Recently at a commencement ceremony, Neil Gaiman gave a very popular speech where he said something that resounded very loudly with the writer in me –
“Most of us only find our voice after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people.”
I’ve often read advice to that effect – find one author, read all his books and try very hard to copy his style. You’ll learn more from this than any other way. And I agree with that. So, I thought that perhaps we could use this advice in other areas of learning as well. (Yes, I know that we already do. That the very basics of teaching is to make the students copy and practise. But I hadn’t realized what that meant before. That it wasn’t such an old fashioned idea after all.)
I’m teaching myself to draw. The figures on the left and below are of the ‘Common Man‘ by the cartoonist R.K. Laxman who has been drawing political strips for The Times of India for the last sixty years.
The guy here is very famous in my country. (They have a bronze statue of him in Mumbai). I copied him out of a collection of Laxman’s cartoons I got out of the library recently. I’ve been sketching dozens of his figure for the last two days. So, I’m sharing these with you.
I’ve never had lessons, so I find this way of learning really quite brilliant. I’ve learnt to draw so many simple expressions. Cartoons are very different from the life sketches that I want to do, but still…it’s fascinating.
I’m learning to play the guitar. The curious thing about this is that I’ve been learning to play one for the last two years. I still haven’t learnt much.
I’m not being philosophical. I’m not referring to the vastness of knowledge and how a mortal can spend her entire life learning and yet never be complete master of anything. I’m referring to my inability to stick to a steady schedule and actually retain what I infrequently force into that dungeon in my head.
But recently this has changed. I’ve acquired a teacher. He’s a decent guitarist, unimaginably patient, horrible at spinning similes (“keep the beats with your toes like butterflies do with their wings. The flutter flutter? Yes, make your toes flutter.”)
I find that I want to practice everyday (and sometimes several times a day) now because every week when I walk into his class I want last week’s assignment to flow so easily from my fingers that he can’t help but be impressed. I’ve never been a teacher’s pet before (well once, in class 12 – I was really good in math, but I fell into disfavour when I wouldn’t work hard enough to push my 84s and 85s into 90s – it drove her crazy), but this is fun.
I love watching my fingers flying across the fret-board. It’s those up and down strokes that bugger me. But I’ll tame them by next week, see if I don’t.