The Bookshelf Academy

Fun little project I did for work. It turned out well, but I knew I was out of practice.

I was listless and uninspired.
I was sitting at my desk in a “Now what?” state of mind. I had just finished a large illustration project for work (a series of illustrations, title page above) , and although I was satisfied with what I had done in the time I had to do it, I felt that I could have done so much more. A large part of it was speed, and to a greater extent, I was severely out of practice.

As I reflected on my past week, I felt a bit empty. I had a vacation coming up which will involve travel, but I know how I am—I get antsy when I’m not doing anything creative. So I sat, paralyzed by the thought of my lack of time, lack of inspiration, and knowing full well I need to put in the hours to get better. “Now what?"

Some backstory: I’m currently in the middle of a personal project—inventorying all of my books. It’s a culmination of 25 years of collecting, and I own quite a bit. I haven’t used many of them. I’m on a long journey toward minimalism and I want to unburden myself with what I haven’t used by selling it all off. I thought to myself, “I sure didn’t get my money’s worth."

Then the internal dialogue started...
Why? Why didn’t I get my money’s worth? I certainly thought there was worth when I found it in the bookstore. I sat with said book for an hour or two after I bought it… what was I hoping I could use it for? After the initial excitement wore off, I would put the book down. They would sit from my small table, then they would accumulate to a stack on the large table, then to unused light table, until it eventually was wedged somehow into my overstuffed bookshelf to gather dust. The intention was fleeting.

I despaired, “Man, if only I could draw as well as these authors that work assignment wouldn’t have been so difficult." Then the thought struck me like a bolt of lightning in the back of my skull: I didn’t put the work into those books in order to get the worth OUT of the book.  It wasn’t the book’s or author’s fault that I didn’t find worth in it—I didn’t investigate it. That puts it all on me because I didn’t fulfill my obligation as a book buyer to put in the hours and USE the book by doing the tutorials and exercises. So many lessons... a repository of knowledge that sits untapped. 

In the tumultuous venture of my life, the obvious USE of the books eluded me. 
That was it. I was going to get the book’s worth out of it. Heck, I’m going to get my entire library’s worth out of it. The idea is simple enough: I am going to do the exercises in each book; utilize the book, do the lessons, and not let it go to waste.

Suddenly, I had direction. 
No more sitting around wondering what to draw in the meantime—I have guides now, mentors enshrined on ink-stained paper. I have my own bookshelf academy waiting to be used… an entire university curriculum in three bookcases filled with hundreds of books acquired over 25 years. My personal library is more robust than many small community college libraries. That might be a sad commentary on our society’s value of art in education, but I digress.

I don’t know how well the lessons really are in these. I don’t know if the techniques are sound or not. I do know I will be drawing and discovering. I know I’ll be putting in the time and improving by the very nature of doing. I do know, for whatever they’re worth, I will get the value from what my original intent was.

Going about it.
I’ve been accepted into Bookshelf Academy… great. Now what? I needed to break this down systematically using the typical educational model: course, assignments, and tests. 

Most of the books I have are Instructional Art books: How to Draw People, How to draw comics, how to ink, how to draw sci-fi, how to animate.. on and on. Each book is a course.

One of the things I think that kept me from doing it was my ego. “It’s not going to be my work.” Fair enough- but school had assignments. I needed to shift my thinking- I’m not copying their art, I’m doing an assignment. I can always do it twice- once their way, and once my own way. That is my self imposed assignment.

How do I know it’s working?
I need to find a rubric that would demonstrate how well I absorbed the material. How can I test myself? Well… I’ve always been told that art ability is honest- you know when someone is good or bad by just looking at it.

It’s subjective too… but that’s a whole different ballgame and often tied to the subject itself. A self evaluation is fine, but posting the original art up on boards and getting feedback, and simply posting it on social media and garnering likes… if it gets a lot attention, it’s gotta be good.

This isn’t a perfect way to measure, so it’s a work in progress. Perhaps one of the books has an idea on how to do it. I guess I’ll find out.