A clear line

Hello, my friends. I hope this new year is treating you well. It's been excellent for me so far. Soon I need to announce the 2023 Ecuador chautauqua about money and meaning, but before I do I'll give a brief update on what I've been up to.

Deciding to extend my sabbatical from Get Rich Slowly indefinitely has been liberating. The moment I committed to this, it was as if a heavy load were lifted from my back. I'm able to pursue other passions now without regret. I don't feel guilty. I don't feel like I need to give myself “permission”. I just do what I want, and it's awesome.

Isn't this what financial independence is supposed to be?

How I Spend My Time

My food and fitness choices have remained strong now for six weeks. (Official start date of my re-dedication to health? December 13, Taylor Swift's birthday.) I'm lifting weights three times per week. I'm walking roughly five miles per day. I'm doing yoga. My alcohol consumption is way down. More importantly, I'm making smarter food choices.

I'm losing weight, yes, but for once I'm not obsessing over the quantified results. I'm trying instead to pay attention to the actual habits and routines. I'm focused on the process because ultimately that's what matters most. (That said, I'm pleased to report that my blood pressure has dropped from an average of 144/96 in early December to an average of 126/84 this week. Yay!)

Also:

  • The dog and I continue our project to walk every street in Corvallis, mapping the farm stands and little free libraries we find.
  • I continue to work in the yard.
  • I continue my adventures in cooking.
  • I continue to manage my mother's estate.
  • I continue to watch plenty of movies, including the Wednesday night second-run films at a local theater. (Tonight's movie? Patrick Swayze in Road House. Not a film I'd pick for myself, but I'm watching whatever this place decides to show.)

Mostly, though, I've been exploring art. Specifically, I'm teaching myself how to cartoon.

A Clear Line

I took some photography classes twenty years ago — and I even sold a photo to Audubon magazine, which means I can call myself a pro photographer (ha!) — but I've never created any other forms of art.

[Photo of Opal Pool]

I've wanted to learn how to paint and draw for a couple of years now. Since October, I've floundered figuring out where to start. Do I learn watercolor? Teach myself to draw? Explore other mediums? Do I learn from YouTube? Take university classes? Teach myself from books?

Last week, I spoke with a couple of actual artists. One is a friend from high school who makes her living by selling folk art at local markets. The other is a Get Rich Slowly reader named Jacob. Jacob is a civil engineer by day but works with watercolor by night. (His stuff is great!) These two conversations gave me some clarity.

You see, I'm drawn to visual storytelling. As long-time readers know, I'm a life-long comic book aficionado. But I'm also obsessed with film (especially cinematography). To me, comics and film are essentially the same thing. I want to learn to tell visual stories like this.

Talking with Jacob last week helped me figure out where to start my journey with art. Jacob has the knowledge and experience and vocabulary to parse my ramblings and tell me what it is that interests me and how to begin exploring it.

I like illustration. I like the ligne claire style of drawing, most famously seen in Hergé's Tintin comics. (Although Hayao Miyazaki's work isn't strictly ligne claire, I think the films of Studio Ghibli embody a similar style: clean and simple characters drawn against detailed, realistic backgrounds.)

[Tintin in Tibet]  [My Neighbor Totoro]

“If I were you,” Jacob told me, “I'd pick one medium and use that to explore illustration.” Light-bulb moment!

Penny Short

So, that's what I've been doing for the past week. I've picked a medium — ink, but especially brush pens — and I'm starting from scratch learning how to draw. At the moment, I'm watching YouTube videos and reading books. Jacob encouraged me to take in-person classes and workshops, and I think that's a good idea. I'll look at those later in the year.

Because I'm starting from square one, I have many hundreds (and thousands) of hours ahead of practice ahead of me. I have a lot to learn. I'm okay with that. So far, it's been fun.

Yesterday was revelatory.

First, I finally came up with an initial character concept for Penny Short, the ostensible heroine of the comic strip I've been plotting for the past two years. Inspired by Dr. Seuss, of all people, I found a way to draw her.

[Penny Short!]

Also yesterday, I began exploring how to color my characters. So far, I've been using only a black brush pen to make simple drawings. (The Penny Short sample above was drawn with a standard Sharpie, however.) Color hasn't entered the picture. But on a whim late yesterday, I added color to a sketch and voila! added dimensionality.

[Penny Short...in color!]

Basic stuff, sure, but that's where I am on this journey…

I'll admit that much of what I'm doing with the art is scattered. I flit from one project to the next. I'll be watching a film when I notice an interesting frame, pause the movie, and spend the next hour trying to draw what I see. Here's a frustrated Chihiro from Spirited Away that I drew in my art journal using Papermate Flair pens.

[Chihiro from Spirited Away]

Because I've never done this before, most of what I'm doing is primitive. That's fine! I do a lot of copying and imitation. Also fine! It's fun trying to figure this stuff out. I can draw the head of a cartoon dog, for instance, but I struggle to draw the body. So, I've spent a lot of time playing with different body styles.

