A Haiku on Practice

drawing things that suck

so that eventually

they will stop sucking

Holy $#^%, I Finished Something

I had mentioned earlier that I’d wanted to do a little side project, and take a break from the big piece I’m working on. I thought it would be rather uninvolved, and I’d whip it out in a week. A month and a half later, here it is:


I am learning that things will always take longer than I think they will. And that is OK.

Special thanks go to Will Newman for his voiceover talents. Will is an attorney in New York City, a guest blogger for the Huffington Post, and the frontman for his band, The Will Newman Trio, which performs his original songs featuring unbelievably inappropriate lyrics. You’ve been warned.

The Scorsese Storyboard

Last summer, I took a Design and Composition class for animation. We were discussing the art of planning out a story, and our professor told us that Martin Scorsese drew his own storyboards. And artistically, he said they were horrible. (I’m pretty sure he used the word “horrible”.)

“Have you seen the boards he drew for ‘Raging Bull’?” he asked us. “Horrible! But if you line them up in an animatic and play them alongside the final film, you’ll see that they’re completely accurate. Every punch is how Scorsese saw it in his mind.”

This fascinated me. I went home and Googled “Scorsese Raging Bull storyboard”, and I found this:

I don’t know what I was expecting – miserable stick figures, perhaps – but I have to say, I didn’t think these were horrible. But I could see what my professor was getting at. Also, he’s been in the animation industry for 30+ years, and he’s used to seeing stuff like this:

I spend a lot of time (read: way too much time) worrying about the things I draw, if they’re good enough, what it means about me as an artist, as a filmmaker, should I even be doing this, etc., blah blah blah. If I draw a mediocre thing, or a downright bad thing, a thing that doesn’t turn out as I’d hoped, it becomes this concretized edifice of How Bad I Suck, and then I must spend even more time and energy trying to chip away at it so I can try again. So when I heard about Scorsese’s storyboarding process, this grabbed me, and opened a window into my little self-imposed Bad Artist prison. Here is one of the most successful and innovative filmmakers of all time, drawing “Horrible” Storyboards:

Hey, I can draw Horrible Storyboards, too! In fact, I’m really good at it! It’s something that can help me move past the paralyzing perfection paradigm and really dig into the work; what a wonderful release!

[Side note: I particularly love the direction in the bottom boxes: “Zoom out – truck in simultaneously” and “HE PULLS BACK – can’t believe it”. I looked up this effect (I always wondered what it was), and apparently it’s called a  “dolly zoom” which gives a telescoping feel to the camera shot and visually amplifies a sense of unreality.]

At this stage in the process, I suspect Scorsese’s biggest goal is to get the film out of his head and onto the paper, so he can see it and work with it. I also suspect that he couldn’t care less whether his storyboards have any artistic merit in the eyes of others. In this interview, he says: “Storyboards express what I want to communicate … they show how I would imagine a scene and how it should move to the next. My storyboards are absolutely essential for my team meetings.”

I love how it is a means to an end, the beginning of a process that gets closer and closer to the finished product. From the same interview: “These drawings continue to serve as both a basis of my meetings with cameramen as well as any preparatory designs we need. These storyboards are not the only means of communication for what I imagine, but they are the point where I begin.”

Here is the finished zoom-in and truck-out scene from Raging Bull. The shot starts at 1:49.

Is the finished shot an exact replication of the storyboard? Who cares? Scorsese knew what he wanted, and used the board as a way to get to that awesome shot. The board was not the final product, but “horrible” art and all, it was a crucial part of the process.

The Scorsese Storyboard concept helps me give myself permission to draw whatever it is I need to draw in order to get where I want to go. And attaching the name Scorsese to it helps me feel like a little bit of a badass. Not bad for an artistic Dumbo’s feather.

There’s also something magical about drawing the stuff in your head, no matter how it turns out. It gives me hope that if I start with this,

“Lake Shore Drive” – Navy Pier – rough

it might eventually end up looking like this:

Lake Shore Drive” – Navy Pier – layout

[Side note 2: The professor who introduced me to the Scorsese Storyboard is Donald Poynter, and he teaches Design and Composition for Animation at the Continuing Education department of the School of Visual Arts. He is a fantastic instructor. He taught our class with a voracious enthusiasm for the technique of art, and I came away with a much improved appreciation for it. If you want to learn about what makes art awesome without the pretensiousness or the stuffiness, Don’s the guy for you.]

Stick Figure Walk Cycle

This is a walk cycle I developed for a quick project I’m doing. There’s some stuff I would tweak if I had more time, but I don’t. So I’ll take it for now.

I am taking a break from Lake Shore Drive, which is a rather epic endeavor, and thought I’d do a sketch on the angst of the creative process. Hoping to be done with the whole thing by this Sunday, May 10th. (Which most likely means two Sundays from now, May 24th.)

Not Buying Into My Crappy Mood


There are times when it is overwhelming and inescapable. I look at something I’ve been working on, something that I’m proud of and that I love, and suddenly, it looks like utter crap. And I want to take my drawing pad or my hard drive and throw it out the window, then go outside and find it and light it on fire.

I know I’m not in the frame of mind to accurately see my work. (In fact, when I am anywhere between being manically pleased with myself and on a raging hate-binge, I am not in a frame of mind to accurately see my work.) But this doesn’t stop me from looking at it, and while I have yet to actually destroy anything from within the clutches of a foul mood, there’s always a first time.

Sometimes I can look at my foul mood and call shenanigans. Simply observe how it is gripping me, and know it is a passing storm that does not define me. I cherish those times. The other, overwhelming majority of times, I need coping skills. I am far from getting a handle on such renegade emotional states, but so far, I’ve learned to employ the following, with moderate success:

  • Provide context. Realize that my reaction to my work is not from its perceived inherent suckiness, but perhaps the crappy night’s sleep I got the night before, or some unrelated stress, or even a reactionary pendulum swing from something new and fun I’m trying, like starting a blog.
  • Go out and get some reference art. If I can get out of my head and turn my attention to the outside world, it’ll remove the burning sting of CrapMood, even just a little. I can take pictures of anything that catches my attention, like the trees in Bryant Park, buildings reflected in a windshield or a puddle, an interesting bug I’ve never seen before. I can grab a shot like this:
    I have no idea when I’m going to use it for reference art, but it’s so quintessential New York… how could I not snap a picture?
  • Use the crappy mood to create art. Today’s most recent tangle with CrapMood has spawned an idea for a quick animated short. It’s been healing to explore the storyboard for it, and nice to take a break from the other epically long project I’m working on.
  • When all else fails, there is always this:

How do you move past a wretched mood while working on your craft? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Trees of Bryant Park

I am obsessed with them. I love the gnarled branches, the camouflage bark, the root systems full of nooks and crannies.

Bryant Park Trees

Skyward View

Trunk and Roots

It was kind of a crap day to take pictures, so I’ll come back when it’s sunny. But I wanted to post these for now. I’ll be using these trees for reference art, for sure.