In writing class, the initial exercises included writing about oneself - about my experience in school, about an embarrassing moment, a learning moment, a turning point in my life and so on. The premise was that whether we write fiction or non-fiction, it is best (and probably the easiest) to write about what we know. It felt to me like an "inside going outwards" activity.
In contrast, when I took summer art classes back in highschool, the very first drawing exercises were to draw objects or figures. "Pay attention to the light, the shape, the texture," our art teacher would tell us. Drawing/painting still-life or landscapes was about developing how one sees the outside world and expressing it on the page. It felt like an "outside going inwards" process.
Now that I'm doing both writing and illustration, I am struck by this difference in learning approach. I do think that this contrast only applies at the early stages of learning because for established writers and illustrators, I suspect, the process becomes a cycle of outside going in and inside going out. Both writers and illustrators take in inspiration from the world around them and both also express themselves into their writing and illustrations. The process of creativity is cyclical in nature. At least it feels that way to me.
In the past weeks where I have committed myself to drawing at least once a week, I acquired a higher appreciation of the sketching process. I now regard it as a necessary step instead of just another way of doodling. It has become an important part of my creative process.
For me, there are two steps - sketching and then the actual painting/drawing. The two requires different ways of thinking (or being). In sketching, the focus is in the formation of the idea and the transformation of that thought into something tangible and visible. That in itself is a very powerful creative step. To be able to extract an emotion, a memory, a thought and translate that on paper and then have that resulting image convey a similar emotion, memory or thought to whoever sees that image, is challenging. We are essentially giving birth to something invisible, into something that is of this world - tangible and concrete.
Once the idea had been sketched, the next step is to further express and distill it in the style of the artist. The focus then shifts towards technique, skill, medium and style. Both parts present their own challenges and I see a lot of artists who are good in either one of them. But for sure, the illustrators that I truly admire are great at both.
My sketch below was inspired by watching my eight year old struggle to read. As I watched her, I thought about all the stories I read when I was a child myself, all of which I wanted her to discover (as soon as possible, if I had it my way). But I know she had to discover them at her own pace, slowly moving from word to word. In the meantime, the creatures and characters from the great stories that have ever been written are waiting patiently, with much anticipation, for that moment when she finally meets them in their world, that hidden world that can only be glimpsed at when she opens their book and reads.
I plan to paint this in gouache in the coming weeks. Colors and characters would likely change but the idea would be the same.