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.