Wednesday, July 17, 2013

picturebook problems

"Why are there no other drawings in this book as impressive as the drawing of baobabs? The answer is quite simple: I have tried but with the others have not had the slightest success. When I drew the baobabs, I was driven by a feeling of urgency."

This passage from The Little Prince caught my attention for the simple reason that I've been working on (intermittently, depending on this, that and Crow's portrait schedule) illustrations for a story for more months than I expected the whole project to take. The as yet unfinished one above is the second in a series of what I expect will be either 8, 9 or possibly, 10 pictures altogether - in other words, however few I can get away with drawing, inking and painting. As of now I have 7 drawings underway in various stages and the problem I've run into is some of them are much better than others. This series will eventually get done but it's no surprise I've never become a storybook illustrator. I too only rarely feel that sense of urgency.

Speaking of which, you may like this:


Rob-bear said...

Regardless of how you feel, I see the work of an artist extraordinaire! Your renards are very good. So are your portraits of the multi-faceted Crow. Hope you are dry and safe.

Blessings and Bear hugs.

Vincent said...

Susan, this description of your dilemmas speaks to me at this moment. Perhaps it's a near-universal artistic problem: that our best work is done when we are driven by the sense of urgency or some other cogent passion, but this sense is too rare and fugitive to be available to us all the time and we find ourselves merely filling in, or lamely trying to imitate our own style. For a while we may persuade ourselves and others that it's of a piece with our best. But then one day we look at it cold and realize it won't pass our own standard, & may in its present form be irredeemable. We could merely cut it out and leave the rest. But it leaves a hole.

To which, in my own case, I currently have no answer; even though I know that other people, our readers and clients, may not be aware of any hole, may not spot so easily the quality gulf between our best and our less good.

What can we do but rely upon time, chance and the Muse? It adds up to faith. Faith in ourselves and others' faith in us. May the urgency be with you again.

Tom said...

I have the greatest admiration for what I have seen of your work, and it pains me that you are suffering so. I hope you find your way, if not through your difficulties, then around them.

I also found Vincent's comment extremely interesting, and one which I will mull over for some time to come yet.

susan said...

That's very kind of you to say, Rob, even though I often see myself embodying the struggling artist characterization.

Yes, we are safe, dry and even a bit too warm again today. I hope you are well.

susan said...

Hi Vincent,
How nice to see you again. What you say I'm sure is true for all artists and everyone involved in self-motivated acts of creativity. There are times when we're connected to the Sublime and good work almost seems to create itself without noticeable effort; then there are those dark periods of disconnection that may leave us close to despair even as we continue to work with what tools and knowledge we have.

I believe the struggle is a worthy one even if whatever we create doesn't itself make a significant or obvious change in the world. Relying on time, chance and the Muse (as well as focused effort on our part) can't help but have an effect for the better on our unfolding mutual reality.

All best wishes.

susan said...

Thank you, Tom. I wouldn't be struggling so were I simply going with my usual practice of drawing and painting whatever seems apt at the moment. It's the interconnected series that's tricky, but I welcome the challenge - even as I understand very few will ever see the result.

Vincent is a wise and thoughtful man who also has a blog well worth reading.

marja-leena said...

Dearest Susan, I hope the struggle eases soon and your work goes well again. We do have our ups and downs but, as I'm sure you know, the 'ups' will come again. Sometimes it is good to just put the work away for a while. Summertime is my quiet time for art for I lack energy in the heat, yet am distracted by garden chores, and family etc.

I do love your drawing. You have a real gift for doing animals, and with such expressive faces! Enjoy your summer.

susan said...

Dear Marja-Leena, Having construction work going on right outside our windows for nearly two months has certainly affected my ability to focus on my artwork. Working on one special painting wouldn't be such a problem but the fact I'm trying to do a series has caused some frustration. I'm sure you're right that I should simply put this project away until things settle down. It's a little story written by my husband many years ago for a pair of six year olds that I want to get right for sentimental reasons.

Your praise makes me smile (and blush) and your sweet concern has filled my heart. I promise to make every effort to enjoy the summer and I'm glad to know you're doing the same.

