SAVE YOUR CREATIVE SOUL. LEARN TO DRAW (AGAIN).

My whole journey to becoming a creative professional started with the love of a crayon. Oh, the possibilities it held. The worlds it would open. The Transformers I would draw!

I remember the very moment when I felt I could draw above averagely. It was in my grandmother’s kitchen and a member of my family had drawn an amazing E.T. on a piece of paper. I vividly remember thinking how amazing that was, how great it looked, and how much I wanted to try my hand at achieving something as realistic as the image that sat in front of me. I threw myself into that.

Now, queue the hyper-lapse of me honing my skills as we speed through childhood, through adolescence, crashing into middle school, where, by now, my friends and classmates knew of my skill and how it occasionally was used to entertain and comment on, let’s say, various trials and tribulations of my budding teenage experience. In notebooks, on desks, in the margins of textbooks for some poor bastard to find the following year. It was just a funny thing I did. It was part of my identity. It helped me find my voice and sense of humor. But I never took it seriously. This was a hobby, plain and simple. No formal training, I was not an “art student” (in hindsight I wish I had approached that differently). To me, what I was drawing wasn’t art, or fine art, or even realistic; it was pop art, it was comics, but not comic book art. These scribbles were more editorial comic-esque. Singular frames, usually involving a joke. It was a ton of Johnny Quest-looking guys doing crazy shit. (To this day, I can’t explain that one. I don’t remember being a huge fan of the show, but somehow all of my humans resembled Johnny. Go figure.)

Later, as the editorial cartoonist for the Daily Collegian at Penn State, I continued to sharpen my designs, my process, and my wit. Graphic Design never occurred to me, but Advertising did. And why not? In a rough way, those weekly cartoons were an exercise in storyboarding a concept. I learned how to identify the tension point, channel emotions, and deliver a memorable message worthy of being cut out and hung on a refrigerator in some fellow classmate’s dorm or apartment. I still remember the feeling of standing in the kitchen around a keg at some stranger’s apartment party and seeing my work hanging on their freezer.

Cut to my early career at the agency, where ideas typically started on a tissue paper pad. Frantically, my partner and I would plaster our office with ideas and brain farts in a fast shorthand style. This is where I believe the atrophy began. Speed took precedence. Get the ideas out, get ‘em down, move on. During that time (and now) it’s go go go. The hustle is all consuming. The crutch of Photoshop and Illustrator become irresistible to some, including me. Then, sadly, one day you realize drawing is a skill and, left unpracticed, it will deteriorate if not die all together. And you’re left looking for it like John Travolta looking for an intercom.

But it turns out that fire, that desire to create with your hands, can be rekindled in 2019 (yes, I’m late to the game, and this is about me not you). With new(ish) creator tools like the iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and the app ProCreate, you’ll have that feeling of wide-eyed wonder and near paralysis of possibilities, again. The versatility of the program makes you think you can create anything you think of, you just need to start. But that’s the rub. Though fairly intuitive (Photoshop users may experience a higher sense of familiarity), you may need at least a guided tour of the UX to make sure you can unlock all the technological potential of the program. I personally took this course on UDEMY by Brad Colbow. It was a great overview of the power of the app, as told through several sample “projects.”

After hanging with Brad, I felt confident enough to dive in. Since the program is so good at mimicking painting (and painting and blending being something I wasn’t very familiar with) I decided to start there. If I was going to go for it, why not swing big, right? Over the course of a week, I pushed myself to create in a painterly/illustrative fashion similar to early 1900 circus posters. It was a style that featured a weird illustration hybrid of believability and realism, and seemed perfect for my particular cartoon/painting experiment. A portrait of legendary Bare Knuckle Champ John L. Sullivan.

john l sullivan timelapse.gif

Through trial and error, through the occasional stop to Google some function or try some command or purchase some brush, my vision slowly took shape. And where I ended up surprised even me. It was something I felt pretty good about. It took more time than I thought. At times I felt like a kid again, but I also felt like a fumbling amateur with no business even working in this program. But, I powered through and kept at it. Towards the end I felt confidence snap in and my process streamline. I became much more efficient and deliberate in my approach. My use of lines and my choice of strokes were applied with intent. As you can see from the time lapse, it wasn’t pretty or decisive, but it got there. And if you think “there” meant a decent piece of art, then you’d be wrong. “There” was the rekindling of the desire, the pull, and the confidence to start the next one. Which, sadly, is a feeling I haven’t felt in nearly 20 years.

Bare Knuckle Boxing Champion John L. Sullivan by Sean Flanagan

Bare Knuckle Boxing Champion John L. Sullivan by Sean Flanagan