Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Isle of Doctor Necreaux

A few months ago I had the chance to draw 65 spot illustrations for a new table-top game called The Isle of Doctor Necreaux, published by Alderac Entertainment Group. The website is now up and the game is scheduled for release on July 20, 2009. The cover art was done by Scott Purdy and I did the interior illustrations. There are a few sample illustrations on the Necreaux website, although it doesn't show my favorites. After the game is officially released I might post a few.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Creative People Recognize and Nurture Good Ideas

Trait #2: Creative People Recognize and Nurture Good Ideas

For me, generating ideas is sheer joy. Seriously. I love to sketch new characters and concepts all the time. Quite often, those ideas go nowhere. But then, every once in a while, I look at an idea and think, "yeah, that's the one." I want to take it further and ultimately to share it with other people.

So what makes an idea stand out? What makes it good? And what makes it worth your time?

Honestly, those aren't easy questions to answer, but I hope the following points will help:

1. Let me start by saying that as you exercise your creativity, you WILL have bad ideas. You will think they are wonderful in the beginning, but in the end, they will turn out lousy. It happens, and it is a GOOD thing, because experiencing bad ideas is a vital part of learning to recognize the good ones. So, I don't want you to think having a bad idea is a bad thing.

2. The basic question to ask yourself about any idea is, "does it solve the problem or challenge?" For example, if you're building a bridge, does it span from one side to the other and can it hold the weight it's expected to carry? Or if you're creating an illustration, does it communicate the text clearly and in a way that appeals to the viewer. For every creative endeavor, there is a purpose. So recognizing a good idea is really the act of defining your purpose and then picking the idea that fulfills that purpose best.

3. Often the key to recognizing a good idea is simply to try it. Mock it up. Write it. Do a sketch. Experiment. That's how good art and good science come to be.

4. Share your idea with other people. As an artist, the purpose of my art is to communicate. So, if I show it to someone and it fails to do that, I need to rethink the idea. But remember this: some people will not like your idea, but your mother really will. So, don't just share it with one person. Get several opinions and consider if your idea is really working. If it's not, don't take it personally and be willing to go back to the drawing board. This is not rejection. It's a good idea under construction.

5. And, ultimately, a good idea is what feels right to you. While others may or may not like your idea, it is important that you do (remember Trait #10: Creative People Value their Ideas).

There are many other ways to recognize a good idea, but I hope these will help point you in the right direction.

Suggested Sketchbook Activities:

1. A Good Reworking

Look around and find three stories, characters, advertisements, etc., that you consider "bad" ideas, and rework them your way. Then share your sketches with a friend and see how he or she responds. For example, while I'm a big fan of Star Wars, I'm not a fan of Jar Jar Binks. So I've considered how he might have been improved and sketched him more to my own liking. I'm sure you've got your own dissapointments, so this is your chance to make things better.

2. Concepts #2

Basically this is the same as the Concepts activity from my last post, but with the addition of one step. Share your concept sketches with someone else and see how they respond to each one. Ask yourself, does each sketch communicate the concept clearly and which one is most visually appealing?

Creative People Generate Many Ideas

Over the next few weeks, I plan to discuss how sketchbooks can be used to foster each of the "10 Traits of Creative People." In each segment I'll offer a few thoughts and activities for a particular trait. I hope you'll take a moment to try the activities or encourage someone else to do them. Then, please feel free to leave a comment regarding the experience.

Trait #1: Creative People Generate Many Ideas

Currently I am working with my good friend and talented author, Julie Wright, on a book project. This story is not the result of any one super idea. It is something that has evolved from numerous ideas over the past 16 years. It began in my early years of college. The school paper put out an open call for cartoonists to develop and publish their own strip. To me, this sounded like a lot of fun. I began by sketching numerous characters, ranging from an over-friendly St. Bernard to a set of bungling Aliens. The ideas were diverse and I tried not to make any decisions about which were best, at least not at first. Unfortunately, school and work precluded me from pursuing the project further. About that time, I had another, totally separate idea about a boy and his adventures in space. In my spare time, I would write notes about him and his friends and the predicaments they would get into. These notes and the comic strips found themselves filed away, waiting for the time when I could develop them into something more substantial. Over the years, I sketched more characters and noted their traits and added them to my file, never really knowing what would become of them. Years later, as I was thumbing through these old files, I had the thought, what if I combined the bungling aliens from my comic strip with the young boy from my notes? Suddenly, the possibilities for a really cool story began to unfold. I later had the opportunity to present this idea to Julie, who was willing to take these ideas and characters, add her own touch to them, and create a wonderful manuscript.

The future of this book remains to be seen, but the project demonstrates the importance of creating many ideas. As you face a problem or challenge in any facet of life, it can be valuable to take the time to look for multiple solutions. The seeds you plant will provide an orchard of ideas that will grow and cross-pollinate until something new and wonderful emerges.

Suggested Sketchbook Activities:

1. Create a file system for your sketches and ideas.

For some, this may simply be a shelf where you can file your sketchbooks. As for me, I rarely leave my sketchbooks intact and most often tear out pages and file them. I use manilla folders and label them with broad terms, such as Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Costume Design, Gallery Art, etc. The important thing is to find a way to save your ideas so that you can go back to them later for inspiration.

