Each step in the artistic process is so different and exciting. I love sharing my process with people. I find so much inspiration from other artists in my community, both online and in my area, that share their work and their process openly. When we share we receive, so in that spirit I would like to share with you a little window into my creative printmaking process.
Where my Ideas Come From
Ideas come to me in so many different ways. Sometimes they come banging on the door. Sometimes I really have to listen closely and spend some time working out what they are saying. Other times when I’m working on one idea, another idea comes. Often it's difficult to tell which ideas are gold and which ones are rubbish. Sometimes it takes chasing an idea down the rabbit hole and following through before that determination can be made. Leonard Cohen talks about this phenomenon in an interview with Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” that I would highly recommend listening to.
Whenever I try to force ideas to come it usually blows up in my face. My best ideas come when I’m loose and detached from any outcomes. The only thing I can do is to set the conditions for the ideas to come. Organizing my space is important. If I have a cluttered space I have a cluttered mind and the conditions are not the best for ideas to land. Anything that I can do to create movement always helps. Activities with rhythm like cleaning, walking, riding a bicycle, playing guitar are great ways to cultivate ideas. When I’m setting conditions for ideas then I always make sure I have a good way of capturing them as great ideas don’t always stick around when they come. I used to carry a moleskin sketchbook around me, but today I keep my notes on my phone.
“Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.” - Pablo Picasso
I like to have many different projects going at various stages at the same time. I own my own massage therapy practice and I often find myself waiting for clients. I like to arrive an hour early for my clients to prepare my space. I find that I always have time to kill. I can’t exactly go home and start carving linoleum blocks during these gaps. These times offer me perfect moments to work on new ideas, or plan projects I’ve got going on, or price or research artistic materials. In this sense I am working on art in some manner every single day. I don’t really take days off from art. When I go on holiday I like to take tons of pictures, on my days off I enjoy printing or carving. Right now as I write I’m waiting for a client to show up. This is a perfect time to open the laptop and start writing on my blog! I’ve written whole songs whilst waiting for clients!
Early Stages of an Idea
When an idea is first established it’s at it’s sticky embryonic stage. I like to think of this stage like working a piece of dough. An idea that’s overworked and over processed can become dull. Or on the other hand an idea that isn’t given enough attention will fall short and will be filled with holes. If my excitement dwindles whilst working it through I have no problem dropping the idea. Some of my best ideas come from failure or implosion of other ideas. After beating my head against the wall for many hours trying to string together a grandiose vision I often find myself at a place where I abandon the idea altogether. This is very freeing. Almost always a new idea springs up from those hours of toiling, and it usually looks nothing like what I envisioned when I began toiling. I like to let the process teach me. When I’m teachable I’m open. When I’m open I can see more. As artists it’s important we keep that eye open.
Research Research Research
When the idea comes the next step is information gathering. I like to find out as much as I can about my subject. Sometimes the research can take many hours, days or even weeks. I researched this “Meet Ebola” comic for five or six hours before I created an outline. I learned everything I could about the Ebola Virus to make the subject as close to truth as I could!
In this phase ike to ask all the questions I can think about my subject. If my subject is an animal what habitat does he/she live in? What doe he/shet eat?Through this process I ignite my curiosity and playfulness around the subject. It's important that I research my subject thoroughly otherwise I won't go confidently into the next stages. This is also a great opportunity to learn and expand, and as artists this is important.
One of my favorite books is “The Music Lesson” by Victor Wooten. Although the book is about learning a musical instrument, the same methods applies to learning and developing any activity involving muscle memory, including drawing. In this book Wooten talks about there being two modes of perception when performing a complicated task: laser beam and wide angle. The laser beam focuses all of our awareness to one motion. When we’re learning a language for the first time this is the stage in which we have to conjugate the verbs, or determine the past or present tense. We have to slow down all of our motor functions and go over the correct manner of performing this task until we get it right. When we get it wrong we go over it again until we get it right. Once our muscle memory takes over and we’re at a place where we can do this activity without thinking we are now at the “wide angle” phase.
Retool, Rework, Repeat
All throughout this process I am drawing or photographing, sketching, erasing, tearing, cutting, pasting and re-sketching. Sometimes I have to re-draw something 20 times before I get it right. It’s important not to give up and become lazy at this stage. There can be a propensity to cut corners. I try to be vigilant to keep true to the idea. For instance if a part of the drawing is a bit out of proportion I’m not afraid of redrawing as many times as it takes to get it right. When I stick with it and stay true I grow as an artist and the next time it’s easier for me.
I will be sharing some more windows into my artistic process in future posts so stay tuned. In the meantime please share with me your artistic process!