For once, I have a story about my adventures in sketching characters that doesn’t involve bad art–at least not in the traditional sense.
This is Peril, or Alistair Godfrey, as his parents called him.
It’s been several weeks since I’ve updated the character pages because of Peril, which is strange because from the beginning I believed he would be one of the easier characters to present. Instead he’s proven the most difficult so far. Even worse than Ash, which is saying a lot.
Book one of The Eleventh Age has been completed for some time now, and while I’ve been going through the usual rigamaroo as a new author trying to gain notice in the publishing world, just one more unknown in a sea of countless unknowns, all looking to be discovered, I’ve also been hard at work on book two, which naturally means that in my mind the characters are all different people than who they were at the beginning of their story, or even at end of book one. In building this site, I have had to be very careful not to allow the changes the characters experience through the course of the writing to taint how I present them to the world. This sweet-faced boy was a massive challenge for me in that respect, because he is one of the characters who is most changed from book one to book two, and as I drew him (repeatedly), those changes were visible in his eyes, in the hardness of his lips. I had to put him down, go back and remember who he was before, so that I could show you the Peril Elli meets on her sixteenth birthday.
Heraclitus is quoted by many a philosopher as having pointed out the inevitability of change as a constant, the river’s flow being an apt metaphor for the universal flux we experience not just from day to day but from moment to moment. On this Plutarch writes:
“It is not possible to step twice into the same river according to Heraclitus, or to come into contact twice with a mortal being in the same state.”
This is a beautiful truth that is so easy to miss, as we are only privileged enough to experience the changes within ourselves as we meander through this life. Too often we fail to realize that anything we see of other people, even those we love and hold most dear, is just a small glimpse of who those people are at one bend along their stream. Like a river, every person is always flowing with new waters gained by their own experiences. Each of us is polishing our own boulders into smooth pebbles and cutting our channels deeper as we go.
To live is to change.
Peril will never again be the sweet-faced boy in this picture.
Before I get too far into this week’s post, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank Indie Reader for recognizing The Eleventh Age in their October 15, 2014 “Alike But Indie” column “If You Liked The Magician’s Land, You’ll Love…” It can be difficult being an author in a time when the industry is experiencing so much change. One doesn’t always know the right steps to take to get the work noticed, so it means even more when it comes unexpectedly, as this did. Thank you so much, Indie Reader! You seriously made my week!
Speaking of last week, I forgot to update the Character Tidbits page in all my excitement. To make up for my absentmindedness, this week I’ve posted two new pages–Phileas Foote and Ash (Aisling O’Toole), who is one of my favorite characters and happens to be the subject of this week’s Drawing Lesson, which I’m considering making a regular category, but we’ll see. So, without further adieu…
Never Draw a Changeling… Just Never.
In The Eleventh Age Elli’s best friend is the quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and beautiful Aisling O’Toole, who happens to be a halfling–half nymph and half goddess–which makes her a metamorph or shapeshifter. As I mentioned in a previous Drawing Lesson, Ash’s character sketch has given me enormous problems, so much so that I had to quit trying and come back to her with fresh eyes more than once. Since I finally managed to get her right, in honor of Ash’s metamorphic ways, I thought I would share her remarkable transformation.
When I’m drawing a character, I try to find people who look similar to the people I see in my head and work from there, changing them as I see fit. For the most part this is easy enough, and usually I can get a character down within the first three sketches. The girl I originally selected as the basis for Ash was gorgeous. I knew she wasn’t a perfect Ash when I selected her, no one was going to be, but I liked the shape of her features, especially her eyes, which were big but still pixyish and looked very much like the real Ash’s amber eyes. If I had known how difficult she would be, I would have chosen someone else from the start, though that probably wouldn’t have helped me much in the end. You’ll see why.
For the record, this was my third attempt with the original model with the perfect eyes. Even though the drawing is awful (by this point you can see my frustration coming out in the graphite), I am glad I didn’t throw it away like the previous two attempts because it’s nice looking back, to see just how much I’ve improved as an artist. (There’s a lesson in here about practicing, I’m sure, but who needs practical drawing lessons? If you’ve come to me for that, you’re in big trouble, but I digress.)
With every attempt at drawing this girl, I only seemed to get worse, and my younger daughter kept coming along, looking at my work, telling me her chin was too short or her nose was misaligned or her face didn’t fall in the right point on her head. She was a very patient critic, my Bird, even though I became more convinced that I was just a terrible artist with each sketch of not-Ash I drew. Bird is a teenager, so she might have just laughed at my struggles, rolled her eyes and gone about her business. Instead she kept repeating in her very best voice of reason, “It’s better than I could do, Mom. You’ll get it. Keep trying,” which I did, until about a month ago, when I decided I just couldn’t draw a person in profile and I turned to the great and powerful internet for help.
After watching some how-to videos on drawing, I came back to the original model recharged, drawing her several more times, altering hair and even the shape of her eyes, which was one of the things that I liked most about model 1 in the first place, but still I couldn’t get her right. I thought that if I just kept changing things, eventually she would look like the girl I saw in my head, and I wasn’t willing to give up… that is, until I was about half way through this drawing–the last drawing of model 1 ever made.
It is far better than the other drawing, as you can see, however even before I started her ridiculous hair (which I drew several ways before quitting, though the evidence didn’t come out in the picture), I had already figured out it wasn’t really that I couldn’t draw Ash, or even that some small thing about the model needed to be altered and if I could just find whatever it was and fix it, she would be the perfect Ash. The trouble was that the girl I was drawing repeatedly and requiring still more brief art lessons/therapy sessions with my fourteen year old for, was just not Ash, not at all, and I was too stubborn to recognize it. I don’t know who model 1 was, but she wasn’t who I thought she was.
This weeks-long endeavor at redrawing the same girl fifty different ways is how my hidden character inspiration board on Pinterest became full of dozens of potential Ash Wannabes, all of them beautiful, but most of them not at all Ash-like. Here are the other girls I drew in my search for the real Ash:
None of them were good enough, which is why it probably wouldn’t have done me any good to start with a different model, because I was just bound to go through this process, but at least I made some serious strides in my ability to draw a person the right way in one attempt, which is exactly how many times it took me to draw the fifth model, who turned out to be the one.
I’m not certain why I had such a difficult time finding her to begin with, in fact, when I started drawing model 5, I thought she would likely end up in the Not-Ash pile as well. But now that she is finished, with her coy eyes and her lips that hint of a thousand secrets and her wild hair that gives away just enough of who she really is at heart to satisfy that she does not take herself too seriously, I’ve decided that maybe the reason this has been such a difficult journey has something to do with the nature of Ash’s character as a shapeshifter.
Needless to say, if you are going to start drawing people, whether for your work or as a hobby, I highly recommend you steer clear of all changelings, because they have a nasty habit of changing on you when you least expect it. Beyond that, remember that just because a person might be a changeling doesn’t mean they want to be changed by you. I suppose you could say that I have learned not to keep sketching the same person, hoping somehow she would magically turn into someone she was not for my sake.