Happy Holidays 2018!

We’ve basically reached the halfway point in December, which means that it’s time for me to give my brain a break from blogging until New Year’s.  I’ve started at a new school this year, and the vacation schedule is… different (I don’t know if I’ve ever had winter break start four days before Christmas), which means that I still have one more week to get through at work while still trying to juggle all the holiday stuff that’s become a tradition for Rachael and me (Holiday cards! Jam! Getting sick!), and as typically happens around this time of year, something has to give.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t be spending my time doing creative things for the next couple of weeks though.  As I’ve begun documenting here, I’m learning how to draw, and over the holidays I’ve agreed to do a small bit of creative writing for an online community that I occasionally participate in.  These are fun things!  They also tend to sap the same time and spoons that I typically reserve for the blog, so it’s time to begin the winter hiatus.  Ideally, I’ll also have some time to do more blogging in the next couple weeks as well so that I can start the new year off on the right foot.

In terms of blog programming, I’m thinking about the fact that there are only five issues of The Wicked + The Divine left that are currently out (issue #41 is scheduled to hit stands in early January, so it’ll be six before I get that far) and what I want to do with the Wednesday slot next.  I’m thinking about slotting in rotating issues of other comic series that I’m currently reading (I picked up the #1 of Kieron Gillen’s new series with Stephanie Hans, Die, and I’m smitten; also the Life is Strange miniseries by Emma Vieceli & Claudia Leonardi has begun releasing, and I am so here for it).  Learning Sketchbooks are likely going to be a regular feature as long as I’m filling up my sketchbook with practice art (I’m not sure at what point it goes from being practice art to for real art), and as long as I can maintain interest in Final Fantasy XV I’ll try to continue doing logbooks of that playthrough.  One off and topical posts seem unlikely to happen right now because I’m enjoying the predictability of ongoing series tied to exploration of a specific hobby, but a lot of that also depends on the news.  I’ve enjoyed the last month of feeling like there’s slightly more sanity on the horizon for our national government, but it’s a fool’s game to try to predict that everything will be well enough that I won’t need to use this space to vent massive frustrations with the way of the world.  Reflections of my educational practice might make a comeback if I do anything  else this year that feels especially noteworthy; the fall slump is real, and it’s felt like mostly just surviving in class since like October.

Anyhow, that’s enough from me.  Enjoy your holidays, and I’ll be back here in the New Year.

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Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #37”

In his foreword to Endless Nights, the comic anthology of stories centered around the seven Endless of The Sandman mythos, Neil Gaiman summarizes the original story of The Sandman in this way:

The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision.

If you’re familiar with The Sandman, then this encapsulation of the original series is remarkably apt; Dream, being an anthropomorphic personification of a universal concept, finds that he must do both.  His epiphany turns on the extinguishing of one aspect of himself in favor of a different one.  It’s tragic, and cathartic, and redemptive, and a mess of other things that you expect grand stories to be when they reach their climax.  Issue #37 of The Wicked + The Divine takes this aspirational storytelling and upends it to highlight the petty motivations that animate most human dramas.

Spoiler alert: it’s Ananke again. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The cover for this issue is easily the most unsettling one in the series.  Like with the rest of the covers for the Mothering Invention arc, we’re sticking with the straight on portrait of a significant figure in the Pantheon and Ananke’s intertwined history.  Unlike every other cover, this one is entirely in shadow similar to the coloring scheme that Matt Wilson uses for scenes located in the Underground (coincidentally, a significant location for most of this issue).  The only feature of the subject’s face that we can see are their eyes, wide open in apparent fright.  Something horrible is there in the dark with them, but we don’t know what yet.  In a lot of ways it’s reminiscent of issue #33’s all black cover, though I think the frightened eyes make the issue feel even more foreboding.

We quickly get context for what’s going on with the cover in the flashback to a major episode in one of Ananke’s many lives: about nine hundred years after the beginning of the Recurrence cycle, Ananke is conducting her immortality ritual but minus a head.  It’s clear this is the first time she’s failed to gather the requisite number, and as she siphons off the energy from the three heads she has collected, she urges the ritual to work correctly.

