Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Power of Play

Process: Roaming (Monsters)

                There’s a point when you have a specific mastery or experience with a skill that you’re able to do things you wouldn’t have been able to when you first started.  I'm talking about play. 
                What do I mean, exactly?  There’s a saying I like to say (because I don’t know if it is a saying because I might have made it up).  “You can’t break the rules unless you master them first.”  I think about that, and I think about Picasso, who was a master draftsman and a master of his craft before he went on to Cubism, forging a completely new path and way of thinking for artists.  Dali had a similar skill in that his draftsmanship was so technically adept.  He was able to render anything realistically; so, he turned to surrealism. 

                Now, I am in no way saying that when I’m playing with my art, I’m breaking new ground.  I think that is what is possible (though limited to those who have nowhere else go but new).  But for the rest of us, we can sketch, play on our guitars, write or [insert other creative example here].  I think it’s a way of creating that has not been given enough credit.  When I first started drawing and illustrating, it would always be one of two things: 1) a study of another drawing/sketch, or 2) an attempt to create an image that was in my head.  Now, because I don’t get enough “inspiration” to start on a specific image (partly due to the fact that my process is now different), I literally doodle.

                Sometimes I don’t even look at the page, I just make pencil/pen marks, parallel lines, sharp angles, round objects, organic shapes, inorganic shapes.  Half the time, they don’t turn into anything.  The other half, there’s a semblance of an image, and half of those times I can usually develop a real sketch out of that. If I’m really lucky, I can turn it into a complete illustration.  This kind of process is something I’m sure most creative persons can relate to. 

                What I’ve learned is that you can’t rely on inspiration because that’s not something that really exists.  In the same way, writer’s/artist’s block doesn’t exist either – that’s your default state.  Creation comes out of creating, it doesn’t have to be a perfect start or even a perfect concept.  Just go for it and eventually your associations will turn your doodles into something.  I often turn my page to see what I’ve made at different angles.  Maybe from the initial drawing, I can’t make anything out of it, but if I turn it 25, 45, 80 degrees, it might start looking like something recognizable, something drawable (not a word, I know).  The best part, however, isn’t that you come out with a finished product (that almost never happens), but that you learn from it.

                Now, this wouldn’t be a blog post without some process!  Here’s a specific example of when play turned into something more complete. 

                The day was…some day in April.  I sat down on the couch to watch The Simpsons at the cusp of the evening.  With me were my materials – a sketchbook, a pencil, an eraser, and a sharpener.  In between laughs, commercials, and non-essential Simpson scenes (so like, 5% of the episode) I made staggered marks near the center of the page.  When I raised my head to continue watching, I continued making marks, eager to see what would coalesce by the next act break.  I looked down, nothing.  I turned my sketchbook, still nothing.  No matter, I just kept at it with my pencil.  After a certain amount of time (as in, The Simpsons finished), I looked down at the sketchpad.  My marks had created some kind of rock/natural structure.  It seemed primitive in construction, but I went with it and laid down a horizon line.  Now it looked like some kind of barren landscape with this strange oval-like formation jutting out of the ground.  My gears were turning – what if it was huge? What if people used it? What if people swung from it?  Millions of questions and ideas flooded in my head (they weren’t all good) and now I could draw with more deliberation.  I added tiny stick figures and swinging ropes, adding a dimension of scale to the sketch.  Here’s where I stopped (click to enlarge). 

                I had added a few more human-made structures but it didn’t mesh well with what was originally on the page.  So I stopped there and decided to scan it and continue the rest in Photoshop.  No, wait, I didn’t do that. I got lazy and tried to recreate the sketch using color only.  Now, this could’ve been a huge mistake (I should scan and not try to recreate) but as I was trying to make this structure with browns and dark goldenrods, I realized my Photoshop drawing was looking nothing like my sketchbook drawing.  Normally, this would be a bad thing, but…the Photoshop image did look like something else. 

                I saw two large limbs, a small head, a large body.  There was something here, I didn’t know what, but I ran with it.  I completely ditched the idea of the construct originally in my sketchpad – this was going to be something completely different.  What excited me most is that I could play with the environment and use scale, something I had not done before.  A lot of my drawing is flat in the sense that the environment does not usually play a large part, and if it does, my inexperience with it shows.  My lighting and colors aren’t as accurate as they could be and the atmosphere is almost nonexistent.  But now, I could try to do all of that, and hopefully well. 

                Once I had the first creature down, as well as the surrounding environment (a deserted landscape was something I still kept from the idea of the first sketch) which partially obscured it, I decided to make more of those creatures, but farther away.  Again, I kept things very loose, creating large blocks of shapes with colors rather than lines.  Once I had a composition I was fairly satisfied with, I greyed out the image and started loosely sketching things in line.  From there, I was pretty familiar with how things worked and how I wanted to painting to proceed.  I added detail to the main monster, and worked in less detail for the more distant monsters, as that’s how detail usually works in reality – the farther away something is, the less detailed it is (it may or may not sound obvious, but I know it’s not something I have practiced in my painting).

                From there, the majority of the time I spent getting the colors, light balance, and sharpness of the image right.  I was actually pretty scared while I was making it because it was a painting unlike any other I’ve done in terms of the different elements involved (I think I say that a lot. But that's a good thing).  The style was also fairly loose and sketchy so if I overworked something, it would be very obvious and throw the entire thing off.  I ended things perhaps a bit early, but I’d rather do that than work too much on it and be completely unhappy with the painting. 

                I chose to spotlight this painting because 1) it’s my most recent piece, but also because it directly came out of me doing random marks on a sketchpad while watching The Simpsons.  It’s hard to get less organized, but I think it comes out of a comfort to play.  So, here’s Roaming (Monsters) in all in playful glory.