I am cursed with a naive kind of ambition, a particularly heinous kind of ambition where, however many times the lesson is taught, I refuse to learn that there are no easy paths to success.

The world says “You can be anything!” and I hear “You can be everything!”

The idea of drawing well takes my fancy and I assume that it must be much simpler than coding an iOS app, itself something that I was sure was easier than being a professional musician.

For a long while, things were going well and I was enjoying drawing portraits of silent movie stars from the classic films I was watching. 

I wanted to branch out into more complicated scenes but my attempts weren’t landing and I was finding the process frustrating, a sure sign that something was amiss. 

Life was once again trying to remind me that other people dedicate their own lives to this single pursuit for good reason.

However, if there is one thing that has remained true through all of my various creative pursuits, it’s this: when one starts to struggle, go back to the fundamentals.  

With this in mind, I signed up to the Society of Visual Storytelling and started working my way through their courses. 

This is not without its danger, though, as I am very experienced in the allure of continual learning without application. I endeavoured to only stay one month.

Oh, but skills education. You have such a sweet, siren song. It is a song that carries with it the promise that the Magic Key exists and, with just one more course, this vital key will be discovered and I will finally and effortlessly Unlock all of My Potential.

Such a key doesn’t exist, of course. I know it. But knowledge alone is not enough to protect me from the compelling idea that it might, if I could only find the right teacher, the right book, the right online course…

I ended up staying two months before I was able to cut myself off. During that time, I worked my way through 20 of their courses, covering a wide range fundamentals from line and shape to perspective, light and shadow, and composition. 

There was nothing really new in terms of content, nor anything that couldn’t be found in a good Andrew Loomis book or two, but that’s the thing with fundamentals: you can never get enough of them. I find myself re-remembering things I had learned before and forgotten, and having these things presented as often and in as many different ways as possible is going to do nothing but improve my skill (provided I take the time to then actually apply them to my own work).

Once I freed myself from the warm embrace of Perennial Skills Training and returned to the clutches of the cold and hostile blank screen, I wanted a way to measure my improvement. Looking back through my work, I came upon a piece whose concept I had liked but where the execution was severely lacking. This was from January this year:

An illustration of a woman flying through clouds on a speeder
“For fun and whimsy!”

I had another pass at it, this time with a focus on many of the lessons gleaned from my studies:

An illustration of a girl flying a giant hover bike through purple clouds

I still have a long road ahead of me, but it’s clear that the investment was worthwhile and the obvious progress over 8 months is heartening. 

The Society of Visual Storytelling costs US$14.99 a month if you pay monthly and I certainly don’t regret the two months I invested there. Be warned that when you quit, that’s it. You lose any remaining time between then and your next billing date, so schedule it for a couple of days before.