I think I'm giving myself a headache

in Musings

One week until I need to have my capstone deliverables finished enough to prove that I can have it all truly finished by April 27th, and I’ve been busy capstoning away. More or less. Before I would work on a blog post about my capstone in order to feel like I was being productive without having to face “real” capstone work, now whenever I get too anxious to work on the paper itself I work on the presentation or the poster. I’m having the most trouble with the poster.

I feel like I keep coming back to my lack of mental imaging ability. Especially because I want to create a series of sketches for my poster and presentation, but I have trouble producing sketches that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show people. It’s not a style thing, mainly. I’m down with a sort of loose, sketchy style, it’s straight-up errors in the drawings that make them difficult to understand. Like I’ll try to sketch a stick figure walking, and not know which way the arms or legs are supposed to bend, because I can’t picture it clearly enough in my mind to figure it out. Once I’ve actually drawn something I can look at it and realize that it’s wrong, but I have to have something to look at in the first place. So every usable sketch is preceded by 2 or 3 malformed stick figures with screwed up joints. I worry about proportion, too, but I recognize that as more of a style thing and have an easier time ignoring the little voice telling me to measure and check that the head is 1/8 the total height of the figure and the torso is 3/8.

My classmates like to link to people writing encouraging articles and directions on how to sketch and how anyone can sketch, but none of them seem to address my difficulty. I have no trouble at all looking at something and reproducing a simplified version of it. I get that. I’ve been reading advice on how to do that for years. The problem is that for all but the simplest and most familiar objects, I’m hopelessly lost without a reference image. Sitting on the bus brainstorming, or drawing on a whiteboard, I can’t go to google and find a handy reference image, I just have to scribble something. And then realize it’s incomprehensible because I couldn’t figure out beforehand what it was supposed to look like.

All those encouraging articles start to feel a lot more discouraging when not a single one of them addresses the fundamental problem I have with drawing. I suspect it’s because no one writing them has any problem with mental imagery, and it doesn’t even occur to them that someone could be incapable of forming mental pictures to the extent that they have trouble producing basic recognizable images on paper. Which is fair, I suppose; my auditory imagination is quite vivid, and before I started looking into these sorts of perceptual issues it might not have occurred to me that there are people who can’t hear things in their heads. But it doesn’t make the advice any more helpful. I suppose I should start looking specifically for advice on developing mental visualization ability, and hope my brain is still plastic enough that I can improve the skill meaningfully. If only I’d started practicing when I was 4 or something.

In the meantime, aside from the sketches themselves, I’ll be printing out pieces of paper full-size with the parts of my poster content and arranging them on a table to try and help figure out layout, because I can’t get any sort of sense of a 36” x 48” poster while I’m looking at my 14” laptop screen.

Perhaps, if I start having some success, I’ll blog about the visualization practice, in the hopes that it can help other people like me, who have trouble with sketching for reasons entirely left out of typical “you can sketch!” pep talks.