Neil Gaiman Reads His Manifesto on Making Art: Features the 10 Things He Wish He Knew As a Young Artist

I think you’re absolute­ly allowed sev­er­al min­utes, pos­si­bly even half a day to feel very, very sor­ry for your­self indeed. And then just start mak­ing art. — Neil Gaiman

It’s a bit ear­ly in the year for com­mence­ment speech­es, but for­tu­nate­ly for life­long learn­ers who rely on a steady drip of inspi­ra­tion and encour­age­ment, author Neil Gaiman excels at putting old wine in new bot­tles.

He repur­posed his keynote address to Philadel­phi­a’s Uni­ver­si­ty of the Arts’ Class of 2012 for Art Mat­ters: Because Your Imag­i­na­tion Can Change the World, a slim vol­ume with hand let­ter­ing and illus­tra­tions by Chris Rid­dell.

The above video cap­tures the fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tors appear­ing togeth­er last fall at the East Lon­don cul­tur­al cen­ter Evo­lu­tion­ary Arts Hack­ney in a fundrais­er for Eng­lish PEN, the found­ing branch of the world­wide lit­er­ary defense asso­ci­a­tion. While Gaiman reads aloud in his affa­ble, ever-engag­ing style, Rid­dell uses a brush pen to bang out 4 3/4 line draw­ings, riff­ing on Gaiman’s metaphors.

While the art-mak­ing “rules” Gaiman enu­mer­ates here­in have been extrap­o­lat­ed and wide­ly dis­sem­i­nat­ed (includ­ing, nev­er fear, below), it’s worth hav­ing a look at why this event called for a live illus­tra­tor.

Leav­ing aside the fact that each tick­et pur­chas­er got a copy of Art Mat­ters, auto­graphed by both men, and a large signed print was auc­tioned off on behalf of Eng­lish PEN, Gaiman holds illus­tra­tions in high regard.

His work includes pic­ture books, graph­ic nov­els, and light­ly illus­trat­ed nov­els for teens and young adults, and as a mature read­er, he, too, delights in visu­als, sin­gling out Frank C. Papé’s draw­ings for the decid­ed­ly “adult” 1920s fan­ta­sy nov­els of James Branch Cabell. (1929’s Some­thing about Eve fea­tured a bux­om female char­ac­ter angri­ly fry­ing up her hus­band’s man­hood for din­ner and an erot­ic entry­way that would have thrilled Dr. Seuss.)

In an inter­view with Water­stones book­sellers upon the pub­li­ca­tion of Nev­er­where anoth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rid­dell, Gaiman mused:

…a good illus­tra­tor, for me, is like going to see a play. You are going to get some­thing brought to life for you by a spe­cif­ic cast in a spe­cif­ic place. That way of illus­trat­ing will nev­er hap­pen again. You know, some­body else could illus­trate it—there are hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent Alice in Won­der­lands.

Which we could cer­tain­ly take to mean that if Riddell’s style doesn’t grab you the way it grabs Gaiman (and the juries for sev­er­al pres­ti­gious awards) per­haps you should tear your eyes away from the screen and illus­trate what you hear in the speech.

Do you need to know how to draw as well as he does? The rules, below, sug­gest not. We’d love to take a peek inside your sketch­book after.

  1. Embrace the fact that you’re young. Accept that you don’t know what you’re doing. And don’t lis­ten to any­one who says there are rules and lim­its.

  2. If you know your call­ing, go there. Stay on track. Keep mov­ing towards it, even if the process takes time and requires sac­ri­fice.

  3. Learn to accept fail­ure. Know that things will go wrong. Then, when things go right, you’ll prob­a­bly feel like a fraud. It’s nor­mal.

  4. Make mis­takes, glo­ri­ous and fan­tas­tic ones. It means that you’re out there doing and try­ing things.

  5. When life gets hard, as it inevitably will, make good art. Just make good art.

  6. Make your own art, mean­ing the art that reflects your indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and per­son­al vision.

  7. You get free­lance work if your work is good, if you’re easy to get along with, and if you’re on dead­line. Actu­al­ly you don’t need all three. Just two.

  8. Enjoy the ride. Don’t fret it all away. (That one comes com­pli­ments of Stephen King.)

  9. Be wise and accom­plish things in your career. If you have prob­lems get­ting start­ed, pre­tend you’re some­one who is wise, who can get things done. It will help you along.

  10. Leave the world more inter­est­ing than it was before.

Read a com­plete tran­script of the speech here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Neil Gaiman Teach­es the Art of Sto­ry­telling in His New Online Course

Hear Neil Gaiman Read a Beau­ti­ful, Pro­found Poem by Ursu­la K. Le Guin to His Cousin on Her 100th Birth­day

18 Sto­ries & Nov­els by Neil Gaiman Online: Free Texts & Read­ings by Neil Him­self

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City tonight as host of The­ater of the Apes’ month­ly  book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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