Discovering How My Imagination Works

This is a sketch for C.H.O.W. 180. My body reference is here. I also have a couple paintings bookmarked HERE and HERE that I want to use as color inspiration.

I hope to get this sketch to the point that I can put it on a panel I have lying around collecting dust and paint it before the week is done. I can't seem to decide what to do with the feet. I only have a few days, so I am going to have to make a decision and go with it so I can move on and make the deadline.

I am discovering a lot about how I learn by doing this project. Even if I don't get a single vote, the educational experience is worth every moment I put into it. Some things are coming into focus on this piece that have always been separated for me. I could either concentrate on skill or I could concentrate on imagination, but I could rarely do both.

The first part of working from imagination is building the artistic muscle.

I am going to reword something that is constantly being stated in the art circles, but I never truly understood until recently. This is paraphrased:

In order to draw from your imagination, you have to be constantly drawing from life so you can build a visual vocabulary from which to work from.

When I first read this, I went out and started drawing things around me. I started setting ordinary objects up and painting them. I worked from life hoping that one day I would be able to just sit down and as I imagined things, they would magically appear on my paper and voila! That didn't happen. What a disappointment. To make matters worse, I began having a very difficult time drawing anything that wasn't in front of my face. In my opinion, this was getting worse, not better.

An "Aha!" moment came when I started working on this little sketch. When I was playing with the costume ideas on this, I wasn't thinking about the form, the light or the lines. I was thinking about the fabric and depending upon what it was made out of how heavy or stiff it would be. I understand fabric because I sew. If it is knit, it is going to hang a different way than it would if it were woven. If it is heavy, it will droop farther, etc. I have experienced this enough that I can imagine it with no problem.

The key to me learning to draw from imagination is not simply drawing or painting from life. It is learning to experience things from life and taking notes in lines or paint about what I see. It is all about making connections and relationships. For example, when I paint an apple, I see a distinct highlight on the skin, but if it is peeled, it really doesn't have the same shiny effect. The surface is rough and doesn't reflect a lot of light. I know this because I peeled an apple and had to adjust my pile of paint to get the right look. The same thing happens on a stainless steel pot vs my cast iron dutch oven. I know this because I understood it on the apple. This causes me to really think about the way I approach my studies.

When working from life, it isn't enough to try to mimic what I see, but to ask myself why I see what I see. Using a scientific method to enhance my learning approach it would go something like this: How would what I see be different if I changed one thing? (light, surface, color or structure) Can I accurately predict the changes? Can I get close? If not, why was I wrong? How does what I know about this object apply to other objects?

Working from imagination would be the reverse. What have I experienced already that can help me represent what I want to display?

The second part of working from imagination is building my imagination muscle.

There is a difference between creativity and imagination. Through the years, I have remained creative by painting, sewing, cooking, etc. Creativity is something that I exercise daily. I cannot turn it off. It is a part of who I am as much as being female or knowing how to walk. I am creative, so I do creative things. My imagination is something I can and do turn off. (otherwise I would need some kind of drug treatment) At one time, I had such an active imagination I would genuinely feel sad when I wrote about sadness. (Back in my writing days) Imagination is what is responsible for the twinge I feel when someone else gets poked with a needle.

Before I started drawing, I was gaming heavily. I played Diablo, UO, EQ, DAOC, Starwars, WOW etc. Gaming for me was never about winning anything. I was never interested in the prizes. The prize was a daily dose of imagination execution. I was a role player. I had lots of objects and characters running in my mind without the drawing skills to represent them. It was frustrating. I did a lot of writing in those days to describe in words the world these characters lived in. I ended up giving up gaming to have time to learn how to draw. Now I have built some skills and no characters to use them on. My imagination muscle has grown weak.

Though I do like to play the occasional game with my kids, I don't see myself getting back into the gaming thing again. For me, it is kind of like drinking alcohol. Getting drunk every weekend was fun when I was young and had nothing better to do, but now that I am older and have all these other opportunities, I don't really have an urge to drink very often. I am not anti-drinking. I am not anti-gaming. I just don't have the interest level to pursue either as my primary hobby.

I can't say that I have lost my imagination. My motivation to use my imagination daily has decreased. This has caused me to get to the point that I do not have access to it as readily. I do not picture things in my head as detailed as I used to because I do not rely on my imagination as a primary source of information.

The third part of working from imagination is bringing the two parts together.

I listen to Zencast. Even though I am not Buddhist, the talks have been very educational and I have discovered an awful lot about myself by paying attention to what I am thinking (or that I am thinking) An incredible shift happened when I noticed that I am thinking all the time. It didn't matter what I was thinking. I didn't notice that I am rarely alone in my head until I noticed how much my thoughts are constantly with me. This shift caused me to take a step back from what I was thinking so I could notice that there are just some things that are ridiculous to think about as often as I was thinking about them.

I like still life. I like painting. I like what still life painting has done to improve my artistic skill level. I don't believe I have the competitive nature it takes to be an illustrator or concept artist, but I really enjoy putting my brain to work on the CHOW challenges. This is a lot closer to the motivation that started me on this artistic quest. It is very energizing. It is motivational. I don't exactly know where this thought process is going to take me, but I feel a shift happening that is similar to the experience I felt when I noticed that I think all the time. It is subtle and profound all at the same time.

Maybe this means I will start painting apples with leather skins or perhaps do drapery studies using tin foil. If only I knew what kind of artists I want to be when I grow up, this would be an easy answer. The trouble with being self taught is that your teacher is an idiot.


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