Ol'Buzzard said...

I hate obligations. Many were originally fun but when I scheduled them they became ... not fun. Life is too short, we should do what pleases us - as much as possible.
the Ol'Buzzard

Sean Jeating said...

The Old Buzzard's thought does not lack of accuracy. :)

What for others might be the sword of Damocles, for me's (almost) always been (and still is) the "deadline". I could have weeks, even months to deliver an article / interview / to finish a project – almost always I'd deliver on the very last day.
And how lovely to read the other day that my best (in these very moments) once again had been (at least) good enough. Well, in German. :)

Just do it, Susan. Trust yourself. Your protagonists do not have to look as if they wer identical twins. They do – like you and I do, like Vincent does and the Old Buzzard – do look different, every second, every moment.

Ha! Just do enjoy your creativity, my dear (if I may say so).

susan said...

Nowadays nobody cares whether I do anything or not but I find obligations to myself can be hard to avoid. I love drawing but, silly pictures or not, I'm also my toughest critic.

susan said...

Since I've never been a 'professional' artist deadlines of that sort have never affected me (thank goodness). How wonderful to hear that your own most recent foray into the exacting medium of literature met not only its deadline but was successful too. Just be glad you didn't have to compose it in Mandarin :)

Oh I'll do it, am doing it, but my overall irritation with the process was in making each picture the best I could do. Then again, there's balancing labor and spontaneity in any process that's the tricky bit.

I do enjoy my creativity - even those times when I have to stomp around the room a few times after a trip to the trash can. There are so many ways to approach an idea that sometimes it's hard to choose.

I'm delighted you enjoy the results (and I don't mind whatever you say).

Claude said...

The depiction of your problems reminded me of Beethoven, and what are now the famous four notes of the Fifth Symphony. Ludwig had so many ideas... he wrote so many drafts... He worked at it ...and he worked at it...and he worked at it...From 1804 to 1808! Finally, he completed the movement, and let it rest. Probably not knowing how wonderful it was, and certainly not knowing how many people would forever thank him for his "inspired" Symphony. It didn't jumped from heaven unto his mind! It was toil, and sweat...and maybe tears. I saw some 3-4 rough copies of his attempts. Anyone of them was pure genius. But for him it wasn't good enough. It needed to be redone again.

Dear Susan, I am sure that all your drawings will turn out very good. As the delightful ones you have done in the past. The one on this page is very impressive. I love the little beings, trying to hide at the bottom, and lifting their eyes towards the fearful, half-smiling wolves (are they?) with such luxurious tails. I wouldn't call it unfinished!

Dissatisfaction with one's work can be painful and agonising but I guess it's what leads a creator to a better expression of what one wants to share with the world. Bonne chance et merci pour l'enchantement de votre travail.

susan said...

Dear Claude,
Just the fact you've made reference to Beethoven's amazing Fifth Symphony while addressing what I wrote about my problems illustrating a small story has really touched my heart. The fact he worked, really worked, on the movement for so long wasn't something I knew until now. Although we'll never know where the inspiration for such truly great works of art come from, it's good that their final result comes from great intelligence and much effort. I'm not able to read music myself but I can imagine your delight at having been able to see Beethoven's original drafts of the work in process.

I'm very grateful for your kind words about the drawings I've posted. I don't dare show any more because they'll give the story away and I'd rather it come as a surprise when the work is done. The wolf-like creatures are actually hungry foxes on the hunt. You'll understand in a few months when I post it entire.

It seems logical that all artists have problems getting their work to be just right and the likely reason why there's so much practice for musicians and torn paper for poets. The one that's always amazed me the most is to see a perfect sculpture made of marble. Michelangelo's Pietà (even in photographs) always brings tears to my eyes.

Thank you again for your very kind note and many good wishes.

Spadoman said...

I can honestly say that I can recognize a Susan Phantsy drawing when I see one. You have a style of your own. Of course I like your style and therefore like your drawings. I thought baobabs were trees? I'm a little confused. Maybe I need to come here more often. My bad.
I worked in Hollyweird and knew many story board illustrators. I was always amazed at how quickly they can get the idea the story conveyed down on a blank page at all, let alone quickly. But in your case, you're doing this for other reasons than a paycheck, so I think it makes no difference how long it takes you.


susan said...

