Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Half Baked: A Creative's Biggest Fear

Windrider Saga
Lieutenant Commander Vinyanel Ecleriast, Windrider Battalion
The other day, during my lunch break, I got the itch to draw. You see, I'm in the midst of trying to come up with the right cover image for the third book in The Windrider Saga, entitled Valor's Worth. I really want this cover to feature Vinyanel prominently.

The trouble is, with all the work I've done on him in terms of sketches, I have never really "nailed" his look. That was, until yesterday. (The right reference makes a world of difference, by the way.) I was very pleased with the drawing I cranked out over lunch, but there are problems with it from its inception that I will never be able to fix: I started it in a crummy sketchbook with a horrible pencil.

This picture at the left here is drawn in a $2 spiral sketchbook from IKEA. I love IKEA, but it's not exactly the best place to shop for illustration supplies. My goal at lunch was just to do a study or two of Vinyanel's face, but one drawing took on a momentum of its own and grew into the sketch I posted on facebook yesterday. The image demanded I keep at it and add some tone and detail, which is what you now have here. Back to the pencil issue--I'm embarrassed to admit it, but this drawing was done with a Bic mechanical pencil--you know, the yellow kind where you turn the point and the lead emerges? I can hear Karen Saler, my freshman drawing teacher at The University of the Arts, groaning at the very thought of drawing with such a thing. The graphite transfers (fancy art word for smears) when you so much as wave your hand within 4 inches of the image, and it's completely inflexible in terms of tonal levels (but it's great for lots of little chain mail links, incidentally.)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Kids Without Scars

Or Why I Fear Living in the First World May Be Ruining My Children

I have read a litany of articles over the past few months talking out how the current generation of young people in western society is earning the title "Generation Me." One article explained that when a survey was conducted of 13-24 year olds, that these young people were inclined to label themselves as "above average" in terms of academic ability and motivation. Statistics, however tell us a different story, saying that young people of this age group in the US generally score lower in academic areas than much of the industrialized world, struggle to land and keep decent jobs, and balk at the need to work their way up in the workplace. Collegiate institutions across the US, when  pursuing faculty development topics, now find themselves needing to re-educate professors as to how to teach the "Me Generation" students entering their classrooms. If professors assign coursework with loose parameters or requiring autonomy from their students, many of them find their learners to become paralyzed by a lack of point-by-point instructions. And universities are responding by (tragically) changing how they teach.

In contrast, let's look at the lives of children in what we first-worlders call "less-developed" cultures. Eskimo toddlers handle sharp knives to trim whale blubber successfully. Six-year-old Peruvian children are capable of not only fishing, but cleaning and preparing the fish they catch. Children all over the world mend their clothes, chop wood, build fires, handle get the picture. Now, I understand that we aren't bound by the daily survival tasks that dominate the daily business of less automated cultures, but the convenience technology that should be freeing us up to become better, smarter, people, has instead made us lazier and more easily frustrated.

I know I am as guilty as the next busy mom in not letting my almost six-year-old do things he's sure he can accomplish. He may be wrong, but in my effort to avoid mess or frustration (my own, not his) as he tries, I withhold from him the opportunity to attempt, and the more I look around society, the more my soul stings that I'm dead wrong. That I am buying straight into the first-world mentality.

Sure, our American children may have fewer scars than the knife wielding Eskimo child, but they also have far less competency at daily tasks than they should. Their problem solving skills wither before they so much as bud with this kind of "Just let me do it, we don't have time" mentality. Their executive function is non-existent. We pretend we're trying to spare our kids physical harm and emotional discomfort, but in demanding nothing of them of practical use, we risk creating a generation of children with black belts and no life skills.

I informed my kids at the breakfast table on Saturday that we are going to be a different kind of family--that we need to do some radical things to make sure the current of society doesn't carry us off where we see so much of the world is going. For me, this means leaving my kids as the primary responsible parties for their school work. Granted, I will give them tools to keep track of what they need to do, but I think parents, across the board, need to take a giant step back from how much hands-on whip cracking, hovering, and let's face it, completing of school work. Better an honest, this-is-what-my-child-can-do B minus than an A earned by me, not him.

And when it comes to the home, we will need to start embracing the long time it takes to train children to do things right. Honestly, there's no rocket science going on at my house. All my kids know a white shirt from a red one, and the dishwasher can be loaded by an 8-year-old with no house leveling explosions, I'm pretty sure. They all know how to work the vacuum and a toilet brush contains no mysteries. The question I have to ask myself is if I have the strength of character to show them, let them do the task on their own, and evaluate their performance (even if it means saying "You did a pretty inadequate job, and even if you cry, you have to do it again, as right as a kid your age can. Even if it takes five times as long as if I did it. Here, let me show you again...")

I may have a major bee in my bonnet over what society is doing to ourselves, but I believe it is not to anyone's benefit if I just get over it. And since I'm already an indisputable eccentric, how can it hurt if I begin looking crazy in a new way? We shall see if our family can have any success in resisting the pull of the "Me Generation" tide.