Drawing!

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. -Genesis 1:3

Being made in God’s image, man has the desire to create. Granted, he cannot simply speak and have fully developed, three dimensional, living things appear, but this desire can nevertheless be found in everything man does: engineering, computer coding, construction work, art, and music –  just to name a few. Drawing is one area of creating that has always fascinated me, and I wanted to share some of the insights that I have had during my limited experience to help encourage others thinking about taking it up as a hobby (or career), and hopefully help you waste less time than I did actually learning how to really draw.

Practice, Practice, Practice

001 (2)Like with anything else, nothing can replace just drawing. Early on I probably spent as much time reading ‘how-to-draw’ books as I did actually drawing. This was not completely unhelpful, but there is no substitute for taking up the pencil and actually applying it to the paper (or digital stylus to the computer). One great way to practice drawing (or anything for that matter) is to set aside a little bit of time each day to work on it. During my senior year in high school as part of a fine arts credit, I had to draw for a minimum of 15 minutes each day.  I would encourage anyone interested in improving their drawing skills to try and set aside time on a regular basis (daily, weekly) to drawing from life.

However, if getting the motivation to actually sit down for an extended period of time seems difficult to muster, try to find a friend or sibling who would also like to practice and make the drawing practice a group event. I find that most things are more enjoyable with a group of people. Also, by teaming up with another person, each person can critique and evaluate the other’s work. This can be useful as it encourages progress and prevents ruts.

002

While drawing regularly from life is the best way to learn, drawing from the imagination is also beneficial. Requiring the knowledge of God’s creation gained from drawing life studies, it requires the artist to take reality and then tweak it to visually communicate to the viewer. And even though I don’t really know what my message was, I always found drawing bearded guys with swords a lot more fun than drawing flowers anyway :).

Note: The notion that only a few gifted people are actually capable of drawing well is not true at all. Just like anything else, drawing is a skill that must be nurtured and learned. Like most things in life, drawing does come easier to some than others, but that does not mean that it cannot be enjoyed by the rest of us.

Know the History

MichelangeloStudying artists and the history of art was probably one of my favorite parts of learning to draw. While studying and copying great works of art from history is not a substitute to drawing from life, the importance of the techniques, stylistic nuances, and inspiration that existing art provides cannot be underestimated. Almost everyone has an artist or artists whose work blows them away. These artists are often the ones whose work directly influences our own. Personally, I was always drawn to the work of Michelangelo, Hokusai, Arthur Rackham, John Howe, and various comic book artists. While most of my drawings look absolutely nothing like these artists work, they have all had a shaping influence on the style that I do have.

Learning Resources

As I mentioned earlier, the ‘how-to-draw’ section at Barnes and Noble used to be the first place I would go every time I got a chance. However, there is a lot of useless junk whenever it comes to books on drawing. Most of them seem to mainly consist of copying, step by step, the art of the author of the book. However, I have read a few books (or partially read) that I hope will be useful to others who are interested in drawing, and will hopefully save some valuable time being wasted searching the drawing 003section at the local library or bookstore. First, even though I never finished reading it, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is an excellent book that helped me approach drawing in a more constructive way. For those interested in human anatomy, Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray, and with drawings by H.V. Carter, is an excellent way to gain a rudimentary understanding of the structure of the human body without a lot of the morally questionable drawbacks inherent in most artist anatomy books. Finally, if finding people who are patient enough to let you draw them is a problem like it was in my family, books of famous people of history with large pictures are often a decent substitute.

The Dark Side of Gaming

The last time I wrote to you, I discussed a lot of the benefits of electronic gaming in education. I believe they can have a great positive impact on true education, even though there’s so much more that can be done with the medium. However, in the spirit of fairness the potential drawbacks of gaming on education — and life in general — should be discussed.

