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Artist Thoughts: Tapping into the Inner World

As a naturally detail-oriented person, I sometimes run afoul in my artistic endeavours when I forget that the process of creating art does not begin with details but with broad overviews and impressions. The universe we inhabit is composed of quadrillions of particles, but no one perceives the universe this way. We perceive shapes and outlines; gestures, colours, curves, and direction. These things are understood by everyone except the smallest of children, whose minds rapidly learn to interpret the basic impressions they receive as actual things.


In art school, I found that I often did my best work, when I was not thinking about it; when I just relaxed and let my hands find the right shapes. When I concentrated, it almost became like I had no artistic ability at all! I don’t know if this is a common phenomenon for artists, but it seemed to be true for me, and some of my classmates reported the same. I also made the observation that in general, the only thing holding you back from creating art is your self-doubt. You just have to overcome your inhibitions.



We all have a highly detailed understanding of how the world around us works and how it is shaped. We can all recognize trees and cars, nuts and bolts, desks and chairs, guns and knives, etc. We all know how a face scrunches when it smiles, how the cloth of a shirt folds at the shoulder when you lift an arm, how firelight illuminates a room, etc. If you doubt any of this, consider when was the last time you did NOT notice bad CGI in a movie?


Dwayne Johnson's CGI image as 'The Scorpion King' in "The Mummy Returns" (2001).

What this indicates to me is that we all carry the world around with us in our minds. The trick for the artist is learning how to reach into this "inner world" for that thing he wants to portray, and then transferring it onto his canvas.


Through brain injury, some individuals have suddenly acquired astounding artistic abilities, either in sculpting or drawing. I believe that in the healing process, their brains somehow rewired themselves to more easily transfer information from the the inner world to the real world.


Common advice in art school is to “keep it loose”. I cannot agree more. Practice will allow you to commit more quickly, but you already have almost everything you need locked away inside your mind somewhere.


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In my opinion, the medium of oil painting allows an unparalleled medium for allowing the inner world to find expression in reality. The rough texture of the canvas naturally prevents you from making hard edges and committing too early, helping you remember that you are creating an impression of a thing, not the thing itself.


I was pleased to recently discover a technique for using Photoshop to imitate classical oil painting. My very first experiment with the technique was a great encouragement to me.


A bit freaky, but a lot better than anything else I had done recently.

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While sketching, I have also found that using a "squiggly" technique also helps me draw from the "inner world". Starting with amorphous squiggly lines, I am slowly able to sculpt something with shape and substance. (In art school I was taught to think of drawing and painting as "sculpting" --- sculpting a 3D shape on a 2D surface.)


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While writing this, it occurred to me that someone might conflate some of what I am saying here with the occult practice of "automatic writing" or "automatic drawing". What I am describing is not related to these practices.


Automatic writing/drawing involves tapping into some force or energy that is external to the self. I do not recommend attempting this.


The "inner world" I have been referring to is merely the ordinary human subconscious, that vast ocean of information we carry inside us without being consciously aware of it at all times.

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