Constant Improvement

A lot of Internet advice in creative fields runs along the lines of “Practice. And then practice more.” While not inaccurate, this advice doesn’t specify much as to how one should practice–how often? What specific aspects of the work should be practiced most? What sort of improvement can be expected or hoped for?

Truth to tell, that’s because it’s different for everyone. But reading the advice to “practice” with no further elaboration can be discouraging, so I’m going to share my practice method for drawing.

Every morning, as soon as I wake up, I fill a page in my sketchbook. At the top of the page is written the area I need to work in for the day-whether it’s hands or faces or a specific character or flowers, anything I feel needs improving. I fill the page up with practice. They aren’t large pages, so truth to tell that isn’t a massive amount of practice per day, but it is consistent. That’s enough that I’ve seen vast improvement between my work at the beginning of the summer as opposed to the end.

Once the page is filled, I start with the breakfast and putting on socially acceptable clothes and the other things that have to be done for a day to be productive.

I also have a file on my tablet for a digital sketchbook, where I work on character designs and drawing things I see during my day and ideas. I draw in that one during church, pretty often. I’m not super great at sitting still and just listening.

Occasionally this means jotting down notes in between doodles, or allowing the friend next to me to write down the name of the Pokémon he thought I was drawing, but that’s all right.

Unfortunately, all this practice is easiest to accomplish during a summer of relatively few responsibilities. Hopefully I can maintain some of those habits when classes start again.

On Meeting Your Heroes

Here’s the thing about heroes: they’re people. They have people’s desires and exhaustions and flaws. They can be good people, often, but people all the same. No one on this planet is Superman, even if I still think of my dad that way sometimes (I blame his love of Smallville).

I try to keep that in mind whenever I have the chance to meet someone I admire, whether for their voice or creativity or uncommonly kind heart. Heroes are people. People are flawed. Both of these things can be true, no those we consider our personal heroes can still be worthy of respect.

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet David Archuleta before one of his concerts. He’s one of those people I respect, for his integrity and for the messages he works to share through his music. During the concert, he introduced one of the songs with some commentary on social media.

He pointed out that on the internet, people usually only share the things about their lives that they are happy with-the good selfies, the weekends spent with friends, not the time spent on makeup or the quiet nights in.

I think this filtering of information is also in effect when it comes to our heroes. Parents don’t usually tell their children about their doubts and struggles as they raise them. Creative people share their successes far more readily than they do their weeks of struggling to come up with an idea. Emergency responders don’t tell the people they’re rescuing about the times they didn’t get there soon enough.

This can be good. I, for one, am not even slightly interested in seeing everyone’s dirty laundry.

But it can lead to the impression that heroes aren’t ordinary People Like Us, and that’s just inaccurate. Heroes are ordinary. They have favorite foods and bad habits and toothbrushes, same as me and probably you, dear reader.

Which leads to the conclusion that any of us can be heroes for someone.

The Order of Things

Patterns show up everywhere

Like electrons orbiting protons and neutrons

that form moons

orbiting planets

orbiting stars.

Like plants

producing

mathematically perfect spirals.

Like the rhythm of songs

the variations of sound waves

the walk of birds

(Utahraptors walked like chickens

my yard is full

of feathered dinosaurs).

Like my family

calling me by my brother’s name

even when he’s in a different state

and I’m in a skirt.

Like the structure of stories

told again and again

in different skins.

Like the rhythm of rainfall.

 

There’s a comfort to that.

Everything has a design,

a pattern,

though it may not be obvious

to human eyes.

Gratitude

Things I am grateful for:

1. Freedom of speech. It would be difficult to make awesome things without it. The rest of the Bill of Rights goes here too.

2. Dumbo octopuses

3. Mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. Some fairy tales are more than six thousand years old, and still told today!

4. Brains. It would be hard to live without them.

5. Water. I grew up in a desert. Rivers still blow my mind.

6. That while I may occasionally find lizards on my bed, I will never find a satanic leaf-tailed gecko there unexpectedly. Meeting one while knowing I was going to meet one might be fun, though.

7. Duct tape. I once won brownies in a duct-tape craft contest. Later I made my prom dress from duct tape. Duct tape is good.

8. Vision. My eyes mostly see fuzzy shapes and colors without glasses or contacts, so I am very grateful to live in a time when those are available.

9. Shoes. Especially high tops. And low tops. And combat boots.

10. This photo Juno took of Jupiter’s south pole.

11. Star Wars.

12. Cool apps like Amaziograph, which I used to draw today’s picture.

Things I am not grateful for:

1. Violence.

2. Wasps.

3. People who think yelling at you will make you agree with them.

4. Yelling in general.

5. The fact that Captain America got turned into a Nazi in the comics. Seriously?!

6. Those little prickly seed pods that stick to EVERYTHING.

7. My attention span going AWOL when I’m trying to learn something cool.

8. Lots of other things. I’m trying to shorten this list and lengthen the previous one, though.

A Thought and a Song

It’s been my habit, from a very early age, to focus most of my attentions on music that was slightly melancholy.  Not sure why. Maybe I like minor keys. Maybe all the happy songs were about sappy romances, which I’ve never been interested in. Maybe I’m just morbid. The songs don’t make me sad when I listen to them, really. I just like them.

Sometimes, though, the world is a touch more awful than usual, and I just want to listen to something upbeat and happy. I made a music playlist for just such an occasion, and thought I’d share it here.

The most recent addition to the playlist is “Invincible” by David Archuleta, which came out last week.

Invincible is, despite its title, about not being invincible. It’s about going through hard times without allowing yourself to become hard.

We live in what future historians will likely call an “interesting time”. There are so many changes going on, so much conflict.  But there are a lot of good things too, and remembering that, as the song suggests, is its own type of strength.

You are a collage

You start off as a blank sheet of paper. Maybe you’re a different color or texture than other sheets. That’s okay. Every paper is covered in potential. You are no different.

You make yourself into a collage, finding bits and pieces of things that look like they’re worth making a part of you and sticking them on. Sometimes they turn out to not be such a good fit, or to be absolutely terrible in the long run. That’s okay, too. You peel off what you can, and put better things over what you can’t.

Sometimes life happens. You get dirty, or splashed with paint, and the design you planned for yourself becomes impossible. Sometimes other people come and glue things to you without your consent, maybe covering up the parts of yourself you were most happy with in the process. And sometimes you’re in a place where there’s nothing, nothing you want to add to yourself around.

But you are your own collage. You can get out of those places, peel off or cover up the things that don’t belong on you, move forward. You can remove or cover the things that shouldn’t be a part of you. You can cut things that don’t look quite right into new shapes before you stick them down. You can plan a new design. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Collages are made up of the different things an artist runs across, the candy wrappers and funny phrases and images that stood out to them, things that wouldn’t go together if the artist hadn’t decided they did. People are like that too. Each has interests and experiences and ideas that no one else in the world can precisely match.

I think that’s beautiful.

The above collage is titled “A Request Of The World”.