Developing your imagination
As I look at professional illustrations, the illustrations of the SVS instructors, and many of the works by people posting here, I am so impressed with their imagination: the complexity of their scenes, the unique camera angles, color, and lighting, and the imaginative characters. I know you can learn the technical aspects of illustration but how can you strengthen your ability to envision complex and imaginative scenes? I know one thing people say is that you should study the illustrations of people you like but I feel like I could look at them forever and still not come up with that stuff on my own.
@demotlj “Framed Ink” is a very good book on this subject - Marcos Mateu-Mestre has a couple of great books on perspective also - here is a great interview with him too
I think a lot of that comes with time and practice. The stronger your basic skills the more energy you can devote to imagination. I like the technique of building simple models (cardboard and Styrofoam shapes) that makes it easy play with the lighting and angles. I spent a lot of time this year learning how to sculpt/carve/sew so I can make figures that I can pose.
Ever since I posted this, I've been trying to decide exactly what it is I'm asking :) I think what I'm asking is whether there are exercises to help develop your imagination, just like drawing circles helps develop your hand coordination, drawing boxes helps develop your perspective etc. For example, when I watched the Harry Potter movies I thought, "Wow, the world they have created -- the rooms, the landscape, the background scenery -- is so much bigger and complex than the world I imagined as I read the books."
How do you go about fleshing out and populating the imaginary world you are creating so that it has real depth and complexity? (And certainly not all stories require that depth but I'd like to try to stretch my imagination farther.)
I think it is mainly about noticing things....not really something to train but a shift in the way you look at the world. Watching a film and noticing how the camera is positioned and why, or how the scenes are lit. Paying attention to how the sunlight in the morning casts long, light purple shadows. Listening to conversations on the train. I remember having lunch with a friend and not being able to focus on what she was saying because I was distracted by how the red tablecloth reflected red light all over the bottom of her jaws... If you keep your eyes and ears open and pay attention, the world gives you dozens of ideas every day
I think one of the most important things for a big imagination is being curious. Those people tend to build a large pool of experiences. When you try a new thing or take a trip somewhere, or just talk to someone else about their life, you're exposed to fresh perspectives and inspiration that might get pulled out into a new illustration or story. A trip to Italy might get you thinking about a city full of waterways. How might that look in the morning? For the movie Cars the Pixar crew took a real road trip down Route 66 and talked to a multitude of locals to get inspiration for their sets and characters.
Even just reading a lot and learning about a new topic will earn you tidbits for future ideas. At some point you will take two ideas and mash them into something new. I've started keeping a notebook of interesting things I see/hear/think, to look back on later. A couple highlights:
- How do you fit a piano into your carry-on bag?
- Heard on Planet Earth 2: "We welcomed the smell of sulphur from the volcano because it covered up the smell of the penguins."
- What if the Dire Wolf was actually a Dour Wolf?
I also recommend picking up some graphic novels. I've always been fascinated by movie storyboards, and comics are a fancy version of those - a movie of still pictures. You start seeing how to incorporate the establishing shot, or the full page reveal, all sorts of storytelling tricks.
I think the suggestion of looking at movie stills is a good one because I’m looking for ways to broaden and deepen the world of an illustration which really means thinking about what might lie beyond the four edges of the picture’s frame. In fact, just thinking of an illustration as a set might help me because lots of stuff on a set is often cropped out of the final shots but the very fact that if is there makes the scene more believable. Obviously not every illustration needs to be that complex but I’m trying to increase my repertoire to include more complexity. (And I should probably watch Will Terry’s Draw 50 Things too.)
To add to what others have said, one of the best ways to develop your imagination is research. I remember a video of Jake's where he showed his vast Pintrest library that he uses in creating many of his illustrations. You can't draw what you don't know. Like @carriecopa said, most of the big studios take research tours or bring things to their studio (I recall a live lion being brought to Disney for Lion King). Don't know that there are techniques for developing your imagination save from just drawing anything and everything to build up your internal library of images. Same goes for environments.
@demotlj This is a good question. I spend a lot of time listening to my kids and they keep me filled up with ideas. But, another thing I’ve seen a lot of professionals do is the double idea box. They keep ideas in boxes... one with characters and the other with settings or things. It forces you to think out of your normal And gets the creative juices flowing. If you pull “flamingo” and “arctic” out of the boxes, you’ve got some interesting material to try and sort out in a picture.