It doesn’t.

Similar to the cascade of pages in issue #36 portraying every reunion between Ananke and the Epithymia god, this issue presents us with a series of panels portraying every year between Ananke’s failed ritual and her reincarnation ninety years later.  They’re all show from her perspective with a caption emblazoned across the top that indicates the year that each panel represents.  All ninety panels are totally black.  The last page of the sequence cuts to a beach in Crete, where we see Ananke suddenly appear as a young teenage girl.  Her first act after ninety years without a body is to gouge deep troughs of flesh from her cheeks with her bare hands, eager to feel anything after so long in total sensory deprivation.

This is the Great Darkness: without completing her ritual, Ananke is doomed to die at the end of every Recurrence with the rest of the gods and then be reborn when the next one begins, but she retains her consciousness for the entire span of time in between.  It’s utterly terrifying, and it explains both simply and effectively why she goes to such lengths to get what she wants.  The ideas of death and oblivion is a hard one to wrap our minds around, because we’re incapable of imagining precisely what the experience of not existing is like.  We can try to describe it, but there’s a fundamental failure in our language and the way our brains process our experience that makes the concept of nullification just too hard to understand.  The closest I think we can get to is what Gillen portrays in this sequence: total sensory deprivation without end.  It makes me uncomfortable just trying to contemplate that experience, but the understanding that if death is oblivion then the mercy of it will be that we won’t know that’s what’s happened.  Ananke has something worse to fear.

In all the stuff that we’ve learned about Ananke over this arc (and there are still two more issues to get through!), I think this is the nadir of her story.  We’re meant to finally understand that Ananke’s ruthless pursuit of immortality isn’t motivated just by a fear of standard death (though that’s certainly in the mix), but also because she’s inadvertently cursed herself to have a worse fate when she fails.  It’s almost enough to make her a sympathetic character.

It’s been too long since these two could bounce off each other. Their dynamic is delightful, especially here where they’re both trying to move past old mistakes. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Back in 2015, we step away from Baal’s incineration of Valhalla to follow Laura as she goes to talk with Baphomet about what’s gone down in the last twenty-four hours (we’ve been on the same two days for about ten issues now), including why he wasn’t available to help with Sakhmet and Woden’s respective snafus.  Because Baphomet and Dionysus were besties, we finally see someone properly mourn for him (Cassandra’s bit in issue #33 got cut short by the discovery of Woden’s secret room after all), and Laura learns that Baphomet didn’t come to help because the Morrigan said there was nothing serious happening.  They realize that the Morrigan intended to leave Laura in the lurch in the hopes that Sakhmet would kill her, and then there’s a big fight.

Baph, you are my favorite walking trash fire. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

This fight between Baphomet and the Morrigan is a long time coming, and it’s an intense set of pages.  We’ve seen since the beginning that the relationship between Baphomet and the Morrigan is extremely unhealthy, and Baphomet finally has the same epiphany (and all it takes is seeing that the Morrigan has become so possessive of him that she’s willing to let people she’s jealous of die in order to keep him to herself).  Baphomet dumps her, and then things erupt.  For the entire sequence, McKelvie eschews normal gutters in favor of having each panel bordered by either a raven or a flame motif depending on who’s gone on the offensive.  Interspersed between each action shot is a small flashback panel to when Cameron and Marian first met; we’re caught in the middle of something like a scream-o break up song.  How much the borders expand and contract flows with the level of emotion each character is feeling in the moment so that we get an extra visual cue as to how things are going to end; Baphomet has the upper hand at the end of the fight, but the good memories lead him to stay his hand when he could kill the Morrigan, and she retaliates, exulting in her victory before she realizes that she’s just murdered her beloved.  Unwilling to go on living without Baphomet, the Morrigan decides to trade his life for her own, because that’s the kind of person that she is.  It’s sort of redemptive, but very much in a “too little, too late” way.

