If there was a hill I’d die on, it’d be called Craft. It’s something that occupies my thoughts, more than most things. That’s evident by the existence of this blog: I’m always writing and thinking about my experiences in the world (as a person, as an artist) and how they feed into my creative practice.
But I hardly ever talk about creative craft as its own thing. There are reasons why. Partly because the soundbyte diet of social media doesn’t fit my style of ruminating (I don’t make zingers; I go on and on and on…) and partly because if you do try to soundbyte anything that approaches advice, it’ll be poorly-received even if it goes viral, because a 280 character limit makes every word sound like a rule of law. Plus the online art environment has shifted dramatically.
And I don’t adhere to the popular idea of what craft should be to an Artist or Writer anyway. Not in a Too Cool way. It just so happens.
I’d define craft as an assortment of several pretty simple ideas.
On a base level, craft is about knowing that something is Work Which Makes Things Exist. Then giving it the respect it deserves. The way I give respect is by dismantling and analysing and putting it back again or making something new, since that’s my personality type. Other people may give respect in a less absurd way. Whatever those ways are, it’s not about putting something higher or lower, better or weaker. It’s learning how to engage on its own terms.
Generally, my approach to craft is more about improving one’s critical engagement. Not critical in the distorted, Internet 2.0 meaning of ‘point out flaws CinemaSins style no matter how irrelevant’. Critical in the traditional ‘approaching the thing in its own terms, then considering your knowledge (always learning) and context in response’. The kind of thing people teach in university. And no it’s not a humanities thing. Science teaches you to be critical too, how to read papers for bias, rhetorical bull, ethical implications, and statistical fudging.
There was a viral tweet thread a while ago (about a different topic) encouraging people to check in and revise their ideas of gender from time to time. To check in on what gender means to you personally, how much of it is true to you vs that’s what society says it’s “correct” for you to do, are you happy with how you’re presenting, what is limiting you, etc.
There was also another tweet saying something like, how it’d do everyone more good to have a private set of media you enjoy, that’s not necessarily for seeking community (in the form of clout or bonding with a fandom), just something for yourself. That way, your identity (as an artist, as an enjoyer of art) will be more resilient.
Ultimately, craft is not about how good your skills are, but the time you make to engage with your work on your terms. It’s pausing to make sure your values and goals align. That you’re being true and loving towards yourself and your work. It’s knowing what your worldview is. Whether you make money or not, and your art means something on a grander scale or not. Regardless.
I don’t really believe in the high art idea of what craft is. You know, the “world-changing, the pen is mightier than the sword, I’m going to do some abstract gallery-style thing that will blow the minds of my audience and create a paradism shift” idea of making art. A bit of it emerges when I humour the primate inside my brain who longs for meaning and a sense of purpose (I’ll humour this monkey any day). But generally — I tend to be skeptical about the ability of art, or my drawings and scribblings, to create epic sweeping extremely loud revolutions. Political impact through creative-making is not practical without tangible, direct action. Like, a painting that portrays suffering and intends to shock the viewer to action, will not complete its purpose by being hung on a wall, existing only in an intellectual/emotional space. It only accomplishes effective, pragmatic political impact when it uses its influence or financial profits for charity or mutual aid. That kind of thing.
(Doesn’t mean there’s no value in any art that wants to be like the painting example, especially in editorial illustration or fine art. Provoking thought is necessary, slow, important work, and visual art is vital for accessibility, spreading messages and encouraging engagement. But really, that’s the extent of our power (and what a strong power it is). We can’t stop bombs or feed hungry children. But we can help by using our skills in concert with other workers to make bombs illegal or come up with systems for distribution of food resources.)
(Or, what I’m trying to say is: individualistic notions of grandeur aka thinking that One Art Created By One Artist Will Save The World, is kinda hilarious since problems are systematic and solutions require collective action.)
Personally, I’m happy to capture the moment and be a time-capsule, or share my joy for the world in the only way I can best express it.
I really enjoy reading how other creatives formulate their own takes on craft. Especially when they bring in the personal. It gives me more insight to both the artist and their work, a context I find important if I want to engage and consider how a work fails or succeeds in their purported intentions. If you look closely, you can see how an author’s personal sensibilities and worldview permeate the page or the screen. (it’s due to this, and my own experience in making things, that I’m a believer that the work can’t be completely detached from its creator and its context. Humanmade things don’t just arise out of a vacuum…)
It’s a pity that there aren’t a lot of these ruminations from comics, or at least, in places that are accessible. We have Lynda Barry and the like, but I always want more. More is good. Plus there’s so much “universal” storytelling advice that originated from film or prose, but rarely from comics itself. Not because the medium lacks advice to offer, just that not many creators are talking about their process.
I really need to come up with a better wrapup for fragmented posts. Every time I cop out by doing a handwavey type sign off, but tbh it’s not appropriate for this style of writing. Or this way of thinking. As I mentioned earlier I ramble on and on, and that’s how I think. Topics come back to me once in a while and thoughts are improved and deconstructed as life happens. So really, nothing is 100% permanent, though foundations remain. I can just end this for now, and return again in another post.
Which is what I will be doing. So bye??
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.
Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur
PCAF, July 29 – 30
Papercuts Festival, September 17
Australian Cartoonists Association, October