As for the Potter movies, yea, the imagination that went into that was unreal, but I think there is still a starting point. Hogwarts is based on an actual castle in Scotland or something, Hogsmead looks a lot like many of the little villages in the north of England but more... crooked... I think you can get a lot out of learning how to take real references and “crookeding” them a bit. If that makes sense. ☺️
@demotlj Hi! I would like to give you an advice that was given by concept artist and illustrator Noah Bradley, and also something that I discussed with some friends that are professional concept artists:
Learn something else - some knowledge based discipline. You have much more to tell when you know something. Study history of ancient civilizations, biology of animals and plants, quantum physics, robotics, Victorian literature... Whatever interests you. By doing this, you will know a lot of things, details, anatomies, events, that you will be able to use in your art. You can adapt and modify them, make microbes look cute, create planets and galaxies and so on.
Continuing on my advice. I am a biologist by academic formation. Spent about 6 years studying aracnhids (mainly spiders) and 6 years studying insects (mainly flies and wasps). I learned a lot about animal anatomy, behaviour, biomechanics, evolution and so on. Most important, as a scientist I've learned how to find information, ask questions and try things day(experiment). I use all if this knowledge and skills in my artwork. Even my way to learn new techniques feels experimental: I observe someone doing it (by reading, watching a video or seeung it in real life), I do some research about it, get the materials, try a basic practice, try a simple illutration and then progress to feel comfortable with the new stuff.
I am not saying I am doing great, there is always something else to fix and improve. But I am happy that every time I sit to do art, I have something in mind that I can translate into a picture with my skills on drawing, composition and rendering.
Art alone is just techiniques on drawing, painting, sculpting, composition, rendering and so on... Pretty much what a machine can do nowadays - as long as you know which buttom to press or they make a machine that can press itself. Art is complete whith the stories, events, knowledge and wisdom that you have to share!
Also, I watched a few Japanese masters, including Hayao Miyazaki, focusing on "world building" development as well as paying attention to small details that give life to your character or scenes. It's not about having epic experiences that no one else had, but about looking at things from a different angle. You can see more in a simple event such as a waiter serving a cup of coffee to someone, it can be the manner in which he/she holds the cup to serve (does it look clumsy or very refined?); is the table totally clean? Is the customer paying attention to the waiter or to the cup, or just reading a book? What is that book?
The answer to these questions rely on your imagination, your personal experiences. Maybe the waiter has OCD so he/she is very meticulous in his manners. Maybe the customer is a medical student, so he/she is reading a medicine book... Apply the same idea to any story you are telling - make it feel like the things in there have a life of their own, an untold story - you don't need to illustrate that or spent days elaborating that, but it helps if you put some thought on it and let it appear in your illustration!
The video below has a quick fragment at the beginning where the artist share his thoughts. It is just one episode of a whole series, enjoy!
I've really enjoyed reading all of these suggestions. Thanks. As I've read people's comments, I realized that most of my sketch books are filled with sketches of faces, people, animals, and objects but only rarely do I do sketches of landscapes or complete rooms. That's partially a symptom of never having enough time to sketch -- it's faster to draw a person in a coffee house than the entire coffee house! -- but I'm going to try to be more deliberate about compiling landscape/setting sketches.
@diego_biosteam Great video! Thanks.
@demotlj Good that you liked it!
Did you ever play tabletop Role Playing Games? The vary basic ones where you just need pen and paper to play. They are great in helping you develop your imagination! You need to create a world (can be an entire planet, a small city or just a library in a tower) and characters that will populate this world!
Here is a video looking at Ghibli animations from the point of view of world building: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6Q6y4-qKac
Interesting discussion @demotlj
All suggestions are great. The one that works best for me is a bit like @carriecopa
ask questions and try making them more and more absurd (a fun exercise)
Start asking questions about everything! If you draw a person in a coffeeshop, ask yourself why is this person doing what he does? @Diego_BioSteam mentioned this too, but for me it works best by starting with the most simple question: why? And then more and more questions and answers will pop up.
@Diego_BioSteam thanks for sharing the video's!
@diego_biosteam I'm old enough that when I was a kid the only role playing games you could play were with pen and paper. It was in an age before computers when dinosaurs roamed the land. Unfortunately, it was also an age when only the boys played those games so no, I never did play them.
And I almost forgot: I highly recommend the Illustration 1, turbocharging your creativity class from David and Lee. They share great advice on how to come up with different ways to visualize your ideas and deciding what is the best one.
@demotlj haha... I am old enough to have started with the pen and paper version of Dungeons & Dragons. Nowadays there are several simple tabletop RPGs available even for free. If you want, can recomend you some!