Wednesday, October 3, 2012

10 Things... About Generating Paintings

Gregory Manchess


This is about the stages of idea generation that I’ve observed for decades in my own work. I didn’t know this was what was going on for a long, long time, but I kept watching it, studying the nuances. Then, as I read more about what other creatives such as writers, musicians, theorists, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers were experiencing, I saw patterns emerge from my own struggles.

The sequence:

Genesis
The beginning stages of an idea. All ideas are based on previous ideas. Thoughts are tagged to each other in a sequence. Sort of a chicken-or-egg endeavor, but basically ideas form from the idea before it. Thoughts are rarely isolated. One thought leads to another. Sometimes, we feel lucky. Something pops into mind immediately.

I had a call from a magazine once and within ten seconds of hearing the story, I had the right image. But it was an image I had in the back of my mind... for ten years.


Research
Looking for clues. Taking your passion and pushing it. Usually at this stage we encounter the same thought pattern, working with the first thing that comes to mind. But the first thing is generally not the best, unless you can simplify it, or it came from an idea you had long ago and your brain is still hashing it out.

Just like that idea I had simmering for ten years.


Passion builds
Piecing it together. Building on the idea. Things are starting to gel. Disparate images are merging, but it’s not there yet. Reject the obvious. Good time to smash conflicting ideas together: concrete cellophane, twisted smoothness, barbarous laughter, silent euphoria, etc. This stimulates the brain to get curious and try things. That’s where we find answers...

At this stage: concentrate!


Failure
But still nothing works. Nothing looks right. Nothing makes sense yet. The image is fuzzy, or worse, it’s boring. You try and try, but still nothing. Failure after failure. You force the issue. It doesn’t come together in your head or on paper. Frustration sets in. Avoidance. Depression.

Keep going....it’s part of the process. In fact, you MUST push through this stage or nothing gets finished.


Stall
But you can’t keep going. Ya got nothin’. You’re losing interest. So you stall. Your mind flat-lines. First thing: go for a walk. Several studies now on the effect of the right-left movement of your legs on your brain's right-left hemispheres. Better yet: sleep on it. Don’t look for it. Let it simmer. Your head is still working in the background. Relax. Distract. Play. Do something completely different, off the wall. Meet friends, have fun. It needs some time. Daydream!

Rebirth
When you least expect it, and I mean least: a spark....a thought appears. While you’re engaged with something else, a simple, tiny connection occurs. The embers reignite. They start to smoke. Wait a minute--what was that? Write it down. Do a sketch. It’s coming. Hold it---insight is occurring....something you hadn’t thought of, or something you did think of but just not quite like this, not quite this way. Curiosity returns. The brain lights up in areas across the hemispheres, pulling info from every sector. Smells, feelings, sounds. The piston chemistry starts firing. One thought leads quickly to another, faster this time, faster than you can hold on to. Where’s that pencil?

Usually known as the ‘Aha Moment’ of insight, it sometimes occurs fully formed--but only after much concentration, then relaxation.


Recommit
You see something, know something now. You have to get it down! Drawing, drawing....wait--not like that.....like this! Breakthroughs occur here. Your brain recommits to the challenge. When it does, success is not far away.



Cover illustration for Kilkenny, by Louis L'Amour


15 comments:

  1. You're "10 things..." posts are always interesting and revelators, thanks for sharing. Greg knows the way.

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  2. This is something I will study deeper. A process that really could work for me. Thank you Greg for sharing, truly inspiring. Very beautiful.

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  3. Genesis
    Research
    Passion builds
    Failure
    Stall And Shelve
    Rebirth becomes - Linger on a shelf or drawer
    Recommit evolves to Genesis of another idea...

    start again...

    Genesis
    Research
    Passion builds
    Failure
    Stall And Shelve
    Rebirth becomes - Linger on a shelf or drawer
    Recommit evolves to Genesis of another idea...

    start again...

    Genesis
    Research
    Passion builds
    Failure
    Stall And Shelve
    Rebirth becomes - Linger on a shelf or drawer
    Recommit evolves to Genesis of another idea...

    and so on.

    I've been damned to actually not finish a lot of art for a long time
    because my ideas and stories become so much more then a single image
    and I can never contain them, they always become so big that I get squashed
    by their size and commitment that go beyond my abilities in time, technique
    and artistic knowledge.

    You would think after falling in the mud time after time I would have
    given up, but I just keep getting up and move forward to give it another heave ho.
    [Though lately with smaller, simpler ideas, but still that challenge of finishing
    a peice has been so elusive]

    Thanks for listening and thanks for another great blog post.... as with other of your
    teachings Greg, they are helping me progress in my art.

