The Early Work

Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at some of the early work. Not because of how funny they are but because of how mind-bogglingly awful they are. Saying this, of course, is a little unfair. I know what they became, but I still have to acknowledge their right to develop, and my own learning curve. The hand doesn’t just start drawing the correct line immediately. It just doesn’t. It has to have time to learn the pace, the curve, the slope. At the start I made a conscious decision to allow this to occur organically. I can’t count how many endeavours I have embarked on over the years which I have discarded, thrown out, deleted in disgust simply because it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. In my writings, particularly, the wretch-factor has often overwhelmed the need to give my work a chance. This is bad, so with the KerDoodles I wanted to be sure to give myself a chance. For this reason I set two rules for myself – the if-you-want-this-to-work-you-need-to-give-yourself-a-chance rules. Rule number one was to not throw anything out. Even if it didn’t come out quite as expected, the concept, or even parts of the output would always have some merit somewhere, and deserved to not be destroyed out of pique. Rule number two was to not put pressure on it. I knew I would never be a Schulz, Hart, or Larson (heaven forfend!), but even those genii had to start somewhere. Bottom line: don’t be too critical, let it be what it will be.

So are you ready? First, close your eyes like you’re squinting, like you can hardly bear to look. You’ll thank me later. For here is some of the early work.

The thing about learning to draw the KerDoodles was the technical stuff. The ideas came easily enough – after all, it was open season – but the ability couldn’t always keep up. Little things like what kind of stylus to use; the one I started with, at about an inch and a half in length, was far too small in the hand to last. After even a few minutes’ effort the hand kept cramping up, so that was no good. I wound up with one that was about three inches long, of good weight, and fairly resilient. I found it at my university bookstore.

But never mind the stylus. To begin with, the lines themselves – the one thing without which no drawing can even exist – just refused to cooperate. The app was new to me and I still wasn’t familiar with all its features. This is no small thing, you know. It’s like trying to cook without any dry ingredients. It’s like trying to read a book with your eyes closed, or driving a golf ball with a rolled up handkerchief. At first you’re excited, but then as the weight of your decisions begins to manifest, you figure out that what you’re doing matters; that each and every line in a drawing plays. Every mark which winds up on the page lends itself to the final result – even if only subconsciously.

Here’s the Sketches interface. I’m not going to do a sales pitch for the app, but you should know what I look at when I draw. I don’t draw on paper, remember. I draw on my iPad.

You can see that there’s an assortment of tools in the palette, from very small and fine pencils and pens, to larger, water-colour brushes, splash, smear and smudge. There’s an eraser, a fill tool, a blade for cut-and-paste activities, and a number of pre-defined shapes, should you need to use them – a square, a circle, a star and so on.

Each of these tools had a learning curve of its own, and because I was dealing with a tremendous handicap, I think my learning curve was a little steeper than most. Remember, I was doing this drawing thing for the first time in – what? – forty years?

Anyway, here’s one of the early works. It’s an ‘inspired’ piece, and a most adventurous one. I had the idea of delivering a punchline. In my mind I saw my character being vigorous somehow. Energetic. In my mind there were sunbeams, there was vegetation, there was context and perspective. But apparently only in my mind.

The reality, as you see, is somewhat more rudimentary. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’ve already sussed the flaws. The table is awful, though I applaud the effort, and the little computer monitors are square. I’ll give them that much, but the KerDoodle, well… what can I say? What is with those shoulders? That big, thick black line that forms his torso? His feet? Highly suspect. The best I can say in my defence is his face makes a slick stab at an emotion (though I’m not quite certain which one), and I tried hard to cross his arms. All-in-all I have to say, if a Breathēd or a Schulz had come up with this I would have skipped the punchline and quickly accused them of being on something. No, no, I have to be honest and signify my embarrassment at having produced this.

Having said that, contextually speaking he was one of my very first efforts, so there’s that. And there’s the app learning curve to consider – I was still very new at it, and the control wasn’t really there yet. It was also an original idea, I think, so I have to give myself credit for that. The process of the realization of an idea, I have learned, is rather like the throes of childbirth, and this was one of my very first children.

Quick! Let’s move on.

Ah, this one. From early 2018 – so long ago now. So much water under the proverbial bridge. I was so much younger then, and better-looking, and I was still enjoying a beer or two a day as part of my staple diet. I suppose that’s why the idea came to me to portray a bunch of drunks in a bar. I’ve grown up since then, so this kind of thing just wouldn’t occur to me now.

Ok, enact the critical eye – the one my readers first saw this picture with, way back when. Kerdoodles numbering five. Rude-looking glasses, crooked pictures. Perspective, ok – playing with perspective in the juxtaposition of the walls, the drunken sot in the background. Water-colour floors. A spill. Hmmmm.

The humour, of course, is in the facial expressions and the situation. There’s a little more confidence in the lines, but that falling-over guy at the bar – he’s living (sic) proof that I haven’t yet figured out how to, um, draw. And why the front guy has drifted completely out of the frame is totally beyond me. I wasn’t messing with the fourth wall yet, so I’m guessing it was inadvertent. Oh well.

But again, it’s early days and I’m giving myself room to grow. It was my adventurous spirit, and perhaps a little of the spiritual influence I referenced before that even had me attempting such a complex and intricate work, so… yay me.

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