Funny thing about art. And probably a lot of other creative endeavors. The stuff folks end up viewing fails to represent the journey. People take in a painting and think "that's lovely." Maybe they're drawn to the sophisticated palette. The advanced mix of colors and composition. Or with literature, the flow of the story. The work itself seems simple enough and yet, it's so perfect.
Certain books. They just flow. The prose seems to jump off the page and captivate. I get lost in the story. So much so that I forget, for awhile, that there was a maestro behind the curtains. Someone who spent a great deal of time honing his/her craft. We call that "experience."
I just finished reading Peter Heller's novel "The Painter." There's a line in the book I'd like to share with you.
"Nobody, not even artists, understood art. What speed has to do with it. How much work it takes, year after year, building the skills, the trust in the process, more work probably than any Olympic athlete ever puts in because it is twenty-four hours a day, even in dreams, and then when the skills and the trust are in place, the best work usually takes the least effort. Usually. It comes fast, it comes without thought, it comes like a horse running you over at night. But. Even if people understand this, they don't understand that sometimes it is not like that at all. Because the process has always been: craft, years and years; then faith; then letting go. But now, sometimes the best work is agony. Pieces put together, torn apart, rebuilt. Doubt in everything that has been learned, terrible crisis of faith, the faith that allowed it all to work. Oh God. And even then, through this, if you survive the halting pace and the fever, sometimes you make the best work you have ever made. That is the part none of us understand."
I've been on vacation this past week in Costra Rica. Sketching and exploring my cartoon style. Like a lot of artists, I vacillate on how to represent my work. Sometimes I'm drawn to a more clean, uncomplicated cartoon style. Think Calvin and Hobbes. Other times I find myself gravitating towards a more sketchy look, as found in the work of Richard Thompson.
I must have drawn five different versions of the following cartoon. I experimented with a very clean and simple look. I varied the font style. I agonized over different versions, to tease out different looks. Finally, in exasperation, I picked up a lowly ball point pen and just drew. This was the result.
Cartoonist Berke Breathed, of the comic strip "Bloom County" fame, was once hired to draw cartoons for the motion picture Second Hand Lions. The main character was a cartoonist, and the film called for scenes of various cartoons. Berke Breathed reportedly tried to craft work different from his usual style, but to no avail. His voice refused to be silent. The cartoons he produced for the film are unmistakenly his hand. So much so that despite his "retirement" from cartooning, old "Bloom County" fans immediately recognized his work.
What I've come to accept is that each of us has our own voice. We can only parrot our heroes for so long before our authenticity claws its way to the surface.
I'm not sure why I tried to draw cartoons in a different style. I guess I was admiring the work of others. But in the end, my voice won out. The years I spent drawing editorial cartoons for two newspapers will not rest quietly. The style I evolved into, with some influence from Jeff MacNelly, is who I am. Probably why the ball point pen cartoon I knocked out flowed so quickly and easily.
When it comes to your creative expression, it's not how long it takes to produce the work. It's the path you took to get there. If someone questions the value of your art because you produced it rather quickly, tell them the backstory. There were a lot of hard knocks, doubts and tears that came before you could pump out such high quality work.
But remember. The journey towards excellence never ends. It just ascends to new levels.