This is an absolutely perfect panel. Read it from left to right and pay attention to the border. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson)

Laura has been incapacitated for the entire fight (having your head slammed against a wall will do that), but when she finally comes to and realizes what’s happened, she approaches the whole thing in a relatively philosophical manner.

Because what’s at the end of this?  Something awful.  Some fucking tragedy.

Fuck tragedy.

Tragedy gives “clusterfuck” ideas above its station.

The bad romance between Baphomet and the Morrigan is easily one of the most messed up relationships in all of The Wicked + The Divine; they’re codependent binary stars spiraling inevitably towards collapse into one goth hole.  Laura’s observation that this is less a tragedy than just the messy reality of a couple people who’ve been bad for each other from their first meeting feels sort of like a theme statement for the whole issue.  Ananke’s own struggles happen on a much larger scale, but they’re at their core founded in basic human fears and frailties.  Tragedies are for larger than life figures like the Endless; the rest of us just have to deal with things occasionally going horribly wrong.

Geez, Baph, spoilers for Sandman, yeah? (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Learning Sketchbook 3: More Heads and New Tools

In the last couple weeks I’ve settled on learning how to draw people, which has helped a lot with focusing what I want to practice (we’re a long way from that first doodle page where I was just drawing weird stuff to be drawing).  I’ve been through a fair bit of thumbnail sized sketches of various kinds of heads this week, and I feel like I’m getting better at drawing features from the more common angles (straight ahead, profile, and 3/4), and I’m growing more comfortable playing around with other angles.

The thing that I’ve realized pretty quickly this week is that what I’ve typically done when I’ve tried to draw faces in the past is fail to take into account the three dimensional aspect of various features.  Earlier sketches tend to have eyes that are far too big for the size of the head, while the nose and mouth tend to be flatly overlaid on the head shape I’m trying to make.  It’s clear (at least to me) that a lot of what I’ve picked up by osmosis regarding faces has been pulled from animation like The Simpsons and Futurama.  Matt Groening’s cartooning style isn’t something that I deliberately try to emulate, but the way his characters have a perpetual appearance of being in 3/4 perspective seems to be something that’s been ingrained in my mental references for facial features.

To help manage that specific problem, I’ve been looking at a lot of videos explaining how to think about faces proportionally when you draw them, and I’ve gotten into the habit of using some basic shapes to help me establish perspective before I start trying to do anything with features (the primary video series I’ve been looking at calls this the Loomis method, though I’ve not done any reading on the larger principles behind it).  It’s been extremely helpful with developing a uniform shape in the faces that I’m practicing, but I’m beginning to wonder about the limitations of the method; specifically, I find that my heads come out always looking relatively squat, which would be awesome if I only wanted to draw dwarves.  It’s gradually becoming clear that I need to remember that the underlying shapes are meant to be guides, and I shouldn’t be afraid to squash and stretch them to get the proportions that I’d like.

In the course of all this practice, I pretty quickly realized that there was a fundamental limitation in what I could do with the Loomis method while I only had a mechanical pencil to draw with.  I’m not anywhere near skilled enough to need a larger complement of tools, but it occurred to me that my sketches would look cleaner if I had a basic set of drawing pencils so I could sketch my starter shapes more lightly before adding features with a softer graphite.  I also decided that it would be nice to keep my practice stuff in an actual sketchbook instead of just leaving it on loose sheets of printer paper that I’d inevitably leave strewn around wherever I last took a few minutes to draw.  Given that, I wandered over to the local art supply shop and bought these essentials, and I’ve spent the last couple days playing around with them.  The first few sketches in my new book, all of various bald-headed people because I’m not yet ready to play around with hair, can be seen below.

While I really want to get into practicing facial features more, I think I’m going to spend some more time working out how to play with the shape of heads; I want to be able to reliably draw heads in a variety of sizes before I start to get into the fiddly bits.  I get flashes of various artists whose work I’ve seen over the years who have exactly one face shape that they can reproduce over and over again, and that’s a pitfall I’d like to avoid.

