Before skill becomes a talent


Drawing the human figure is not a talent. It is a hand-eye coordination skill. Systematic instruction and lots of focused practice will get any student drawing representations of the human form. Even a talentless shit like Cerno managed it. The proof is in the Flickr gallery at end of this post.

Using skill to create an unique aesthetic experience is where the “talent” kicks in. Few have the drive to do the time it takes to transcend skill. Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Solias Mendis are among the few who did.

Despite the obvious lack of “talent”, I found learning this skill a fun experience. No, it has nothing to do with starring at naked people. Looking back it was like learning a language though sudden immersion.

The first weeks are a time of flailing. Banging away at trying to reach some unreachable goal. The break through moment comes unnoticed. Until you realise that your subconsciousness processes 3D shapes in a different way. You seem to “know” how to translate what you see into shapes on a flat surface. It’s a wordless understanding. Yet it brings a sense of certainty and joy.

As with most learning curves, after the first leaps you hit a plateau. The sense of needing to do “better” begins to gnaw just as things get harder. This is the fork in the road. The offramp to giving up or the hard climb to a higher mysterious effort.

For most humans, the weight of commitment needed for the next “level” is too much. It requires commitment beyond a hobby or an “interest”. Time is the usual constraint. It binds your activities to the demands of “normal life”. Which will call your commitment an “obsession”. Followed by the usual adjectives smeared on hermitic, passionate “creative” types chasing goals beyond normal description. The fact that hours devoted to figure drawing isn’t “steady” as a “regular” job doesn’t help.

There is no compromise. Just a delusion that compromise is possible. That mirage kept me drawing things that was always closest to me – my paws. In the era I used to take public transport, I made furtive sketches of fellow passengers. All futile. None of it substituted for several hours a week of practice with real nude human models. If you want to rise above just being skilled you have to make committed practice a big part of your life – ahead of many other things. The cost is high.

So the inevitable comes. Hard learned skills fade. The sensation is of losing a language. Once familiar reflexes with brush and pen fumble into increasing awkwardness. Then the shocking day when you know they are gone. Leaving a feeling of looking into empty rooms in an abandoned city.

Still, learning anything is fun. No?

All the drawings I’ve posted on Flickr are released as public domain work.

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