Friday, January 7, 2011

How Illustrators Decide

Anecdotally, as a child in school I never excelled at math, each year the teacher would assign a new set of concepts for me to struggle over, and while learning those concepts I had a hard time with each new concept.
revised painting by Craig Mullins
I would stumble over the concepts throughout the entire latter half of the year, getting by until summer vacation where I would no longer have to worry about math at all. But when I came back I noticed an interesting phenomenon when we began the review chapters. All of these same concepts that I had struggled with the year before were identical in content, but yet somehow I didn't have to struggle nearly as much to score well on tests. I hadn't practiced at all during the summer months, and never really gave it much thought, until now, out of school and pursuing a career in illustration.
While painting I enjoy listening to either talk radio or audiobooks, there is a sort of comfort I get from
hearing speech whilst painting. Currently I am listening to a brilliant book appropriately titled "How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer, which describes in a journalistic fashion the role of dopamine receptors and the frontal lobe cortex of our brain in every day life and how it relates to our decisions. The text gets rather scientific for the general population while still remaining perfectly explicable through cleverly tied together anecdotes, and whilst reading I had two specific personal anecdotes that related to these phenomena of brain activity.
Going back to my first anecdote,
Jonah Lehrer on removing yourself
I had a bit of a revelation when watching a lecture by Mr. Lehrer in context to my ability to solve math problems better after a summer vacation. The entire principle of this was my brains need to be detached from the problems for a while, and when I returned to school my issues with arithmetic would be mystically lifted.
Relating this to art however isn't exactly a direct translation- if I stop doing value studies, my grasp of values doesn't increase, in fact it will decline. But when you put it in the context of painting, I have on many occasions given up on an illustration. I don't see where it is going, or just feel downtrodden on my progress, I can't do anything with it, it has a boring premise, or I'm just disinterested in the painting soon after starting. But out of habit I keep this painting stored away and a few months later I will be looking through and see a ton of potential (note: I'm not the only one who does this and actually got the idea from a Craig Mullins interview).
Next the concept of utilizing my studies and applying them when I'm painting. When I study, minutia is everything, and in order to concentrate on the minutia of a concept of illustration, I will hone in on ONLY that concept for the entire study, not completely neglecting, but letting my subconcious take care of the other concepts. For instance, if I am studying value, shapes are taken out of my analytical mind and left to the habit of my subconscious so that I can have an insular look at my understanding(or lack thereof) of value. On the flipside when
"When I'm looking at the screen, I want to forget that I have a hand"
- Android Jones
I am working on a painting, the best executed paintings are the ones where I don't actively have to question my process analytically. This is not necessarily to say that planning doesn't go into the piece, but that once the planning is complete, during execution I am on autopilot, letting my subconscious effectively paint for me.
As Lehrer mentions in his book this subconscious style of decision-making can't be left on it's own merits- it needs to be backed by years of preparation (studying). But when it is evolved, which I don't ever believe it will be fully evolved, only relatively more evolved, I suspect my skills as a painter will increase exponentially in relation to my subconscious abilities.

1 comment:

fantasio said...

Very interesting work on your site, stumbled about your blog via daarken.

I found that it isn´t subconsciousness alone that does the decisions, its intuition. In a documentation named "my brilliant brain"(you can google it) there was a chess-genius, she can play 5 games without a board simultaneously or in speed-games within seconds- striking. How is that possible? Relying on the subconsciousness wouldn´t help, it takes too long, what works for this is intuition and 10k hours minimum of pattern study. When it comes to decisions about colors, shapes and composition, I rely 100% on intuition, it just works.

The problem what I see with subconsciousness is that it can be programmed, and therefore hacked, according to Mr. Murphy, who has written a lot books about it. Intuition on the other hands is a real time engine compared to that, which considers ephemeral inspiration, mood, basic knowledge and advanced knowledge and delivers that in a split second.
Imagine a positive mindset to use the intuition and the result will look like this. Seeing your work, I would say you successfully make use of the latter, keep it up!