Learning to Walk

Jun 19, 2019

I’ve always preferred running over walking. While I may not literally be running, I move at a hurried pace. Just watch me in the grocery store sometime as I swerve around slower shoppers and zoom up and down the aisles. I got stuff to do, people, get out of my way!

My need for speed means I like to skip steps. I don’t want to linger in the beginner phases. I want expertise and I want it now. When I started learning my craft as an artist, I tried to apply my usual running ahead to the more difficult stuff. With a couple of years of practice, I improved dramatically, I actually thought I was pretty good. Not great, mind you, but not bad, either.

Feigned Innocence 2018 

Early this year, though, I began to feel very dissatisfied with my skills—especially drawing in perspective and drawing people. I’d never really taken any serious courses or submitted myself to serious study. But I am yearning to take my illustration practice to a new level and I felt that perspective and learning to draw faces were important areas to master. I found the New Master’s Academy and subscribed and immersed myself in study.

Oddly, instead of improving, I seemed to get worse. Walking as an artist was hard, much harder than running had been. Perspective is not at all intuitive for me; it bends my brain in ways that are really uncomfortable. And drawing the head turned out to be far more challenging than I’d imagined. I practiced relentlessly and all my sketches were just awful. After a few weeks, my confidence in myself as an artist began to suffer. I started to feel shaky and confused. Wasn’t study supposed to be making me a better?

Homework from Linear Perspective

In the midst of my rush to grow as an artist (cuz ya know, I’m always in such a big hurry), I’d stopped painting. But when I started painting again, something funny happened. My use of perspective was just a teensy bit better. I could actually see the forms of the birds in perspective, which I’d always had trouble with before. And modeling form is a little better, too; I found myself using the same kinds of construction lines for birds that I’d been practicing in my study of the human head.

Now that I’m walking instead of running, my perspective is different. This is not merely a psychological difference—I am literally seeing the world differently. I’d always wondered why I struggled with landscapes, for example, and now I realize that I’d been looking at the world with beginner’s eyes. My beginner’s eyes couldn’t make out the distinctions of values, the changes in form. Or rather I could see those things but my eye and my hand couldn’t communicate very well and I’d panic. The natural response in the face of panic is to run.

Yesterday, I was working on an illustration, one that is more complex than any I’ve attempted before. First, I spent several hours working out the perspective to make sure that the figures are all accurately sized relative to each other. Then I started working on drawing the actual individuals. When I started to feel anxious, I had to coach myself: “Slow down, Tara, you can do this. Just take your time.” Who knows how long it will take me to finish this piece? But I don’t care how long it takes. I’m willing to walk for as long as I need to.

What about you? Do you find yourself wanting to skip steps and sail ahead or are you more patient with your development?

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