Tuesday, October 16, 2012

ANTventures in Conceptual Thinking

           If inspiration is the heart of Artistic Endeavors, then I would say Conceptual Thinking is surely the back bone.  This is where the "Real" work of an artist comes into play; aside from the method and medium, of course.  Inspiration that has been conjured by a "Brain Storming" session is really only the beginning of it all.  Conceptual Thinking is how the idea is developed and gets shaped into what ever form the artist chooses.  This is where the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, on what you can really acheive as an artist.  Personally, this part of the creative process is the most challenging and possibly the most exciting. I rack my mind to try to come up with the most clever, creative and appropriate solution to the artistic problem and develop my initial ideas.  The key to a great illustration or piece is Balance.  It is one of the most BASIC of all Design Principles, however, I can never stress how VERY important it is to ballance your ideas and imagery well.  I can probably compare it to a mental Laboratory of a mad scientist from one of those Classic black and white films.  This where you find a variety of multi-size beakers filled with strange and colorful liquids: some bubbling, some churning, some fizzing and whizzing.  Like a good, deranged and mad Idea-Scientist, I delicately begin to mix and cook something up, taking great care so as not to blow up the "lab."  This has happened from time to time and results in a VERY BAD head ache.  But thank goodness for Ibuprofin, right?.... Anyway, I'll give you a semi-recent example of what I mean.

    Earlier this year I decided I would participate in a design competition for one of my ABSOLUTE favorite art/shopping websites: Threadless.com.  Though, they are known for their cutting edge t-shirts designed by a variety of artists around the world, Threadless had decided to have a competition to design "artsy" book bags.  I had been wanting to participate on this site for some time. I had already spent hours and hours surfing the shopping area and looking at all the REALLY cool t-shirts that they sold.  They normally host ongoing submissions for shirt designs, but hey also host special design competitions, like the one I participated in. It was called Threadless Loves Backpacks.  I was very excited about my maiden voyage into the Threadless competition world.

     I took to the challenge like a fish to water.  I had spent hours thinking up of clever ideas that would be conceptually right for a backpack.  The idea that won out above all the others was what eventually became the ANTventure  illustration.  I thought it would be great to play with the idea of invading ants in your back pack trying to steal your lunch, which is what many people "lug" around in their backpacks, particularly at school.  Considering that high school and college students were the main demographic for this product, I thought the concept of lunch invading insects was both fun and appropriate.  I pushed the concept even further by including another set of imagery often associated with back packs: hiking.  I figured this conceptual image may also bring appeal to perhaps an older demographic as well.  I then imagined how great it would be to have these ants hiking over the food as if it were a mountainous landscape.  I then thought it would be funny to have a visual play on what those particular ants are called: Scout Ants... And this is how the ANTveture began to develop over time.

     Now that I had a solid idea and direction, I needed to construct my composition.  Threadless had very specific size parameters due to where the image was going to be screen printed.  I dug into the work and began deciding what lunch items I could use to transform into my "Lunchscape" for my little Ant Scout Troop.  I also needed to figure where I wanted to place the ant trail.  All these decisions about composition and how I want the viewers eye to move through the picture plane must all be decided firmly before the REAL fun of the illustration work begins.

     Now that I have made all my choices about what goes in, what gets left out and what is going to go where, I can begin the fun parts of my job: the illustrating.  I begin this part of my process as I always do, with vigorous reference research.   You can't make art without getting your hands dirty and you certainly can get your hands filthy with some good digging into research.  I can't impress that enough on any artist.  Research is SO very vital in my creative process.  I have a few college professors to thank for instilling this good habit.  As soon as I gather all the reference I need to create my illustration, I can finally Get Down To Drawin'! :0)  Since I have some work experience in screen printing, I am very sensitive to the fact that screen printers need vector images.  This is mainly why I decided to go digital/vector for the finished product.  I began with the ants.

     As you can see they had a very "rough" start before they ended up in their finished state.  This phase is my playtime in the process.  I like playing with the look and feel of each element in the illustration and I like to try different variations in my character design before deciding on a final look.  Now after the Ants "fell" in line, all the other elements began to fall into place rather quickly.  The most time consuming part of this illustration besides the initial conceptual stages, was building all my elements separately.  I already knew where everything was going to be placed from my composition sketch.

     After completing the illustration, I needed to format it into a display image "selling" my design for the competition.  Once submitted, the Threadless artist community voted on all the designs for the competition.  There were only a handful chosen from several hundred.  So competition is quite stiff on these challenges.  Once all votes were in, the most popular and highest ranking designs will go before a panel of select judges at Threadless.com to decide the final winners of the competition.

     Unfortunately, the ANTventure did not win, even when it was submitted later as just a shirt design.  I appreciate everyone who voted and cheered for the little hungry Ant Scouts.  I did learn from the experience and also enjoyed participating in the competition.  I'm usually a good sport, as I'm not particularly prone to be competitive. So if I don't win, I'm not too upset about it because I make certain in my mind that the competition is about the experience and not the prize.  I also got a really great illustration from it to use for promotional purposes or maybe to sell to a future client.

     In conclusion, I urge others to find their own ANTventures into creative conceptual thinking.  It will make you a better artist and hopefully a more interesting,  albeit entertaining individual.  Plus it gives you something to write home about. :0)

     I am grateful for my little ANTventures in art.  Experience is truly what human life is about and making art is the joy an artist has in expressing their point of view of those experiences.  I am very glad that when I wake up everyday I can choose to create something.  Creativity is pure joy for me. :0)
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, keep making art. 

P.S. If any of you are interested, Threadless.com hosts a multitude of ongoing and special Design Competitions for Artists.  Check them out and also stay and shop.  Support artists from around the world. It will make you feel better, I promise. Plus you will be the sharpest dresser on your block. ;0)  
That link is www.threadless.com

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