How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Caricature

We’ve all seen those beautiful Moleskine sketchbooks, leather covers, brimming with flawless drawings, not a single page torn out in shame. Then there are folks who scribble on napkins and loose leaf printer paper β€” low pressure media. Most of us probably sit in the middle of this bell curve.

For us, our sketchbook is not a portfolio, and we would regret leaving it on a cafe table. Some of us are quite choosy about who gets to look at which pages. A peek behind the scenes is a peek into the mind.

For the longest time, I didn’t trust my process.

I remember my mom shooing me out of the kitchen while she was cooking. [Note: I am certain this was for safety reasons, and not out of any concern that I would judge her ability to chop tomatoes.]

Most people don’t like to be watched, and certainly not when they’re making something. Even if you’ve done it a hundred thousand times before β€” as soon as you feel eyes on you, you get the feeling that this will be the time you blow it.

It was something I wanted to shake off.

Last year, I started recording time lapse videos of my watercolor paintings. It was a great way to get used to showing people my process. It helped me to understand my own work, and I could delete the footage if I didn’t want to share it. Best of all, every decision looks so much more confident in fast-motion. People loved seeing these videos. Their enthusiasm gave me just enough confidence to take the next step. I dedicated a hashtag to these watercolor portraits.

I signed up for a total of 7 events this year, and I made drawings on the spot, in front of people, at all of them. Not only have I stopped worrying about people seeing my process β€” I’ve come to really enjoy it.

Trust your lines

Of course, it’s one thing to share a video of the last 30 minutes of a painting condensed into one minute. Going from a blank page to a finished product β€” in real time β€” is a different beast entirely. You need to be able to trust your lines.

I’ve always loved drawing animals, and I especially love dogs. I know all about just about every kind of dog. I’ve worked with dogs. I know how they move, how they think, and which way the fur lies across every plane of their body. I know, without a shred of doubt, that I can draw a dog.

That’s lucky for me for two reasons: dog owners like art of their dogs, and dog owners are very sweet people.

Going into this, I knew my process to be messy. I work very loosely, relying on gesture drawing to construct the form. If I try to work slowly, there’s no life in my lines. Things get too stiff. But I worried that a gestural drawing wouldn’t be taken as seriously as something with more polish.

I quickly learned that, if the drawing expresses their dog, people are thrilled. Besides, it’s a fast drawing at an event, not vector art. Dogs are lively, my lines are lively β€” it’s actually a perfect fit!

There have been so many lessons like that. Reminders to get out of my own head. My process isn’t even as messy as I had imagined.

I enjoy working with ink. No eraser means you live with your mistakes until you realize they weren’t so bad after all. I love seeing the construction lines, too. Sometimes they’re more true than the finished ones! That was definitely a strength β€” I could move more quickly and confidently.

The more caricatures I did at these events, the more positive feedback I got, the more experience I gained, the more I realized something:

It’s not about the process at all.

It’s about the friends you make along the way. It’s hokey, alright? But look, it’s that connection with people. You’ve made a thousand drawings, and it’s become routine for you. But when you let people, non-artists, see behind the curtain, they will be mystified by what they see. They see this as a kind of magic.

I’m not saying we have to feel comfortable opening our sketchbooks to the world. I just think that, if we did, it might not be as terrible as we imagine.

And when it comes to drawing in front of people: If the final product is great, nobody cares how you chop the tomatoes.

Do you like art-related babble? I’m trying something new in 2020. The Artful Armadillo Newsletter! It will only go out 4 times a year. First edition drops January 1st. It will contain a secret word that you can say when you see me next year to get free goodies! Sound like fun? I’m excited. Sign up here.