Teetering Bulb Little Fictions

July 17, 2012

What I’ve learned in 5 years

Filed under: News — Kurt and Zelda @ 6:35 pm

5 years ago, in an (un)fortunate accident, I found myself without a job. I was 29, and in an expensive part of Brooklyn, NY. I had to figure it out. These are as much for you as they are for me. Here’s what I’ve learned:

• There is absolutely no magic button, you learn to draw by drawing. Likewise, you learn to garden by gardening. The more pencil nubs you make, the better you’ll be. I think it might take 4 or 5 large coffee cans filled with pencil nubs to be really good.

• The more sketchbooks you fill, the better, the stronger your sketchbooks get. It’s absolutely a question of fulling your 10,000 hours. Mozart packed in his 10,000 hours as well, but unlike most of us, he did it before he was 6 years old.

• I asked my atelier teacher, “How long does it take?” He said about 4-5 years. I asked Jillian Tamaki the same question. She said about 4-5 years. I also asked Yoda: he said, “To understand drawing, 4-5 years it will take.”

• It’s all cumulative, all of it. All your failings and exaltations. Everything you’ve lived through, you can roll into your work.

• Draw *through* your forms. Make everything beautiful from the inside.

• Seek inspiration from everywhere. Aquariums, rusted metal, textiles, letterpress, ugly people, architectural ornament. Seek awe in cement cracks, or the way noodles lay on your plate. Sometimes, I see skulls in the folds of cloth. The wider your inspiration, the more unique your fingerprint will be.

• It just takes a lot of work. Put yourself in a position where you’ll have to do the work, and gain the 4-5 years. The lamest, yuckiest project can turn into a stellar piece. It’s often easier when the client is weak, because the pressure is gone. Do your best, you will be rewarded.

• “It ain’t easy.”-Ollie Johnston

• Surround yourself with peers who have similar goals and motivations. If all your friends are fat, you will be fat too. If all your friends are entrepreneurs and goal seekers, you won’t be fat.

• Confidence is important, not only in drawing but everywhere. If you don’t have it, pretend. Roll play; it’s free. Pretend until it’s real. If you pretend/ believe, you’ll do a good, solid, beautiful job. No one will know you’re pretending. Your brain acts upon what it believes.

• You learn only by doing, be fearless.

• Strong compositions are just black and white and grey puzzle pieces. -Justin Sweet and Marshall Vandruff

• Don’t fill your image with a thousand little details. Combine what is unnecessary, Merge the unessential. Highlight what you really want to say. Good compositions are like the glossy apartment photographs in Architectural Digest. You don’t see the stack of magazines from 3 years ago, or that fugly pot your mother-in-law gave you. Reveal only the essential; leave the rest out.

• Understand value patterns. Don’t wade around in a grey soup. Grab screen stills from powerful black and white movies, like Hitchcock stills. Compare your work in grayscale. Is your work as powerful as a Hitchcock movie still?

• Sometimes, you gotta draw it 6 or 7 times. Or 13 times.

• Do copies. Copy screen stills, master paintings, classic sculptures. Climb into a master’s shoes. Eat their hands. Most of my idols are dead, so they don’t mind. Pretend to be them. Pretend. Never claim copies as your own, those are your secret stash.

• Trace who you love, with tracing paper, the whole bit. Just trace it. Trace characters, trace backgrounds. Concentrate as you trace. Tracing affords you to pretend to be your idol. Put the tracing paper away, and try on your own. You’ll be astounded at how much better you’ll be, like in 5 minutes. You gotta fake it a little bit before you do it. Just don’t claim the tracings as your own; bad form.

• Do what you love, others will love it, too.

• Know who you love, then research who *they* loved. Don’t only be inspired by one person. Make an influence casserole out of 20 people. You’ll find your fingerprint that way. A style is as much what you don’t love or understand than what you do.

• You are the one that makes this work, if you are closed and fearful and timid, your work will be as well.

• Don’t ever draw a ‘nothing’ drawing, have something to say! And say it! Draw verbs, not nouns. I am giving you my attention, make it worth my while.

• “Just do it.” -Nike

I offer private chatting sessions, if you have a portfolio and want to sharpen your work, I’d love to help! -Zelda
Click HERE to learn more!
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  1. What fantastic advice! I’m somewhere in year 3 or 4 (depending on where you start counting) and I cannot agree more with every point. Thank you for sharing!


    Comment by Matthew Hill — July 17, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

  2. Tanks for charing. I really want to learn more. I am à preeschool teacher and have books in à app for children, Boksnok. I really love to draw and write for children. But have so much more to learn. I like your drawings a lot, they are amazing.
    / Katarina

    Comment by Katarina J Tärnell — July 17, 2012 @ 4:03 pm

  3. This is great, and inspiring advice. I have been watching your progress since I found your work on The Tor website and always look forward to seeing something new. You’ve inspired me to start tracing.

    Comment by Jeffry — July 18, 2012 @ 11:47 am

  4. This is now tucked into my sketchbook. In the next few days I plan to hand-write each point of this advice onto the pages. I was particularly encouraged by your advice to trace. It was sort of like you gave me permission to do something I was already doing, but without feeling guilty about it.



    Comment by Andrew Chipley — July 31, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

  5. Thank you for your great and inspiring advises!

    Comment by James M. — October 10, 2012 @ 6:48 am

  6. […] started following, mentions using this Atelier method on her blog at Teetering Bulb. She says it is life-altering. Artist: Zelda Devon – Jaw-droppingly beautiful work! She captions this: “After 3 years […]

    Pingback by Drawing in Beijing | Elizabeth in China — December 4, 2012 @ 12:43 am

  7. Great post. It’s always interesting to learn how another artist views their medium, their own body of work, and what they have learned. I believe every point was valuable, and I hope a lot of artists take what you have said to heart, as I have.

    Comment by Nicole — January 7, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

  8. Wonderful post. Thank you so much.

    It’s August of 2013, now. What’s happening with you all?

    Comment by Alice — August 7, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

  9. Hi There! Alice. Kurt and I are doing our own things now. Here’s my site that I launched recently:
    http://zeldadevon.com Kurt is compiling his own and should be up soon.
    Thank you for wondering.

    Comment by Kurt and Zelda — September 29, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

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