Rocket Rabbit by JACK

My Nephew JACK was 6 years old when he drew this pin-up of Rocket Rabbit, which he gave me while I visited his family in Maryland last year. It beats the hell out of any drawing I did at a similar age, and I can make the comparison because I still have a few of the pictures I drew when I was very little, although the paper they were drawn on is now brown with age.

Rocket RabbitSometimes, people who don’t draw ask me “When did you start drawing?” In answer, I usually ask “When did you stop?” because every child draws. I just happen to be one of those who never stopped.

I believe that in MOST cases, the amount of time a child spends drawing, and more importantly enjoying drawing, is the key to artistic ability, rather than innate talent. Whether a child enjoys drawing enough to stay with it is not necessarily tied to their ability, at least in the beginning.

When looking at drawings by a group of 4 and 5 year olds, it is hard to predict which of the kids will become artists in future, and which will become accountants. In fact, the weaker drawings may actually be drawn by the kids who DO become artists later in life.

At around age 8 or 9, the difference in artistic ability becomes more obvious. This is when many children become frustrated at not being able to make their drawings look “real” and abandon drawing. Those who enjoy it, despite the frustration, keep drawing and the extra time spent scribbling makes a difference that you can see.

There are powerful reasons for children to move away from expressing themselves with pictures at that age. Consider that when we learn to read we move from picture books, to picture books with some words, then to novels with spot illustrations, and finally to books that are all text with no pictures at all. Thus, we are culturally conditioned to associate pictures with childhood and immaturity. Children are very concerned with “growing up” and so abandoning drawing can be a self conscious attempt to leave “childish” things behind.

The fact that our education system doesn’t place much importance on visual skills beyond kindergarten is another reason that many children give up drawing. At a similar age, we are being awarded prizes for academic and athletic achievement, so improvement in those areas (and overcoming the frustrations of your limitations) is rewarded. In my experience that was not the case with drawing, where the rewards were all purely personal.

On the other hand, the fact that drawing skill was not rewarded, or even acknowledged by “the system” was a large part of its appeal to me as a child. Making pictures was the only thing that gave me pleasure that wasn’t contingent on the opinions of team members, class mates or teachers. After about the age of 10, none of my other classmates drew, so it wasn’t a question of competing or being compared to anyone else. Drawing was something that I could do on my own, free from the judgements of others.

These days I draw to earn a living, rather than solely to amuse myself, as was the case when I was growing up. Sometimes it is hard to summon up that spirit of pure joy that drawing gave me as a child because my drawings are now tied to budgets and schedules, and bills, and generally bogged down in other mundane things… yes, even including the judgements of others that I was blissfully spared as a kid… But I think that my best work comes on those days when I can somehow find that childish attitude and pour it into a picture.

9 thoughts on “Rocket Rabbit by JACK”

  1. Very well said. It’s funny, I was thinking about exactly this just the other day. I have known a couple of people that just have an impressive (read annoying) natural ability at anything to do with drawing, but for everyone else, it seems to be 120% blood sweat and tears. The people who kept drawing when others simply lost interest, or were too frustrated to go on.

    Great post Jamie.

  2. John>>I agree that there are those rare cases where someone seems to have an almost biological advantage, maybe something to do with the way their brain is wired, that makes the drawings simply FLOW from their hands… I have seen those people a few times in my career.

    It is especially startling when you encounter someone like that who is very young, because you then realise that it isn’t ALWAYS simply a question of time and effort. That happened to me when I started working at the age of 17. I consoled myself with the idea my co-workers who drew so much better than me, did so because they were older and had been at it longer… and that I might draw as well as them myself, some day. Then, at around the age of 18, I met an artist who was my age who drew rings around everyone, young and old. Even so, I would bet that he had put in his share of hours, and that combined with his natural gift was a winning combo.

    Like with athletes, it is the time spent “in the gym” that counts with artists. Wherever you are on the “talent scale” you will maximise your gifts by doing the scribbling time…

  3. I started drawing at around five years old. By the time I was in 1st or 2nd grade, I had gotten pretty good for a 6 or 7 year old. Classmates were offering me a quarter to draw the Legion of Superheroes fighting the Avengers or Superman having sex with Wonderwoman ( little kids can be so pervie…). When you’re a little kid, it seems like it’s important to be good at SOMETHING. Especially if you’re not the best academically or good in sports. I know the attention I got from teachers and classmates was a big motivator. And of course theres always something magical about doing a good drawing. Even today I still get excited about watching someone really good make a picture.

    Anyhoo, great post Jamie! Perhaps your nephew will follow in his uncle’s footsteps.

  4. Benton>>Thanks for sharing your childhood graphic enterprises; Superhero Porn no less!

    As I said before, I can’t really remember NOT drawing but I think that the time when I started becoming really interested in making my drawings better was at around the age of 8, in the 3rd grade. I began cutting drawings that I liked out of magazines and glued them into a scrap book, and made a “portfolio” of my own drawings.

  5. James, always a pleasure to read your latest entries; this insight into the creative process no less brilliant than usual. As you may know I was one of those who never stopped drawing into my adulthood. However, years spent in the animation salt mines eventually squelched my desire to hone those skills any further. Only recently, one boring afternoon did I pick up a brush and canvas and open up a set of paints my brother had left in storage. I have discovered a medium which gives me more immediate results and yet allows me all the time I wish; i.e. no idiotic, always too short, animation deadlines. Obviously the fact that I now have a so called “non-creative” job also affords me a steadier income and a greater appreciation of the spare time I have for personal creative pursuits. The irony of my aforementioned job is that as an electronics assembler I am now fulfilling a long frustrated desire to physically “make things”…hard to explain…maybe harder to understand; but there you have it. I think you’d get a kick out of this wonderful lecture on creativity by Sir Ken Robinson given as part of TED at Monterey:

  6. Chris>> Welcome to the blog! Thanks so much for adding a comment.

    Even though, unlike you, I don’t hate working in animation (quite the opposite in fact) I can very much relate to the frustrations you point out and how they can sap the desire to do creative stuff of your own… I battle that syndrome all the time.

    I am very happy to hear that you have picked up a brush as an outlet for your graphic creativity. Learning to paint has been on my “to do” list for about 20 years now… but it intimidates me.

    • This post was before my blog-posts were auto-posted to Facebook and other social media, and long before I had a mailing list. So you’d only have seen it if you were a frequent reader of my blog back then. Anyway, glad you finally saw it!

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