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The Evolution of Ideas #1
"Where do you get your ideas?
Since the answer to this question involves the opening of a gate, I am using my recently completed gates painting as an example of the meandering path that leads to originality and new ideas.
But first, let’s back up to the question. I have been asked this question more times than any other in my life. More times than “What would you like to order?” More times than “Can I help you?”. You get the gist. Lots of times.
When I was younger and less wise, I would be so irritated by this question, and would respond with various ridiculous answers: “Under the Bed” “Walmart” Later, that one became “Amazon” (where I actually do get everything except ideas.) If I was in the mood to be truthful, I might say “In the Shower”. That one is true. LOTS of ideas come to me in the shower - but that is because my gate is wide open, my mouth is usually shut, and my brain is being rinsed.
The worst possible way to get ideas is to sit down to think of an idea, and hope for a lightbulb to come popping out of your head. That has about the same likelihood of happening as an idea popping into your head.
As good art is a product of you learning to “see” in a new way, good ideas are a product of you learning to “think” in a new way.
You need to seek out new ideas the way you seek out something to draw with your new gift of really “seeing” what is there. But to find a new idea, you try seeing what isn’t there.
A new idea is generated by your “consideration” of something you see or experience, and allowing your self to make associations. What “links” to this thing?
The process is a bit complicated and I am offering a class on it in a bit.
For now, I am going to give you an example of how it all works.
The painting of the four gates started here. It’s an ad torn out of a local magazine, and I was attracted for a number of reasons.
I did not think the photos were very good, but the variety of colors and shapes attracted me. Gates are a big icon in my art with all they say about coming and going, and permission to enter, and the excitement of seeing what is behind the gate. These also demonstrated the strong style of the place where I live. I LOVE collections of things. I needed to fix my own gate too - what did I want to do with it?
I love the “latilla” style where sticks are stuck into frames to make designs.
I thought all of this even as I tore out the ad. That is because I have trained myself to really think about what I am looking at. The more you do that, the more you associate.
I had mistakenly bought a landscape version of my 8.5 x 5.5 Beta sketchbook, and since it is not my usual “page” or “spread” space, I was exploring the format. It lends itself to rows of things.
Then the somewhat surrealistic element of my thinking had to kick in because the idea of several gates in a row does not actually make sense in the real world. Think about that for a minute - there is yet another idea in that thought somewhere. What possible kind of place would have gates every few feet?
Look at that! Four paragraphs of thinking about that ad! This is where ideas are born. And the thing is that once you learn how to birth one, you have opened a gate in your brain - just a crack - and that one idea begets another idea, and they all crowd behind that gate and push it open more. And more and more ideas come through and bring their friends, and pretty soon, you can’t take a shower without using ideas for shampoo!
And, ideas keep evolving after they arrive.
Back to my gates . . .
This was way back in April, 2020. Lots of time for thinking then!
So, I decided to redesign these gates and sketch them all in a row across a spread of this new sketchbook. I started with the first two on the left page and just roughed out the placement on the right. The left page stayed in pencil stage for a long time. Every once in awhile, I would finish parts of it - ink and paint just little areas when I felt like it. It’s been three years in process.
Only two weeks ago, did I finish the left page of the spread . . .
This was motivated by by something floating by in my email, and getting snagged on my gate sketch idea. This particular instance has fundamentally changed my life. More of that in a bit.
What floated by was a call for entries in an online mini-gallery called “Southwest Vibes”, hosted by They-Draw, a website that showcases illustrators, They have a crazy aspect ratio to fit their website display: 5000px x 1875px. I have never uploaded anything to my account there, because there would be nothing else I could do with that size art, and also because I ended my career as an illustrator-for-hire many years ago when it finally drove me bonkers.
However, my gates spread was almost a match for that size and aspect ratio. That association and the deadline inspired me to finish the right page too . . .
And I scanned and cleaned up the finished product to look like it does at the top of the post. And I uploaded it by the deadline.
Ordinarily, that would be the end of the evolution of this particular idea. But evolution really doesn’t have an end, does it?
My art is not a fit for most of what is trendy in illustration. I should not have expected my piece to be accepted - even though it was right on topic and really well done. But, there were only 22 entries, and 15 would be chosen, and I was the only artist from the Southwest in the bunch, until some guy from Arizona uploaded something at the last moment. The illustration trend these days is puerile and primitive and executed in flat color gouache or Procreate’s version of that. It is such an all encompassing style that everything in magazines looks alike. My entry did stand out, but I thought that would be a good thing. Difference is good in art, right?
My piece was rejected.
THIS HAS CHANGED MY LIFE . . .
I was SO angry that I knew it could not be just about this incident. It was bigger and I was able to identify it.
SO much about the “influencer/social media” online “art” world makes me crazy.
This made me crazy enough to get out of Dodge. I cancelled every email list that bombards me daily with sales pitches that waste 10 scrolling pages worth of my time and make me click a buy button to just find out the cost of the thing - which is almost always much more than it is worth.
I went though my Instagram account and made favorites out of the accounts of the artists I truly admire, so I would see their posts. I unfollowed everybody from the world of disrespecting rules and erasers and the pursuit of excellence and learning, and those dedicated to creating a low grade mish-mash out of that which is my profession.
I have been swimming in the wrong river and I’m climbing out. I am returning to the seriousness of my art and my teaching. I am creating a new website to sell my art online for the first time ever - I have always done that through my gallery - and I am recreating that gallery online.
I am sticking with this newsletter on Substack. Here, I am in the midst of great minds and talented people who don’t cut corners. I learn a lot from the Substacks I subscribe to, and I will offer a lot of substance to others in my own Substack (which I think I have been doing already).
Since I closed my brick & mortar gallery, I have been lost. But now am found.
I feel better already.
Thanks for listening - and for being here. It means more than you know.
When pursuing an idea, remember that you just never know where it will go, how long it will take to get there, or how it will impact you. Just don’t stop paying attention until you find out!
Here is a link to the Southwest Vibes Gallery in case you are interested in seeing what was accepted.