When I first began seeing my friend, Greg Turner’s #100DaysOfDrawingMonsters on Instagram several weeks ago, I was immediately captivated. The concept is fun and the images are always fresh. I am impressed with the range of monsters.
Greg graciously answered some questions his project recently:
Dylan Klempner: Where did you get the idea to start drawing monsters every day?
Greg Turner: There’s a website I read occasionally called TheGreatDiscontent.com. A while ago they interviewed a woman named Elle Luna, who had decided to exit a solid career in tech start-ups to become an artist, of all things. And I think her decision was based on a dream! Anyway, last year she created her own 100-day challenge, and this year partnered with the folks at The Great Discontent to expand the challenge’s reach. That’s how I found out about it, and I decided to participate because I respond very well to the ritual of creative work.
Author and provocateur Cory Doctorow once gave a younger me very good advice via email. He wrote something like, If you can produce a measly 250 words a day, at the end of a year you have the first draft of a novel. I responded very well to that, finished the bad novel I was working on, and started and finished another, better one. I’ve also done other creative projects that forced everyday work, like 365 days of photographic self-portraits. The best part is, you get to focus on the ritual of it and not necessarily the quality of work. It helps reduce the creative paralysis that comes with the worry of, “Will it be good enough? Will anyone like it?” Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, and the act of completing work becomes the most important thing. And then, when you have, like, 100 drawings of monsters, some of them are bound to be ok at least.
And I chose monsters because I felt like the subject gave me the most creative freedom. Like, I could draw a couple lines, stick a pair of eyes on there and a giant tooth, and tada! Monster. Also, I don’t necessarily have to feel like the drawing is technically good. The idea–even of capital-M Monster–still offers me a lot of leeway in technical ability. Line doesn’t go straight? Arm out of proportion? One eye not good? Guess what? They’re monsters. They get to look a little wonky.
DK: Did you draw monsters when you were a kid or is this a recent subject?
GT: I used to invent little characters and monsters when I was really young. None of them were scary. Actually, they were mostly little puff-balls with stick arms and legs and sometimes visible eyes. If memory serves they liked to ride bikes and wave a lot.
What I can’t say for sure is whether or not monsters were important to me as a kid–I mean, I think they’re a pretty common subject among kids at some point, right? Like, all kids seem to draw monsters of some kind at some time, whether of their own invention or from games or tv or whatever. And they’re either menacing or friendly. I don’t know. So, yes, I did draw monsters when I was a kid, but I can’t say it was anything special.
DK: Is there something particular about monsters that interests you?
GT: I wouldn’t say there’s anything about monsters in particular that interests me. If I’m honest, the idea of monsters came in a flash. I was uploading the “pledge” photo to Instagram–that was one of the things that made this 100 day project incredibly real. The idea was that people would download one of the pledge photos from The Great Discontent’s website, upload it to Instagram and tell the world they were joining the 100 day project. People were also encouraged to commit to something concrete–one act, creative project, etc. for the 100 days. I was in the middle of uploading the photo, realized I had to commit to something and didn’t want to just say, “A drawing.” Because I could see myself at the 50-drawing mark saying, You know what? A circle seems fine for today. And then a triangle, square, etc. etc. etc. until finally I was just doing a scribble to get the damn thing out of the way. “Monster” seemed the perfect combination of freedom and constraint.
DK: I think the first monster drawing that really stood out for me was Frankenstein. It’s excellent. Since then, I’ve also loved Godzilla and one of the Cyclopes monsters. You’ve riffed on classic monster motifs as well as created your own fresh designs. Where do the ideas for your monster drawings come from?
A lot of the time I get flashes from different things I’ve seen over the years. The Frankenstein’s monster is one of the few I’ve done from a photo. It’s based on one of the classic Boris Karloff promo headshots. It’s funny, actually. What really stood out for me from the photo was the way they lit the background. Sketching the background made me really conscious about how they constructed the lighting for the portrait, and I’ve used that same kind of background lighting in a couple of the other monster drawings I’ve done. Godzilla took forever, in terms of the other drawings. I didn’t get the version I posted until the third try, and I had to look at a photo for that one as well. All the others so far have come out right enough the first try.
