Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tutorial 1: From A Concept...

Hello Fibre Friend, how's it going?  ....Really?   Mmm, I see.  That's interesting. Welp, okay- enough about your life.  This is my blog and you are probably on the Internet  because you want a temporary distraction from your own stuff anyway.  Not to worry though, I still care about you.

Today we have a little bit of a tutorial on the Creative Process.   Here you will find the Kaytorian perspective on how to take the plunge and pull something magical out of your behind when you are in a creative slump or are not necessarily feeling it.

Why on earth would a passionate, energetic, artist like yourself need such advice?  Well,  as fun and easy it is to make something when you're in a creative headspace, you aren't always afforded the advantage of feeling passionate about a project from the get-go.  Sometimes you have to force it a little, especially if you've been handed a design brief you don't really get, or someone has a commission that isn't (at first glance) very exciting.

Disclaimer:  While this advice works for me, it probably won't work for everyone.  Each of us has our own method of working as the brain processes information and solves problems in a variety of ways.  That said, even if the steps written here don't fit exactly into the way you do things, they can still serve as a rough guideline.  I hope they can be of as much help in blasting through any creative blocks you have as they are at blasting through mine.

Introduction:  The Brief

Welp,  rent is almost due and the growing discomfort of bedsores  is really sticking it to your master plan of lying around in nothing but underpants waiting to die.  You need to do something with yourself.  Wobble over to the window on your stick-like atrophied legs and open a window to cut through the tangible foetor that has lately become so characteristic of your room.

A fresh breeze blows in and you are knocked off your feet by the unexpected impact of  a windblown sheet of paper smack in the middle of your chest. What is this?  What. Is. This?

With enormous effort, you pick yourself up and take the offending tree slice in hand intending to ragecrush it, when a splash of colour catches your eye.  Could there be some sort of message here?
There is indeed!

Aha!  The universe has provided you with a task!  Someone out in the wide world is appealing to Art and Art has tapped you to answer their call!   Thanks, Art! (P.S.  All commissions are this readily available and if you find differently, well then it is obvious that you have no talent and should mail all your art supplies to me, who would never dream of misleading you for my own selfish gain).

Anyway, back to the brief.  Rather vague, isn't it?  This is something you are more likely to discover is characteristic of a personal commission than an exhibition brief but let's pretend that I wasn't feeling lazy and that it actually goes into more detail.   Use your imagination.

Okay.  You've read the  brief and are dismayed to  find yourself drawing a big fat blank. What now?

Step One:  A Little Game of Free Association 

Alternately, this step is called "flinging feces at a wall and seeing what sticks."   Read the brief a few times sifting out the key words, phrases, and ideas.  Write them down and mind map a little- that is, scribble whatever words and phrases come to mind while considering the brief's key concepts.  Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings while you turn the phrases around in your head, but- and this is extremely important-   relax and try to stay loose while you do so.

Crack stupid jokes with yourself, doodle the letters into drunk little animals, make up terrible songs about the keywords-whatever it takes to prevent  yourself from overthinking it.  If you find yourself growing tense, step away for a few minutes. Eat a handful of baby-cut carrots or whatever.  When you have a reasonable pile of associations, Think about how they interact with each other as well as the keywords.

Again, don't try too hard.  Don't break your brain.  Take your time and if possible, bring a friend in who will let you bounce ideas off their face.  This part is really helpful, as a good friend won't hesitate to helpfully point out when you are talking out of your ass.

 If there is no brief, and you are say, attempting to produce work of your own volition, review the facts of the situation-   Are you going into "maker-designer production mode" for an upcoming trade/craft show?  Research your target audience.  Talk to your peers, read some magazines, watch TV,  blog, visit Pinterest, pay attention to what people are responding to.  This part is a bit tricky because you need to be able to recognize the current zeitgeist.  But- and this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT IF YOU WANT TO MAINTAIN ANY SEMBLANCE OF PROFESSIONAL AND ARTISTIC CREDIBILITY- understand that recognizing what people like does NOT mean RIPPING OFF OTHER ARTISTS.  I'll leave here (because that is fodder for another day's post), and move onto....

Step Two: Research and Refine

This probably isn't a given for everyone, but for nerds like me, a little wiki-skimming and subsequent visits to the library can really help to get the ideas flowing and start to concretely shape more abstract concepts.   I'll make good on a promise from a previous post and pull out a page from my sketchbook:

This page shows me pretty much copying the synopsis of romantic ballet "La Sylphide" point for point in order to get a better feel for the title character, a woodland spirit  for whom I had gotten it in my head to design accessories for.  Underneath the plot points (with relevant keywords)  I sketched out some general ideas for what the sylph would wear based on the text.  None of these ideas would make it to the final design, but they were essential for getting the ball rolling.