In the first place, let’s consider what games can do to our attention span. Consider Mario Party, in which players are subjected to a number of quick challenges that have no relation to one another, and a typical round of play takes a minute at most. These sort of fast, twitchy titles may test hand eye coordination, but they make it impossible to focus on any one task for an extended period of time. Even games which have more complicated mechanics can be guilty of this. For example, many shooters are designed to be “fire and forget.” I greatly enjoy the Unreal Tournament series of games, but those sorts of games test twitch reflexes and ability to react to a constantly changing environment. While in and of itself that isn’t a bad thing, I would argue that games that cater to this sort of instant gratification and our constant need for new visual information have a tendency to stunt our intellectual growth (at least temporarily.) It can be a difficult thing to go from blasting combatants with a rocket launcher to settling in to a good book.

unreal-tournament-20041

Somehow, this doesn’t get me in an academic mood.

Consider secondly that games have the ability to feed our need to always succeed. (I know, I need to stick to prose, not poetry.) I and others I have known keep at least two saved states for every game that has such a function, in case something happens that we don’t like. That way, we make sure our own little universes run exactly how they’re supposed to. This damages our tenacity and our willingness to accept our mistakes. It can become a crutch. While it’s understandable to do this because we don’t want all the time we’ve devoted to a title to be in vain, there is something to be said for games that include an “Iron Man” mode which saves the game automatically and forces you to live with your mistakes. If a player really wants to up the ante they play games which include “perma-death,” erasing all save files once the player dies. This is an important reminder that in life, there are no save states. There is no reloading. There is no reset button. The sooner we learn to live with and learn from our mistakes, the better off we are.

punch_1331034458

Well, so much for my best sniper who has fought for me the past 3 hours. *sob*

Thirdly it can be argued that games have a potentially damaging effect to both humility and ego. It’s easy to see people who get bent out of joint over the outcome of a game which has no bearing on reality. (I myself have been guilty of this far more than I care to admit.) This is explained by how we get emotionally invested in our entertainment. Think of the last movie you saw or fiction book you read that had a terrible ending. It was a real let-down, wasn’t it? Those can be very powerful emotions produced by passive media. A book, movie, or television show doesn’t ask you to engage in the story beyond observing it and producing some sort of empathetic reaction. A book or movie doesn’t ask you to be the story (unless it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure title.) Electronic games by comparison elicit not only emotion but also competition and active involvement in the medium. We play because it gratifies some sense of pleasure and accomplishment. When we lose, our egos can be bruised rather easily because it means we have been conquered when we set forth to conquer. Loss of this type often can elicit anger, even if it’s not outward. These passionate responses are not typical with passive media — no one’s ego becomes wounded in the same way if a character dies in a book as it can be if a player dies in a game.

The argument can be made that such drastic emotional reactions depends upon the individual. After all, not everyone reacts in such a strongly negative way as to begin cursing and getting angry! This is true, but it runs the risk of ignoring the fourth point: games are often used as a substitute for real accomplishments. Such a substitution demands heavy emotional investment. This is one of the most damaging — and some may say condemning — aspect of electronic games.

By their very nature, games are a temporary escape from reality. Most of us will never take up arms and shoot someone in real life, but we can do so in games. Most of us will never have the opportunity to direct the destiny of nations, but we can do so in games. None of us will ever be a green-skinned monster with a full set of rare magical equipment that lets us fight dragons and other assorted beasts, but we can do so in games. All of these can be attractive because they cater to our desired fantasies: to live in a pseudo-medieval world, to command the great armies of Europe or Asia, or even to take to the stars to establish a galactic empire and fight unknown foes, etc. These sort of fantasies are not limited to games, of course. Many women read trashy romance novels because they have a fantasy of what they want their relationships to be like, and many men view pornography for exactly the same reason. Both of these are damaging because they provide completely false expectations of reality.

smiley-face

I wanted to post a picture of a romance novel cover here, as posting pornography would be distasteful and immoral. Little did I realize that the novel covers were equally so. Here’s a smiley face instead.

