Thursday, January 29, 2009

In Praise Of: Art & Fear by Bayles & Orland

Fear. Frustration, Anxiety, Love, Excitement, Longing, Trepidition. And these are just the emotions that course through me, depending on the day, when I'm about to sit down to draw. You should hear the list that comes up after I've been at it for an hour.

This post grows out wanting to review the book Art & Fear and describe, at the same time, why this book helped me. It turns out that the post starts to look more like I was tagged with the internet "25 things that we didn't know about you" meme.

I used to sit down and put my head in my hands and not know where to begin. Did this for years. It was why I got into the industry as an inker, since I was comfortable as a craftsman, but not as an artist. Too many years getting slagged off by art teachers who had nothing but contempt for illustration, especially comic oriented illustrations, too many bad critiques by assistant editors who would give blatantly contradictory advise in one on one sessions, too much damn second guessing on my own part.

Being a craftsman was easy. Once I knew where i was going with the brush, it was taking the pencils and making them make even more sense for print. I learned how to do that, and do it fairly well. It also presented me with actual working pencils from guys who barely knew how to draw to guys who knew how to draw way too well.

And therein lies the a bit of the problem that I faced 8 years ago. Trying to bridge the gap between what I knew how to do, and get the inker in me to stop hating on the penciller. After all, the inker was used to working over J. G. Jones, Paul Gulacy, Alan Weiss. The penciller was completely new to the gig. And pretty damn shaky.

Its a double edged sword really. There were precious few opportunities to see professional pencils back in the '70's and '80's, not like now, so one of the real detriments of aspiring to become a comics professional at that time was not really knowing what you were shooting after. To my mind, the artists were like magicians, waving magic pencils and brushes and having page after page of comic art rolling out of their studios. It did not inspire confidence when sitting at my own drawing table and working on the same damn panel over and over and over.

What you rarely saw was the page that got thrown out, and you certainly never saw the sweat of the artist working late into the night to meet the deadline, or the discarded drawings along the way. For the ten or so people in the world who like my work I say this: I never find it easy, but I can do it better now than I did ten years ago.

Art & Fear certainly works to address some of the layers of built up frustration that have built up and hold us up from making art. As they say in the introduction:
This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people - essentially (statistically speaking) there aren't any people like that. But while geniuses may get made once-a-century or so, good art gets made all the time.
And they do a good job of puncturing the romantic notion of the lonely genius who is ahead of his time, while at the same time methodically destroying the reasons that many of us as excuses to not make our art.

For me, I've learned to believe in the process. Have faith that if you work with what you know, methodically applying the construction to figure and then applying the lighting and overlaying clothes, that while the figure may not appear at first to be genius, it may be right. And that drawing that you didn't think you could do will start to happen. you're right, its not genius, but it exists, and occassionally you get that one that happens to come alive. You do it, you move on. I have faith in the process, and it enables things to happen beyond just staring at the blank piece of bristol.
...the separation of art from craft is largely a post-Renaissance concept, and more recent still is the notion that art trascends what you do, and represents what you are.
There are many deaths that happen, the big one that we have, but the little ones as well, the death of belief that we can do these things, the death of belief that what we're saying matters somehow. As children, many of had refrigerators magneted with art for years. Magnets that, paradoxically, have much other things to do as we get older and we actually get more skill. Why is that? What is it about art that is so difficult to appreciate?

My grandfather had a collage of covers of that I inked while in the mainstream comics industry. I didn't know this for years. My own mother doesn't have a single piece of art that i produced after the age of 7 in her house.
... most artists don't daydream aobut making great art - they daydream about having made great art. What artist has not experienced the feverish euphoria of composing the prerfect thumbnail sketch, first draft, negative or melody - only to run headlong into a stone wall trying to convert that tantalizing hint into the finished mural, novel, photograph, sonata. The artist's life is frustrating not becasue the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast.
Came up with a great concept last night for a graphic novel. Can already see it in my head, and i'm wondering just when I'll get the time to work and craft and draw and complete the 120 pages that I see happening right now? How to convey that much in your head down to paper in the tediously slow process of actually drawing? Kid sis in hollywood cut through the bullshit the other day in her post here and made me laugh as well. She's good at that.

Think about all this as I'm about to launch my new webcomics portal at and maybe you won't see the sweat behind that ink, but its there, bouyed by frustration and held in place by some craft. Love my trusty photocopier, scanner, brushes and nibs, they can, sometimes, be my friends.


Brian Fies said...

That sounds like a book I could get something out of.

I think there's hardly a more courageous creative act than sitting down in front of a keyboard or drawing board and laying down word one, line one, knowing you've got hundreds of pages and thousands of hours to go. I'm always buoyed by Anne Lamott's story:

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"

Just take it bird by bird, Charles.

Beth Whitney said...

"Friday Y"- I love this book. I bought it some time over the summer when it had been recommended to me for the 5th time by various online postings. It's so good that I bought a couple of copies to send to artist friends as gifts.
Hope you are well,
Beth (formerly known as "cricket")

Leif Peng said...

Hi; Sounds like a book that mirrirs my own philosophy. Have written and discarded a couple of rants about the subject, but it sounds like Bayles & Orland have spared me the anguish of one more go at the keyboard. I will pick it up based on your thoughtful review. Thanks - Leif ;^)

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

brian beth and lief -

thanks so much for the comments! Brian, "bird by brid" sits on the shelf next to "Art & Fear" (I'm looing at it right now). good call.

Beth - long time no talk. wonderful paintings over at your blog!

Leif - i've popped over to your Leif's drawing site more than once. Great stuff! I hope that it helps with your work. Thanks again.


The RIpple Effect said...

Love the new header!

Beth Whitney said...

Thanks Charles,
I love your blog, it's a time-sink (in a good way). Mine is a placeholder so do not feel obligated to stop over often, it's going to stay as-is for a loooong time, until I get some major sculpture projects I'm just in the planning stages of completed.
I stumbled across your blog in a slightly convoluted way via A happy accident!
I will keep visiting here, I've got it bookmarked.
Take care,

Edna said...

Hi Charles,

I stumbled on your blog while in search for reviews on Art & Fear (to share w/ others via Facebook--hope you don't mind my posting your link). I love the book! It's an excellent reality check and supportive reading for artists of every discipline. Your review does the book due justice :-)! Thank you for your excellent post. Glad I stumbled onto to your blog... Happy drawing and painting!


inkdestroyedmybrush said...

edna - thanks a lot for your comments. always means something to me! please feel free to post the link on Facebook, happy to have new eyeballs. Best of luck on your own work.