Making Art

Bringing Art Making Into Your Life

Making art: don’t be afraid to follow a glimmer of an idea

Occasionally  an idea comes to me fully formed: I go make it and there you are. But more often my ideas start off as nothing more than a glimmer, a mere twinkle in my eye. I have little sense of where it is leading: I know only that it is a glimmer worth following.

This glimmer could be anything. A flash of light, a colour, a shape. It could be non-visual, like a word or phrase or a scene in a movie. It could be a feeling. At this point it’s not an idea from which you could go and make an artwork. But it is the beginnings of one.

Some artists work with very intellectual concepts, that might be very complex, deep and meaningful, but that idea still may have started as a whisper.

If we were having a conversation about making art, its at this point, that someone will chime in with ‘but I don’t have many ideas’. Ah but you do, you’re just not hearing them.

Letting ourselves hear our ideas requires us to give ourselves a bit of mental space and an opportunitiy.When we are really busy we are moving through our days in a haze and a rush: we are not stopping to smell the roses, let alone stopping to grab hold of whispers and glimmers. When you first start trying to hear your ideas, you might have to concentrate a bit on the process. Paying attention specifically to the little nudges your brain is sending you. You’re walking down the street, you see an interesting scene. Normally maybe you walk right past. Today, stop and look at it for longer. Take a photo with your phone/camera, if you have one.

Think a bit about your glimmer as you walk along or as you ride the bus, [or in the middle of a super boring meeting]. Later on, jot it down in your notebook, being specific about what caught your attention: “the bizarre item left on the road looked like it belonged in a science fiction movie”, or “the path  of the rainwater, running down the gutter, reminds me of a great river”. Or “I like the rows of trees, the way it looks quite graphic.” If it’s not something that specific, its ok. “I see a big block of purple.” It doesn’t matter if you haven’t the faintest idea where it’s leading. What matters is you are having and hearing ideas, and some of them will lead somewhere.

The thing is, I have a lot of ideas and most of them will never be made. But I want to give them a chance of life so I save them for later. If you have been reading my posts for a while you will know that I am a big believer in jotting ideas down in a notebook: no matter how small obscure that idea is. [You can read more about this on the Making art website.]

For a while I have had in my head, an idea. An image of a face, coming out of the dark or out of the gloom. I don’t know where these ideas came from. I’ve written this one down several times in my current ideas notebook. I have thought of  maybe doing a painting of the dark scene. But as yet it hasn’t been a fully formed idea.

The other day, I was watching tv [Poirot, The Hollow], and there was a scene of a girl in her bed reading. Something about the image really struck me, like it linked directly to my other idea. The girl has very ghostly white skin. Now I still don’t have a big idea to run off and make. But it’s adding more to my idea. One of the things I can do now is sit down and nut out where it is I want to go with this idea, what it is its saying to me. I go though a process I think of as expanding an idea [you can read more about it here].


Above: the image from Poirot. This isn’t much like the figure, in the image I see in my mind but there are things about it that are really floating my boat: the really cold white skin and the beautiful desaturated colours. I  don’t know if these aspects will end up being included in my idea or not  but just noting what appeals to me is worth it because it helps get me closer to my idea.

When I am trying to expand an idea I basically think about it from a few different angles asking myself various questions. For example I might ask:

  1. does this painting feel like a personal theme or is my figure like an archetype?
  2. does it seem like it would be a small delicate work or a large and imposing one?
  3. is it a scary figure, or is it trying to draw you in?
  4. is it a man or woman? or not gendered? or is it maybe an un-gendered child?
  5. do I want to see a whole scene or keep it very mysterious?

These are just examples, but you can see where I am going. I am letting my idea reveal itself to me. The mind is a mysterious beast and sometimes its best to sneak up on it.

There is another approach I could take at this point too: I could not think too much further and follow it along anyway. Huh? What I mean is instead of trying to make a really firm idea before I begin making it, I can begin to explore using my mediums. In this instance I could follow my first thought and simply start to paint a face coming out of the gloom. If this is working, I continue, and if it’s not a try another path. I find that for me an idea doesn’t really go away until I have satisfactorily explored it.

” he had a gifted mind but he tended to think logically. Invaluable for a scientist not so much for an agent. Choices they make …….., don’t always seem to make sense to the untrained eye which is probably what keeps them alive.”      

-Hetty on NCIS LA . Swap the word agent for artist.

So if you hear the gentle breath of an idea, stop, listen and explore, it might lead to something beautiful. Don’t be fearful that it is not  a ‘real’ idea, just follow it until it solidifies. Then go and make it!

2 comments on “Making art: don’t be afraid to follow a glimmer of an idea

  1. ginapoet
    March 21, 2013

    Great reminder. Thanks!!

  2. Pingback: Take an Art Retreat – my tips for making it worthwhile. | Making Art

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This entry was posted on March 21, 2013 by in creativity, Ideas and tagged .
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