Monday, December 21, 2009

Thoughts on Generating New Ideas

My thoughts on generating good ideas for illustration taken from a recent interview with some follow-up question and answers provided as well.

Some people refer to a problem among creative people as 'writer's block' to describe a condition where producing an idea on que is daunting
and can become quiet frustrating if the 'block' continues over a prolonged period of time, especially if a deadline of some sort is involved.
I've encountered this scenario more than a few times myself. And like others who have faced this issue, I sought answers.
Along the way I learned many different ways to deal with this and most of the time I can get the ideas with no problem now if I use some of the tools I've learned along the way.

Designer Paul Rand said, "It's not important to be original, it's important to produce consistently good quality work." So don't always be trying to re-invent the wheel for everything you do, focus on the quality of the work.

In the 1940s there was an excellent comic book artist named Mort Meskin who had the equivalent of 'drawing stage fright' each day he came to work. He would sit at his drawing table and according to Will Eisner, creator of the Spirit, Meskin could not draw until someone in the bullpen walked over and put a mark on his paper. It didn't have to be an image of any sort, just a line. Then Meskin would whip out a gorgeous page of work that everyone in the studio would oogle over.

When I was doing some comic strip work in newspapers. Editors would call and say I need a panel or a strip to fill 'x' amount of space. Sometimes they
would have a topic, other times they would just say fill the space. This could be tricky since they would appear in publications with different points of view so I had to try to appeal to a large segment of viewers. At times the deadline would be very tight with just mere hours to come up with an idea and fully execute and paste-up the work for press.

It was during this time I appreciated what I had learned from other artist and instructors regarding this subject. For years I have jotted down ideas on paper scraps, napkins, pieces of cardboard, whatever was handy. I have also managed to keep a lot of them. Some of these saved ideas translated into printed comics as I needed to create work on a tight deadline. I had thought of these ideas driving in my car, working, listening to music or whenever and jotted them down for posterity. Now they were resurrected and given a second life and saved me in a pinch.

I find inspiration from lots of things, movies, TV, books, magazines, the web, etc. But I get the most inspiration out of looking at other art. I collect original works of art and surround myself with it and constantly draw inspiration from that source. I love hitting a museum or gallery and looking at the line work in someones art. Or visiting with other artist and talking shop or other interests. The world is filled with imagery so inspiration surrounding us all the time. Just slow your pace and take a look around, solutions are everywhere.

Something like the elegant brush work of artist Noel Sickles often is the type of thing I love to look at to get inspiration, here is an attached

DE: Thanks for the example, David. This is a great answer+, full of insights from your experiences.
I can see that recording of ideas as they came to you through observations/inspirations seemed to resonate. Have you found any one particular approach works best? To expand, in graphic design classes taught at universities we often teach the very formulaic approach of research, thumbs, roughs,comps, finals, and the first of those stages deal with idea-ation and concept development. Have your experiences in the field so far formalized the creative approach for you in a sequential way?

Also, have you ever submitted your ideas to a client just to be told "Nope, not working...start again"? If so, did that alter your process?
Again, super insight, I look forward to your continued thoughts and insights.

DP: Hi David Thanks for the chance to add more to the conversation. Here are some additional follow-up answers for your questions.

That is the way I was taught to do things when I started in illustration. I still pretty much hold to that method, though I'm not rigid about the process. I've
been fortunate to be asked to do some stuff in a deadline situation where the editor just asked me to give them a particular piece that was a certain size and due to time constraints no formal process happened, I just turned in a finished piece and they would run it.

Though when I do stuff like that I always do my own crude thumbnails to work things out. I don't want to be correcting stuff on the finished piece of art if at all possible.

When working on a sequential narrative like a comic book type story, if it is given to me in a script format. I will print out the script and thumbnail and block of page sections, panels, etc. the way I see the visuals right on the script itself.

The writers often break things down pretty well but often don't have the strongest background in presenting the visuals in an effective manner so you may have to modify
some things to let the art speak to the reader and counter balance an over abundance of text, since comics are a visual medium.

But yes I try to keep a process going to some extent as it helps me feel like I'm completing little milestones along the way and I can stay motivated when things bog down by seeing that I've made some progress. That process helps make this possible.
You also asked if I ever submitted my ideas to a client just to be told "Nope, not working...start again"? and if so,did that alter my process?

Yes! Many times early on. This is usually because things were not fully discussed between the client and myself. When I started in the business I did not know to say 'no'.

Sometimes you have to say no. You get some client that wants you to do the work to look like someone else's work that is nothing like what you have in your portfolio. You may find that like other folks, you need money to pay the bills so you choose to do the job anyway and eagerly tell the client 'yes'.
Then the finished piece doesn't come out the way the client sees the work in their mind because they are hung up on someone else's art style and not yours. They think
you should be like a photocopy machine and just make it happen. Conflicts begin and the whole scene can go downhill from there. So be willing to turn down work if it looks like it will end up in a train wreck anyway as you need to keep a professional reputation that is positive. And knowing when to say 'no' to work is part of that.

Once I made the mistake of trying to update the editorial style of a publisher. They were constantly doing educational work with figures that looked like they were out of "Leave It To Beaver" or "Father Knows Best" TV series from the 1950s. I modernized the clothing and environments and had all of the work rejected. Clearly my fault by not communicating about taking a new direction with the editorial staff first. And I paid for it by investing all that time and effort on some pieces that weren't paid for.

I've had clients who were hung up on the medium. They would insist on watercolor for the work when the printer and myself would be telling them the work would not reproduce the way they expected. Rather than head the advice they were paying the printer and I to have for them, instead it would be an ego fueled demand for what they wanted. The colors don't re-produce the way they expected and everyone is unhappy. Naturally those type of projects never go in a portfolio and you hope they don't even give you any print credit by placing your name on the work. Because in that process you give the clients what they want but the artistic quality is compromised and you don't want to weaken the perception of your artistic skills, so you just have to tuck those pieces away from the seeing world.

In those instances sometimes it might be my fault or it could be the clients. It is a learning process. You've got to make those mistakes to move forward and learn.
Some clients have stretched my abilities and caused me to learn new techniques or to come up with solutions that have helped me on other projects down the road. I once had to develop a process to animate a Simple Text document (a mac format file similar to the 'Notepad' on PCs for you non-Mac users out there.) To this day I don't know of any other instance where that has been done again, but I did manage to animate the text with some trial and error in the early days of computing.

So yes sometimes you have to be flexible and be willing to alter the process. Sometimes you come out with some great new stuff other times it can fall flat on it's face. But the best way to filter this type of thing out is to learn when to say 'no' to clients who are not hiring you 'to be you'. Instead you should learn your own strengths and weakness' and work with the projects that fit your skills. Not only will your work be a better representation of your skills it will most likely please the clients too if they are made aware of what your skills are capable of producing for them. Then everyone will come away feeling good about the work.