In honor of the holiday season, I took a trip down memory lane with an old cartoon sketchbook. It was surprising to see how much my drawing had changed, so I did something fun: redraw old cartoons to see what’s gotten better.

In the midst of this, I reflected on some important lessons I’d learned from my drawing over the years. They apply to my drawing in the future and life in general, so they’re worth sharing.

Avoid Being a One Trick Pony

This was my biggest drawing sin in high school. My doodles were the same head and body shapes with slightly different positions and clothes. Like many drawing books warn readers, it’s easy to get locked into a single drawing style. I definitely fell into that trap, but at least broke out of it recently.

 With this quirkily dressed girl, there isn’t much to change other than giving her a better head and some attitude.
With this quirkily dressed girl, there isn’t much to change other than giving her a better head and some attitude.

This still applies to me. A one trick pony would only study Twitter and no other social media channels. Or learn HTML and CSS without looking at other coding languages like jQuery or PHP. In any business you’d only get so far before someone with more variety pulls ahead.

Don’t Avoid Better Work than Yours

I’m not ashamed to admit I often avoided looking at better art in high school since I felt insecure. Okay, I’m fairly ashamed, but can still admit it. It’s human nature, especially when we’re younger, but thankfully that changed. Otherwise I would’ve stayed in my little drawing bubble, making the same figures over and over without improvement. Popping the bubble hurts, but it leads to improvement and is worth it.

 I liked this guy’s outfit, but he needed a much better pose. I used an online drawing with a good pose as reference for the new version.
I liked this guy’s outfit, but he needed a much better pose. I used an online drawing with a good pose as reference for the new version.

I liked this guy’s outfit, but he needed a much better pose. I used an online drawing with a good pose as reference for the new version. The biggest improvements I saw were using more shape varieties and perspectives with characters. Outside of drawing it means surrounding ourselves with work better than ourselves. Thankfully all that takes is some Twitter lists and Google searches and there’s tons of people to get inspired by. There always will be, so people have much fewer excuses to avoid this today.

Work on Something a Little Each Day

My own rule is “draw a new cartoon a day.” Otherwise I’d slack off for a whole week, try to cram seven drawings into one day, and then ignore important work. I understand binging behavior is rising, but it’s best avoided. Skills and hobbies need to grow overtime to stick and have a real impact on us.

 I played around with proportions here but it’s not perfect. I’ll give you a hint: the head’s too big.
I played around with proportions here but it’s not perfect. I’ll give you a hint: the head’s too big.

I played around with proportions here but it’s not perfect. I’ll give you a hint: the head’s too big. When I told this to a colleague two days ago, she laughed and said it requires something rare these days: focus. I know that’s hard when we have limitless distractions at our fingertips, but if the self-control is there, focus is easy to come by. Presumably.

If You Love it, It’s Worth Any Struggle

Just because I love drawing doesn’t make it easy. Plenty of times I’ve wanted to stab the sketchbook, rip my hair out, go on a horrific rampage, or some combination of the three. The same thing happens with other things I like, like coding, or often loathe, like dating. But has that stopped me from doing any of these?

For the most part, no.

 Definitely felt frustrated with this cartoon of a curious guy, and the new version looks…weird. Worth another shot later.
Definitely felt frustrated with this cartoon of a curious guy, and the new version looks…weird. Worth another shot later.

That’s because with things we love, the end results are always worth the struggle. A good drawing is worth the holes in the sketchbook, and a good webpage is worth the hours looking for the small mistake we overlooked. Most people in Newhouse will say the hours spent researching, investigating, scheduling and interviewing are worth that final story. Whatever’s worth those struggles differs with each person, but once they’re found, they shouldn’t ever be forgotten.

Certainly explains why I’ve never forgotten drawing all this time, and look forward to improving more.

Cheers, Max A