Perfection is the enemy of progress

What you take from any piece of writing is probably an indication of where your head is at when you’re reading it, and when I saw a review of Guy Delisle’s new graphic novel in the Comics Journal this week, it’s telling that the phrase to jump out at me was:

there’s not a page or a panel that you would likely see pulled out of context as a work of beauty.

I’ve enjoyed Delisle’s work, and always thought of him as an adept professional, I’m sure not least because of Pyongyang. This was the first of his books that I read, and it focuses on his job in animation – he talks a bit about how to make characters expressive and so on, which definitely makes it sound like he knows what he’s doing.

I just enjoyed his books; I never really stopped to think about whether or not the work was beautiful, although there are graphic novels that I definitely treasure for that quality. If a book can be beautiful and carry a meaningful story, that’s the holy grail for me, like The Nao of Brown, for example, or Just So Happens, or This One Summerthe trio of books I always trot out as my top three. They not be perfect, but they’re closer to perfect than many.

One of the reasons that Satin and Tat is taking so long is that I want it to be as visually appealing as I can make it. Or maybe I mean visually adept. I want it to convey as much through imagery as it does through the action.

I’m sure there’s also a part of me that wants it to show that I ‘can draw’, and I wonder if that part will ever go away.

Anyway, this week, although I had to take a couple of days off both from my day job and from drawing, thanks to a nasty cold, I finally managed to finish page 74 on Friday.

I’d come to think of it as the page that would never end, so it is a relief to see the back of it and move on to some pages which bring different/new challenges. No page is without a challenge. Is that what keeps this pursuit interesting?

As I moved on to page 75, I was partly working from an exploratory reference sketch I made right at the beginning of this process, and partly from the mock-up book I made when I thumbnailed the whole story.

Here’s a photo of my desk:

And here’s more of a closeup of those sketches:

Sketch by Myfanwy Tristram

I worked away on the page, and when I was almost finished, I looked at my drawing of Alex and thought that I had definitely lost something between the sketches and the finished piece. To be exact, there is something in the way the bloke is holding his head in the sketch that conveys pain and weariness, that somehow went missing between the two. (It’s also just a better picture, but that often seems to happen when I go from paper based sketch to digital version).

The question was, how much did I care about it? Enough to erase the figure of Alex and draw him again?

Eh… probably not.

Sometimes, during this whole process of drawing, I have decided that a picture just isn’t as good as it could be, and when I redraw it, it’s always tons better.

Sometimes I say to myself that it will do for now, and tell myself I’ll revisit it when I’ve finished all the other pages, as presumably by then I’ll be able to see whether it’s standing out as screamingly appalling or whether I barely notice whatever I was disliking about it.

Does every frame need to be perfect?

This train of thought made me look up the phrase ‘perfect is the enemy of good’. I was unsure whether the last word was in fact ‘done’ rather than ‘good’, which I’ve often heard bandied about in work contexts. I’ve always taken the meaning to be that if you worry too much about things being perfect, you’ll never get them finished.

Apparently that thought is better conveyed by a Winston Churchill quote: Perfection is the enemy of progress.

The Wikipedia page on the phrase muses on a few more manifestations of the same concept, like the 80:20 rule: it commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort. Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient.

It also quotes from King Lear: striving to better, oft we mar what’s well. This is definitely true of artwork.

And then, finally: economist George Stigler says that “If you never miss a plane, you’re spending too much time at the airport.

I am definitely spending too much time at the airport. The airport… of drawing.

Something that gives me rather guilty encouragement is the number of published graphic novels where the drawing is awful. That’s not to even say the actual novels themselves are awful: it’s definitely true that crude drawings can still carry an excellent story.

Meanwhile, Satin and Tat is taking so long that my drawing skills are improving while I go along. Like many, I suspect, I didn’t even know what I couldn’t do until I got better at doing it.

In other comics news, my daughter brought home a second hand copy of a Peanuts paperback, in the same vintage Coronet edition I used to have as a kid.

“I’m going to start saying ‘rats‘ when I’m annoyed”, she told me. To my mind, this is an entirely positive development.

I’ve been accepted on the Artquest Activism and Social Change Salon. Since I know little more about it than what I’m hoping it will be, it’s a bit of a leap in the dark. Each of the 3 hour sessions is in the evening, and involves being online after I’ll already have done a full working day of just that, so it’d better be worthwhile! I’ll report back after the 16th.

I do know that the first session features a talk from these people, which is certainly promising.

And I pitched three ideas to the Nib‘s food issue. Two of my pitches relate to stories I’ve heard through work. It’s a bit of an ambition to make artwork around the more human interest side of my job, so I kind of hope one of them will be accepted. The third is good too though!

I should definitely draw all the idea I pitch that don’t get picked up and turn them into a zine. One day.

Published by Myfanwy Tristram

I am an illustrator, situated in Brighton on the south coast of England, and with a special interest in comics and graphic memoir. I also work for a non-profit which encourages people to be active in democracy and to exercise rights such as the right to information through FOIA.

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