As some of you may know, in early October I received my first short story contract. Since then, I've been in contact with many other writers and have had the opportunity to learn a lot from them. In a recent conversation with a more experienced author, she told me about her unpleasant experience reading a "how-to" guide to writing. The guide was written by another author whose work I enjoy, and although I knew he'd put out this how-to guide, I never felt inclined to read it. The conversation made me think about why I'd avoided his book, and why I actually tend to avoid most how-to's in general, both in writing and in art.
Would I read a tutorial called "How to use the curves tool in Photoshop" or "How to use an airbrush"? Absolutely! Do I read the Chicago Manual of Style and check out the style guides of any publisher I plan to do business with? Definitely. These are technical skills and guidelines that anyone can share, and I'm always interested in learning them.
But when it comes to creative endeavors--i.e. how to write a novel, how to paint a webcomic page, etc.--I believe that the words "how to" in the title of any book or tutorial should be replaced by "how I." I love checking out step-by-steps and process work of other artists; it's fascinating to see how different we all are, and how other artists' brains work. And sometimes I learn a thing or two that could make my own art better. But when "this is how I do it" turns into "this is how you should do it," there's the potential for trouble.
I'm speaking as someone who loves looking at unique and one-of-a-kind art, and someone who loves reading books that don't follow a formula. I get disheartened every time I see a clique of webcomic artists who share the same style and every time I read a book that I feel like I've already read.
In the field of illustration, there are many valid professional reasons for emulating someone else's style. But the beauty of webcomics, self-published comics, and most novels is that they represent the creative vision of their individual writers and artists.
Unlike the big comic book publishers that choose a story based on marketing directives and hire people with good technical skills to churn them out, webcomics and self-published works come from a more natural origin. They are individual works of art; therefore I believe they shouldn't look like they came out of a corporate cookie cutter.
So technically, the title of this blog should be "How I read a how-to." And the way I do it is I treat it as an autobiography. If there are elements of it that are inspiring, I give them a shot. But I don't follow them step-by-step. I want to draw like Bob, not like the lite version of someone who wrote a tutorial.