Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Touch This Magic

This is a rather sad drawing I made in my sketchbook of a sawdust-stuffed teddy bear in a garbage can. I had a vague memory tonight of this book I used to have as kid, with stories featuring the Sesame Street characters. I remember one story where Grover worked in an ice cream parlor, and spilled ice cream all over the place, all these crazy flavors. And another one where Prairie Dawn had a dragon...as a pet? Or was it attacking her, I can't remember. I think there was one where Oscar the Grouch was sad for some reason. Anyway, it had these great watercolor illustrations, the kind you don't see much of in kids' books anymore. It occurred to me that I was subconsciously trying to capture that feeling with this drawing.

I have a lot of memories of picture books I had when I was a kid. I wonder how much those have influenced my drawing. A few of them I've found as an adult, and been really delighted to see them again, but it's always slightly disappointing. Like, there's this memory I have of a thing, and there's a mystery to that. There's a weirdness in the way you think about things as a kid, you don't understand how most things work and so way more things are surreal or kind of frightening or really fascinating. Looking at some of those books as an adult, I knew the illustration technique, or I could pick out flaws, or a certain date-stamped style, and it's the same drawing I used to stare at, but now it's nailed down, it's concrete. It's a drawing someone got paid for.

I'm sure I've adopted a lot of that style into my drawing, the more I think about it. Over the years, I'm sure I've gone, "This is how fur looks," or shoelaces, or grass growing around the bottom of a signpost, or whatever. I bet weird 70s off-model Sesame Street cartoons were a gigantic influence on me, but I'd never think of that when someone asks me who my influences are. I always want to tell people my influences are really cool, like, "Oh yeah, I'm kind of a Charles-Addams-meets-Egon-Schiele-type-of-guy," when really I'm more like Jim Henson meets Jim Davis.

I wonder, does everyone have influences they don't really think about or admit? Sometimes I think people cite influences that they WANT to be influenced by, but there's this whole other list of stuff that has actually influenced you way more, stuff that maybe isn't as cool or desirable. I used to pore over Garfield comics when I was a kid, for instance. Or the old Ninja Turtle cartoon, I bet that stuff sticks with you. As an adult, I've developed a different kind of fascination with Garfield. I mean, I used to be obsessed with those books, I had Garfield posters and t-shirts and stuffed animals, and Garfield bedsheets. At some point I learned to draw him, and now his face finds its way into all my sketchbooks -- kind of a holding pattern when I can't think of anything else to draw. I don't know if those old comics would be funny to me anymore, I'm kind of afraid to look. But I know that I have adopted a similar style to Jim Davis of giving objects and characters a "weight" on the page -- as opposed to a very flat look. I think the way I would approach drawing things that are mechanical or boxy--a toaster, for instance--I think I would draw it very rounded and kind of meticulously, almost like it could be a real object sitting there, made out of plastic. It's cartoony, but it's sort of grounded in reality in a way that some cartoons are not. There's a consistency in Davis's drawing; things stretch, but only to a certain degree. There are little shadows under everything, little wrinkle marks when an object curves suddenly back on itself, like the crook of an elbow. There's a tightness to it, and I think that sort of style actually appealed to me when I was younger. There was an organization of thought there that always made sense. As an adult, I tend to dislike a quality of my own drawings, and that is their tightness. I find it difficult to put something out there without having pretty thoroughly vetted it in my sketchbook, for instance. I always want every drawing to be the best possible version of itself before I let go of it. This bugs me. I want to make it a goal to make professional quality work, that feels loose and spontaneous, not overthought and overworked.

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