I come before you today, O best beloved, to confess one of my great artistic failings.
No, not that I’m basically lazy and have more or less decided that I have proved my ability to paint an extremely complex background and thus no longer feel the need to prove it, not the fact that I have, on a half dozen occasions in Digger, copied and pasted previously drawn panels of Ganesh so that I don’t have to keep redrawing a statue that, after all, doesn’t change at all, not even, speaking of Ganesh, the fact that I occasionally screw up what side his broken tusk is on and then don’t go back and fix it. Nor is it the related fact that I am not a perfectionist, which is somewhat shocking in artists, but to which I credit rather a lot of my success.
It’s not even that I have, on at least one occasion, drawn species together that I know were separated by vast stretches of geologic time (Ambulocetus and Dodo, I’m lookin’ at you!) although I admit, I do feel a certain degree of guilt over that.
No, this is a much more basic failing.
I’ve never done a self-portrait I was even remotely happy with.
Artists do self-portraits all the time, it’s part of the schtick, half the webcomics people I know do quirky little comics of themselves, and I am eaten alive with envy of this, because I keep doing self-portraits and they keep sucking.
This is intimately tied to the second failing, which is that I have never yet worked out a stylization of humans that I was happy with.
Seriously. It’s not just me. If I just couldn’t draw myself, we could have a long talk about my self-image and I could nod politely and agree that I have issues and then just draw myself with a bag over my head or something and call it good.
But it’s not just me. I can draw hamsters and wombats all damn day, but cartoon humans break me. I can do little kids, to a certain extent–they look sort of like hamsters, right?–but not adults, and even the kids are awfully limited. This is why the humans in Digger are so visually weak compared to all the other characters, and why I make most of them wear veils.
Now, semi-realistic, detailed portraits? Not a problem. I don’t do them often, but I can do them. My gallery is littered with examples. There’s a vaguely anime-esque style that I come back to now and again, and I’m pretty happy with it. But a quick little silliness? A five minute doodle to illustrate, for example, The Time The Cicada Flew Down My Pants? No. I try, and it’s awful, and eventually I default to hamsters. My con badge is a wombat, and believe me, it’s not because I have an active inner wombat persona. When I did a semi-autobiographical comic, I drew myself as a chupacabra.
The end result of all of this was that, based on all the drawings that kinda represented me, fellow artist shatterstripes once said that her mental image of me was a vague impression of something short and chunky that never wore pants.
This was, of course, inaccurate. I am not at all short.
It is a rather embarrassing thing to admit, when you’ve been a working artist for over a decade, that you can’t doodle humans worth a damn, even though most of the artists reading this probably already KNOW this, and have been politely not mentioning it, because we generally don’t bring up one another’s failings in public.
But I keep trying. I try character design after character design, I beat my head against it, I try styles not even remotely my own, in hopes one will click, that I will finally find SOMETHING that work, something that feels natural and that I can dash off when I don’t want to sit and do a full painting, I just want to immortalize yet another time I was running naked through the house with binoculars.
There is precedent for this. I took ceramics for two years in college because I was really bad at it, and it infuriated me, since that was the first time in life I found myself being painfully bad at something I really wanted to be good at. (Life being what it is, this has happened to me plenty of times now, but I have not gotten significantly more graceful about accepting it.)
Maybe it’s the nose. So many styles of cartooning humans seem to involve the nose being minimized or vanishing completely, but I have the impressive nose of a Roman senator, and if you remove it, I no longer look as if I’m plotting to stab the emperor on the steps of Pompey’s theatre, and thus no longer look quite like myself.
I did those three vaguely autobiographical pieces in pink based on the above designs, and those were fun, and came out relatively well, but they were also not all that accurate, and they took at least as long to draw as anything else, so my hope for a graceful stylization that I could whip off as easily as a hamster did not materialize, despite rather a lot of attempted doodling.
While preparing this blog post, I went through my fairly vast archive of old abandoned sketches, and found exactly ONE quick doodle of a human that appealed to me.
The only problem I have here is that my attempts to duplicate this look only seem to work if the character looks disgruntled and ready to punch someone. My life being what it is, I really don’t spend that much time disgruntled, so the kinks haven’t worked themselves out yet, but I do have hope.