Sometimes, you get good advice from the most unexpected sources. Such as people you don’t really like, for example. We can sometimes ignore the advice of friends or loved ones, often because we get advice from them all the time, on every little thing.
The people you don’t like, however, don’t have as strong an emotional investment in you. When they dispense advice of any sort, it tends to stick in the back of your mind, even if the initial impulse is to ignore it. There are two random observations about myself that I’ve received from such people that have stuck with me over the years.
The first one was in high school. As is the case during that time, there was a lot of drama floating around in the air. I had seen enough high school shows by the age of 15 to know that every problem was a life-or-death situation. I was as dramatic as any teenager, prone to bouts of moodiness and mooning over crushes. During one of my fouler moods, a guy I knew (but wasn’t really friends with) managed to get on my nerves and I lashed out at him. Understandably upset by my behavior, he spat back that I was the source of my own problems. I was complicating my own life with unnecessary drama, which is why I was so damn grouchy.
It was meant as an insult. But he was right. I was making my own life difficult. For example, by fawning all over a girl who had made it very clear from the outset that we wouldn’t be more than friends. I honestly thought that I’d be able to win her over somehow, and my continued frustration at being unable to do so left me acting like a character from Dawson’s Creek (maybe? I’ve never watched it, but I’ve seen a gif of James Van der Beek bawling his eyes out, so that seems like a reasonable comparison).
I basically needed to grow up, and though I’ve failed to do that in the 17 or so years since then, I’d like to think I’m just a tiny bit closer to being a full-fledged adult.
The next bit came from one of my old college roommates. He was the kind of guy who seemed really cool to hang out with at first, but I soon realized he was nothing more than a collection of stale jokes wrapped up in unpredictable mood swings. He was also the sort of person who’d eat up everything in the fridge literally one day after we’d gone grocery shopping, and would just shrug it off with a blithe apology. Needless to say, we didn’t stay in touch after graduation. But I digress.
From a young age, I’ve been an avid artist, and I especially love drawing cartoons and dreaming up concepts for various characters. In 3rd or 4th grade, I discovered the stellar Batman: The Animated Series, with characters designed by Bruce Timm. I loved the smooth, angular looks of the characters, so different from any other show I’d watched. I started drawing Batman fan art, attempting to copy poses and scenes from the show (and its tie-in comic). Even when designing original characters, I used Bruce Timm’s Batman work as a reference, only changing minor details. I was never quite happy with how my drawings turned out.
One day, I was in my room busy drawing some random character when my roommate happened to stop by. I expressed dissatisfaction at how the drawing was turning out, to which my roommate simply replied: “Maybe that’s because you’re trying to copy someone else’s style instead of doing your own thing.”
I was stunned. That actually made sense. My drawings were just copies. They had the same proportions as some drawing I’d seen and were in the same pose as another drawing I’d seen, but they had no life of their own. I really needed to develop my own style to give them a more personal element. And that’s what I set about doing. I let myself be influenced by Bruce Timm (along with various other artists that I discovered over time) without trying to slavishly copy one of his drawings. Even now, I’m still trying to find my ‘style’ as it were, but the joy is in the experimentation. Trying out different shapes and proportions based on how I perceive my characters instead of sticking to a single template.
If my roommate hadn’t said that, it’s entirely possible I’d still be churning out poor copies today, or at least for a lot longer than I did. It was a remarkable observation, and it came from such a very unexpected source.
I suppose a broken clock does have its moments.