On economy

In my latest Illustrated Rock and Roll piece, I spoke of how much I admire Craig Finn, frontman for one of my favorite bands, the Hold Steady. His ability to describe a scene or relay an emotion in just a few words is continually dumbfounding.

Here are some of my all-time favorite Hold Steady lines:
• “If she says we partied, then I’m pretty sure we partied” from Killer Parties (featured in this week’s Illustrated Rock and Roll)
• “She’s hard on the heart and she’s soft to the touch” from Chips Ahoy!
• “The dance floor was crowded, the bathrooms were worse/We kissed in your car and we drank from your purse” from Massive Nights
• “Dreams they seem to cost money/but money costs some dreams” from Yeah Sapphire
• “The theme of this party’s the industrial age, and you came in dressed like a train wreck” from The Weekenders
• “Tonight we’re gonna have a really good time/But I want to go to heaven on the day I die/Going to make like a preemptive strike/Hit the 5:30 mass early Saturday night” from Our Whole Lives

While working on this week’s illustration, I got to thinking about Craig Finn’s economy of words compared to the way I draw. In my head, I’m always repeating the phrase “draw less” while I’m working. As in, “Tell the story with as few marks as possible.” Why over-explain something that I could express in a line or a circle or a dab of watercolor? Those are the things that make illustration fun for me.

I still like drawing tiny little details, but I love when I figure out a way for the one or two most important elements of my pictures to do their heavy lifting with just a few swipes at the board. I’ve noticed that, though I still consider myself an inked-line guy, a few simple hits of watercolor can carry a picture a long way. The Illustrated Rock and Roll project has thus far proven to be a fantastic forum to practice this. (Seriously, go check out Illustrated Rock and Roll!)

It’s fun to connect dots between the work of one of my heroes and my own work. I’m not comparing my efforts to the genius of Craig Finn; I’m saying I noticed that through having that phrase, “Draw less,” bounce around in my head like a manta, I’m trying to tell stories the same way that Craig Finn does. And that’s pretty cool.