I always liked drawing but never thought I was any good at it. I think a lot of kids have that moment when they become aware that there are people who are “good” at things and people who are “not good” at things. The moment when the simple enjoyment of drawing came to an end for me was in third grade. I drew a portrait of my teacher, Mrs. Inness.
“I made a picture of you,” I said, beaming, as she stopped at my desk and peered over my shoulder.
“Do I have eyes in my forehead?” She asked, pointing to my drawing.
“Try again with the eyes in the right place.”
And from that day on, I was convinced that drawing was this mysterious and difficult job that I just couldn’t do right.
So I didn’t really draw much after that. I got older, and got into comics and animation. I desperately wanted to draw, but whenever I tried, I thought of Mrs. Inness: “Do I have eyes in my forehead?” No, no you don’t, and I suck at drawing.
Then, not long after moving to Montreal when I was 20, I got a book out from the library, “Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain.” For the first time, I looked at drawing not as an inherent skill that you either had or you didn’t, but a muscle that could be developed. At the very beginning of the book, they tell you to look at what you’re drawing as you draw it, without looking at the page. Apparently your brain has an idea of what an apple is that is different from what an actual apple is. So if you stare at an apple as you draw, it’s going to look more like an apple. GENIUS. I started drawing like this and got into a total zone. Instead of sweating over the fact that what I was trying to draw didn’t please me, I started to deeply observe the world around me and let my hand be guided by invisible threads. It became this meditative state that I looked forward to.
And then I started thinking about this idea in writing. I was staring at a blank page and hating myself for not filling it. Then I’d spit some words on the page and hate myself for the way they didn’t match up with what my brain wanted them to be. I checked out another book from the library, “The Creative Habit,” by dancer/choreographer Twyla Tharp. One of her exercises involves spilling some coins on a table and re-arranging them into different geometries. “Eventually, I land on an arrangement that feels like a musical chord resolving. I look at the coins and they cry out, ‘this is us.’ There in a nutshell is the essence of creativity. There are a number of possibilities, but only one solution looks inevitable.”
Now I just try to make stuff without thinking about what it should be but instead, I let it be what it is. It always helps to watch Director’s Series, Vol. 3, the Work of Michel Gondry. Every time I’ve watched it, I’ve made something. Or just done something weird alone in my house. I really like what George Saunders says about the struggle of writing something meaningful: “I’ve seen time and time again the way that the process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person.” So get out there and draw an apple or something, but like, really draw it.