Whether you’re a writer, musician, visual artist, or creator of any kind, you’ve probably noticed that your opinion of your own work can change over time. Since we humans are regularly changing (and hopefully growing), often creators are ashamed of their old work because it doesn’t represent who they’ve become.
On the other hand, sometimes a creative will stumble upon an old piece of work they almost threw away years ago, and find themselves pleasantly surprised. That thing that almost ended up in a landfill has become work they’re proud of.
This happened to me with this blue ballpoint drawing. There’s a reason it bothered me then, but that has since become irrelevant.
The story behind the surreal portrait drawing
This drawing was based off of an acquaintance whom I’ve lost contact with.
If you’ve ever tried to draw someone you know, it’s not news to you that these types of drawings can go very wrong.
They usually go wrong in one of two ways: the first, which is more common than the second, is that the portrait is inaccurate in an unflattering way. The second is that the portrait captures something true that’s meant to go unnoticed. (To avoid these uncomfortable scenarios, you can practice drawing anonymous people whom you’ll probably never meet, like I’ve done in this series of portrait drawings based on stock images.)
This was the second. It was one of those portraits that seemed too accurate. It was harsh, like a photo taken in strong, unflattering light. I felt cruel for even making it in the first place.
The drawing was of a person I had just met—and I didn’t want her to know what I saw. I was afraid she’d instantly recognize herself in the drawing, regardless of its abstraction. So I hid the surreal drawing away, and forgot about it.
Now that there’s no threat of needlessly damaging another human being by letting this drawing be seen, I think it’s a pretty interesting piece. The effects of decay seem less threatening when you can communicate some of them to other humans through a drawing.
If you’re curious to know more about getting surreal ideas for your own art, I’ve written an article that walks you through a thought exercise. It’s the process I use to make most of my surreal drawings like the one above (though most of the time it happens accidentally).