These were all done before I got my new pencils; you can see how prominent the rough shapes are in these sketches. The row across the top was done before I picked up on the sphere and box head combo; they look significantly more alien than the better proportioned heads in the lower part of the page.

These were all done with my new pencils. The basic shapes are much lighter, so everything looks much cleaner in each sketch. Someday I’ll graduate beyond drawing strange bald aliens.

Final Fantasy XV Log 3: Giant Frogs and Photobombs

Short post today, I think.  Last week was very busy with a couple different late nights related to work, so I’ve not been able to play Final Fantasy XV as much as I’d like (also, there’s the whole taking up drawing thing, which does pull a lot of free time in the evening).  Still, I’ve spent a couple hours with the boys, and there are some things to talk about, even if only in brief.

One of the features of the game that I’ve been curious about since I started is the timed quests that are changed on what looks like a daily basis.  They’re nothing terribly fancy; you get a general area on the world map, a chapter heading to let you know how far you need to have progressed in the game in order to access the quest area, and a note about what kind of enemies you’ll be hunting.  It’s a feature totally devoid of any story context, but given the trend in Final Fantasy games of the last ten years towards emphasis on monster hunting as the primary type of side quest in any given game.  I guess it’s a perfectly fun type of gameplay (and there’s a longer tradition in the series of having optional challenge bosses), but it doesn’t really complement the RPG elements that I’ve always found compelling.  We’re playing a giant road trip, and I’d enjoy the timed quests more if there were just a touch more care put into making it feel like a destination that the boys decide they’re going to take a side trip for.  Just some flavor text that describes these hunts as something like the tourist traps that dot the landscape of a country that’s all about the open road would make me happier to go try to kill forty giant frogs.

Yes, that’s right, I said forty giant frogs.  My naive thinking with a quest that said it would be available to from Chapter 1 onward was that it would also be scaled to be a quest doable by someone who was still in Chapter 1.  I found, over the course of a slow, painful, twenty minute slog, that this was not the case.  Twenty minutes is how long it took me to notice the monster quota I was supposed to hit; by that point I think I’d killed nine of the things and used up half of my potion inventory, and I realized it just wasn’t going to happen.  Keep in mind, my party is around level 26 at this point, and the frogs were rated at level 27.  The hard part of the quest was the sheer numbers (there were easily ten of these monsters harassing me constantly with more coming from over the horizon as soon as any one finally bit the dust).  Eventually I just had to call it quits.  I hope that other timed quests that I try in the future aren’t all so obnoxiously difficult, and if they are, that I’m at least aware of what I’m getting into so I can be more prepared for a long drawn out fight.  On the other hand, it’d be nice to just not have the offline single player version of an MMO raid.

The other thing that I got to do with my time was a small side quest with Prompto, the entourage’s resident photographer and weakling.  Prompt has some serious impostor syndrome going on because he’s not part of the nobility; he gets to tag along on the road trip because he and Noctis became friends while they were in school together.  The value that he adds to the group is his photography skills, which the game uses to great effect as a way of documenting highlights from every in game day (if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve maybe seen the steady stream of screenshots from the game that I share during each play session).  In this particular quest, Prompto and Noct get up early to try to get a picture next to a catoblepas, a huge beast that hangs out near one of the lakes in the second region of the game.  It’s a short and sweet quest that focuses on Noctis and Prompto’s friendship while also being just a little silly.  If you do this quest and carry it out to its logical conclusion, the catoblepas gets right up next to Noct while he’s posing for the picture, and then you have to run away before you get caught up in a fight with a monster that’s way stronger than you while half your party is sleeping back at camp.  Getting away isn’t hard, but it makes for a nice resolution when Noct and Prompto are laughing over their near escape.  It’s such a tiny moment in the game, but it was really satisfying; if only I’d done it after the giant frog disaster instead of before.

Just for maximum silliness, I went with the holiday themed frame on this picture. Completely by accident.

Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #36”

It’s hard to think of a way into this issue.  Like with most of the issues of this arc, the structure splits space evenly between a flashback that fills in significant details of Ananke’s life and a focus on what’s happening in 2015.  The Ananke portion is the first of two sort of structurally odd sequences that Gillen and McKelvie use to anchor the macro level arc of Ananke’s origins.  We’ll look at the second one in the next issue and the first one after we talk about the cover.

Don’t get attached to this character; she won’t be around long. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

This issue’s cover is a weird one.  It features a woman bearing iconography that immediately suggests she’s one of Epithymia’s gods.  We can recognize the skulls in the pupils and the flower and vine motifs that are Persephone’s signature features in 2015.  Beyond these recognizable features, the woman has long straight hair and kohl around her eyes (we find out on the second page of the issue that she’s from a Pantheon situated in the Upper Nile region in Egypt, so this isn’t that surprising).  I remember there being a lot of speculation back during the lead up to this arc’s publication about whether this cover was supposed to feature the first Persephone, and, well, it’s definitely a Persephone, but I’m kind of befuddled in retrospect that it wasn’t more apparent to folks that Epithymia’s portrait was actually the original.  The skull motif is quite prominent on that cover, although maybe that feature alone isn’t so obviously connected to Persephone (skulls are sort of ubiquitous in the Pantheons).  Either way, this is not the first Persephone (we’re still roughly four thousand years BCE with this character, so I’m pretty sure Persephone hasn’t yet been conceived of).

We’ve seen this scene before. Ananke’s seen it dozens of times. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson)

Regardless of all the speculation about who this cover character is supposed to be, one thing is imminently clear as of the first page turn of the issue: it doesn’t matter one way or another.  What Gillen and McKelvie have done in this issue is highlight the moment of Epithymia’s god ascending in every Pantheon since the first.  Over eleven pages we see sixty five reunions between Ananke and her sister’s avatar.  In the production notes for the trade, Gillen explains that the creative team hired a fashion historian to help McKelvie design the clothing for each time period and locale.  It’s a massively ambitious structural project designed specifically to convey the sheer span of time that Ananke’s been operating in conjunction with the relatively rote repetition of a key moment in each cycle.  According to the rules that Epithymia set back in issue #34, we know that her god is always the last to ascend in each Pantheon, and we know that Ananke has to collect four godheads to complete her immortality ritual at the end of each Recurrence.  Beyond that, we’re left to fill in the blanks surrounding sixty-five panels highlighting a climactic moment in every Pantheon (I mean, aside from the very first one; that first murder was just Ananke stabbing Epithymia with her stone knife; no magical decapitation necessary).  The way each scene plays out follows three broad models: Ananke surprises the Epithymia god and steals their head without difficulty, the god suspects Ananke’s intent and retaliates with varying levels of success (the most spectacular is definitely the one where Ananke has inexplicably lost her lower body as the god flees off panel; there are also a couple times when the god successfully kills Ananke, although we know that her younger incarnation finished the job later), or most peculiarly Ananke has a heartfelt reunion.  There are trends over the course of the pages where sometimes Ananke has a reunion multiple Recurrences in a row and other times she fails to get the drop on Epithymia’s god for several centuries.  We get small implied stories, like the lifetimes where Ananke’s body gets ravaged by disease or injury, or when her younger self has to carry on with the elder’s work.  One of my favorites that I picked up on my most recent reading of the issue is the slow arc of Ananke learning how to protect herself from attack once she realizes that she can’t always count on Epithymia being fooled.  Still, the ultimate effect is to emphasize the cyclical nature of Ananke’s life; she lives forever (sort of), but it’s constantly bound by violent confrontations.  I figure the times when she doesn’t immediately murder Epithymia is because she’s already collected enough heads and can afford to luxuriate a little in remembering who she gave up in her bargain for longevity.  There’s just a hint of sadness to Ananke’s existence, although when you consider the sheer number of people she’s murdered over the course of her life (every panel in this issue times twelve, and that’s only the gods, let alone the normal folks who accidentally got in the way), it’s hard to sympathize with her particular plight.