Unlike passive media, there is an added element to video games: a sense of accomplishment. A sense of accomplishment certainly is not a bad thing in and of itself! A sense of accomplishment may be found in other active hobbies such as model building, playing music, crocheting, gardening, etc. Unfortunately video games leave out one very important thing that other such active hobbies have — a tangible product. There is not — and I would argue never will be — a tangible benefit to having a maximum level character in a game like World of Warcraft. This is only exacerbated by the Achievements system that is now so common in gaming. Players have a “meta-score” based on how many of these challenges they complete for the games they play. Such a system adds another sense of accomplishment on top of the one they get by simply playing and completing the game. This also can add a sense of competition with a player’s friends for who has the highest “meta-score.”

However, calling these challenges “achievements” is disingenuous as they aren’t achievements in the classic sense of the word. They are also inherently selfish. There is nothing to be handed down to a subsequent generation once they have been attained! My future family will have no benefit based off of the achievements that I have acquired in the games I have played. There is no way that these games have a direct benefit to my survivability. I may have acquired information indirectly from games or skills as a result of them, but they do not directly improve my station in life. But it is that desire to point to an “achievement” that keeps so many people playing and may hinder them from going out and laying claim to a real achievement. Even if there were some sort of rewards system associated with these achievements such as free bonus content or credit for another game, they still only serve the user in a fashion that will keep them playing.

This leads to a final point: games are addictive. I bring up this point very reluctantly, because I myself am uncomfortable with the fact. However, it is a fact. Neurologists have done studies that show the reward pathway in the brain associated with playing video games is very similar to that of crack cocaine users. We get addicted to the cycle of risk/achievement/reward because the dopamine (“happy chemicals”) released by this cycle keeps us euphoric. But over time and with constant use — like anything — this cycle’s effect dims. That’s why I have more than one first-person shooter title installed on my computer. The same is true with strategy games of various types. There are different features and therefore different experiences, but the question can fairly be raised “Why do you feel the need to buy a new game of genre X? It differs very little from the previous ones you have.” The answer I believe can only come from the fact that I haven’t tried this “new” experience with similar themes. Just like a cocaine user hasn’t tried just this next hit.

I’m very happy to say that I’ve never done illegal drugs or been subject to their negative effects. But I can’t honestly say that I’ve never been addicted to anything. I seem to have the personality for it, certainly. When I was very young, I was addicted to the Star Wars movies. This later led to being addicted to a Star Wars computer game. I played it nearly every day. Though the theme of that fictional universe waned in appeal (more or less,) the addiction to games did not. The fascination in themes changed, but the desire to play and personally experience those themes has been a constant.
Video game addiction is different from movie addiction, music addiction, or book addiction because (as has previously been stated) those mediums are inherently passive. The cycle of play/reward is incredibly enticing. I couldn’t possibly consider sitting down and doing nothing but watching a movie for 5 hours straight, but unfortunately I know that time could easily be swallowed by gaming. Such a prospect is incredibly damaging for devoting time to actual achievements. Though games in and of themselves are not bad, they certainly can be abused like alcohol, tobacco, or harder drugs.

These aspects of gaming can have a negative effect not only on someone’s education but their overall quality of life in the big picture. Even as I type this, I consider friendships made and strained over gaming, of things learned and things ignored, and of time spent and misspent engaged with a controller or a mouse and keyboard. Gaming has had a profound impact on my life both positively and negatively. While I stop (more or less) when I have a big project or pressing work duties going, I’m not sure I could ever walk away from the medium completely. I’m not sure I could live without the possibility of playing games in some way, either electronically or with cards and dice. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure. I believe that we play games to learn skills and bond with people around us, but like anything else it can be made into an idol. It should also be noted that gaming with cards and dice requires other people, whereas most video games do not. Even in the instance where they do require other people, most of the time there’s no need to interact with them unless you know them in real life.

That’s a lot to consider, and in some cases these things are not very comfortable to ponder. In fact, writing the entire last half of this article hasn’t been very comfortable because I realize how much of it has been first-hand experience. That being said, the uncomfortable truths are usually the most important and the most necessary to lay hold of.

Hi, my name is wastelander87, and I’m finally ready to admit that I’m a game-a-holic.

