By Jared Mason
I reached a surprising milestone this year. I have been drawing for a quarter of a century. When I was a little kid, most of my drawings came in the form of doodles in the margins of notebooks or church programs. I would tear out the little corners and save them in pockets and or pencil boxes in my bedroom, usually only looking at them again when finding them buried in the back of a drawer or when cleaning out my school things.
My first official drawing class was a cartooning class offered through the Naperville Park District at the Alfred Rubin center in downtown Naperville. I was probably 8 years old, so the drawing pad with its heavy, glossy, bleedproof finished pages was as big as my torso. My teacher was a small, sinewy man with bushy eyebrows and leaning posture that made him look almost like a cartoon character himself. He wore short sleeve dress shirts with a pack of cigarettes in the front pocket. He taught me the basics of proportion and depth, of scale and perspective, and I picked up some basic techniques for improving.
Recently, I found that drawing pad. The glue that held the pages in it is dry and flaking off, and, no surprise, the margins of the front cover are filled with doodles. I flipped through the old pages and was amazed to remember having drawn some of the pieces, I remembered what made me want to draw some of them. One piece stuck out to me in particular.
It’s a picture of a bird person drawn in simple black lines. It’s wearing pants and a t-shirt and has little human hands sticking out of its wings, but without any sort of visual transition, they look like they are floating under the flippers of a whale.
The legs of the bird person are bent in a way to show that the knees are backwards from what human would have, and there are only a couple places where the lines of the ink go over each other. The feet are… well, they’re generally foot-shaped ovals. More of the idea of a foot than an actual representation of a foot.
I don’t write the description to be overly critical, but to describe the picture for those using assistive technology for visual impairment. And to be critical. Without reflection, there can be no growth.
To celebrate my 25 year journey of drawing, I decided to take this drawing and re-do it in as close to the same style as possible. Here is the result.
This bird person has their wing outstretched like the first, but is much more bird-like, with feathers, scaled legs, and a beak that actually fits to its skull. Of course, I’ve had 25 years to observe and practice.
When I was an English teacher, there would come opportunities to explain concepts through drawing pictures on the board. Students were often surprised at how much detail I was able to put into simple doodles of Scout Finch in her ham costume, or the cartoon polar bear I would draw to help explain prepositions. Usually, the surprise came at the speed at which I could draw these doodles. I would explain that it didn’t take a few seconds to draw out the map of the island from The Lord of the Flies, but years and years and a few seconds to do it. When you learn to draw, you’re learning a new way of communicating, which means you learn new ways of taking information in. And that takes practice.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes progress and progress is the piece that so many miss as the element to celebrate. We are so quick to look at final grades, to look at the score of a test, to look at the destination as the mark of success instead of looking at the progress being made.
Celebrate the advances made. I’ve been drawing for 25 years, and my only hope is to keep getting better.