There’s a lot of time between the earlier panel and this one, but they might as well happen one right after the other for all the difference there is between Ananke now and Ananke then. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Flash forward to 2015, where we last left off with Baal revealing that he’s actually the child-sacrifice, fire-from-the-sky Baal, not the lightning-in-a-bottle Baal.  Laura, Baal’s captive audience, listens as he explains his own origins and how Ananke persuaded him to charbroil little babbies.  What it essentially comes down to is that Baal, who rightly finds killing children to be totally repugnant, decided it was necessary after the Great Darkness killed his father.  The story that Ananke spun for Baal was that sacrificing children would keep the Great Darkness at bay temporarily while they worked on finding a long term solution.  Once he lost something personal, it was an easy sell.  Now, the weird black tentacle beetle monsters that we’ve been calling the Great Darkness still haven’t been fully explained.  Given what we’ve been learning about Ananke in this arc, I don’t think it’s much of a reach to assume that the Great Darkness is a ruse that Ananke has been using to manipulate the gods into doing what she wants.  With Baal committed to doing actual child sacrifice, Ananke developed an extremely dedicated foot soldier; it’s no wonder that Baal is on the wrong side of pretty much every fight in the first half of the series when you consider that he’s totally bought into Ananke’s narrative.  All it took was killing a family member.

A fun exercise is asking myself how many times the small sympathy Ananke builds gets squandered when she does something horrible. This is one of those moments. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

While we’re talking about children, this issue also has one last surprise for us in the form of Laura’s big news that she briefly alluded to back in issue #34: she’s pregnant, and she doesn’t know who the father is.  Because he’s just a great big Baal of anxieties and guilt, our child murderer lets Laura go instead of burning her down with the rest of Valhalla to protect his dirty secret.

All joking aside, Baal gets a seriously raw deal here, and the fact that he totally commits to his own moral degradation for the sake of his family, likely for no good reason, is one of the most tragic story beats in the whole series. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Learning Sketchbook 2: Head Sketches

I went to a bargaining meeting between my teachers’ union and the school district last week, which was a fun learning experience.  There’s no collective bargaining in Georgia, so the experience of contract negotiations is still shiny and interesting to me after a year in Oregon.  Getting to sit in a small crowd of colleagues while we observed the negotiations between our union’s bargaining team and the district’s representatives was cool.

It was also three hours sitting in a room where we weren’t allowed to talk, which might be a bit much if one didn’t bring something to do.  The standard advice that we were given regarding how to pass the time was to bring some papers to grade.  I’m presently absent some papers, so instead I decided to spend the time drawing.  Because it would have been awkward to pull my laptop out to look up references (did I mention it was a crowded room?) while still balancing paper in my lap, I decided to just use the folks sitting at the big table doing the negotiating as models.  Below are the thumbnails that I did over the course of the evening plus a few sketches of characters I made up the next time I sat down to draw a little.  On a small scale like these I think I do okay with capturing features, although the proportions between foreheads and jaws go a little wonky sometimes.  If a person I was sketching happened to be talking a lot, then I had a much harder time getting an impression of what their mouth should look like.  I still have a lot of practice to do with the various angles at which you can draw a face, and the elements of different facial features that help make them look distinct still elude me.

I’m relatively happy with the look of the imagined faces, though the features all still look really simple.  It’ll be interesting to see if I can do some faces with a bit more realistic detail when I scale up my sketches.

I really like some of these. Others, well, not so much.

Learning Sketchbook 1: So This Is A Thing

When I was in high school, I was a very dedicated band nerd.  I lived for the yearly marching band camp that convened in the week before school started.  My dedication was so serious that there was one year where a meeting of the band officers before the general camp was scheduled to start, and I showed up to that (I didn’t become an actual officer until my senior year).  When graduation approached, there was some serious discussion about whether I wanted to continue to pursue music in college.  The fact that I completely missed the deadline to audition for the University of Georgia Redcoats (it happened before acceptance letters went out, and my teenage mind was befuddled by the idea that you could audition for a school program without first being accepted as a general student at that school) served to put those considerations to rest, although I did carry on in a concert band elective for one semester my first year in college.  In retrospect I’m pretty happy that Redcoats didn’t work out; my time at UGA showed firsthand that being part of the marching band was a full time commitment that crowded out all other parts of the college experience.  My life would likely look very different now if I hadn’t flubbed that application.

