Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Drawing a Picture is like Writing a Book

A few months ago I was asked about my writing process and how it relates to my artistic process when it comes to creating an illustration. My answer - "Uh... they don't relate at all?"

But the other day, I sat down to create the blog banner for my friend Alyson (who's blog Kid Lit Frenzy is one I highly recommend you follow as it is filled with excellent reviews of children's literature, from picture books through young adult fiction) and while I worked, from sketch to finished illustration, I couldn't help noticing that when it comes to process, things are VERY much the same. I'm just so used to drawing pictures I like and NOT used to writing prose I like, that I was unable to see the similarities.

Drawing a picture IS like writing a book, and here is my process for both:

First things first - get those ideas down on tracing paper (or in an empty notebook/word doc - though I always use a notebook for my ideas. I find I am more creative when writing by hand as opposed to typing... and when it comes to floating ideas, the more creative the better!).

My story spark (the initial idea) is my favorite part of the writing process. That's when anything and everything is possible and all I have to do is put ideas down on paper and smile at all of them until I choose one I like best.

The above picture is adorable and would have made an excellent banner, but for this particular project, it wasn't quite right, so I pulled out more tracing paper, and gave it another go.

Once my idea resembles something usable, and I can imagine how it will look finished, it's time to pull out a fresh sheet of paper (or open a new word doc) and lay down the foundation.

When writing, I am a loose-outliner. I lay down a skeleton of events or pencil lines, keeping it detail-free to allow room for happy surprises and unplanned details. Same with drawing.

Not everyone outlines, but for me, a bare bones outline is important. I need to see a beginning, middle and end in my head and on paper, or else I'll write/draw until my hand is cramped and I've spent hours and hours on a project that will only end up in the waste basket.

Outline done, time to get started. Deep breaths. Pick up a color, open a new word doc, and fill the page. Yes, it can be scary. What if I mess up? What if I SUCK!? What if my colors are all wrong, and my words are cliched and everything is a pile of crap!

Well, that's just a risk I have to take. It happens to everyone. And guess what? The more I write, the more I draw, the better I get, because practice makes perfect, no matter what creative outlet I choose.

Bad things happen. My pencil breaks. I accidentally draw outside the lines. I type out eight chapters only to realize my main character is wimpy and I hate her.

I get angry. I stomp my feet like a four-year-old. I'm even known to growl louder than the family dog. I bake brownies and practically burn my house down because I'm a lousy baker. And then I eat the whole pan of brownies when no one is looking.

But then I sharpen my pencils, move those eight offending chapters to my deleted scenes folder (which, by the way, is twice the size of my actual work-in-progress - I make LOTS of mistakes) and I move on, because if I were to stop every time a pencil broke, or I drew outside the lines, or I made my main character into someone I can't stand, how would I ever finish and reach my goals?

For me, the hardest part of any project is what I call the Awkward Teenager phase. My work has potential to be a sparkling diamond, but at the moment, it is a sloppy, scribbly mess that makes me cringe and want to flat iron it's frizzy hair and give it some lipstick and a trendy outfit because it still wears t-shirts with machine-gun-toting fish on them to school.

I used to not be able to see past the Awkward Teenager phase of my illustrations. I would hate how unpolished and rough they looked. Now, I know that they'll get better. Add more color, blend a little more, smooth things out, keep on working, get those details in.

Same with writing. I'll vomit words all over my page and then read them and think, "Am I crazy? Why would I ever think I can be a writer when all that comes out is crap?"

Those Awkward Teenager drafts need more color, too. They need to be blended, smoothed. I need to keep working, add in more details. Anything can get better if I keep at it!

Add some shading, pick up Tuscan Red and Violet Blue and scribble some more. Move chapter two where chapter four is. Cut chapter five entirely, because really, what was I thinking?

Then blend, add more, smooth, add more, delete some, and keep hacking away at that Awkward Teenager until she starts college and discovers where she fits in the world.

It may take a long time. I might set goals for myself, and find I never reach them because I spend so much time deleting, reworking, adding more color, taking it away.

It's discouraging a lot of the time, especially when I doubt my abilities as much as I do... but I don't give up. Not even when I think I'm a no-talent hack and just want to toss my drawing board/computer out the window and run into the mountains to live with the deer and squirrels because they won't ever point a finger at my faults and tell me I'll fail forever.

Because I remember I'm not very nature-y, and squirrels have rabies and the plague, and what I really want to be is a writer/artist, so I might as well keep going or I'll most certainly fail forever.

This is usually when I discover that I'm not as bad as I think.

And it's just a matter of time, paint, glue, and persistence before it's done.

And in the end, all that hard work, foot stomping, brownie-binging, and scribbling until my hand cramped was TOTALLY worth it!



Laura Pauling said...

Great illustrations, Marissa! I love them. And it seems to be true that all artistic endeavors are similar! Lots of practice!

Kelly Warren said...

very cool to see your whole process. i love the "awkward teenager phase".

Lori W. said...

Great post. The illustrations are lovely, and I appreciate how you tied them to writing. The other day I hand wrote a page vs. typing it, and it was filled with cross-outs, add-ins and re-starts. On the computer, I lose track of how much I delete and revise. Lots of practice for sure!

Alyson Beecher said...

Marisa - Thanks for featuring the work you did on my blog header. I get so many compliments on it. You are wonderful.

Alyssa S. said...

Oh, I think it's absolutely the same process...especially with you. I've seen you work the same way when you write :)

Winklepots said...

Love your creative process, Marisa. And I know it must work, because your end products are always fabulous. Great banner!

Kelly Polark said...

You are so amazingly talented, Marisa!
Love the step by step processes!

April said...

Love it! You're so talented!

SewSweetStitches said...

Wow. You are so unbelievably talented! I just love you and your beautiful family. *sniff*
Ok enough sappy!

Unknown said...

Awww, seriously, thank you, everyone!! :)

Tina Laurel Lee said...

I love reading this. And also that your take on process is changing. I am going to read this again.

Holly said...

The description of your creative process, be it writing or illustrating, is wonderful - thoughtful and enlightening. It's given heart to me, right in the midst of my own creative chaos! Thank you. (And yes, the "awkward teenage phase", perfect description!)

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh Marisa, this turned out SO cool! Great job hun! So glad it was all worth it in the end! Sometimes our best works arrive that way! ;)

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