When your work is part of a bigger picture, considering its context is absolutely crucial. How is your work going to fit in?
Context is all the stuff that is not included in your work, but influences it all the same. Knowing how to work well within a given context is a hallmark of true professionalism.
For example, when an architect designs a building, the context of his work may be the surrounding landscape, the type of soil, and so on. Context is also the budget and the set of requirements defined by the customer.
Similarly, the context of a single panel in a comics book is the layout of the page, the story, the style of the piece, and so on.
When your work is part of a bigger picture, considering its context is absolutely crucial. How is your work going fit in? How does it connect to everything around it? What’s the style of the context, and how do you keep your work consistent with it? What is the context trying to achieve, and how can your work contribute? Here’s a very effective question to ask: what would be missing in the big picture, if your work was omitted?
All I’m saying is that when you create your very first draft, do it as quickly and as roughly as you possibly can. Your first strokes need to be broad, bold, decisive! Then, as you gradually slide from WHAT to HOW, you can also gradually get slower and more careful.
The following is relevant for all forms of creative work, including writing (anything from short stories to academic papers), design, animation, composing, and everything else.
Have you ever spent a lot of time on a piece of creative work, only to realize that you’ve completely lost sight of what you were initially trying to make? I know I have. Before I started studying the creative process, this kind of thing used to happen to me a lot.
Not anymore, though. Here’s what I do now: I start out FAST. Whether I write, draw, animate or sculpt, I usually complete a rough and dirty version of the piece within 20 minutes or less. This is called blocking, and it’s a very effective solution to the problem of getting lost. Here are 3½ reasons why starting out FAST can be a real creative life-saver.
Reason #1: FLOW
When you work quickly ideas flow naturally, smoothly dissolving into each other. It’s like speaking, like giving a live performance. When you work quickly, your artwork has that vibrant quality of something that lives in the moment. For the rest of the project you’ll have a job trying to preserve that energy; but at least it’s there to begin with!
Reason #2: CAPTURE
When you work slowly, the many little details of your work capture your attention. They can easily divert your focus and distort your perception of your work. Working quickly keeps you focused on the big picture, on your initial vision, and on your concept. It helps you make sure your WHAT is there first; then you can safely tinker with the HOW.
Capturing quickly and well is the fundamental skill of the creative process. In my video course Go*Capture I teach a lot of great tips and techniques on how to get better at it. For more information and a special price for CreativityWise readers, click here.
Reason #3½ : REVIEW
Blocking in a quick and rough version of your work allows you to review it – and get feedback on it – before you’ve invested too much time in it. That’s actually a double advantage (hence the extra ½ reason!): you get to be less emotionally attached to what you did, and changes take less time.
Blocking in a post
Here’s how I blocked in the post you’re now reading. See how I let ideas flow like free speech, how I capture the WHAT without the HOW, and how easy it is to review and get feedback on my ideas when they’re in this condensed form? See how painless it is to revise?
The Need for Speed
I’m not saying you should ALWAYS work fast. Slow, delicate brushstrokes also have a role to play. All I’m saying is that when you create your very first draft, do it as quickly and as roughly as you possibly can. Your first strokes need to be broad, bold, rough! Then, as you start shaping your work, as you gradually slide from WHAT to HOW, you can also gradually get slower and more careful. This is called ‘working in passes’, but we’ll save that for another post.
Everything in the digital world is easily undo-able, resize-able, zoom-in-able, copy-paste-able and changeable. But is that really a good thing?
My uncle David used to have a typewriter. This was 30 years ago, when a personal computer was still quite a new concept (let alone a home printer). As a kid who loved to read, the typewriter was an exciting and magical instrument for me: with it, I could literally create ‘real’ books!
To get a sense of what working in passes looks like, imagine seeing a cathedral from a great distance.
[Pages 119-157 in Workflow]
Working in passes is the controlled process of advancing your work one step (‘pass‘) at a time towards your vision. Every pass must be short, simple, and focus on improving just a few important aspects of the work.
The premake has many names: model, maquette, demo recording, animatic, mock-up, synopsis, proof of concept, or simply ‘sketch’.
At the very heart of the creative process is the premake: a quick and rough capture of your vision. Think of the premake as an apparition in a fortune teller’s crystal ball: a small, blurred, distorted prophecy of what your finished work is going to be.