John Hendrix’s Magical Magic
John Hendrix is the author of a startling new book about … well, you can tell from the title: Drawing Is Magic. What you can tell from the spreads below is that it’s filled with activities that will trigger that mechanism that makes the ink flow and the ideas spill. I asked Hendrix about the magic of making magic.
What triggered Drawing Is Magic? For me, drawing in a sketchbook goes almost as far back as my earliest memories of drawing. After 10 years of teaching undergraduate illustration, I’ve seen the transformative benefits of a sketchbook mentality for young artists. Most of this book comes out of a specific class, “The Illustrator’s Sketchbook,” that I’ve taught in different forms for a decade. Drawing is Magic serves a collection of projects, ideas and tools that young artists can use to find their visual voice.
I feel that young artists can benefit when they can proactively focus on enjoyment in art making, and a sketchbook is a vessel for that exploration. There is a weird thing that happens as we grow older as self-proclaimed artists. We stop having fun. As a kid you draw without any thought to enjoying it. Enjoying it is assumed! Then we get to art school and learn there is a right way and wrong way to make images. And of course, we all need academic training. We must all learn how to craft light, space, composition, form, line and shape. But, then after that, we have to be trained to learn to play again. One page suggests that “academic drawing values accuracy, but a sketchbook values enjoyment.” The enjoyment is an essential first step to finding good ideas and interesting stories to tell.
You say that you love to draw. What does it do for you? Even before I knew the category or concept of “visual communications” I was making art to do exactly that. Drawing was a way to connect and communicated with others about who I was and what I enjoyed. When I discovered comics and then illustration, they were not new ideas, but words that described what I had always been doing.
I do love the physical craft of drawing. The viscosity of wet media and the scratch of the nib on the paper is immensely appealing. There is no denying the process is essential, but I think that deep down, it is the communication that I truly love. Part of what makes a sketchbook fun is the private/public dynamic of the process. You do it while you’re “out in the world” but the stuff you make is “only for you.” The tension of that relationship is what makes a sketchbook truly vibrant.
Everybody loves making something in a journal, which is why Moleskine is so popular. Can there ever be too much of the journal life? Ha, this is certainly true. I’ve had many students slowly turn their sketchbooks into fetish objects. They start writing and drawing smaller and smaller and their images become these tiny objects filling up a self-referential curio cabinet. As a vessel for discover and exploration, that is not the kind of freedom I hope young artists find in a sketchbook. As I mentioned above, I think that a sketchbook is best used when you’re not completely alone with it all the time. The pressure of the public gaze is a kind of crucible, reminding us to work fast and lean towards gestures and big ideas. We all need encouragement to actually finish our work, and in a sketchbook, “done” is way better than “perfect.”
This book seems to say, anyone can do this. Does it matter whether you doodle or draw? I think the book is most potent in the hands of folks that have a previous connection to drawing in some way. The core of the exercises/projects start with a love of drawing, rather than an approach like the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which teaches foundational drawing concepts and seeing exercises.
But that said, I do believe that drawing is for everyone. For most, the question is not “when did you start drawing?” but “when did you stop drawing?” — reminding us that we all drew and doodled at one point in our lives. Even for non-artists I think that this book can inspire curiosity in the process of art making and even demystify the act of idea generation.
There is the quality of an interactive graphic novel here. What do you want your reader to take away? That is a fun way to describe the experience of reading through it. I wanted the reader to have both words and pictures to help explain and illuminate abstract visual communication concepts to both young audiences and newer artists.
There are many books that teach drawing, and many more that encourage drawing in a journal format. I always grew frustrated that most of these drawing books treated my brain as secondary and my wrist as primary, focusing mostly on kinetic exercises and skill generation. I hope this book helps tilt a young artist away from only pure mark making and mindless doodling and towards building a world of their own ideas and stories to tell. For my students, this is the thing they crave more than rendering skill: “How do I find content, my very own ideas?” Over the years, I have found that a sketchbook is the best classroom to explore that essential question. By starting with their “100 Things” list and encouraging them to catalog their visual life, they start to see what has been there the whole time … themselves!
PRINT’s Summer 2015 Issue: Out Now!
The New Visual Artists are here! In this issue, meet our 2015 class of 15 brilliant creatives under 30. These carefully selected designers are on the scene making the most cutting-edge work today—and as many of our previous NVAs, they may go on to become tomorrow’s design leaders. Why not get to know them now? Check the full issue out here.