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.)

So here I am with a drawing I'd really make something of if I hadn't started it in such a way that it won't ever be anything but half-baked. And the more I thought about that, the deeper a fear grew within me that this sketch is an abstract portrait of the way writing can go for a new author.

Yesterday, I also attended a lecture and book signing for Brandon Sanderson, author of Mistborn, The Way of Kings, and the last three Wheel of Time books (well, co-author.) It was a great lecture, but there was a portion of it that cut me right to the heart and underscored my point about how my sketch relates to writing.

Sanderson's first published book was the 6th he'd written. The Way of Kings came about as his third attempt at writing that manuscript. he basically said he just wasn't a good enough writer to tell the story in The Way of Kings until he came around to the idea the third time.

This explanation of Sanderson's journey points to a sobering reality in the world of small publishing. Writers typically want to be published, and I completely understand that longing. But what we all need is for every small publishing house to hold writers to the standard that larger houses do--the authors they publish need to be able to hold their own in a side-by side comparison with the Rothfusses and the Sandersons of the world. If small publishing is going to shed any stigma currently attached to it (stigma that is completely unfair for some houses and completely earned by others) they need to stop publishing the literary equivalent of a tiny preemees who can't even breathe on their own in the bookselling marketplace. Because in my opinion, small publishing exists to find new voices that big publishing has to overlook due to volume or competing products or whatever. Publishing an author who should still be an apprentice may do more harm than good, because the pressure of deadlines and sequels has a way of cutting into time that author should be spending honing their craft as a primary writing activity.

My illustration of Vinyanel will never have a chance to become something beyond an exercise because it's not up to the standard it should be in terms of raw materials. The raw materials of fiction are wordsmithing and story--I pray that I will continue to grow in these areas, so that no matter who publishes my work, there will be no debate, no apology, that my book has earned its place on the shelf beside any big-name book to which my readers might compare it.


  1. Love the image, love your writing. No doubt you'll someday be on that shelf and deservedly so :).

    1. Thanks so much, Kat! It's definitely an ongoing journey, that's for certain.

  2. The problem with your analogy is that the "raw materials" of the sketch were physical, exterior things, but what you call the "raw materials of fiction" are internal -- the author's skill.

    I think it must be difficult to depict elves, because they all tend to look more or less the same. The sketch does seem to illustrate Vinyanel's character -- maybe the diagonal cast to it, his features and brows, I don't know. The details like the chainmail look great.

    1. True enough, the analogy isn't water-tight. I can accept that smidge of critique, since that's what I've been after of late. :) And it is true, I think we artists can fall into stereotypes when we're working with demi-humans, whether elves or dwarves or other fantasy folk. I like to think my elves take a slight departure from the usual path in my allowances for them (especially Vinyanel) to be more visceral than the lofty immortal brand of elf seen in other places.

      Thanks so much for dropping in, Bainespal!


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