Dare to Sketch

I’ve always done my sketching and drawing in lined notebooks or on plain printer paper. I’ve never bought a sketch book. I must have been scared to make less-than-perfect drawings in something that costs more than, well, free.

If you draw on a sheet of paper you can just crumple it up and throw it away if you don’t like it. In a sketch book, you’re committed.

Fear of imperfection is a terrible thing. It’s hard to overcome. It can affect all areas of your life. And it can keep you from realizing your life’s full potential. Even if you’ve determined not to let fear rule you, it often creeps up stealthily. I see this fear in myself when I don’t want to commit imperfect code to GitHub. I even recognize fear when I keep interrupting myself while starting a good book. I’m afraid I might not be able to understand it or finish it or accomplish what it’s trying to teach.

A book I found recently at the library has started to change the way I think about sketch books. Dare to Sketch: A Guide to Drawing on the Go, by Felix Scheinberger is a great motivator for starting to sketch in an actual book. Scheinberger gives the reader permission to make mistakes with sketches and to not make the images perfect.

Sketching isn’t fine art. It’s a way to capture the world around you in a personal pictorial narrative. Scheinberger emphasizes the personal aspect of sketching. It’s for you and no one else. These are your own private drawings, almost like a journal, that documents your own private artistic journey.

Sketches may be personal and private but of course you can show them if you want to. Scheinberger puts plenty of his own sketches in the pages of his book. It’s encouraging to see just how imperfect they are. By seeing the author’s rough line work and often disproportionate shapes, it gives the reader confidence to start sketching even if they don’t think they’re very good.

So I went out and got a sketch book. I’m determined to use it as an exploration tool for my drawing art. It won’t be a “public” book so I can make terrible sketches and not worry about what other people think. Instead, the challenge will be in not judging myself too harshly.

The Game of Everest

I love it when my kids go from “I’m bored” to “I’m making a board game”. This is one my older son prototyped with cardboard. It’s called Everest and the premise is that you’re part of a mountain climbing party trying to reach the summit.

The cool thing about it is that it’s a cooperative game so you’re not trying to battle each other. Each player has health, hunger and warmth points that go up or down based on cards you draw when you land on certain parts of the board. Even if your character dies, you can win the game if someone else on your team makes it to the top.

It’s kind of like a monumental Chutes and Ladders type of game only instead of playfully being sent down a slide, you starve, get hypothermia and get buried by an avalanche.

Taking Time To Tinker

In his famous lectures on creativity, John Cleese says that if you play around with a problem and put off calling it done for a while, you’ll often come up with a better solution than if you simply took the first solution that came to you.

Tinkering with an idea or a map or a code base is a great way to not only develop it but to develop it into something better than it had been before. It’s taking something that could be called complete but then further playing with it and manipulating it until it becomes something else.

This is an approach I take with application and code I’ve written. Even after I’ve finished a project, I’ll let it sit for a while and then come back to it. When I do, I try to reimagine its uses or how it can be written. I went through this process today with a code module I had written over a year ago. With fresh eyes I was able to play around with the code. I asked myself why something was written a certain way. I tried things like stripping out important lines of code just to see if it would improve performance in other areas. I also had fun seeing just how massively I could make the code fail.

The result of my playing around with my code wasn’t as dramatic as an entirely new application. But I was able to reduce its size and rewrite parts of it more elegantly. Well worth the time it took to tinker.

The Power of Story

This pencil sketch was hand drawn by my 10 year old son yesterday. He’s been reading a lot from the Warriors book series by the multiplicitous and pseudonomous Erin Hunter. After each book he tends to get inspired to create fan art like this. Now, he’s a great artist but it’s still hard to get a 10 year old boy to sit long enough to put in that amount of detail. It goes to show how a powerful story can be the genesis of further creation.

How Observation Influences Art

For my birthday yesterday I went to a lecture by mixed media artist Mary Robinson called Shifting Perspective. She talked about the role  our environment and experiences play in making art.

I sat next to this enormous print during the talk. It was either inspired by the swamps in the authors home state of South Carolina or a crime scene in CSI New Orleans.

The writeup in the paper for the lecture used the word observation to describe this. However, I found it interesting that Mary never used the word observation in her talk (unless I was hearing but not really listening). We so often go through our days seeing things without really observing them. It takes a concious shift in thinking to truly observe our surroundings and understand what we’re seeing.

This is the same concept Maria Konnikova writes about in her book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. I wrote a post about this book a few years ago and just started re-reading it earlier this week. It surprised me to spot the apt description of this lecture in the paper on the morning of the talk.

We see things every day but we rarely observe. Yet true mindfulness and observation of our surroundings and interactions are so important for everyone from photographers to programmers and everyone in between. It allows you to discover new ideas, methods of implementation and more efficient strategies to accomplish goals. At the very least you’ll get better at Trivial Pursuit.