It all started with pencils. As a little boy, happiness for me was a sharp pencil and a blank piece of paper. My favorite birthday and Christmas gifts were drawing pencils and blank sketchbooks.
Later in life, when I moonlighted as an editorial cartoonist for several newspapers, I drew my cartoons with pen and India ink, for greater permanency.
Fast-forward to the present day, and I craft most of my online cartoons with an iPad Pro, Apple pencil, and the ProCreate app. It’s so much more efficient than inking on paper and scanning to my computer.
But then I noticed something.
My digital cartoons lacked some of the sketchy detail and abstract charm of my ballpoint pen and paper cartoons.
I wondered why that was until I discovered a guy named Zin Lim, sketching amazing, expressive figure drawings on YouTube.
This whisper which is heard
Zin Lim calls his artistic approach, “The art of haptic figure drawing,” and it captures motion, rhythm, and energy through expressive, spontaneous charcoal drawing.
South Korean-born Zin Lim is an award-winning artist and instructor. His mesmerizing YouTube videos show him drawing and painting amazingly loose, accurate portraits and figurative work.
It was Lim’s “haptic” sketches that caught my eye. Their expressive, seemingly haphazard marks produce such energetic, unconstrained, unique results.
The word “haptic” has different definitions. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “haptic” as:
1: relating to or based on the sense of touch
2: characterized by a predilection for the sense of touch
In watching Zin Lim’s haptic figure drawings, I realized the importance of touch. Particularly, the feeling of the pen against paper.
Drawing on an iPad Pro with an Apple pencil lacks the kind of tactile feeling one experiences when putting pen to paper. Sketching on a glass surface is slippery. There’s no resistance like the sensation felt between pen and paper.
There are products, such as PaperLike, which you can apply to your iPad to mimic the feel of paper. It works pretty well, but I still prefer the feeling of the pen against paper.
Zin Lim’s haptic approach is not just about the feeling of the pencil (or charcoal) against the paper, but also about learning to “feel” one’s way through the drawing, in a free and expressive manner. Allowing oneself to be more experimental.
None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Drawing in this way (learning to listen to your expressive voice) is how you discover your style and aesthetic sensibility.
If you block it, it will never exist
I realized that drawing on an iPad changed the way I worked. The many features in the Procreate drawing app for iPad Pro make it a snap to correct mistakes, color things in, add multiple layers, etc.
I found myself becoming too precise, and the cartoon illustrations lacked vitality. I was playing it safe.
Drawing with a ballpoint pen and paper is less forgiving. You’re going to make mistakes. But if you accept that, and learn to incorporate those mistakes into your drawing, the result is often more interesting and expressive.
Here’s an example of me sketching expressively with a ballpoint pen and paper.
Eventually, I learned to loosen things up with my iPad Pro illustrations. I stopped worrying about precision and adopted a more sketchy, chaotic style.
I also experimented with more abstraction, thus surprising myself with the unusual results. “Where the heck did that come from?” I found myself saying.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. — Martha Graham
This kind of haptic cartooning, where I am free to sketch and color expressively, seems to unearth an authentic, personal, one-of-a-kind expression.
The lesson here is to trust your experimentation and expressiveness, however chaotic. If you play it safe and block your creative flourishes, your best work may never blossom and mature.
Here are a few examples of my haptic, quirky, expressive, doodles.
Breaking things on purpose
Despite having the ability to create highly realistic renderings, Thompson often “broke” his cartoons with nearly childlike doodles and quirky characters. The results were highly original, unique illustrations.
I have found that by intentionally “breaking” my cartoons with outside the lines coloring, exaggerated perspectives, improper proportions, and super-charged cross-hatching, I discover what a cartoon illustration can bear, and where its vulnerabilities might be.
Think of it as a kind of chaos engineering, where we do things we’re not supposed to. We experiment and see what will happen.
An article in phoenixnap.com shared the following explanation of chaos engineering:
Chaos engineering is a strategy for discovering vulnerabilities in a distributed system. This practice requires injecting failures and errors into software during production. Once you intentionally cause a bug, monitor the effects to see how the system responds to stress.
By ‘breaking things’ on purpose, you discover new issues that could impact components and end-users. Address the identified weaknesses before they cause data loss or service impact.
Sometimes, introducing a little chaos into your work or creative process can lead to epiphanies and unexpected breakthroughs. Because you start to see things differently.
A blog post in secondwindonline.com notes:
In our field, a little chaos can be a good thing. It frees creative thinkers to develop concepts unhindered by excessive controls and restraints. It encourages groups of creatives to collaboratively arrive at unusual solutions that each individual might separately have failed to see.
How about you? What would happen if you let a little chaos into your work or creative expression? What happy accidents and serendipitous discoveries would you make? How could this kind of experimentation help you grow?
Color outside the lines
You may not give a hoot about haptic cartooning but hopefully, you understand the message here. Loosening (or even ignoring the rules), allowing your authentic (expressive) self to emerge, and embracing some chaotic experimentation, can lead to breakthroughs and new discoveries.
As children, we’re always experimenting, trying new stuff, and coloring outside the lines. We allow our imaginations to flow.
Do what’s safe
Don’t be unique
Don’t bend the rules
Keep your creativity in check
Don’t make a scene
Stay in your comfort zone
If you’re still coloring within the lines well into adulthood, that could mean you’re afraid to risk. To try new things. Maybe break the rules a little bit.
Jennifer Bailey notes:
If you’ve kept coloring within the lines into adulthood, you’ll find yourself saying ‘That won’t work’ in place of trying. Or ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it’ as a reason not to do things differently.
You end up trying too hard to follow the rules. You wait for gurus to tell you the perfect, precise steps to take. You follow the how-to without an ounce of innovation or creativity.
I’ve fallen victim to “coloring within the lines” at various points in my life, but I’m learning now to embrace a bit of chaotic exploration and experimentation, as evidenced by my haptic cartoons.
It’s time to color outside the lines. It’s time to use bright colors and bring the perspective only you can bring.
Life is a proverbial big box of crayons. And you get to choose. Which colors, which lines.
You are different, unique, original. Be you.
Make your life a masterpiece
A little chaotic experimentation can help you grow. After I saw the expressive, haptic figure drawings of Zin Lim, I realized I had to experiment more with my cartoon illustrations.
If you only listen to what others tell you to do and fail to experiment, you effectively block your professional and creative growth.
By all means, learn the rules. Study the best in the work of others. But then, set yourself free and play with a bit of measured chaos.
You have to color outside the lines once in a while if you want to make your life a masterpiece. — Albert Einstein
Dare yourself to start coloring outside the lines. Try some haptic sketches of your own, whatever your palette and canvas may be.
It’s never too late the make your life a masterpiece.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, shoot black and white photography, and write about life. To follow along, join my free Saturday Newsletter here.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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Artworks by John P. Weiss