Updated: Sep 29, 2021
When an artist works on a piece, they've entered a dialogue with the materials. The painter is not the only author of the painting. So much of it comes from the materials. There's a lot said about the contributions of an artist's environment, art history, the zeitgeist, and the ever-touted ephemeral something (muse, god, chance, channel) that figures into an artwork. But for now, I'll be focusing on what generates ideas for me, from the perspective of the moment I feel a spark. The something.
Some artists create work with very few preconceived notions while others have every step planned out. If there's a spectrum from zero to one hundred—with zero representing absolute openness toward the outcome and one hundred representing a faithfully plotted and followed plan—I hover around eighty. A preconceived notion of where I mean this piece to go is a critical part of my structure. If I'm dealing with the illustrator's version of a writer's block, it's because I'm not able to access a strong vision of what I imagine the artwork will look like. For clarity's sake, I'll call that vision an imprint. Even a lag in my motivation after I've generated the imprint is ultimately tied to a loss of connection with that imprint. Very much like remembering a dream, at first it feels quite tangible—and over time I lose grasp of the memory, no longer really feeling how it felt while I was experiencing the dream.
Catching Little Dreams
It's important for me to be able to generate ideas intentionally and hold on to the imprints for the duration of the work. For my idea-sessions, I like to have a pencil and paper on hand and time to make an initial sketch. If I'm trying to get back into the swing of things, I like to start by looking at other artwork, and also learning about new tools and techniques. These practices inspire me, and give me enough technical information to form my plan. The process videos posted by artists online are a perfect combination of new artwork, materials, tools, and techniques. Chef's kiss!
Forcing myself to sketch when I feel idea-blocked sometimes works, but rarely. Often it discourages me. If, however, I create a good time and place to sketch and simply ask myself, "would you like to rough out some ideas right now?" I will usually meet the challenge and produce a collection of potent thumbnails. Little dreams to hold on to for later.