A lot has been written of late about style and influence. It seems to me that both are unavoidable. Both should be allowed to develop naturally though. One of my favorite influences is Henry Syverson, as regular visitors here know. When I first saw his cartoons as a small boy in SATURDAY EVENING POST magazine, I had no idea he had once been a Disney artist, but when I learned that years later I wasn't surprised. His characters have the appeal and fluidity I associate with Disney, somehow coupled with a slightly more Thurber-esque abstraction. Like Walt Kelly, Hank Ketchum and other Disney alumni though, Syverson carved out a personal niche that is as unmistakeable as a signature.
Which is why I was quite surprised recently to find a book containing early drawings of his famous signature "little people" cartoons. These may date back to just after WW II and while they are recognizably Syverson's work, they are considerably more formal, almost stiff, and peppered with extraneous details (wrinkles and such) that he would later learn to leave out.
These drawings are clever and memorable, but they would never have gotten under my skin the way the later ones did.
This random sampling shows a sense of Syverson's personal mastery of his subject: he has his own line vocabulary, his own sense of proportion and form, and most importantly perhaps, a very unique sense of expression.
As with everything else, it often takes time to develop a comfort level with different media, formats, ideas, etc. It also takes patience to bear with your own lack of skill at the beginning of an effort versus where you want to be ultimately. Syverson was already a skilled and experienced artist when he did the first drawings, but time, maturity and perhaps even other influences led him to the distinct type of drawings I always associate him with. I know I am always much more self-conscious and tentative at the outset of something. Fortunately with long-term work, I usually find myself getting lost in an assignment and that is where and when the most interesting things start to happen.
On a similar note, this image leaped out at me from the pages of the recent posthumous PEANUTS tribute book: a rough sketch Charles Schulz did to submit as a panel gag to magazine editors in 1950:
Schulz Rough Sketch - 1950
To my eyes, the unfinished sketch above looks more like Schulz's work from many years later than this typical published work from the same year:
Whether it's a matter of maturity, mastering the physical tools, or sheer volume of work demanded by a daily strip, it looks to me like it took Schulz a full decade to learn how to draw like himself. He is no longer aping pen techniques he learned from teachers or copied from idols (as he surely did earlier), he is fully aware of his characters' identities and he is comfortable in his own skin. You can almost feel him reveling in his own confidence. But this process was slow, sure and ongoing. In a time when finished products (from meals to works of art and industry) arrive in our hands with lightning speed, it is often easy to forget the sweat and error that goes into making anything. That can make the early stages of our own work harder to cope with. I guess there is no substitute for patience...