Art is a way of bringing imagination to life, and for Ash, the co-creator of the “Draw Like a Boss” book currently on Kickstarter, this held especially true.
If we journeyed back to the early 90s, back when the first episode of “The X-Files” first aired and when “Jurassic Park” was still in the theaters, we’d probably find Ash at one of his friends houses playing Super Nintendo, and trying to remember every detail about the Super Mario.
After going home, he said, he would draw the sprites on paper, cut these out, and try to arrange them just as they appeared in the game. He would then make paper cut-outs of Mario, and use his newly-created character to navigate his newly-created world.
“To me, this was just as much fun as the video game, because my Mario paper game had its very own level editor (25 years before Super Mario Maker),” Ash said, in an email interview.
Ash said he grew up with a love for both video games and drawing, yet couldn’t afford a Super Nintendo as a kid. Art thus became his way of playing these games, and this connection is something he shares in his upcoming book, “Draw Like a Boss.”
The book has detailed, step-by-step lessons to teach people to draw, and being a creation of Ash, he does this by making it into a game. It has inspirations from the Zelda series, as well as early adventure games, and sets aspiring artists along the journey to develop their real-world skills.
There are a few glaring flaws in most art lessons, and Ash hopes to repair these elements through his book.
First off, he said, it’s hard to find someone to teach you how to draw. Ash said this was true even while he was learning Fine Arts at a university. He said, “the lecturers made fun of students who hoped we’d be taught to paint and draw, ‘you want to learn to paint? Join a paint course, this is fine art’ they would say.”
There are also countless books to teach people how to draw, and while Ash said he did learn a lot from them, many “tend to be very ‘left-brained,’” Many books out there he said, have “lots of words and an old-fashioned attitude.”
“I’m mildly dyslexic, so this was always a problem for me,” he said. “Still, if we’re involved in picture-making, shouldn’t we be able to come up with a visual way of teaching that?”
Facing all these problems, and without having any formal training himself, Ash said he was forced to find his own way. This meant making mistakes, doing things wrong, and then having to spend an unnecessary amount of time unlearning the bad habits.
Yet, Ash is now a noticeably skilled artist, and noting his own experience that “a little guidance would have gone a long way,” he decided to create the type of drawing course he wished he could have had: “One that taught drawing through visual metaphors and symbolism—methods that help us stay in the right brain as much as possible. I also wanted the course to have some awesome visuals for learners to engage with, because drawing is about fun and wonder and beauty, and if we’re going to get anywhere, learning has to be like that too.”
It was only natural that video games join his project, he said, noting that ” games get us to focus and try again and again to overcome challenges; they reward us for learning, and they teach us resilience and determination. All kinds of things are being gamified now, from meditation to mental health.”
Thus, the original “Draw Like a Boss” drawing tutorials came to be, and now that some time has passed, he plans to bring those tutorials into print form in his upcoming book.
The art found in the book pulls from characters and worlds that inspired Ash and many others. He said, “Monkey Island blew me away when I was a kid, and I can still get totally lost in it. That series was born from Jon Gilbert’s captivation with the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Then there’s Zelda, which was another big influence on me. I see this book as paying homage to Ocarina of Time, just as I’m sure Miyamoto’s creation of Link and Navi is a nod to Peter Pan and Tinkerbell.”
“There’s nothing more pure than that: excitement and inspiration being channelled into new creation,” he said. “Art is a long chain of creativity drawing on inspiration, and there’s no shame in that—one of the best ways of learning to draw, which I cover in Draw Like a Boss, is to spend lots of time copying great works of art.”
Ash said that with “Draw Like a Boss,” he also wanted to create a guide for aspiring artists that doesn’t leave people feeling hopeless, or like their dealing with some elite craft that’s beyond their reach.
He said that elitism “prevents people from seeing that some of the most wonderful figurative art happening today is through game design. Games artists are taking landscape art, figure drawing and portraiture in really exciting new directions.”
To guide people from the beginning, he borrows a lesson from video games. “We start at Level 0,” he said. “This makes such a difference: rather than saying everything’s hopeless and there’s no point, we accept that there’s work to be done, and by doing that work, we can ‘level up.’ Progressing through games is so intuitive and rewarding, and I want to harness that.”
He also takes the intimidating elements of learning to draw and casts these in the same light as the bosses a player needs to fight and the challenges as player needs to overcome while playing video games.
As an example, he said, the ever-intimidating empty page becomes “The Void,” portrayed as “a snowy white wasteland where we have to search for landmarks and start to orient ourselves, just as when we start blocking in a drawing.”
“Using the metaphors of worlds and journeys is really useful for teaching: learners often want to be given shortcuts so they can skip the journey, but not only is that impossible, it defeats the whole point of the journey! Instead of shortcuts, we give you a series of challenges to overcome, which will give you the skills and tools you need to advance through this world,” he said.
Just as in games, there are many difficulties to overcome in becoming an artist—yet unlike in games, most of us will all-too-often forget to have fun while undergoing these challenges.
With “Draw Like a Boss,” Ash hopes to fix this.
“One thing that games teach us is that there’s nothing more satisfying than the feeling of overcoming difficulties,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to reach the top of your Death Mountain of Drawing and look down on the amazing view that you yourself have generated.”