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still fighting back

Thanks so much to everyone who responded to my previous post, Fighting Back, about drawing and depression. I'm not very articulate with myself about my own state of mind, but I'm finding that I can sort of gauge how well I'm doing by my attitude to drawing. I've been doing some drawings this weekend that are a bit more realistic than my normal way of illustrating. Here's a pencil portrait of my neighbour, Susi:



This particular bout of being depressed and struggling to draw fluently has shown me a few things about myself that I want to hash through so I don't forget them next time. (Which means this might sound very self-indulgent, but I'll write it anyway, because I need to. Perhaps some people will be able to relate.)

* I get jealous when I'm depressed.

When I can draw playfully and I'm in the swing of things, I love seeing amazing work by other artists, and I find it inspiring and encouraging. Seeing exploratory drawings by the likes of Jontofski, Ian McQue and Alex T. Smith makes me happy. But while I've been down, I haven't been exactly angry at other artists, but I could feel the first twinges of not being exactly thrilled at seeing other good drawings. And I knew that was wrong, and pulled myself back from believing my own feelings, but I could understand better where people were coming from when they said that good artists annoyed them. I had one friend actually tell me that when he sees a good piece of illustration, his first feeling is murderous rage, which only then subsides into appreciation. I tend to hear this more from guys than other women, but I got a little glimpse into that world. And I know that if I start feeling it again, I need to stop and take stock of my mental state before it get totally debilitating.

* I'm not really angry at other artists, I'm lonely.

I realised what it was that was making me angry; these people were throwing themselves into new techniques and developing new skills, and seeing their work made me felt left out. Instead of feeling boosted up by them, like marching with fellow soldiers, they were leaving me behind. It wasn't anger I was feeling at all, it was loneliness. I'd been reading J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun, and Patrick Ness's More Than This, both stories which begin with solitary kids foraging in abandoned neighbourhoods, and I could totally relate to them.


Solitary hamster foraging through 'More than This'

* Realistic drawing helps simplify things and can be therapeutic.

Whenever I do realistic drawing, I get more compliments on my artistry than when I do more simplified, stylised illustration work, particularly from non-illustrators. But drawing simplified pictures, in many ways, is more difficult and requires more skill and constant decision making. I'm having to pare things down to their essences and add my own playful interpretation. And when I'm tired and feeling low, this is much harder to do. Sketching realistically still requires some amount of interpretation, but I don't have to make major changes to what's in front of me, I can use it completely as a guide, and get lost in the object I'm looking at, instead of in my drawing. It's more a study in looking than drawing, letting my eyes follow each bulge and bump.

Here's a drawing I made in Greenwich Park this morning, of one of the old chestnut trees. I notice so many things about the tree that I could never take in at a brief glance, and it feels good to appreciate the details of the tree; I can lose myself in that. I guess that's why it's therapeutic; stylised illustrations feel more about me, whereas these sorts of sketches feel more about what I'm looking at. And I want to get out of 'me' for awhile.




I wouldn't want to do this sort of drawing in a picture book, and I don't particularly like most picture books that have a sort of photo-realistic quality to them; I'd rather they be actual photos than tight, slavish copies of photos. I want to see people take things for a spin, not just show me their technical skill in copying. (Photo-realistic drawings of children laughing, in particular, make me cringe; they never look entirely natural.) Photo-realism does occasionally work for me, but it's when the characters are hugely simplified and only the backgrounds are realistic or semi-realistic.



Speaking of which, I read a fascinating interview by Simon Hattenstone of Grayson Perry in yesterday's Guardian Weekend magazine.



I could probably go off on at least ten essays responding to things he said - I can really relate to a lot of that stuff, and Perry says it very articulately - but one thing was relevant to this blog post, his attitude toward 'likenesses'.



I don't think Perry's being a snob, he just knows his art is more than making drawings that look like photos, or resemble a real-life subject. Anyone can do that, it's not that different from learning maths or geography, and you can achieve it with study and practice. But it takes a lot of playfulness, research and deliberate exploration to look at something and use it as a jumping-off point for something truly interesting, perhaps something that says something larger about our culture, or even something that just really grabs your eye. That's MUCH harder.

Not to say that learning how to draw realistically isn't a valuable tool! Drawing trees and portraits helps me develop skills that I can put into my more simplified work; it all filters down. But don't underestimate what goes into simplier drawings. To make zinging book illustrations, I need to be fighting fit. And I'm working on it. Taking time to draw this weekend - and write these blog posts - has helped a lot. ...Still fighting back.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
jabberworks
Oct. 6th, 2014 08:49 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading, and yeah, it's helpful to think through this stuff! If I don't write it down, it just slushes about as vague unease and I get more and more useless. It must be so much harder with the time commitment of raising children, but that's great you're able to do both to some degree. x
Jeremy Delamarter
Oct. 5th, 2014 09:29 pm (UTC)
It's true of writing, too
I presented at a conference last year. Afterwards, one of the conference hosts came up to me and said, "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I really liked your presentation because it was so, well, simple. It didn't sound very academic."

I laughed, because if she had only known how hard I had worked to make it sound "simple," she wouldn't have begun with an apology. Getting it down to the essentials, as you said, took much more editing and revision and skill than if I had just left it full of technical, academic jargon. Writing an academic paper in such a way to be read conversationally without sacrificing depth of content is hard. So I'm with you.

Jeremy
jabberworks
Oct. 6th, 2014 08:50 pm (UTC)
Re: It's true of writing, too
So true, and yes, that is a compliment! Ha, I still remember an essay you wrote in school, Pee Alone. That phrase occasionally runs through my head.
kruku
Oct. 6th, 2014 09:13 am (UTC)
Bigging up your thoughts?
Hi Sarah,

I know you have posted this up on a publicly accessible media but...

I have been sharing your posts on this topic but I no longer wish to broadcast your thoughts on this topic unless you are happy with it.

I like what you're posting here. Many of us get depressed and can relate. However a lot of people also don't realise how low creatives can get often assuming the ability to create somehow is some sort panecea or at least suitable compensation for any anguish a creaive person might feel. I feel what your saying shines a light on depression, creativity and any small business person that is struggling to establish themselves or their business.

Please respond here to let me know wether you are happy for me to continue sharing your thoughts on the interent.

Regards,

Dave Kruku :)
jabberworks
Oct. 6th, 2014 08:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Bigging up your thoughts?
Thanks so much, I'm glad you find it helpful! I figure anything posted here on the Internet is open to the public (and I've tweeted it, too), so always feel free to link back to this.
kruku
Oct. 7th, 2014 09:18 am (UTC)
Re: Bigging up your thoughts?
Thanx :)
dlasky
Oct. 12th, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC)
Empire of the Sun
That's my favorite memoir. Much better than the movie they made of it.

I'll have to check out the other book you mention.

I know that feeling of lonliness as a creative person, especially when I was delivering bread full time and not drawing much at all -- I think it felt frustrating more than anything else, to see my peers making amazing art. I eventually quit the bakery job and things fell into place.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )