enough to remove me from the attachment to the subject matter, and I could feel myself getting tight. There's a frustration and pressure with doing drawings that are 'supposed to be good', and the end results always show it. 

I think that unpleasant sensation of realizing that your lines aren't behaving the way you want, the pressure to 'get it right' is what makes a lot of people just give up and say they can't draw. Little kids don't feel that sort of pressure, but develop it as they get older, with a few rare exceptions. At some point we go from being happy just making crazy pictures to expecting ourselves to render things perfectly. And nobody is perfect. Most of us have to learn to let go and just allow ourselves to do a 'bad' drawing. So yeah, I'm still struggling with those pressures and expectations. That inner critic is really harsh. That's when a stream of consciousness drawing is good, just sort of letting things out. An idea can just sort of develop and I can let myself just enjoy shapes and textures more.
Money Tree
So here it is the middle of the month already and I'm finding it harder to find time for the challenge, harder not to tighten up in the face of my own expectations, so I think I need to find some ways to loosen up more. I don't know if other people have such a harsh inner critic, but mine is pretty daunting. It can be a voice that spurs me to work to get better, try harder, but it can be a really destructive voice that paralyzes me and makes me just give up completely. 
 I figure I'll switch things up a bit, do some color ink stuff, more doodles where I can just let go. The challenge of posting the drawings online is facing what people might think; it adds another dimension to that inner critic. I fortunately have a lot of very supportive friends, so it becomes a source of external support, but it does make it harder to go ahead and post the drawings that didn't come out as well. ;) 
Ah well, onward.