My tutor, Cari, recommended this book during my last feedback, no doubt to help me to expand my sketchbook work!
Gathering Ideas, Techniques and Inspiration
As the title of the book suggests, the author encourages would-be creatives to “stop trying to make something out of nothing” and says that your work is the “sum of your influences”. This echoes the advice in my coursework to keep a sketchbook, full of inspirational images, drawings of things that interest me, quotations, etc. It also made me think of a book I read many years ago: Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, in which she outlines a strategy for nurturing and encouraging your creativity, with ‘artist dates’ (regular time out by yourself each week to do something fun or inspiring to keep your artistic brain stimulated).
Will Gomperz also advocates ‘stealing’ from other artists in his book Think Like An Artist (reviewed here on my LL). By which he means studying their working methods, subject matter, composition etc, in order to build upon it with your own unique contribution.
I agree that this is a very useful approach for stimulating ideas and discovering new techniques and subjects. The trick is to be influenced by the best of what is out there, “… artists collect selectively”, choosing who and what to copy. I have been trying to choose art and artists to study that I find personally inspiring, as well as ones that challenge my beliefs of what, for example, ‘drawing’ or ‘textile art’ can be. This method has certainly opened my eyes and enriched my experiences of making art.
I like his explanation of copying as ‘reverse-engineering’. Working backwards by copying from the finished article and thereby learning how it was achieved, and gaining an idea of the artist’s thought processes and methods.
Kleon suggests educating yourself by researching your heroes, and then moving on to that artist’s influences, together with anything else you are curious about.
Emulating the artists that interest you is important, rather than purely plagiarising their work. This means processing their world view and coming up with your own unique version of it. The author suggests analysing a wide range of sources, rather than just taking from one. He suggests looking for the differences between your ‘copies’ of works and the originals made by the artists you have chosen to study, and amplifying and transforming those differences in your own work. This technique should make your own work unique and redolent with your own voice. Having recently made a copy of a Paul Klee artwork, I can see that my version is rather unlike the original, especially in colour palette. Perhaps the colours I choose to work with are my USP?!
Like the coursework, and Kay Greenlees in her book Creating Sketchbooks, Kleon recommends keeping paper and a pen, and a camera, with you at all times for recording anything of interest that you see, hear or think, during the day. His name for a sketchbook is a “swipe file”.
The author’s next recommendation is to make things: “it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.” Like Cameron, he recommends just ‘showing up’ every day and seeing what emerges. I think that there is a lot to be said for creativity being partly a habit formed by sitting down every day and analysing, thinking, drawing, making art. This ties in to his next chapter: “Fake It ‘Til You Make It’: advice that I have seen in many a self-help book! I have also seen this described as ‘acting as if’, eg, acting as if I am an artist already. This seems to be sensible advice, in that it encourages you to wonder what artists do all day, and what they do to be successful, and to try and emulate that practice.
Kleon says that you should “Draw the art you want to see…”. I agree that you are more likely to put your heart and soul into work that has meaning for you, but I also find that experimenting with new techniques and using new media can lead to work that you might not even have considered before. So, I half agree with this statement, but think that trying new things ‘outside your comfort zone’ is helpful, too.
The author shares photos of his two desks: one digital, one analogue, which made me laugh as it is exactly the set up I have in my work room, below (although somewhat messier!).
I certainly agree that there is something about using your hands and body that connects with thoughts and ideas, so having distinct areas for digital and analogue work is important. I often find that just sitting down and doodling or playing with art materials can lead to some good ideas. Even walking or gardening can allow your mind to mull over alternatives and find solutions to problems you’ve been having. This agrees with Kleon’s next chapter of allowing yourself to procrastinate, get bored and mess around to come up with new and interesting projects.
He has other advice: about looking after yourself; having hobbies that are purely for fun; networking with other members of the area you are interested in. On the latter front, I have joined both the local Embroiderers’ Guild and Quilters’ Guild and made two new local friends that have an interest in textile art. We are all off to the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate at the end of the month, so the ‘networking’ advice has already brought me new experiences and opportunities.
Other ideas in the book include writing ‘fan’ blog posts about your heroes, travelling, keeping a logbook of day to day events, placing constraints on your work (yes, I found that helpful in my last Assignment), and his formula for success: “Do good work and share it with people”.
I found this an enjoyable, succinct read, and, although I had read some of the advice before in other forms, this book makes it sound ‘do-able’ and simple to have a fulfilling creative life. I also purchased the Journal version of the book, so have begun to work through some of the written and drawing suggestions in that.
The key ideas that I will take from the book are to:-
- take influences from a range of sources that you admire
- copy, draw, make, improvise and transform the images you have selected into something that represents your own personality
- stimulate your brain by mixing with people with like interests, through travel, through pursuing hobbies, through unrelated, but physical, activities
- look after yourself
- keep making and sharing work, (when it is good enough), with others.
Cameron, J. and Bryan, M. (1992) The artist’s way: A spiritual path to higher creativity. 6th edn. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Perigee.
Gompertz, W. (2015) Think like an artist: … And lead a more creative, productive life. London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books.
Greenlees, K. (2006) Creating Sketchbooks for Embroiderers and textile artists: Exploring the Embroiderers’ sketchbook. 6th edn. London: Batsford, B.T.
Kleon, A. (2012) Steal like an artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative. New York: Workman Publishing Company.
Kleon, A. (2015) The steal like an artist journal: A notebook for creative Kleptomaniacs. Thousand Oaks, CA, United States: Workman Publishing.