2. Concepts.

In college, I took a class called Basic Illustration: Concepts. It was one of my favorite classes ever. The instructor would present us with a weekly homework assignment that usually involved sketching 10 ideas for a specific concept. For example, he once asked us to draw 10 animals that Noah left behind. In one image we had to show the animal and explain why it didn't make it onto the ark. Another assignment was to draw something to represent each day of the week.

Taking a general concept and creating several sketches is a great way to practice generating many ideas. It can be treated as a game, with one person presenting a concept challenge to the other and vice versa. I would suggest that you draw no less than three ideas for any concept. Concepts can be as simple as "draw three things that are blue" or they can be more complex such as "draw three aliens that could live on the moons of Jupiter." Above all, remember to have fun and enjoy the challenge.

Enhancing Creativity Through Sketchbooks #2

(Like the prior post, this information was originally posted on another blog of mine last year.)

During my presentation at the 2008 LTUE Symposium at BYU, I began by defining creativity. As part of that I listed what I consider the 10 Basic Traits of Creative People. I came up with these based on the research of numerous academic studies as well as pondering what has worked in my own creative pursuits. Feel free to comment.

Trait #1: Creative people generate many ideas.

A creative person examines a problem from many angles and considers several solutions. The first idea may be the best, but at this point in the creative process, he does not spend much, if any, time judging the effectiveness of the idea. He simply seeks as many solutions as possible. Truly, at this stage, there is no such thing as a bad idea, and arguably there are no good ideas either. There are just options and possibilities.

Trait #2: Creative people recognize and nurture good ideas.

Once a creative person has generated a number of ideas and possible solutions, she then must select the most effective option. She has a knack for selecting a good idea. A good idea solves the problem, or problems, effectively. Some ideas stand out, but require further development. She is able to take a loose concept and give it form, whether it is a painting, story, music, or any other creative endeavor.

Trait #3: Creative people are observant.

A creative person often tries to soak up the world around him. He sees the play of light on an object, notices the chirping of birds, and feels the texture of bricks. He observes with all of his senses, and especially with his intellect. He notices the ways that people, animals, nature, and environment interact. He recognizes relationships, such as the relative size of one object to another or the way a series of music notes working together stimulate a particular emotion. Observation fuels creativity.

Trait #4: Creative people are imaginative.

Albert Einstein said, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Or in other words, a creative person is able to look for ideas and solutions that exist beyond her current inventory of knowledge. She “plays” with her ideas by mixing her observations in new and inventive combinations. She asks, “what if?” and examines the possibilities that such a question inspires.

Trait #5: Creative people are interested in many things.

A creative person likes to try things he has never done before. He likes to learn something new everyday. The broader his inventory of knowledge, the greater his ability to generate ideas and to imagine.

Trait #6: Creative people dare to take risks.

Creativity takes courage. When a creative person exposes her endeavors to the world, she accepts that others will form some sort of judgment regarding her work. However, she recognizes that she cannot let fear suffocate her ideas. Creativity cannot develop when she is afraid to express her ideas.

Trait #7: Creative people are independent thinkers.

While I don’t want to say that a creative person’s ideas must always run counter to established concepts and practices, I do believe a creative person must learn to generate his own independent ideas and form conclusions for himself.

Trait #8: Creative people welcome challenges.

Creativity is fueled by challenges. A creative person loves to put her ideas to the test. The greatest problems require the most creative solutions.

Trait #9: Creative people persevere.

A creative person does not give up easily. He takes the time to nurture his ideas and to bring them to fruition. The best ideas often encounter disappointment and rejection before they achieve success. Think Dr. Suess. Think Thomas Edison. Think of any number of great inventors and artists and what might have happened if they had given up at the first bump in the road.

Trait #10: Creative people value their ideas.

A creative person believes her ideas are worthy of expression. It’s what gives her the impetus to create. She knows her work might not be accepted by everyone, but that it will be valuable to many.

Enhancing Creativity with Sketchbooks

(I originally posted these notes last year on another blog, which I am shutting down, and so over the next few days I will be moving the information to this blog for the sake of simplicity. )

On February 14, 2008, I had the opportunity to speak at a symposium at Brigham Young University on the topic of Enhancing Creativity With Sketchbooks. While I don't have a transcript of the address, I would like to post a few points from my presentation.

In order to use sketchbooks effectively to foster creativity, it is first necessary to understand (A) the nature of creativity and (B) that creativity is a skill that can be learned by anyone.

Many artists, psychologists, and business gurus have attempted to define creativity long before I ever came along. The definitions are diverse. Some are complex and some are very simple. Some define it in one or two traits, while others outline 20, 30, or even more aspects of creativity. I spent some time reviewing many of these definitions, as well as examining my own creative pursuits, and came up with what I consider to be the "10 Basic Traits of Creative People." These are:

Trait #1: Creative people generate many ideas.

Trait #2: Creative people recognize and nurture good ideas.

Trait #3: Creative people are observant.

Trait #4: Creative people are imaginitive.

Trait #5: Creative people are interested in many things.

Trait #6: Creative people dare to take risks.

Trait #7: Creative people are independent thinkers.

Trait #8: Creative people welcome challenges.

Trait #9: Creative people persevere.

Trait #10: Creative people value their ideas.

Obviously, these are not all-inclusive, but I do believe they cover many of the KEY traits of a creative person. Over the next few posts I will expand on my ideas for each trait. I also welcome any comments and interaction.