Message Over Technique
I just watch this video on Get Small and Tell the Truth and thought it was very applicable to illustration and storytelling and wondered if we could start a conversation around prioritizing message over technique.
I tend to overcompensate my lack of story or message by drawing pretty pictures but have reached the point where I’m trimming down my tools to find what I want to say. My “artistic voice” if you will.
I wondered what message you guys aim to tell with your work and if that influences your style in any way? What projects or process did you undergo in order to find what makes you stand out?
I’ve been wondering if the practice of creative writing might help Let me know your thoughts!
This is a great topic! I think creative writing might indeed help. But also, I think an illustration requires a lot of work on the front end, especially in the thumb nailing and sketching stage. I try to put sketches in front of people without telling the story, and ask them, "What do you see here?" If they don't know, or they get it wrong, I know I'm not telling it right!
I also think it helps to have enough experience to know what kinds of stories you are drawn to. True, we draw for kids, but as kids we just take everything in. As adults, we process it, prioritize it, and learn to express what's important.
I also don't think stories should be preachy. This is even harder, because you have to take a deeper dive into what draws you to an idea and how you can express it, not through clear statements, but through pure story and visual art.
I do think good technique gives you the right tools to tell your story, but you have to have a story you want to tell, and tell it clearly.
xin li last edited by
Really great topic! I have been thinking a lot about the same thing the year.
I do not think I have any aim or plan to have a message in my illustration and story. I always loved stories that are ambiguous, and leave rooms for readers to interpret. I actually tried really hard to avoid having a message especially when I write my own stories. But I failed badly - every story I wrote have a very clear message. Instead of fighting my own tendency, I now choose to indulge it. I just keep making up stories. Some of them are good, most of them are pretty bad. Starting to write my own story has helped a lot to figure out what kind of stories I want to work on. So I highly encourage you to try writing, if you are interested.
Writing is a very messy process for me. I never knew what I am doing when I started. A creative writing teacher I met once said to me "I am not alway knowing what I am going to write, I write to figure it out". That statement really calmed me down. I like the idea of treating the process of making art is the process of figuring out the thing you want to say.
In some ways, I started to believe the "artistic voice" is really what you choose to spent time making. What you consume has a lot to do with what you ended up choosing to make. So maybe it pays off to pay a close attention to what you consume, and why you love the things you love.
To me the idea of "stand out" has something to do with comparing yourself to others. It might be interesting to turn your focus inwards, looking at what you are interested in making, and pay attention to that. I feel often the things that make you unique and interesting are small and unnoticeable, if you do not pay attention
@xin-li Aw man this is great stuff. I love your inverse approach to strive for ambiguity in your message to engage your viewer in making their own interpretation. I remember asking for your advice on how to improve my art and you mentioned focusing on emotion vs the scene. Drawing what I see is so much easier than drawing what I feel haha
Agreed on focusing inward. I've been trying to practice self-awareness and it has changed the way I do art. It's a pretty fun but very private process. I finally understand what people mean when they say "put themselves out there" and why it can be scary
@LauraA Love this practical advice on doing thumbnails.
I've seen how extensively you explore this phase of drawing and highly admire it. I tend to bam out 3-5 rough thumbnails and jump into color comps. Aside from creative writing, this is probably one of the best exercises to improve visual story telling.
xin li last edited by
@donnamakesart I understand what you are saying about ""put themselves out there". I feel learning to be yourself is one of the hardest thing to do, especially in the context of being an artist. I guess the practice of being self-aware is in itself an enlightenment. You are on a good path :-).
@donnamakesart I just wanted to add that now I've watched the video and it's really good advice!
donnamakesart last edited by donnamakesart
@LauraA Right? He has a great way of explaining vague concepts in simple and relatable ways
Thanks for this excellent video. I have been a writer all of my life and am only getting serious about art quite late but I've become increasingly aware of how much of the two creative processes are similar. I learned in writing to do exactly what he talks about in the video -- simplify and be honest -- and most of that occurs in the planning. I start my writing with coming up with a theme but then writing down all of the questions that a theme would raise for people which gets me to move past a trite simplistic piece. I think that's what he means by telling the truth -- not reaching for the obvious, the trite, the easy presentation but really trying to figure out what you want to say and why its important that you say it.
In my writing process, once I've honed my theme, I then basically throw everything at the board that has anything to do with that theme (I have an actual virtual bulletin board on my computer) and then I rearrange, rearrange, rearrange, and cut, cut, cut, cut. From that I write an ugly draft and the real magic is in the final editing. The SVS teachers have described a very similar process in illustration of developing key words, mind mapping, and doing tons of thumbnails to make sure that everything in the illustration works visually to tell the story you want to tell.
I really appreciated the photographer in the video who talked about simplifying your technique so that the meaning of the work comes through. It really helps me as a new artist to focus on the story and worry less about my still inadequate "artistry."
@donnamakesart Thanks so much for sharing this video.
@demotlj Such a valuable insight. It's always interesting how one principle can apply to many different practices. Thank you for sharing!
I love hearing your process as a writer. People usually harp on how 80% of writing is editing. There's really two sides in the creative process, the first being a literal kid in the candy shop splashing all our ideas and gathering inspirations onto one page, then the second being the adult that needs to clean up the messy haha.
It takes a lot of patience to sit through the refining process so the piece is as true and as good as we can get it before moving on to the next thing. Sometimes, it makes it hard to even pickup the pen, knowing how much you might have to invest in one piece.
@donnamakesart Great analogy especially because the fun part is throwing the ideas all over the place and the editing (the adult part) is hard work.