Now I think it's important to note here that a lot of art students really resist having to document everything in a sketchbook.  I was no exception, being the first to whine "That's not my proooooocess!"  But you know what, guys?   It really does help, even if only to serve as a record of discarded ideas.   Artists have to become intellectual hoarders to some extent.   You should keep a record of EVERYTHING that pops into your head, because you never know-  something that is totally unsuitable for one project might be just the thing for another.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A WORTHLESS IDEA.  To this point I recommend getting yourself a little notebook to scrawl down any fool thing that pops into your head at unexpected times.   In recent years I have started sleeping with such a little book on my bedside table because I have a tendency to wake from rad dreams with a head full of ideas that tend to evaporate if not tended to immediately.  It might sound like a hassle, but it seriously isn't.  When you sleep, your brain tends to sift through a lot of stuff and you can wake up with something absolutely sublime, something you have been working toward all day, and something that can disappear in an instant if not tended to.  I cannot overstress the importance of documentation to conceptual development.

I know it can be a struggle to adopt another step to your process when you already feel overworked, but trust me, it gets easier and easier in a pretty short span of time.

Step Three: Doodle and Daydream

Step three is a lot of fun.  This is where you let go and start to unleash all the ideas that have been quietly percolating since step one.    Don't stress, just let go.  By now you have a vague idea of what you are going for and that is enough to provide you with a jumping off point.  Don't worry too much about refining your design at first, just draw whatever pops into your head.  It's a good way to get those pent up creative energies flowing.

A fashionable skeleton for no reason.

Sooner or later, you'll return to your earlier ideas and start refining them organically.
Top left ended up being the working design for my La Sylphide set.
Believe it or not, it gets a lot easier from this point. you are officially over the hump.

Step Four: Let Go

So now you're at the good part.  You've finished all your planning and now is the time to plunge into the actual process of creating.  It is important at this stage to give yourself permission to deviate from the official design.  I don't mean that you should ignore it, but if, in the course of making, your intuition tells you something different from your brain, don't be afraid to roll with it.  I find that no matter how meticulously I plan a piece out, the process always has something to add that my anal-retentive mind hadn't even begun to conceive.    I should add here that at this early stage in my career, I have very little experience in commission work, and working with a client means that you should probably include them in this process.  I'm hoping to get input on this section from more experienced artists, and will update with their input in due chorus, so will let you know.  The bottom line though, is to allow yourself to be adaptable.  Don't limit yourself to blueprints- design is an organic, evolving process.

Step Five: Know When To Fold 'Em

Chances are at this point, you're excited to get things done.   You are working hard.  It's intense, isn't it?   It is so very easy to make a cardinal error at this stage so you have to be vigilant lest you screw up royally.  The mistake that so many of us fall victim to is to let the process usurp one's common sense and to forgo sleep.

Don't let this happen to you!

If you feel sleepy, sleep!

It's simple and silly, but it really is important for you to remember that sleep is your friend.  There will come a point in your work where you will have serious doubts and think that everything you have accomplished in the last few hours was garbage.  Don't despair- this is totally normal!   Chances are, if you feel this way, you need to disengage, breathe, and sleep.  Re approach the work with a cool, well-rested head.   Maybe, the next day,  you will still see a lot of room for improvement- that is okay- that means you have standards.  Don't worry.   Just keep at it, and do your best to listen to your  gut.  On an intuitive level, you know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it.  It can be easy to lost track of these feelings though, if you are anxious and stressed, so we return to an earlier lesson-  when you start to freak out- step away, make jokes, breath and have a snack/tv/patting cute animals break.  It will be okay-  don't worry. Come back to the work well-rested and before you know it you will be facing something you can be proud of (for a little while, at least).

Contingency Plan: Whoops.

But you know what, Fibre Friend?  In life there are no real guarantees. I don't mean to alarm you, but even following all my sage advice, you  can still slip on a metaphorical banana skin and fall flat on your bum.  I know it is easier said than done, but the important thing, if you get to the point where you think you have screwed up royally is to not despair, because the chances are pretty good that you can salvage  things!

At this point, I will tell you about a wonderful  lady who taught me when I was young and stupid that you can draw biiiig and that if you have the right attitude, there are no screw-ups (and as an aside, I am compelled to admit that it feels weird citing only one of many good teachers in an academic career, but am optimistic that in the chorus of this web log, all will get their due).
 Anyway, this lady who taught your narrator how to pull her drawings out of her big behind, encouraged your narrator to see a screw up through with the power of pure stubbornness.   Screwing up a piece does not mean you have failed as an artist; rather is it an interesting test of your mettle.  So much of a person's strength is not determined by one's immunity to error but rather how one adapts and rolls with the punches.  As trite as it sounds, do not give up on a piece until you are absolutely sure that there is no salvation.  The power of stubbornness is a powerful tool.

So there we are.  That was probably the most intense blog post I have ever written.  I hope it has helped you.  People have always said I should be a teacher, but I have chosen instead to be a silly smart ass.  Still, this silly smart ass is happy to help her fellow artists, and is happy to count you among them.

Cheer, Friends.


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