Creating artwork is a wonderful gift, a pleasure that I cherish and indulge in on a daily basis, because it is both my favourite past time and because it is also my profession. For myself, and undoubtedly many of you reading this, there is no comparable experience of diving stylus first into an alternate reality, indulging our coolest ideas and dancing the tango with plain old creativity. However, speak to any artist and I'm sure they'll vouch for the fact that it is also an activity that can drive many of us to the heights of frustration. This is especially true if we don't have battle tested procedures and processes that we can rely on when inspiration and a loose brush alone aren't enough.
This topic delves into the very heart of the creative process, the initial flowing of ideas onto paper when we feel our ideas are strongest and also gives insight into workflows you can rely on when your art director comes back to you and says, "Give me something more!”
Now, before we begin, I'd like to point out that even though these ideas are easily incorporated into casual or fine art making, my focus (and my experience) is that of a commercial artist, and as such this is the audience my writing will speak most clearly to.
And with all that out of the way, let's get started!
Before you get started
If you know me, then you'll know what I am going to tell you to begin with – your research! Whether you know or understand the subject matter intimately or not, you need to fill your consciousness with new information on a consistent basis in order to provide fresh ideas/reminders for your images … or you'll risk growing stale and creating highly derivative art.
What does this mean in a practical sense? Well, in today's age of blogs, online articles, image archives, forums and the like, this essentially means jumping on the internet and using your favourite search engine to source out some visuals to kick start your engine. Some of my favourites are listed below – it certainly isn't exhaustive, but these are typically all I need to find good references:
If you don't have the internet (in which case I'm not entirely sure how you got this e-magazine in the first place) then it means a little more leg work: going to your local library, picking up a newspaper, magazine, trade journal, or watching a movie and stockpiling your mental arsenal from there can also be a good start.
Whichever resources you choose to draw upon, just make sure you use it as inspiration only and don't plagiarise the work. That would be unscrupulous and does not help your skill level grow; indeed it will more likely lower your confidence in your own abilities.
So you're given your brief, you experience that irrevocable moment in which you are delivered your design task and the synapses start firing off instantly and a myriad of images start flashing through your mind.
Well, the best thing to do is to start getting your ideas into visual form, whether on paper or digitally. Don't talk about it with other people, we're not professors of literature, there's plenty of time for discussion later – just get your pen moving and don't stop!
Should you warm up, I hear you ask? Should I practice something to get the blood flowing through my fingers, you might say?
Nope, don't sweat it!
You know what? The first few will probably be really bad, just accept it and have the confidence to know that the more little sketches you do, the better they will be as you go along.
It is important to understand that how it looks right now is of little importance at this early stage, they are representational shorthand ideas for yourself that will lead to more developed ideas down the track. It helps to imagine yourself as a documentary agent, trying to capture the images that are flashing before your mind's eye.
Quick Initial Sketches – So to start off (Fig.01), I create a relatively small canvas on my screen in Photoshop – roughly 400 pixels by 400 pixels at 72 dpi. Now, this is a fairly small size and nowhere near print quality, but because this is the digital medium I am using it doesn't really affect me as I am able to upscale at any time.