This isn’t a series about music though.  It’s only as I reflect on the choices I made earlier in my education that I recall things that I set aside to focus on learning my instrument.  One thing was drawing.  It’s a funny thing to realize when you’ve spent so many years delighting in a medium like comics that you actually enjoy visual arts in general.  One of my favorite pastimes when I was a teenager was copying the art from books about various video games that I loved.  I even remember the first thing that I ever seriously tried to replicate: one of the key pieces of character art for Crono, the protagonist of the game Chrono Trigger.  Time always seems to stretch on longer in memory, so I’m not sure if it was the case, but I felt like I spent months carefully recreating every line of the artwork on a piece of printer paper.  I was very proud of the finished product (I had done no tracing, which was a super important thing to me at the time), and I followed it up with a number of other copies of characters I liked over the years.

This was definitely a thing I spent enough time on that my parents noticed, and one year they gave me a nice sketchbook and a basic set of drawing pencils.  I don’t have either anymore, but I remember them as one of the most thoughtful gifts I ever received.

Despite how much I liked copying other peoples’ art, I never developed strong skills at creating my own.  If I hadn’t chosen to be a music nerd back in middle school, I think I might have gravitated towards visual arts instead.  As it was, the last time I took an art class was for a six week stint in eight grade–not exactly the bedrock foundation one would like to have when embarking on a new creative endeavor.

Recently I felt the itch to do some drawing.  It’s been years since I even considered it as a pastime, and I wasn’t really sure where to begin.  The visual arts are extremely wide in scope, and the sheer number of potential directions to go, even within the relatively limited medium scope of pencil, is pretty daunting.  What do I want to draw?  How do I go about learning to do that better?  Is it silly for a thirty-three year old man to decide that he wants to be able to do more than make expressive stick figures (much love to xkcd for showing us all that stick figures are an amazingly expressive and versatile style)?

After getting over the initial embarrassment of declaring to Rachael the other night, “I’d like to do some drawing” while I looked for a large slim hardback book that I could use as a makeshift lap desk, the results have been mixed, but fun.  I’ve realized that my grasp of facial anatomy is extremely basic; what I know about creating expressions isn’t too bad, but I can’t do any detailing beyond what you would probably find in a ’90s era anime.  My grasp of human skeletal structure is okay for the purposes of drawing poses (thanks again to years of reading xkcd), but drawing simple three dimensional shapes is a little wonky.  I’m pretty sure I want to refine my skills at drawing people, but I’ve no real clue where to proceed from here.  I think I probably need to practice more with reproducing three dimensional models, but it’s really daunting; despite understanding the ever useful maxim that you will suck at any new skill you begin to learn, it’s still hard to manage the feelings of frustration as I can tell that a figure’s turned out wrong, but I’m not sure what to focus on to improve it.

So, with all of that just sort of thrown out there, here’s what I’m doing with this series.  I’m going to draw stuff, and I’ll post it with my thoughts about the process on whatever schedule I think is most fun for me.  There is going to be a lot of bad art; that’s part of the fun.  Occasionally, I hope, there will be something that I can be proud to share as well.

Some doodles I did to start. You can see a few simple faces in the midst of all the chaos and birds.

I spent way more time on these ellipsoids than you really want to know. The can figure was a thing I did just to help myself feel better about being bad at three dimensional sketches.

Some heads. They are sad.

I spent about an hour googling reference pictures of people in various poses and trying to rapidly sketch their poses. As long as the limbs are skeletal everything is fine, but when I try to add volume to limbs things go weird super fast.