Have you ever done something the wrong way, which you knew was a mistake, but you didn’t have the energy to do it the correct way? I have. At least it was just a drawing and not life.

As I wrote last week I’ve been working on a series of illustrations to go along with the book “The Great Gatsby.” I’ve been doing a lot of different stuff from sketches to cartoons to finished digitally colored illustrations. Even though I’ve got a lot of stuff done I’m still working out what the characters look to me.

“The Great Gatsby” was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the early 1920s and it takes place in the summer of 1922. That was a long time ago. Clearly I wasn’t alive back then and so if I want things to look like they belong in that time period, and I do, then I have to do some research. Research is not nearly as interesting as drawing. At least most of the time.

I’ve always been one for drawing specific clothes. A lot of cartoonists, especially superhero cartoonists, are great at drawing super hero costumes but when they put the heroes in their civilian clothes they drawings aren’t as good. That’s because they often draw generic clothing. Or more accurately the artist’s idea of what regular clothing looks like.

In the 1990s whenever I had to draw a character in regular clothing I would find a specific outfit to draw. I used to have binders full of pages torn out from fashion magazines. I broke them down into categories so if I had to find a fancy dress for a woman I’d go to that section. I even had a section for accessories. It was a system that worked for me.

Now that we have such things as Google Images my binders full of fashions are a thing of the past. But so is my filling system. A search engine is great for finding stuff but it finds everything. My binders were full of stuff that I liked. That’s a big difference. It’s easier to find “Stuff” now but the stuff I may like is buried under a mountain of other stuff. It takes work to find the right reference on the web.

So far the hardest part of the Gatsby illustrations have been the men. Gatsby in particular. My drawing is fanciful in general. With women’s fashion there is a lot of room for fancy. I can take a basic woman’s outfit, add a lot of artistic flair to it, and it will still look good. Even if it doesn’t look as “real” as it could we generally accept more fun in an artistic representation of women’s clothes.

Men’s fashion is much more strict. Especially rich men’s fashion. Rich men wear suits. That’s about it. If you’re a rich man and you want to express yourself through fashion you not only wear a suit; you wear an expensive suit. I knew I had to draw an expensive suit for Gatsby but I didn’t have the energy to research one.

I have a couple of different ways to draw a figure. One is that I make up figure out of my head and the other is a referenced figure. For the referenced ones I usually use a photo or a 3D art modeling app. For the Gatsby figure the 3D app didn’t have a good suit so I decided to go with a photo. Since I needed a specific angle that I was unlikely to find with an Image Search I decided to take the photo myself with me as a model.

This is where the “I knew I was doing it wrong part comes in.” I don’t have any high end 1920’s suits. I have a 21st century crappy sports coat, a crappy collared shirt, and a crappy waistcoat (vest). They don’t even match each other. I knew Gatsby would never wear anything like that but I moved forward anyway because I knew I needed to get something done even if I didn’t get it right.

Mind you the whole time I’m doing the drawing it’s nagging at me that I’m not getting it right but I’m still doing it because maybe I can get it right later. That’s not a recipe for being happy with your own work.

Now we cut in time to one of my weekly YouTube videos. Each week I make a video showing off the comics I bought that week and some of my art. That week I choose to show that Gatsby in a suit drawing that I wasn’t happy with. One of my viewers (Mind the Comics) is a fan of fashion and has a pet peeve when comic book artists don’t draw the suits correctly. I knew this as I showed my wrong suit yet still showed it.

Luckily for me Mind the Comics decided to help me out. He pointed out seven things that were done incorrectly in my drawing and told me what the fashion should look like. This got me started in my research and I was able to fix the drawing to a point where it was almost correct. Except for the collar. I didn’t think I got the shirt collar correct. The next week I showed that one and Mind the Comics hooked me up with some collar reference.

The Gatsby drawing that I was working on is going to be used on the cover so it has to be 100% right. Since it’s the main image I don’t want to look at it and have me bother me as it was doing. I’ve got the suit to a point where I like it but it still isn’t there yet. I have to change the pose slightly. I have Gatsby posed with his hands on his hips and I think that’s what’s wrong. It’s mentioned a couple of times in the book that Gatsby is standing with his hands in his suit pockets so I’m going to switch it to that. I might have to take another photo. We’ll see.

That’s where I am. I’m still not there but I’m much closer than where I was. Even though I knew the drawing I was doing wasn’t right I still had to do it. Often making bad drawings is part of the process of making good ones.