Or, take eyes for example. I believe eyes can make or break character design. It's so weird to spend two days obsessing over how eyes are drawn, but that's what I did. Different artists approach eyes in different ways. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Which style do I use for which characters?

Mostly, it's a lot of repetition: drawing the same characters over and over and over and over again until I have the movements memorized. The kitchen table is piled with papers that contain the same fundamental sketches repeated dozens of times.

Finding Fulfillment

Anyhow, all this is to say that I'm having a good time. I'm in a good mental space — the best mental space I've found in almost a decade.

And you know what? This time off has helped me to see that perhaps I don't have to abandon Get Rich Slowly completely. Perhaps all that's required is an attitude shift. Instead of thinking GRS first, I can treat it as secondary (or tertiary!) in my life. When I have something to say here, I can say it. Maybe that means long gaps between publication and that's fine.

We'll see.

In the meantime, I'm going to continue enjoying this period of my life. It's fulfilling. It's just what I've needed.

Postscript: Like I say, I need to officially announce the 2023 Ecuador chautauqua on money and meaning. That's what I sat down to do this morning, but instead I wrote this update on my life.

The basics are this: In late July and early August, I'll be joining some of my favorite folks (Jess and Corey from The Fioneers, Tanja from Our Next Life, Jess and Lauren from Bitches Get Riches) to discuss money and meaning during a retreat in Ibarra, Ecuador. This is my fourth time presenting at one of these events. They're always awesome.

I'll publish an official announcement next week!

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There are 11 comments to "A clear line".

  1. Steve says 25 January 2023 at 15:45

    Hi JD – love this article, and wishing you all the fulfilment in life.

    If you like Tintin, I am sure you have heard of Asterix the Gaule – hilarious humor and great cartoon drawings, and Lucky Luke falls into the same school, absolutely worth checking out.

    • J.D. Roth says 26 January 2023 at 14:49

      Yes, I’ve been reading Asterix longer than I’ve been reading Tintin — by a week or two. In fifth grade, the school library had several of each and I discovered Asterix first. But although I now own ALL of the albums for both characters, it’s Tintin that draws me back again and again. There’s something deeper to those stories, I guess, especially in later years.

      I found Lucky Luke in high school German class, but I’ve only ever read a couple of those books. I own a few (in Spanish, not English). I also have all of Valerian, although I’ve only read a few of them.

      Basically, I enjoy this style a *lot* and think it would fun to create something similar of my own…in ten or twenty years haha.

  2. Tina says 25 January 2023 at 16:09

    Well deserved. I do hope you post periodically, as I do enjoy your posts, but also understand burn out. Wishing you the best of luck, and periodic check ins.

  3. RichardP says 25 January 2023 at 18:23

    You say that, to you, comics and films are essentially the same thing. A lot of artists agree and refer to them as ‘sequential art’. You might want to check out Scott McCloud. He has several books about understanding and creating comics.

    • J.D. Roth says 26 January 2023 at 14:46

      🙂

      Yep. I first read “Understanding Comics” 20+ years ago when it came out. Re-reading it now. And Eisner’s “Sequential Art” book came yesterday and is sitting on my bedside.

  4. Adam says 27 January 2023 at 07:21

    That photograph captivates me — the subject and colors are beautiful, but I love the LIGHT! It looks very Dutch Golden Age to me in the best of ways.

    It’s inspiring to hear about your excitement for the early stages of discovering what sort of artist you were meant to be. Thank you for sharing them with us.

  5. Charlotte says 27 January 2023 at 13:01

    Maybe you will come full circle and finally write and illustrate that science fiction comic book you’ve always wanted to create.

    Chautauqua – I thought JL Collins said there won’t be one in 2023. Did he just mean he won’t be participating?

    By the way, you can write about sawdust and I will continue to read your blog lol. Thank you for sharing your life with your audience.

    – Reader since 2006

    • J.D. Roth says 28 January 2023 at 08:46

      Several years ago, there was a chautauqua split (the details of which I do not know and do not want to know). Now there are the European chautauquas run by Alan and Katie and Jim, etc. and the South American chautauquas run by Cheryl. I’m willing to help whichever group asks me to help, so I’ve done both (and will continue to do so, if asked). My understanding is that the European event won’t happen in 2023. The one in Ecuador is a go!

  6. Ditte says 28 January 2023 at 04:12

    The 2 tings that helped my drawing the most was learning to draw what i see, not what i think i see. You never see an eye, you see lines and curves and then interpret it as an eye. Draw the lines, not the eye.
    And secondly, speed drawing. Draw the object in less than 10 sec. Used to quickly sketch an object, but helps a lot with correct shape and perspective. And is a great antidote to getting too caught up in detail.

  7. Anne says 28 January 2023 at 07:56

    So nice to hear from you and have a catch up. I finally stopped checking this site because there was nothing for so long and was going to start checking your personal site, but I couldn’t remember the name. 😀
    I love you are doing your own thing, finally, and especially love the name of your new character, Penny Short. A nice nod to the financial side of your interests.

    • LIsa says 02 February 2023 at 07:55

      jdroth/foldedspace – It’s a really great read into what JD has going on.

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