Ah! Summer

This was written as a response to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.  You know the one: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”  I generally enjoy his sonnets well enough, but I have no patience with them.  Thus, any papers relating to them tend to be negative, like this one, which discusses just what a summer day really is.

 

Were I an inhabitant of the far north, I might better welcome summer as a paragon of better days.  I might fondly recollect sweet breezes caressing my brow, and gaze with my mind’s eye upon bright flowers visited by fat bumble bees.  I should, perhaps, not object to being compared to such a day.  But as I reside in the backward south, I must confess that summer does seem to me to be a most horrid season.

As the first day of this most bright season arrives, I step out into the wild world and summer immediately surrounds my senses.  The sun is so bright that its happy glow warms the landscape to one hundred degrees.  Yet this light that bakes the earth cannot dispel the one hundred percent humidity.

As I move further into this oven, I gaze with joy upon the many blossoms that now display their full glory.  But I cannot stray too close to these blooms, lest I come between the many bees battling for their share of sustenance.  I pass on, only to see a most unhappy sight.  My fair confederate rose is wilted for lack of moisture.  I increase my good parents’ water bill by leaving a hose to drip at the tree’s roots.

As I pause for a moment, mine ears detect the shrill whine of a mosquito.  That insect lights upon my skin.  I slap myself, and move on.  The air is full of a thousand perfumes, all vying for the attention of my nose.  I sneeze.

I meander by the pool, and I long to dive into its coolness.  Yet I know this is but an illusion: the water, surrounded by burning pavement, is at least eighty-nine degrees.  I must squint my eyes to even look upon the area, for the sky is a pale, empty blue, with not a friendly rain cloud in sight.  I reflect on this as I greet the horses, whose tails are constantly flipping and swishing, attempting to beat the flies away.  I shudder as I catch the huge, beady eyes of the horsefly.

But now I must return to the confederate rose, and deprive it of its water source.  When I arrive, there are small pools of water around it.  And ah!  Summer!  What bewitching spell hast thou laid upon the land?  For my cats do lie in those puddles of water, their tongues hanging out, as if they were dogs.  What unnatural things do you cause dumb creatures to do?

It is all I can do to stagger back to the house, tongue dry, eyes sore, brow damp.  As I collapse at the door, I can rest but for a moment before I am forced to flee inside by the ominous buzz of the fiery wasp.  I slam the door, and bask and the sweet coolness of air conditioning, and earnestly pray to the maker of the seasons that the mechanical breeze might never break down.

Here’s a Speed Bump for Your Summer!

Good writing, while missing in much of modern culture (regardless of medium), always struck me as particularly missing from much of the comic book genre. However, every now and then a creator comes along who far exceeds the genre’s norms, and this past week an excellent newspaper strip called Speed Bump by Dave Coverly found its way onto my computer screen.

Mannequin_Psychologist Suspender_Karate

The strip follows a similar format to Gary Larson’s Farside newspaper comics, and offers excellent single panel hilarity. Coverly does an excellent job of using limited space to convey his ideas in text and pictures. And now for two final Speed Bumps to wrap things up:

Texting_Aliens_Roswell Kickstarter

Be A Better Writer By Doing Nothing!

fruitWriting can often be a daunting task, yet so many authors seem to do it well. They manage to churn out 70,000 word novels every year, and sales figures indicate that audiences like their stories. On the other end of the spectrum are ordinary people (like me)–people whose longest piece of writing was probably a research paper they wrote in high school or college–and that’s maybe 3,000 or 4,000 words at the most. The idea of tackling a writing project over ten times this size understandably can seem impossible (this site gives a breakdown of the word counts of several famous books–an interesting tangential topic).

But it’s not impossible. Obviously there are multiple reasons that a writer becomes successful, but one piece of advice stands out in particular, wisdom I learned from a writer named John R. Erickson in his book Story Craft (who, regardless of what you think of the literary merit of his Hank the Cowdog books, has an excellent no-nonsense understanding of writing as a profession). Erickson’s advice is this:

producers can’t be consumers

StoryCraft

To put Erickson’s advice another way, those who successfully create can’t consume large amounts of what other people create.

