A born-again illustrator’s manifesto

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I’ve always been very good at drawing. I don’t even remember when I started. It’s something I’ve always done. This is why I always took this skill for granted, and so 10 years ago I chucked it all away.

Since the lead-up to Italy, I’ve been unraveling this mystery. Whether a quick sketch from a photo, 2 hours on a detailed pen and ink sketch, or a full day gawking at gargoyles, curlicues and rooflines, drawing now happens every day.

For someone who was unwilling to even commit to even doodling on a shopping list, this is a tectonic shift. While I oscillate from ‘this is the best drawing ever’ to ‘this is a stinker and I’m a full 10 years behind where I should be’, the habit is returning.

Hippies and entrepreneurs talk about ‘flow’ and ‘being in the moment’, and this is what drawing has always done for me. While I love writing and I’m proud of running my own business, drawing feels much more right to me than writing ever will be.

At 21, I first gave an animation career a good go because at that age I thought it sounded pretty groovy. It sounded creative and interesting, and yes there was a defined path to getting good at it – one that would apparently lead to me making my own projects.

When I think of it now, I don’t even like animation.

Watching it – yes! Drawing virtually the same picture 80 times to breathe life into it? Not so much. Sticking to the same flat, straight line and technique for years on end, developing other people’s characters and stories, the same flat bum on the same flat chair. My experiences in that industry were so soul-destroying and my life at that time so dispiriting, I danced off on a decades-long adventure that I’m only just coming back from.

If I were honest with myself at the time, I would have seen that the only art I’ve ever loved is black and white illustration.

This has always been so. Specifically, the British illustrators of the 1930s such as Ronald Searle, who is the Master. I don’t like colour. I don’t want to paint, explore oils, watercolour, or gouache. I don’t want to sew, cut out little bits of paper, put TV screens on their side, collaborate with any dead artists, or knit anything out of my vagina.

Like a lot of lazy people who take their talents for granted, I now know I either half-learnt several essential drawing skills (light and shade), thought I knew them but actually don’t (anatomy) or never learnt them properly in the first place (cross-hatching and shading).

So. I have a bit of ground to cover. With the weary voice of experience, I’ve written up a list of personal guidelines. As with all born-agains, this is a bit tedious, but it is necessary.

Illustration manifesto

  1. I will not sell my drawing skill to commercial businesses, people with no imagination, just because I need the money, jerks, or unworthy types who approach me to do their dirty work on their own projects.
  2. I will not draw in anyone’s style but my own.
  3. I will only collaborate with people when it’s my conscious choice. Before collaborating with anyone I will consult The Plan.
  4. I will not take to heart the opinions of anyone but artists I admire.
  5. I will not draw anything purely decorative (eg floral borders and lettering), or things with no purpose.
  6. I will not get carried away with cross-hatching.
  7. I will unlearn all the flat lines I learnt in animation.
  8. As much as I can, I will draw from real life, memory, and imagination.
  9. I want nothing to do with Photoshop and Illustrator.
  10. I will commit to regular life drawing classes, talks with other artists, drawing classes, and anything that keeps me moving forward and getting better.
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4 thoughts on “A born-again illustrator’s manifesto

  1. Hey Boosky, Yeah! A bit born again myself these days. Tectonic shifts abound! It’s really hard turing your back on something you have pursued for a decade or more (about 15 years on figurative painting for me) but sometimes a shift is what is demanded for progress’ sake. And I have become a firm believer in the idea that there is no such thing as wasted time. To the future! (this is Migs by the way).

    • “This is Migs by the way” – you are hilarious. Thanks for the comments! I’m hoping that all the weird and oftentimes unpleasant adventures of the past 10-15 years will translate into some good art. Loving your new stuff. Wish you were here so we could chew the fat!!

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