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March 22, 2023

Trust your imagination

A new strategy for visiting more ideas, and having fun with art in general

There is joy and freedom in allowing raw material to see the light of day. You can’t edit something that only exists in your head. Get it down on paper first. Forget about external validation. Forget about making CoNtEnT for social media. Draw for yourself. Draw whatever the hell your little heart desires. Because at the end of the day you’re the only one who gets to see everything you make. You might as well make what you love.

Just keep making art. Draw from imagination. Grab references. Repeat. I picked a random idea: “Interesting Door”. I could spend 20 minutes looking for Parisian doors to copy down, but then get distracted by Pinterest. OR, I could just start drawing. After I doodle these interesting doors from imagination, then I will look up pictures for inspiration, then go back to doing more drawings. I struggle with perfection when it comes to composition and general setup. My workaround is to just be brave and stick with it. Forget coming up with 50 different thumbnails. This isn’t a commissioned 10’ oil painting of the president. It’s personal art. Just have fun.

Make reference collages throughout the process. The first collage is for major elements and overall look.  As I progress through the project, I will seek out more specific, minor details for another collage. Things should be separated by importance and wait for their appropriate turn. Otherwise, the collage will get overwhelming and confusing. A microscopic detail should not have the same importance as the fundamental setup of the artwork.

I have permission to be sloppy. Be okay with vulnerability and the crudeness of just doing what you set out to do, instead of waiting for the perfect conditions. I’m doodling interesting doors from imagination. I will draw it even if it sucks. That’s my approach to writing and other areas of life too. Be brave and forgive yourself. Just like with memory training, it is intriguing to compare what you know with what you don’t know. The most fascinating of all is watching in real time how this new knowledge and experience changes your approach moving forward. Even if the artwork sucks, stick with it. Once it’s complete, that’s an excuse to revisit the idea! I redo older artworks all the time.

Remember the story about the pots. You could have dozens of imperfect pots but learn valuable lessons along the way; or focus on one giant perfect pot - “grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.” My story is my giant, perfect pot project, 15 years in the making. Stop theorizing. Just write the goddamn thing!

I love writing about my ideas, but I wonder if this can be stifling as well. In How to be an Artist, Jerry Saltz declared that “certainty harms creativity”. Conceptual ideas - such as a burning rose - don’t need lengthy rants and rambles. Just draw the damn rose. What is there to say? When I start with the writing for an easy conceptual idea, that can make it hard to draw something because I already laid out all the potential possibilities. This is better explored through doodling. My new approach is to pick out an idea and start doodling. Doodles and thumbnails. Save the writing for later.

Despite this - I can and will keep writing about my ideas. Certain types of ideas - i.e. Open Concepts - are more appropriate to start with writing first, due to the nature of it. Abstract ideas require more thought. I enjoy writing about my ideas, but it is important to know when it is appropriate. For conceptual ideas, the writing would come after the initial drawing stage. At that point, I will have something to work from. The bottom line: It is about doing things in the best possible order. Identify the situation. I enjoy the iterative process. Sister Mary Corita Kent: “Don’t create and analyze at the same time. They are different processes.” Now I realize why I would spin my wheels so much.

I want to do more traditional art. I miss the tactile quality of traditional artwork. I want to make something real that takes up real space. I miss oil painting class. I want to use my watercolors and gouache paints,  my markers and colored pencils. There is so much out there I want to try. When I dabble into these different traditional art mediums, I get lost in my own little world, and it is wonderful!

Too much digital art has numbed my critical thinking skills. I make decisions without thinking, because I have the safety net of Ctrl+Z. Traditional art teaches you the lesson of making careful and conscious decisions. It teaches you good habits and hones your skills through trial and error. Bring this wisdom back to digital art, and you’ll enjoy the best of both worlds!

I am going to draw more pictures in my sketchbook. More “serious” sketches and not scrap paper doodles. For now this is baby steps towards drawing traditionally. Eventually, I would like to draw traditionally from start to finish. The two main rules are to be brave and to focus on the fundamentals. For now the main shapes are blocked in, but the detail will be saved later for digital. The sketchbook page is for focusing on the general setup and foundation. Even though I am importing the sketch to a digital format, I still want the drawing to look as good as possible - not from detail - but the setup. Once I import the sketch, I want to start drawing over it right away instead of spending 40 minutes reworking the drawing. 

I am excited. All it took was a slight rearrangement of steps taken, and a more relaxed (but brave!) mindset. Just pick an idea and stick to it. Even if it sucks. That’s just an excuse to make a new version later on. Part of the fun is picking ideas through the random number generator. Let’s try it out: I randomly landed on Fushigi Yugi group artwork. I have already brainstormed this idea, but I went straight to doodling how it would look. What is most important is what I remember. It’s coming along well!

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