The Creation of an Idea

By Matthew Bates

January 16th 2006

I have been painting for 23 years and in that time I have come across many different ways to create a piece of art. In art school we drew from the model almost every day until our fingers hurt. I was always covered in chalk and personally I didn’t like to look like a bum all of the time. Our teachers would describe to us the beauty of sitting in front of a subject to understand it’s qualities while we searched out for the contours and prayed that we would get better at drawing. Looking back at my time in the academy, I realize now that we were just trying to master the skills involved, with a sense of competition that really had nothing to do with art at all. We rarely talked about ideas, it was mostly about how the art would look as a finished product, something to present, something to sell. We talked a lot about styles and design, but I was not asked about inspiration, and it is of this that I will talk today.

Inspiration is one of the best things that I can hope for in my life as an artist. The best way to get inspiration is to go out and look for it. I take it as a given that there are thousands and thousands of subjects out there that are worthy of my attention. Life has a myriad of beautiful things just waiting to be captured by my imagination. I go out with the explicit intention of getting an idea. The tools that I use are my eyes and my trusty digital cameras, a Nikon Coolpix 5700, and a Samsung Digimax i6. I used to take pictures with a normal camera, but since the advent of the digital age I have been able to increase the number of photos that I take while decreasing the time it takes to develop them. I use my camera to store my ideas. I also use my camera to see if an idea that I have had will work to create a painting. I may want to make a still life, and in my head I can picture what it should look like, yet when I see that results of the photos, I am often surprised to see that my idea won’t work as I had imagined. This helps to avoid bad unruly projects. I want my idea to be lucid before I start painting, so that the painting process is but an exercise.

For a subject to be truly inspirational, it must have depth. This means that the idea must include an emotion that sparks interest in the hearts and minds of people. It also should include space and if you are lucky, a sense of time as well. When I start a painting, I have a white 2 dimensional blank canvas. My goal is to create an image that seems to have depth. Without inspiration, the idea runs the risk of falling flat, probably because without inspiration, there is little or no passion and I lose interest in finishing the painting. That is one of the reasons that I spend so much time working out whether an idea is any good or not. Here is my checklist for creating an idea for a painting:

1) Either get an inspiration, or go out looking for one
2) Take preparatory photos to see if the idea works or not
3) Elaborate the photos on the computer to enhance the idea, in some cases I put many photos together to create a larger image. I like to use design elements such as the Fibonacci series or other mathematical elements to enhance the idea and place it in a sound structural format. I also figure out the size of the painting, whether it be a big painting or a small painting.
4) I usually wait a while to see if I still like the idea after the initial rush of creating it. If the idea falls flat, I dump the project, if the idea looks great even after a few days of sitting on the desktop of my computer, then it will look great forever.
5) I buy the materials and get to work!

Creating art is a opportunity to express our inspirational moments. Sometimes the idea that I get is so strong that I get chills down my spine, and it is all that I think about until the project gets started. I am always wary about my ideas, because I know that they can be less than perfect. By elaborating my ideas through the camera and the computer I am able to see clearly what I am up against. I spend months on one project so I want it to be a good one before I get started. I guess that I am lucky that I like realistic subjects, this process would be harder if I was still making abstract art. Inspiration is a very personal experience, to be able to translate this experience into a work of art is a wonderful thing to be able to do and I want to present the best translation possible.

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