Follow Your Instincts!

Long ago, in another life, you may as well know, I used to be a software engineering team leader. I loved that job! It’s very different from writing code: you’re trying to make people happy: people above you, people you manage, the people at your level. And oh, yeah, the customer.

I had a bunch of amazing coders working for me who were like me in one important way: they enjoyed coding more than anything else. But we were all very different in how we coded!

Some would try to write efficient code even if it didn’t always lead to easily readable, maintainable code. Others had a strong urge to write beautiful, elegant code. Some often made mistakes and were, therefore, better at finding mistakes. Others thoroughly enjoyed configuring systems; others loved the interaction with the hardware the software ran on.

I’d try to let each of them work the way they naturally preferred to, and I believe we made amazing, unique software.

The company grew, and with it came people who preferred reproducible processes. We got a “Human Resources” department. Resources are replaceable things; an apple is a resource: you can interchange one apple for another.

(On a side note, if I ever start a company, it will have a Human TALENT management department. Humans are not exchangeable resources.)

My team didn’t work that way. Each team member had their specialty, and I tried to make the most use of that.

I can understand why a company wants people to be replaceable: an employee leaves the company, you want to swap in another one to keep the engine going. You want predictability. As a manager who is scared to lose his job, you want predictable, repeatable results. I get it.

The thing is, though, that I think it is the wrong way to go about it.

Think of restaurants. Fast food chains go for the reproducibility of the results. They have burger flippers, and if one employee leaves, another random person can be plugged into the system to keep on flipping burgers in the same way. The burgers they make are the same all over the world.

The results are reproducible. Not of high quality, but reproducible.

Contrast that with a three-star restaurant. There, the menu depends on the chef’s specialties: he may specialize in specific ingredients or a specific kitchen. They may have experimented in that space for years, worked abroad to learn a kitchen for years, been fascinated with one particular kitchen, and been able to perform magic and make the best dishes in the world.

Then, that chef leaves! The restaurant owner hires another chef cook. And the menu will be different! But maybe the dishes will be equally good! Because the chef has his specialties.

When a three-star restaurant changes chefs, it gets different results, but what is reproducible is the quality of the result.

Fast-food restaurants go for reproducibility of the result.

Three-star restaurants go for the reproducibility of the quality of the result.

I hope I don’t lose subscribers for saying this, but comics are often made like the way a fast-food restaurant makes burgers: you have writers, pencilers, inkers, color artists, letterers, and cover designers. Each is replaceable, so the result will be relatively similar when you change one creative team member. (Okay, now I am sure I lost subscribers, haha!) In truth, that is not exactly true, of course. It does, of course, matter who wrote the story, who penciled the story, who inked the story, and who colored the pages. If you are an avid comics reader, you have your favorite writers and artists. But near enough, the results look almost the same to a layman who just sees an endless stream of superhero comics.

Many remarkable, quirky, goofy, wonderful graphic novels were written and drawn by the same person. They are at the same time brilliant and vastly different from each other.

You don’t want reproducible results. You want the high quality to be reproducible.

In my development team, people never left. But if they had, and I had to hire other developers, would that have changed the results? Why, yes, it probably would. But I would have hired other developers who enjoyed coding, coders who had their specialties, and I would have let them do their thing, and the quality of the result would have remained high. The software would have been different but the quality of the result would have remained high.

You can only become good at things you enjoy doing.

Me, I was always an enthusiastic starter. I love starting new things, diving in at the deep end, and figuring out how things work. When I finally figure it out, I get bored with it. Fortunately, other people often ran with it and were able to improve on it in ways that I could not, without hating doing it.

I find that, for me, it is like that with drawing, too. I love sketching, and I get more joy from that than from creating finished pieces. I also enjoy my loosely drawn sketchbook pages more. It is what it is, and it is who I am, creatively. I keep making “finished pieces,” but maybe I should share those sketchbook pages more.

The goal is to get into a state where you can not wait to continue working on your art every day.


My Favorite Drawing Exercises

This week, look at the creative things you do and don’t look at the results. Look at which activity you thoroughly enjoy. Are there specific things you like to draw? Are there specific tools you enjoy drawing with? Do you like to draw fast and loose, or do you enjoy getting lost in a larger piece?

My Favorite Drawing Exercises

If you feel like drawing, then check out my favorite drawing exercises!

Do these exercises

form studies to warm up, slow down, get into the right meditative state, and improve your draftsmanship skills.

Do these form studies

form studies to help you improve creating underdrawings, place things in space, practice doing perspective by sight.

Practice drawing from memory to fill your visual bank, ability to memorize, ability to visualize, ability to draw what you see in your imagination and your ability to see what is wrong with your drawings.

If you find it hard to create or maintain a creative habit, you can find some habit-related tips here.

Check out these pleasing, calm, art-related (mostly) podcasts to listen to while drawing. They have been automatically prepared for you to automatically binge-listen to so that you can start drawing.

Lastly, also make sure you have fun in your sketchbook after the hard practice! Here is one guide that can help you jog your creativity.

creativity exercise

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