I also sometimes ask my son Aiden for monster ideas. He’s six and full of them. The little cyclops blob waiting at the bus stop came from his idea for, “A monster with one eye, and a small mouth. And it doesn’t have any feet, and it has small arms and two more eyes up on tentacles.” I did everything except the tentacle eyes, saw the small arms and thought, Those tiny hands need to be clutching a purse. Everything else came together after that.
And I guess there are times I realize retroactively that I’m stealing that shit. The other day I needed to do a monster, was wracking my brain, and finally came up with “rock monster.” What I ended up drawing seems like a combination of the rock eater from Never Ending Story and the battling giants from that too-long Hobbit movie. I also flat-out stole a troll design from a web comic called PVP Online without even realizing it. I drew the monster, thought it looked kind of familiar, and then hours later remembered where I’d seen something that looked similar. I went back and added credit on that one.
DK: Could you talk about your creative process? Do you store up ideas or wait for inspiration?
GT: For the monster drawings, it’s usually some combination of both. That’s another great thing about the ritual of creative work. When you know you have to be “inspired” at least once a day, you spend a lot of time thinking about possible sources for that inspiration. I think on day three or four I realized I didn’t know that many monsters off the top of my head. So I made a very brief list that essentially was me looking up “Scooby Doo” on Wikipedia and linking to the Scooby Doo monsters list. I scanned that, realized if I was ever really stuck that I’d have some place I could go for ideas, and then didn’t think about it any more.
And yet I’m always kind of thinking about it, you know?
The idea of completion, of not missing a day. Of seeing the whole project through to the end, no matter what. That’s incredibly motivating, and really helps keep the monsters coming.
I’ll admit that sometimes I don’t even know what I’m going to draw until my pen hits the page. I used to do them in pencil, but now I find myself using this cheap ball-point pen for most of the monster drawings. It’s simple, I love the way it feels on the paper, and the drawings show up better on Instagram. Also, no erasing. Anyway, there have been a couple that came out after I drew an eye or something. The apologizing alien? I wanted a sad eye. That’s all I knew. So I drew the eye, and the rest of the drawing just came in around it. Same deal for a kind of snake guy I did. I drew a small set of fangs, and the rest kind of popped into place (though on that I think the whole drawing is about the fangs, since it’s so minimal. Like, eight pen strokes total? Something like that? So to say there’s more than the fangs might be stretching it).
I also am big on restraint, which I talked about a little before. Reducing the chance of too-many-choices paralysis is always good, I think. So for these, they almost always fit within a 5″ by 5″ square (maybe 6), I do them in pen, and I don’t normally spend more than a couple minutes on any one. Sometimes it’s less than 30 seconds.
I had this big idea at the start of it that I’d do sketches and cartoony drawings on weekdays and then spend a lot of time on weekends really working on rendering accurate representations of movie monsters or monsters from old comic covers or something. That hasn’t worked out, really, but that’s ok. It still might. But for now, just getting something done–something creative–is a great feeling.
DK: What will you do when you’ve finished the #100daysofdrawingmonsters project?
GT: Have a drink, I’m sure.
I honestly can’t say. I think some of the monsters might be interesting enough to render again more seriously or with more technical consideration. Painting, maybe. Beyond that, I’m not sure. I might never re-visit the monsters. Again, for me it’s not about the completion or the end result with a project like this (except inasmuch as the end result is the feeling of satisfaction that comes from having worked diligently at something and finishing it). It’s all about one drawing a day for a period of days. And if at the end someone decides they want to use them for a kids book or something? Great, whatever. That would be nice, but it’s not important. That kind of future isn’t something I tend to think about.
Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll draw my last monster, wait a day, then go back and look at all the monsters I drew over the last 100 days. Then I’ll feel pretty good about myself for a second, and then I’ll move on to the next creative thing. I mean, that’s the thing about creativity. You can’t feel done, you know? I don’t think it’s possible to feel truly finished. There’s always something brewing in the backs of creative people’s minds. So that’s probably what I’ll do: whatever’s next.