    ~Mike
    Never give up, Never surrender!

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  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I may get this homework done for Bill's class yet! I think I stall out and then flatline more than I should. This will definitely help! I loved seeing the progress in your thumbnail sketches!!! Melody

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  5. Hey guys....y'know the part where you shelve the art or let it sit for too long and flatline? That's the critical part of the process. When it gets hard, you're backing off. THAT's when you need to push on, push through. Sure, go for a walk and let it fester, but get back to it. Then, after the frustration sets in AGAIN and you relax for a bit, things will gel at some point.

    Mike, your comment about waiting for your skills to catch up are dead on! It's true: sometimes we instinctively know that the idea we have is larger than we can handle. Same thing happened to me. I'm just now getting to ideas I had some 30 years ago. Imagine that. But I can handle it now. I can do them ALL.

    Now the problem is, getting the chance to do them all....I have to pick and choose! Irritating, but fun!

    Btw, I've heard other creatives talk about this factor. For example, Neil Gaiman had the idea for the Graveyard Book way back when he first started writing Sandman, but he put it on the back burner because he knew he didn't have the skills yet to write it. As he forged ahead, he grew those skills needed to complete his vision.

    And all of this is normal to the creative process. People get frustrated, I think, mostly because they get impatient.

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  6. Greg, thanks again for another fantastic post and for the images. Push on through is the toughest part, but one we all need to overcome. thanks again.

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  7. Hi Greg,

    This is so inspiring! I totally recognized myself in these steps of struggle.
    Very often I would spend endless hours filling page after page of my sketchbook with thumbnails and very rough ideas, but it is so rare I actually take any of them to completion.

    Like Mike and you said, I'm often daunted by the skills the idea I have in mind requires. And as result I often just let that idea sit in the corner of my head, but I hardly ever get back to it... But lately I've come to realize I had better start small with projects I can actually carry out to the end and patiently work my way up. As you say Greg, it's all about determination and patience.

    Thank you so much for another amazingly motivating and inspiring message :)

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  8. Along the lines of the "Stall" & "Rebirth" steps - I'm reminded of what I've heard about cross-training in sports: that when one cross trains he or she gets stronger at his or her primary sport. As a designer and illustrator, I believe that's true in art as well. As my mind focuses on my design assignments at work, my illustration projects can bake subconsciously, and vice versa. Having a variety of things going on makes for a fertile, patiently growing crop of inspirations in the soil of the mind.

    Thanks for the reminders and lessons, Greg.

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  9. It's scary how relevant this is to my work right at this moment. Thank you so much for this. I have noticed that artists of all sorts tend to struggle through the exact same feelings and problems no matter where they are or what they are doing, and yet, we all seem to think that we are alone in that struggle. It's both a surprise and a revelation to me to find out that artists much more experienced than myself have exactly the same issues I do. In a way it's kind of a relief, like I am doing something right if I feel like I'm doing everything wrong.
    Back to the struggle.

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  10. love these 10 things posts. That image could totally be Roland from the Dark Tower books. hint hint. I thing we need some Manchess versions of those characters!

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    1. Guess I'd better read farther in the book, Matt! The Gunslinger, right?

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  11. This is excellent! I love the aha moment. Unfortunately/thankfully I'm just compulsive enough that when this happens I am all over a canvas until its 95% done. And then I avert my eyes in loathing for days. And then I finish because I have to.

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  12. As always I love these 10 things posts and it was very encouraging to hear about the struggle of the failure.

    Thank you for sharing these lessons!

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  13. That's exactly what happens to me. I've learned to (mostly) identify it, and walk away when I know it's just not going to happen that day. Or the next, or maybe even the next, next, next.
    I've been struggling with the hardest 3 pages of my kids book for more than a month, and FINALLY something kicked in at the most random place. It's coming together, slowly of course. The other 2 pages I'm still drawing a blank for, but I know they're out in the ether somewhere, just waiting to coalesce.

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  14. Yes, yes, yes to all comments!

    Jamie, we really are alone in the struggle, ultimately, because we battle ourselves. But we're never alone when we share those struggles with others and find the same problems arising over and over again. So you're alone, and never alone! I know....kinda Zen. But how many places and how many comments from average thinkers have we run into that keep perpetuating the same tired crud about art, about painting, about learning?

    It's time to look at the cold reality, the facts about learning to get good. They are commonplace and they are available to EVERYONE. What we do with it all makes the difference. And the thing you have a leg up on?

    You're already original. Nobody quite the same as you.

    So....drive it home!

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