Sunday Mailbag- Getting Rusty?

June 15th, 2014 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Imagine you have to quit drawing for a while because maybe of an injury. Do you think your drawing skills are getting worse after a longer break? Or is it more like driving a bike: If you once have learned it, you will never forget it?

A: I think the physical act of drawing, i.e. your hand responding to the impulses sent from your brain, is a skill that can degrade somewhat from lack of use. However you really draw with your head, not your hand, so unless you have an injury which interferes with the normal function of your drawing hand you very quickly return to your usual form after a layoff.

That said, certain types of art techniques require constant practice to stay sharp.

Inking is one of those skills that will suffer without constant use, especially using a brush. I will spend long periods of time where I do not have to ink anything substantial and then suddenly it’s time to ink a 7 page parody for MAD, and I find my skills a little rusty. I will warm up with some direct drawing with the pen and brush on some scrap paper, and maybe start inking in the middle of page 4 or someplace other than the splash page. I find it quickly comes back, though. Within an hour or so I am inking right along.

Live caricature drawing is a skill that definitely degrades without constant use, although a long layoff also has it’s benefits. These days I don’t do much live work, so when I do I feel very rusty and frustrated. Those bold, snappy lines don’t go precisely where I want them to go for a while, and by the time I finally get warmed up whatever event I am doing the drawing for is usually over. I do a lot of mediocre or lousy live drawings for a while, and it really is frustrating because I can “see” in my head what I wanted the drawing to look like, but I didn’t accomplish that on the paper.

As to the benefits of a layoff from drawing live caricatures, that is more true for newer artists. I remember seeing a big leap in my skills each summer after taking the winter mostly off to go to art school back in the late 1980s. I think your eye becomes fresher and you have matured as an artist in other ways, and you bring that better eye to the drawing table. It would take me perhaps a week of drawing to recover my skills with the lines and the airbrush, but that is all surface stuff. The “underneath stuff”, meaning what I was actually drawing and how I was caricaturing, got better with the time off. That would lead to major leaps of ability during the summer when all that drawing and practice was used to maximum effect.

Thanks to Dominick Zeillinger for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


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New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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