20150106

Starve Less: A Personal History of Trying to Make Art (and Not Make Art)

I've been trying to draw more, but I'm trying to also never buy art supplies again.

I learned at a junior art college that art supplies were expensive. Entirely too often, it was a choice between lunch and art supplies. Eight hour studio classes blurred into shaking hands and hunger pains.

Kinda gay for Bagley Spider-Man.
It didn't help that I liked to work big, at least two feet by two feet at minimum. This was probably a side effect of acute malnutrition: my hands would shake too much to work small. It looked like Egon Schiele or Gustav Klimt had too much coffee and no talent.

Seriously, how can you not love Buscema? 
There was another reason I liked my lines to look like thick pieces of metal, though: I must have checked out How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way one hundred times from the Reisterstown Public Library.

Later, Mark Bagley's sharply drawn, ultra-athletic Spider-Man, with the same thick lines, but now built like he was a track running, weight lifting, aerial ballet dancer.

Very soon into art school, definitely looking like Bagley's Spider-Man had starved himself for a month, I realized that I couldn't do it anymore. I was tired all the time and hungry all the time and I could barely focus. When I got a job working construction and could eat more than once every two days, I kept drawing, but it quickly became clear that even when making a decent wage, I wouldn't be able to make rent and be an artist even on the side.

I had spent so much time in a fugue state of hunger to create that I didn't even believe I was naturally an artist. I thought I had to be nearly starving to create, like an alcoholic or a drug addict that had to get high to create. I was hoping I was done with it.

I gave up doing art even more, for money.  I limited myself to a few sketch pads and never opened my art case. It was a sacrifice, though. Art for me, the best things I ever do, always involve something personal. Usually dream or an idea or a thought that would just not go away.

30 second gesture
Like an insect bite, the itch won't stop until I drew it. And the itch would make me angry because I didn't want to be the person that did art anymore.

I think my friends noticed this and they got together and bought me a easel large enough for even a two foot by three foot canvas.

It's among the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. It was something I truly needed but wouldn't admit to even wanting. The next year they would get me my first digital tablet. Later, I would pass it along to struggling artist friend who was encountering the same roadblocks I was. I couldn't not help them.

I used the easel when I ever could, but money was money and the less I had the less I painted. I completed about four pieces.

But I was still fighting it. I wanted nothing to do with art. So I enlisted in the Army.

I drew very little for a long time.

Sir Darius Rope, third draft
Those four pieces ended up at my father's house. About two after I got back from a military tour, my father died, and I would throw them away and I promise myself I'd never paint again. My father had worked himself hard his entire life to create a place where I could become an artist.

I was ashamed. Even as he was proud of me for joining the military, I felt like it was a plan B to him. It sort of was to me, too. However, the art world was so subjective, and the military was so objective that I was able to claim a kind of outsider status in both communities. And the paintings looked awful to me. No depth, worthless junk from an amateur that had no business holding a brush.

Bird Rider, fourth draft
Soon after, in a fit of rage, my sister would burn the easel after leaving it out in the spring rain for a week to prove that I was not supposed to keep any of my things in that house. The point was made. I was not supposed to make physical art. It clearly made people hate me. This is not a logical conclusion, it is clearly an emotional one. But emotional conclusions are part of what art is and also part of what it does.

But the itch was still there.

I became a sort of patron of the arts, but I still couldn't afford to buy any. Instead I gave away all my text books to people who wanted to learn how to draw or paint or what have you. I doodled and sketched a lot.

Another thoughtful gift would find its way into my hands, now a much larger Wacom tablet. Initially, I found myself just doodling. Gestures. Line drawings. I started using photo-references more.

I think the strangest part is translating everything I learned in art school, every technique and style and method, into a weird new medium. The cross hatching, the chiaroscuro, texture, light and line all had to be re-worked to work with these new tools. It's like a baseball player expecting to just be able to play a baseball video game and finding out everything is wrong. You don't swing a bat, you push a button. Blending colors to create light and shadow is a whole other process and that requires you accept completely different limitations than you would with paper or canvas with charcoal or paint.

So much time and it STILL doesn't look like a cylinder...


I go to a paper drawing class called Dr. Sketchy's to stay sharp. I tend to give away most of my drawings to the models, due to mild a superstition about keeping them.

I don't view myself as an artist. I probably never will again. I draw because I have to. Because there are things in my brain that I need to show people so maybe they'll understand me better. Maybe they'll see something that helps them. Maybe they'll see they can try it too. Hopefully it will help someone.

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