Words worth a thousand pictures

Off the Beat

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I don’t know if it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve never tried to teach my dog anything new, but I do know that I, as a sort of old dog here at UC Berkeley, am afraid of learning new tricks.

Entering college was a chance to step outside of my comfort zone — I started doing journalism regularly, I dropped water polo and I started dressing a lot more flamboyantly.

The Daily Californian seemed like the perfect place to start new things. As I flicked through the different positions that I could apply for, curled up in my top bunk in a Unit 1 triple, my eyes were immediately drawn to the illustrator position that was listed. I’ve always been interested in art, but there were certain drawbacks to the position — specifically the actual necessity of producing art.

When I was in middle school, I operated DeviantArt and Fanfiction.net accounts, both of which have now been lost to time, but I updated my Fanfiction.net account much more often. I practiced my writing skills through sheer fan-power of will, and I was the writer in my friend group. As I became more invested in writing fan fiction, the opportunity to draw didn’t arise often, and whenever it did I was already leagues behind my other artist friends. Even then, I could tell I was a better writer than artist, but I couldn’t let go of my desire to produce something, anything, that was visually pleasing.

As I continued to write, I realized there was something more intimate about drawing a picture than writing a description of the picture. Having some experience in both the artistic world and the written world showed me the different kinds of narratives both mediums are good for — after all, a picture’s worth a thousand words. We always learn, in writing, to “show, don’t tell,” and art is the ultimate show.

But the only thing I’ve used my hands for recently is typing on my laptop. My author skill level has surpassed my artist skill level, so much so that I’m afraid of picking up art again. All the notebooks I’ve bought in the past year are lined, for Pete’s sake — no more blank sketchbooks for doodling. How could I compete against people who’ve been practicing art for years? Who’ve gotten formal instruction in art, who’ve taken actual classes in figure drawing or line of motion? Who know how to use Adobe Photoshop?

These questions stopped me from applying to the design department. I applied for yet another writing position, that of a news reporter, and the rest is history — the past two years of my collegiate career have been me, writing, in the news department, so much so that I’m now the head of said department.

Back in freshman year, I knew I couldn’t face being back at square one. I’m terrified of trying to pick up art again, because I know I’m already behind — I’ll always be behind as long as I don’t practice, but I can’t improve without practicing, but practicing means facing the fact that I’m behind.

A good compromise, I thought, would be to try to write a comic, so I took the Comics Studio DeCal in fall 2017. Graphic novels are a unique mix between written and drawn stories, and I thought it’d be a good way to dip my toes back into visual art. It was a wonderful class and my first actual step toward formally learning how to draw. Still, having to do the homework and classwork only showed me how inept I was at drawing compared to how well I could write. My comic scripts were very detailed, with written descriptions of the setting, the scene, the actions characters would take, yet my drawings were not nearly as picturesque — both ironic, and the most disappointing part of my art career.

As the fall semester draws closer, I’ve been looking at that illustrator application again. I’ve filled a few more sketchbooks and gotten some good critique from the DeCal, so I feel ready to try and step back into the world of art. I’ve got a lot of stories I want to tell, and I’ve gotten good enough at writing to recognize that these stories cannot be told in a written format. I must show, not tell, so I’ll need to improve my art skills.

If I want to tell these stories, this old dog’ll need to start learning some new tricks. I’ve gone through two years of honing my writing skills, two years that I haven’t used to further my art skills, but the more I put off practicing, the deeper the skill divide will become and the less time I’ll have. And there’s no time like the present to start practicing again.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.