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It happens every time.

I?m getting ready to start on a new design, gathering together all my ideas, notes, musings…you know the drill. But then I open up a new document, set all the sizes and resolutions, and then…

Oh crap! I actually have to make this idea work.

Don?t get me wrong. I am usually pretty excited about the idea. After all, by this time it has probably been churning around in my mind for at least a week, slowly marinating in my succulent thought juices like a delectable roast in a slow cooker on a lazy Sunday afternoon. (Heh, thought roast…)

But once it comes down to actually making it, I am suddenly faced with the most difficult part of the creative process: the dreaded blank canvas.

It should be a moment of freedom and exploration, for in front of me is unlimited potential and unfettered creativity just waiting to be unleashed. However, sometimes this freedom can seem as open and free as an empty ocean that stretches on for eternity with no land in sight.

How do you turn an idea in reality? How do your thoughts translate into lines and shapes and colors and movement? We already have thought roasts and creative oceans, and at the risk of further sullying this reflection with another metaphor:

How do you put skin on your idea?

Jesus tells a parable about putting new wine into old wineskins. The new wine cannot be put into old wineskins because they are brittle and less flexible; to do so would ruin both the old wineskins and the new wine. No, new wine can only be put into new wineskins.

Of course, Jesus wasn?t talking about the creative process, but the principle holds nevertheless. We all have the tendency to stick with what we know and to use what works, but paradoxically it is the very utility that can cause us to become entrenched in the old ways of doing things. We can be reluctant to leave the tried and true nature of what we already know so well.[quote]Creativity cannot stand still.[/quote]

The old ways are not necessarily bad; rather, the point is that creativity cannot stand still, and we always have to grow and develop and expand our experience in order to create new things. Like our skin, which is constantly renewing itself, we must constantly renew our vision.

The nature of our creativity is ultimately derivative, and since we are creatures of sense we are continuously drawing?consciously or not?from the world around us. However, since we are also creatures of mind we have the ability to bring new perspectives to what our senses perceive, and to reinterpret and refashion that in unanticipated ways.

Thus, having a breadth of experience can do wonders for helping you bring your idea to fruition.

I picked up guitar because I wanted to write music. I had numerous ideas in mind, but I did not yet have the skill or knowledge to actually translate that into audible form. What I found, however, is that the more I learned about music and the more skilled I became at playing it, not only was I able to start writing the music I had in my mind, but suddenly new ideas became available simply because I had the experience, skill, and knowledge base within which to discover and utilize them.[quote]The more you expose yourself to new experiences and new ways of doing things, the larger the base of experience and technique you will have to draw from.[/quote]

The same principle applies to design and other creative endeavors. The more you expose yourself to new experiences and new ways of doing things, the larger the base of experience and technique you will have to draw from. This in turn will open you to new ideas that would never have occurred to you before, and help you start to see your idea take flesh.

And speaking of flesh, an idea becomes much more manageable when you break its incarnation down into conceptual and procedural layers.[quote]I have often fallen into the trap of trying to finish a piece from the start.[/quote]

I have often fallen into the trap of trying to finish a piece from the start. For example, if I am doing an illustration, I might want the finished product to have lots of texturing, shading, etc, and it can be tempting to try and work these into the process of the piece rather than waiting until the finishing portion to do them. What happens is that I spend way too much time trying to finish a character, for example, when I don?t even have the character completely drawn!

The insidious part of this is that it usually locks me into a certain way of doing things, and ends up violating the vision I started with. The paradoxical reality is that when I focus on the basics of creating and then work my way to completion, I become open to new ideas that can build upon the old and end up with something that is both better and probably closer to what I actually wanted.

Now when I am working on an illustration, for example, I will begin with just really basic shapes to form a rough outline. From there I will begin to shape and mold it into what I want. Once the basic form is there, I can begin to add details, coloring, and then finally finish with textures, shading, etc.

Beginning with small steps and moving forward has a two-fold benefit in that it breaks the piece into meaningful and doable tasks, but it also makes the whole process more fun. Before, I cowered in fear before the blank canvas and its gaping maw of unfettered potential. But now I am able to start with small strokes and work my way into the idea I had all along.

The beauty of it all is that it becomes a lot less about work and a lot more about discovery. And there is nothing more exciting than watching your idea put on its skin.

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