#1 The Joy of Learning Many Crafts
What do J Dilla and John Singer Sargent have in common?
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been focused on studying painting. It’s a path that I’ve only previously very lightly touched on before, and it’s something that - as with learning anything new - comes with a little bit of fear.
It’s been a process of looking at a lot of different resources I’ve collected over time; various books, online courses, and YouTube videos. For the first several weeks this old familiar ‘fear’ was there, which meant that I stuck to studying theory instead of actually making things, which is a common thing that I do. However, one of the advantages of learning a lot of different things is that I've started to recognize the same negative and unhelpful patterns in myself, which has led to learning how to move through them with increasingly less effort.
One new aspect of my creative process that painting seems to have led me to is being able to 'finish’ a piece of art. Previously with drawing, a lot of art felt like they were always in a rough state, no matter how much time I spent on them. They were always unpolished - my line work wasn’t as clean as where it would have to be labelled 'completed', at least in my eyes. I didn't know how to 'finish' a piece.
However with painting, inherent within the process of painting itself is this idea of continuous refinement, moving towards a finish line. This finish line is very personal and specific to each artist and their taste, and the pieces I've been working on have felt a lot more complete to me. Or if not 'completed', then I can at least see how I would continue to push it towards my finish line.
A common consensus seems to be that painting is a lot harder than drawing, and is a craft that is introduced after a period of study of drawing on its own. While that might be the case, I've been realizing that it’s also easier in some respects - showing dimensionality in drawing requires a lot of solid drawing and perspective skills, along with a fair amount of precision and visualisation, especially when drawing traditionally. Whereas with painting, I'm learning you can really get away with a lot of roughness and loose brushstrokes, and still end up with a great amount of depth and realism, especially from afar.
I’ve been really, really falling in love with the painting process, and I suppose 'traditional' art in general. Finding new masters of the craft to be in awe of is one of my favourite parts of engaging in the creative process. I’m able to see with more clarity just how far the road ahead is towards mastery, and it’s an exciting one. I always love this point in the learning journey - I remember being here when learning the drums, music production, DJing, motion graphics, photography, drawing, and now painting.
My favourite part and my goal for learning any new craft is getting to the point where I feel like I can 'play' with all of these things. This feeling of play and improvisation is so crucial to a creative process. Some of these skills have never developed much past this level - and some I developed a lot further, but just being able to 'play' is creatively nourishing. And sometimes that's all I need from a craft.
At this point of play, you become familiar with the core concepts and ideas of the craft, and a great benefit of learning a lot of different things is starting to notice all these connections between crafts. For example, I've been playing with this parallel between the drums and painting:
This idea of looseness and tightness - in painting, it manifests in my brush economy and edge control, and finding my personal balance between the two. In the process of creating a painting, I usually go between the two extremes; starting off extremely loose, blocking in the large shapes of colour and value and capturing the overall feeling and gesture of the piece. Then I move on to tightening everything by defining the edges and getting precise in the areas that demand precision. Finally, I go back and try to loosen the painting up again, roughing up edges and blending similar shapes and colours together to arrive at my finish line.
Looseness and tightness in drums manifest most obviously to me in the respect a drummer might give to the metronome. Do they bury it with laser precision like Michael Jackson’s drummer does, or do they treat it with reckless abandon as J Dilla did? Where do they fall on that spectrum?
Neither are wrong - and finding these parallels lets you transfer learnings from one medium to the other in an original way. What would a painting in the feel of Clyde Stubblefield's Funky Drummer be like? Are John Singer Sargents brush strokes the same as the crazy offset swung beats that Dilla programmed on his MPC - chaos if examined under a microscope, but genius when observed 6 feet away?
You can chart these core concepts throughout history and compare them between crafts and the resulting things that spawned off of them in their respective canon. Look for them in other mediums too; are they even possible? What does looseness in sculpture look like?
One of my goals for this year was to be more mindful about all the content I consume - so I've started writing down all the art I've absorbed while leaving notes on them for myself.
After finishing and falling in love with Arcane last year, I’ve finally played my first two games of League of Legends with my siblings. It's a crazy, complicated, highly competitive world that is gorgeous and so well designed, with its own ecosystem and language. Top-level quality in all aspects of game design, and lots to learn from.
Red Dead Redemption 2: Back when I was a teenager I fell intensely in love with the first game. This second one is gorgeous and probably better, but I’ve not been sucked in the same way as before. There’s something about watching a 6-second animation of my character skinning an animal that I just don’t have the patience for anymore. Some controls feel a bit convoluted and unintuitive as well. Not sure how much more time I'll give to it, but it's another great standard of an absolute triple-A game from 2018.
The Rich Roll Podcast: I’m a sucker for podcasts, especially ones of long conversations between interesting people that I can put on when I do my day job. I loved the Terry Crews episode, the Steven Pressfield episode and the David Epstein one. Rich manages to strike a really good balance between interview and conversation. There's a huge catalogue in there that I plan to slowly make my way through.
The new Super Mario Brothers movie was beautifully made and animated, with lots of references for fans of the video games to enjoy. I wasn’t too hooked on the story or the characters, but it was well worth the £20 and two hours to go see it. A good exercise I plan to do in the future is figuring out why the story didn't feel like it worked for me, why was that? Why did the characters stick out and feel unbelievable?
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: This was a lovely book on the creative process, especially when read as a companion to The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. There are similar ideas in there but approached from different angles. It's a really kind, interesting, gentle and soulful take on the creative process, with lots of new metaphors that give a lot of food for thought. Thoughtfully recommended to me by Adam Westbrook.
See you next time,