Yes, baobabs are trees - ones that grow very large, as you know. Since the Little Prince lives on a very small asteroid he spends a lot of time digging up baobab seedlings in order that they don't take over the place.

You're right that professional illustrators can work a whole lot faster than I've ever been able to. I'm very glad you like these drawings of mine done at a slower pace.

gfid said...

as you have said, you are your own worst critic. it seems to me that really good artists' self- criticism increases with their fluency in their craft. a brilliant artist friend once told me his most frustrating thought is that nothing he does is original..... it's all been done before. he couldn't see that it was his touch, how he presented the subject and the techniques he used that were original and thrilling to the rest of us.

Now that I'm finding some time to do creative things again, i look at music i once played (and am now struggling to re-learn) and think, 'there was a time when i could play this well...!?" ....and i'm impressed with my past self. at the time when i first learned it, i was never satisfied with my performance. now i realize how challenging the music is, and that i did, indeed, once play it reasonably well. or i come across old sketches and watercolour studies and exclaim, "this is pretty good! did i do this?!" so i suppose, by my own definition, i'm much less skilled than i once was. here's hoping i can improve enough to become more critical ;0)

i also find, as Marja-leena suggests, that sometimes a bit of time and distance is all that's needed to see where the thing needs to go. and i love Claude's reference to Beethoven, and his struggles, and the brilliance we see in things the composer discarded as not achieving his exacting standards. perhaps they were just not quite right for that particular work. who knows where some of them would have landed, had Beethoven lived long enough to go back to them and build something else around them?

we all seem to have a great deal of faith that you'll find your way to the pictures that will satisfy you. you're just so good at what you do, there can be no doubt. somebody sent me the link to a Nike commercial that shows Michael Jordan missing shot after shot, talking about how many times he's messed up. the punch line is something like, "i've failed so many times..... that's why i'm a success." i prefer to think of 'failures' as practice, which, as we all know, is a necessary requirement for success.

waiting patiently for the finished story. it's going to be grand.

linda said...

still grinning over the video offering... :)

and the drawing is grand as lovely gfid stated above. don't be too hard on yourself, sweets. art comes by inspiration and we aren't necessarily oozing it. i think you are too much a perfectionist? or maybe not but either way, i can't wait-er, i can wait-for your finished offerings. from what i see, i am sure it's going to be delightful. xoxoxox

susan said...

Truth is, it's likely I'm my own worst critic largely because these days I rarely subject myself to situations where others get the opportunity. My work has been criticized by steely-eyed professionals who expect to see fine arts graduate documents and lengthy cv's I just don't have. I think that's known as a first world problem.

But I agree there are many very good artists who aren't very confident about their work. It's hard to do the stuff and also be perky about one's talent - at least it is for me. What takes the most time is the effort, as you well know from looking back at music scores you once played well that are now more difficult. I'm often amazed too by things I've done in the past that I couldn't imagine trying to reproduce now. The cool thing for me, though, has been the fact that in many ways my drawing and painting has become easier because of the blog. Crow would never have shown his face without it :)

Yes, time and a bit of distance, as well as recalling the trials of those greats we adulate today, all prove to be good models of how to regard our own efforts. Just a few days ago I heard a very old (and extremely rare) recording of Sarah Bernhardt. It was scratchy and somewhat quavery sounding, as you'd expect, but no longer at all what we've become used to in this modern age. Time has been kinder to artists, architects, sculptors, writers and composers than it has been to actors and musicians. It's the way things go and we can only begin to imagine what treasures have already been lost.

Now all I have to do is find some quiet time on a regular basis again to get back to the story that I hope will be entertaining at the very least. You say the nicest things :)

susan said...

I'm so glad you liked the movie. It won this year's grand prize somewhere for best one minute video..

What's been the biggest problem for me with getting this story illustrated is not having the solitude and quiet I'm used to having when I work on something that requires concentration. The other part was getting the aliens just right :) I can hardly wait to post the whole thing for you to see but I must. Soon though..