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Making Art

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One of my favorite speeches from any creative person, is Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech for the University of the Arts. His message to the graduating seniors: Just make art. That is easier said than done but if you’re of a creative bent, it’s also an imperative you can’t ignore.

(Note: This is a fairly image-heavy post and the gallery feature causes some of them to display as thumbnails. You can click on any of the images in this post to see the full-sized version.)

But boy, do I struggle with impostor syndrome in this specific area. I’ve always loved to draw, to sketch, to create, all my life. I have never considered myself especially good at it, but I love to do it. I felt like I just couldn’t seem to get the images in my brain out of it and down on paper.

This got particularly bad in my late 20s/early 30s. My husband is a fan of a number of comic/illustration style artists, and he is unreserved in his admiration and praise. I felt like I could never “keep up” – I couldn’t compare. Maybe in a way I thought if I could compare, he’d pay more attention to me, he’d talk to me more, he’d love me more. So I tried. I practiced. I read books. This was in the early enough stages of the internet that YouTube didn’t exist yet. Trying to learn the fundamentals meant lots of time in a library. Trying to understand the subtleties of shading and perspective. A lot of my early drawings are very flat but occasionally I would just find the right flow.

I had a few basic illustrations published in some small-press comics. It didn’t really have the intended effect of actually making my own husband start noticing me again, though as I came to understand, he’s not a guy that gives a lot of himself to anyone. That’s who he is – when I need him to be supportive, he’s there. He just isn’t a demonstrative guy.

I did discover the fun of raytracing in the early aughts. If you’re not familiar with it, raytracing is a method of generating 3D images by defining shapes, colors, surface textures, and the movement of light to create imagery. Bryce3D opened up a lot of possibilities to me, because for the first time it gave me a way to express color and form that I wasn’t “talented” enough to draw.

I mostly just doodled though, until around 2004ish when I decided to go back to school and study graphic design. In the process I realized that at least for me, I can’t do art for anyone else. I can’t do it to make someone love me, or to make someone else happy. I’m happiest when I do creative stuff because it makes me happy. Good or bad, artistic endeavors only feed my soul when the ultimate purpose is to express something in myself. If someone else enjoys it, that’s frosting.

I discovered better ways of drawing, to give more depth and life (and humor) to my art.

I learned how to emulate painting in applications like Photoshop and Artrage, to apply painterly technique to digital. That can be a LOT of fun.

Ghost of a pirate looking at his treasure.
The headless ghost of a pirate looks at his treasure. Was that his head?

I also discovered Illustrator, and that as much as anything really gave me an outlet for my creative energy because I could create and refine and tinker and play and save various versions. I love working with Illustrator, I love the purity of color and the way you can create such strong forms.

And I discovered the joy of casual photography. It’s even easier now when everyone’s got a camera in their back pocket. I took this one on a good old fashioned slide-film camera, though, and for whatever reason it remains my favorite photo of any I’ve taken. I love the shapes, lines, and colors in this.

Fence rails with lichen
Fence rails with lichen, at the old Guilford County courthouse battleground.

Some of my art is good. Some is bad. A few pieces are spectacularly awful. But none of that is the point.

The point is, that it feeds something in my soul to make art. Which is why I do it.

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