Hi all! I just wanted to continue a discussion that came up in last night's Critique Arena, because I think it could be fruitful for everyone.
First of all, this is not intended as a complaint. I am just one of those people who likes to get things out there, so though it might seem I am being argumentative, it's really and truly just me trying to understand in order to improve my work. So, with that in mind:
I knew from the beginning that I had some kind of concept problem in my entry (the girl with the mushrooms). It made the top 16, so I'm grateful for that. But when it didn't advance, and concept was given as the reason, the advice was to ask for feedback from others. I did that on this forum with this drawing, twice (once asking for a serious critique), and though there wasn't much response, the people who answered seemed to understand the concept or they gave advice about details (always welcome, and I followed it). What I would really have liked was a more involved discussion about what exactly was happening and how I could have made the concept clearer. Or maybe it was the concept itself that was weak?
In the end, the advice Lee and Will gave during Critique Arena was:
Ask for feedback: I did this, not only from the forum, but from anyone else I could find. Most people I asked got it, and when they feedback was mistaken, I changed some characters. But it wasn't enough. This is what makes me think maybe the problem was the concept itself.
Keep drawing and your success rate will improve with practice: I think this is really the sticking point with me. I really want to work, and I haven't got a 40 year career ahead of me. Therefore I am trying to speed up this part of the process.
Use brainstorming techniques: Ok, here is where I think this discussion could really be of help. How can a person who is mostly working alone brainstorm more effectively? Has anyone found books or courses that help? I took Turbocharging and Ideation, but maybe I need to take them again because I still feel like my concepts are weak compared to my drawing. But maybe there are good books on lateral or divergent thinking, especially done visually? This would be especially nice if it somehow touched on the kind of illustration we are doing, storytelling, and less on the sort of visual metaphor used in corporate and editorial work.
And finally, I would ask, which artists, especially children's or middle grades illustrators, do you think do an especially good job with single image storytelling? I would like to look at more examples. Again, I can find editorial examples, but most children's work I see is in the context of entire books, and I want my single images to be more arresting in order to get work doing entire books, if that makes sense.
Again, I appreciate all the feedback I have gotten here, and man, the piece I lost to was fantastic!! All the ones that advanced were fantastic, so I'm not complaining. I just really want to up my conceptual skills, and am at a bit of a loss as to how to up the ante.
xin li last edited by xin li
I have not watched the critique Arena for last month, but I am always interested in the subject of concept development for visual storytelling.
Regarding examples, I immediately thinking of a couple of books by Shaun Tan, especially "Rules of summer", and a sketchbook collection called "The bird King". I think his work always has an element of familiarity but in the same time an element of surprise.
I do not know any particular useful brainstorming techniques, apart from the keywords method I picked up from David in the Turbocharging class. But I started to notice some patterns. I think sometimes random and possibly interesting ideas come when you are not working on something, and sometimes you have a thing you are working on, but you have no ideas for it. So what I have started doing is basically scribbling down whatever ideas that comes to my mind which I think it is worth writing down (or make a thumbnail). Then once in a while I develop a personal piece from one of these ideas, and sometimes I use some elements of it in my book projects as well. Here are some examples of how I wrote down my ideas in my sketch books.
None of these are for anything particular, just random ideas that came to me. I wish I could draw better. But when I am excited with an idea, and wanting to get out on paper, this is the level of drawing I manage to do for now. I am trying to improve my quick drawing skill somehow (if anyone have tips for that :-).
The other thing I do often is doing a thumbnail copy a piece of artwork I love. It could be something I see on Instagram, or something I found in a book. I would sort of copy the shape, value, sometimes even characters, but as rough as thumbnails, not spending much time. I found it easier to understand the work when I am doing thumbnail copies. It forces me to slow down and think about the piece I am looking at, and mentally processing why I think it is good.
The third thing I thought of mentioning here is the idea of look for inspirations outside of the industry you are working on. I have been thinking about stop looking at my IG feed for some months, and spend time on books of classical paintings, sculptures, photography, basically anything else but not children's book illustration for inspiration. Now I also force myself to hang out more with friends who do not work with kids book, but doing arts and creative work in other ways. The conversations help me to think about an illustration problem in a more divergent approach.
Thank you for starting this conversation. Curious to see what others think.
Kim Rosenlof last edited by
@LauraA Sometimes when I am not sure whether a concept is coming through or not, I will specifically ask what people think is happening in the picture. If what they say goes along with my thinking then I know that the concept is clear, if they say something else or are confused, then it is obvious the concept is not clear. Or I will will ask if it is a good idea for the concept of whatever I am working on. I think sometimes we ask for feedback, but are not specific enough, so people will look at composition, drawing, or value, which are more obvious than concept. I think David Hohn asked someone once what type of feedback they wanted one time on the forum; he was asking them to be specific so he could be more helpful.