In my own experience this principle has proved true. When I find myself at a loss for words it is usually because I’ve spent my time surfing the web or (more likely) watching movies or TV shows. These activities seem to drive out original thought as they are a mostly passive experience. This sounds counterintuitive, I know—in order to write well, stop listening to other stories? That sounds crazy! Yet I think Erickson makes an important point here—silencing outside voices allows us to find our own voice. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, it gives us the time to actually sit down and write.

Is this principle of consumer/producer always true? Well, no. That would be silly, but this emphasis can be helpful in counteracting natural tendencies…the real question becomes: do I have the time to be both an avid consumer and fruitful producer? In the end, there is a balance to be made…

Perhaps this is what holds many writers back. I think that there are hundreds if not thousands of stories in people’s heads on this very day that, if realized, would exceed the best work of the most sterling published author of today. But I’m afraid that doesn’t matter, because the successful writer isn’t the one who has the best idea; the successful writer can only be the one who finishes his idea. And the one who finishes is often the one who makes time to complete his work, the one who produces (bountifully!) and doesn’t consume (gluttonously!).

Note: In my introduction when I mentioned word counts I did not mean to imply that a writer should be overly concerned with how long a story is. I remember writing stories when I was younger where I would attempt to make the story as long as possible…for the sake of being able to say that the story was “x” pages long. This attitude tends to produce junk. The proper worry of writers shouldn’t be length but characters and plot instead…but that’s a tale for another day!

There Stands Today a Statue

There stands today a statue,

Upon an island small.

Its width is great in magnitude;

Its height is towering tall.

* * *

There stands today a statue,

Upon a stand of stone,

Crafted by Bartholdi,

For liberty alone.

* * *

There stands today a statue

Of copper, steel, and gold,

A lady robed in verdigris:

Beautiful and bold!

* * *

There stands today a statue,

A golden torch held high.

’Tis said to shed enlightenment

Upon the country nigh.

* * *

There stands today a statue,

Holding a tablet of stone;

It reads July 4, 1776,

Which is a date well known.

* * *

There stands today a statue,

Broken shackles at its feet,

Lying there to symbolize

Liberty achieved!

-Arrietty

Statue_of_Liberty_7

Prelude to the Fourth

The Declaration of Independence

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – Excerpt from the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, in Congress, July 4, 1776.

Flags fluttered in the breeze, drums rolled, trumpets blew as a parade swept through New York City.  New York Harbor frothed with boats, crammed with shouting citizens.  It was October 28, 1886: the day of celebration for “Liberty Enlightening the World”‘s dedication.

This colossal statue, better known as the Statue of Liberty, had its beginnings in 1865, when the Frenchman Edouard Laboulaye, a well-known politician and historian, “proposed the construction of a joint French and American monument celebrating the ideal of liberty,” and his friend, the sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi carried out the idea.

Édouard Laboulaye
Édouard Laboulaye

With the help of French engineer Gustave Eiffel, who designed the internal support structure, Bartholdi and his assistants built the colossal sculpture.  Following many years of hard work, the statue was finally finished and the people of France gifted it to America on July 4, 1884.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi
Frederic Auguste Bartholdi
Gustave Eiffel
Gustave Eiffel

Upon receiving the statue, which was shipped in pieces from France, Americans collected money to pay for the statue’s pedestal.  The pieces of the statue were fitted together atop the new pedestal, and at last, 21 years after Laboulaye first imagined the project, the Statue of Liberty was complete.  Just as Laboulaye had hoped, “Liberty” became more than just a beautiful work of art, one of the largest statues in the world, or the project of France and America.  To the immigrants who came to New York and Ellis Island, “Liberty” symbolized many of the things they sought: life, liberty, and the ability to purse happiness and create a better life in America.

Note: Be on the lookout for another 4th of July post on Thursday!

Works Cited

“Statue of Liberty.” World Book Online InfoFinder. World Book, 2013. Web. 28 June 2013.