“Craft” is not a dirty word.

“Craft” is not a dirty word.

 

There is no magic art button.
There is no magic art button.

Summary: This series of essays is simply my personal perceptions and opinions about the field of illustration, an area for which I have a great passion. Part of my goal with these essays is to incite quandary in your mind! Through pictures and words I hope to encourage you to question and remain curious about illustration, to help to create an atmosphere of hard work and self discipline, and to transmit my unbridled passion for illustration.

A short introduction; who I am, where I am, and my agenda.

Some quick personal history; I graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts. I attended that school primarily on the notion of honoring the Arts and Crafts tradition. { Much to my horror the school has since changed its name to the California College of the Arts. Corner me at a party sometime and I will tell you how I fought for the “Crafts” on my diploma! } One aspect of the Arts and Crafts movement that I particularly relate too is the idea of craftsmanship and the honoring of labor. Which is where we shall begin, with this idea of honoring our craft, beginning to define what it is, how it relates to illustration, and where it can be found.

I am not a believer in “talent,” or that we are miraculously born with an innate ability to be able to draw and paint, but rather I am a believer that those skills are hard won, and which require hours upon hours of deep practice and work. This is, I believe, is the crux of the more recent meme of the 10,000 hour rule*. I have spent much of my time this year focusing on my illustrations and my career. It seems that there is a resounding sentiment that is out there no matter where you turn, that says; there are no short cuts to success, that there is no magic “Art” button on the keyboard, but successful illustration is simply built out of a balance between creating good work and getting it out there.

Simple… right?

Defining Craft, and its relationship to illustration.

We can say that one part of the work of an illustrator is creating unique visual solutions that effectively communicate a concept and/or a feeling. Our ability to be successful often is a direct relationship of our own unique ability to express an idea, concept, and feeling. That unique ability is strengthened by our dedication and long hours of focused and well intentioned efforts, or to put it simply “practice.”

The Practicing Illustrator.

Often we hear ourselves or someone else talking about our “practice,” or “the practice of illustration.” So, what is this “practice?” What I propose is, that what we are practicing is our craft. When we are practicing with a sense of full engagement with the tools and materials, and with clear intention toward the refinement of quality and toward increasing our level of proficiency, that we are actively honing our craftsmanship. This type of practice, what has been termed “Deep Practice,” is a focused attention over long stretches of time. It is not, however, just doing the same thing repeated over and over, where we end up making the same mistakes over and over again. We are at our best when we can bring our conscious awareness to our work and are able to keep a vigilant eye towards spotting our weak spots. This may be what is meant by the expression, “work smarter, not harder.”

Ways to strengthen your craft/ Finding your way through craft.

Every once an a while we can get a huge dose of information that helps us to create better work, like in school, and during these times we see a marked improvement in our work. But during the rest of the time we are working, it is up to us as individuals to create our own sense of self discipline necessary to strengthen our craft. The following are some ideas that we can use to train ourselves in this way.

 You Are The Thread:

First gather up about ten examples of illustrators and artists whom you admire for what ever reason. Be broad in your choices. Next, print them out at a nice quality and line them up side by side. Begin looking between them for any connections that you may spot; color pallet, subject matter, concept, point of view, overall tone of the pieces, technique, materials, etc, etc. Finally, make a list of these connections that thread through your ten examples as you go along.

What you are beginning to take note of by discovering the threads that link those ten disparate images and artists, is simply you. Consider that you alone have chosen the artists. You found aspects of their works that are appealing. Out of all the artists in the world and the myriad of aspects available, the choices you’ve made are unique to you. You can now fold this information back into your own work by paying special attention to those aspects that you’ve listed as you create your next piece.

My Boss The Egg Timer:

This is a daily challenge. First you will need a timer of sorts; I use an egg timer. Next define a period of time for this challenge, it might be a month or maybe three, or maybe just try it for a week. It is important to have some kind of end in mind from the beginning so that you will have a clear sense of the goal. Whatever the timeline is, you will need to exercise a healthy amount of self discipline to hold yourself to this task. Next, define a area that you would like to work on, maybe it’s graphic composition, characterization, edge control, color facility with a brush or tool, anatomy, line weight, or maybe the list you’ve generated from the previous exercise. Now, the challenge is; that each day you will agree to yourself to go into your studio, set that egg timer for 20 minutes and work on that one aspect for the whole time, every day. I would encourage you to stick to the 20 minutes and to not let yourself off too early or work over too long. “Oh,” you may say, “I could never do that everyday!” To which I would respond, “…but it’s only 20 minutes, it probably takes you 15 minutes to brush your teeth, it’s not really that much time at all. I think you could do it.” Finally, be somewhat gentle with yourself. Discipline is something that we can strengthen, but that rarely happens through berating ourselves. If you should fall off the schedule, brush yourself off and start again.

Here is a 3 minute video of what I was able to do by simply applying 20 minutes a day.

Conclusion

“Even genius requires a competent technique.” Quote from Robert Fripp

As creative entrepreneurs, we have to work very hard to differentiate ourselves from our peers. Part of the way that we are able to stand out in a field of hard working artists is by creating work that is wonderfully conceived and confidently produced, and to do that requires the long hours of deep practice. By taking the time to focus your attention and your intention on your craft, your work will begin making successive steps forward. I hope that you were able to make it through this essay, and that these ideas will resonate with you. Please feel free to share these ideas with your friends, talk about them and debate them, but most of all,  apply them to your work.

* The 10,000 Hour Rule

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Watercolor Process