As far as coming up with concepts, I think Lee talked about how he comes up with concepts one time, but I can't remember where that was. He writes down a word such as "sprout" and then writes down or draws little thumbnails of whatever (and it could be anything) that he thinks of that comes to mind. So the word is in the middle and then all the ideas branch off that word. I actually do something similar, but in list form because that works better for me. I write down whatever comes to mind, even if it is seems silly and then will eventually come up with my idea. Sometimes when I don't ask people what is going on, then it is not as successful because it makes sense to me, but not to others.
I thought your entry was great, but when compared to others the concept was not as clear. The drawing, concept, value were all great. I did give feedback, but not on the concept. I just didn't even think about that when you put it in the forum, so sorry I was not helpful in that way. Hindsight is 20/20.
Kim Rosenlof last edited by
@LauraA I would look at Caldcott winners since they are picked not only for the pictures, but they also won't pick any book that has a a bad storyline. I think David Wiener is great at storytelling and concept. Jon Klassen has simple illustrations, but he conveys a lot in those illustrations. Dan Santat and Peter Brown are great too.
aurelia last edited by
@LauraA This thread is really useful. I'd love to know how everyone come up with a good concept with their piece. I sometimes struggle to find a good concept a lot. Recently, I try to be aware of how my process is to find something to illustrate. I'm quite amateur myself, but I just try to understand what works for me.
- Sometimes I just randomly doodle on paper with no particular image or thing in mind, kind mindless, then I'd see what it looks like to me then build on top of that.
- Sometimes I browse a lot of Pinterest image, random topics architecture, crafts, photos, illustrations ect. then something will click in me or these will remind me of something else. I keep the topic of the illustration in mind while I browsing. Like what @Lee-White said in his youtube "How to do great illustrations EVERY time!" We need to input first before output.
I also like what has been said by @xin-li to look outside our field there's good idea in every industry.
Thanks for your replies! I think that what I hear is people saying, "Mess around more." Which is perfectly true. Maybe it's hard to be playful enough when you feel under pressure? But then, the whole point is to produce quality, not quantity! And of course, thumbnail, thumbnail, thumbnail!
@xin-li I really hear you on the outside inspiration. I am a huge fan of medieval manuscripts (and love Sydney Smith's book White Cat and Monk), and have been trying to work them in somehow since forever, but haven't quite got it yet.
@Kim-Rosenlof I did ask for feedback from a lot of people, but maybe what I said on the forum was, "Do the composition and value help with the storytelling?" which maybe gave people the wrong idea? I am still curious about the difference between single images and book images, but maybe what I will do is take some of, say, Dan Santat's books and ask myself, "Could I understand the story on this page without the text?"
@aurelia Your piece was spot on! I have done what you said, but I have been browsing social media for ideas less often recently, because I was tending to get distracted. Maybe it's time to do another deep breath and dive.
Keep the good ideas coming!
Hi @LauraA, congratulations on making sweet 16! Huge accomplishment!
I really liked your piece, very playful and interesting.
However, upon further review, it appears there’s a conflict of emotions. For example, the mushrooms are all happy; however, the girl is sad and leaving, which makes the story a little confusing.
I think she went to pick mushrooms, but then they came to life and scared her away.
I really like the composition and rendering and values too!
Remember, your piece was selected by Lee and Will, but voted out by the audience. It’s all just luck at the voting stage, especially because all the pieces that make Sweet 16 are selected by Will, Lee and Jake.
I agree with others said, especially @aurelia about input before output. I spend much more time planning now than I did in the past, and it seems to be helping since I’ve been lucky to make the Sweet 16 the past 3 or 4 months.
The critique arenas are exciting and can be frustrating simultaneously, because if you don’t make it, you’re left wondering why, but if you do make it, but voted out right away, you’re wondering why too.
I love your work, keep on pushing yourself and posting for feedback in the forums.
@Jeremy-Ross Thanks, Jeremy! The girl is supposed to just be startled, not sad. But now I'm looking at it and guess I can see how her mouth could be interpreted as a frown and not as open. Perhaps that was the problem with experimenting with dots for eyes and mouth!
The idea is supposed to be that the mushrooms are "sprouting" after she passes by, because of course they don't want to be eaten, but to make it less "cannibalistic," I made the mushrooms more mischievous than afraid, and her basket is empty.
I have been pushing a lot in the last few months to work faster. Especially this month, I got a late start because I was busy with other things during the first part of the month. I was pleased to finish, but was also a little dubious about whether it was as strong as it should be. And unfortunately with this experimental abbreviated style, I was more preoccupied with rendering things consistently (from the same world, as they say) than about doing lots thumbnails. I did do some, but not 50, as Lee recommends.
