I’ve been drawing in some form or another for a very long time. I can remember the instant I decided that it was something I wanted to pursue – I saw a really cool illustration of Nintendo’s Link in a magazine for the Ocarina of Time release. I started by tracing that picture, and continued from there.
When my brother and I were young, I remember a few occasions where he would ask me to teach him to draw, because he wanted to draw but couldn’t. I would try to teach him, and he would try to draw, and eventually he would give up in disgust at his own crappy work.
I didn’t realize back then, but he fell into the “taste gap”. The “taste gap” is the difference between what you like, and what you produce. Ira Glass covers it in this video:
Somehow I made it past the taste gap, after I saw that picture of Link. Whatever caught my brother’s eye about drawing made him want to try. Maybe it was my work. Maybe not. But he didn’t make it past the disappointment in his own work.
If I could go back in time, I would tell him to not worry. I would tell him that it’s OK to suck, because he was just started. I would tell him to draw as much as he can, to work through all the suck. It’s why writers write drafts, why concept artists do thumbnails. It’s why programmers refactor. If you get all the obvious, less than impressive stuff out first, you’ll start to put out some gems of work.
I’m very interested in the Zen concept of beginners mind. I can recall several instances where my ignorance into a topic allowed me to perform very well in those topics. When I was 13, I wrote a clone of the then popular children’s toy the Tamagotchi in Logo. I didn’t know anything about programming when I started. I think there’s some relationship between the “taste gap” and beginners mind. Maybe the “taste gap” defeats beginners mind, by putting a standard which we hold ourselves to.
Likewise, I think being able to put yourself into the beginners mind can help overcome the “taste gap”. If you concentrate on quantity rather than quality, on deliberate practice instead of trying to reach your taste goal, you can overcome that gap, and put yourself onto the road of being able to reach that goal after all. I believe this applies to all aspects of life.
If you find yourself getting frustrated by the quality of your output, realize it’s because you’re running into that “taste gap”, and realize that as you work, you are closing that gap. Don’t give up, just keep on producing.