And yeah, in the end sometimes you don't know if you got voted out because you were pitted against an eventual winner (as I was for the past two months) or because it was one of the weaker pieces. But again, I have nothing against losing to a piece like Norman's! The overall quality lately has been very high, and that makes me feel proud to be included. I just feel like concept is a weak point for me and so want to improve.
Basically, wouldn't it be nice to be able to get outside our own heads and see our own work afresh?
Exactly @LauraA! I wrote some art goals down and so far all but 1 have materialized, so cheers to one day winning critique arena!
SVS Art Goals:
- Make Sweet 16 (multiple pieces)
- Advance to Top 8 (multiple pieces)
- Advance to Final 4 (Penelope and Bunny Sprout)
- Win Critique Arena (pending) must try harder!
- Be selected as feature student (mermaid illustration in Mer-May)
Jeremiahbrown last edited by Jeremiahbrown
@LauraA Haha, I completely hear where you're coming from! Technical skill continues to improve and seems to be at least nearing "there" while concept continues to be elusive. It hurts so good
For the last couple weeks I've been into the books Framed Ink and Framed Ink 2 by Marcos Mateu-Mestre. While the focus of the books is on sequential art Marcos also stresses the importance of single panels being able to stand on their own. I think the following points can easily be translated to/helpful for a piece for something like Critique Arena:
-What is the whole story, this specific shot, about?
-What are you trying to say in your scene?
-What mood do you want the audience to feel?
-What is the function of this moment in the story?
-How are you getting your audience there?
-What in the drawing is contributing to the general statement?
-What can you leave out without changing what we are trying to say?
You could use some of these points as targeted questions to ask the forum/friends that might elicit more helpful critiques.
Anyway, I highly recommend those two books for helping nail down concept...and I absolutely love your illustrations! The technical skill you have is ridiculous (!!!) even if your concepts are lacking (COMPLETELY kidding ). I think most of your concepts are great!
(Side note, I think our featured student of the month (@marek-halko ) does an incredible job of the last bullet point!)
@Jeremiahbrown Wow, I really like this idea! And I do have the first Framed Ink book. It has always put me off a bit because of his character vibe, which feels...IDK...cynical to me, but the information is certainly good and I should revisit it.
Yeah, that last point! I do love Marek's work.
And that point about about the moment in the story is very pertinent. Now that I've been thinking about it, I do think that's where I went off the rails with this piece. I don't think I had developed the story itself enough yet when I started drawing. And if you don't have a crystal clear idea of your story, your illustration is going to reflect that. I think I just liked the composition in itself!
You know what? It's my birthday and I think I'm going to gift myself with an illustration retreat, that is, a day to experiment and think deeply about where I'm going with this instead of getting something done by the end of the day...as soon as I finish cleaning off my desk!
Jeremiahbrown last edited by
@LauraA Happy Birthday! I hope your day is great and satisfying!
I felt the same way as you about Framed Ink before reading it but I found the concepts to be really helpful and inspiring.
@Jeremy-Ross I've been meaning to let you know that my 9 year old son and I were rooting for your piece to win as we were watching Critique Arena last week. Your art goals post reminded me that I hadn't yet. Great illustration!
danielerossi last edited by
Being an avid listener of the podcast, I find myself thinking “what would Lee, Will, and Jake say if you showed them this?”. Or sometimes something one of them said on either the podcast or their videos would pop into my head related to what I’m drawing.
Thank you @Jeremiahbrown! I’m so glad you and your son liked it! Congratulations on making the Sweet 16 on your piece too, loved the camera angle!
Matthew Oberdier last edited by
@xin-li I love seeing your concept sketches, I feel inspired to come up with my own fun concepts. Did you end up turning any of these into finished pieces?
Matthew Oberdier last edited by
@LauraA I'm not sure, but it seems like coming up with a concept is more along the lines of writing. Maybe the answer is to try to write a story? I know that with the more open ended prompts I have a harder time coming up with a concept that I like. I'm not having much luck with a 'star' idea.
xin li last edited by
@Matthew-Oberdier I did develop a few images for the ghosts (the pink thumbnail above). The last 3 images on my IG account were came from this little doodle. I have a story in my head for these little ghosts. I will find time to make a dummy maybe next year :-).
@Jeremiahbrown Thank you! I thoroughly enjoyed it!
@danielerossi I do this too!
@Matthew-Oberdier I think you may be right about that. But I also think that people who are illustrators only should be able to develop this skill. So maybe the key is to think through the story, but in pictures, not words.
I am continuing to think about this. If anyone has a good Visual Storytelling book or website to recommend, I'd be all for it!