Escape the Comfort Zone: Uncanny Creativity 41

Making art often means getting out of the comfort zone.

Alan Henry of Lifehacker explains the science of breaking out of your comfort zone:

Routine and patterns minimize risk. Making something scares us. Creating something inherently feels risky. Who knows if it’ll be good?

The comfort zone feels happy with low anxiety and low stress. This is why most people never make anything.

Optimal Anxiety

Slight anxiety helps us. “Optimal Anxiety” increases performance. Too much stress and we do poorly. Comfort is the opposite of productivity. Volunteering as a designer helps me escape my routine. It can feel stressful, yet also I’m helping people.

Regularly facing fear in controlled ways prepares you better for out of control problems according to researcher Brene Brown:

Try this: Venture a new medium, performance art, visual arts, practice new tips. Small tweaks to normal ways of producing art involve exploring your curiosity.

Productive Discomfort

It gets easier to push boundaries the more you do it. Alina Tugend describes this effect of “Productive Discomfort” for the New York Times.

It’s easier to brainstorm if you’re seeking new experiences, new skills. You get used to looking at the world in new ways and question confirmation bias. Old problems will seem new.

Try this: Do old things differently. New restaurants, drive a new route, switch out apps you normally use.

Take small steps

Avoid putting things off. Keep a list of “someday maybes”. Review it regularly to see if they match with your schedule. Always wanted to paint dogs or nudes? What’s the next small step to make that happen.

Take small steps. Set small actions. Weekly daily. Think big in the long-term and small in the short-term. If you want to have a huge gallery show, first you need to slowly make painting
Try this: find clarity through action.

Remember to return to your comfort zone. Have rituals that you return to for comfort.

Try this: Slow down or speed up on decisions that you have to make. Be more spontaneous in areas where you’re usually very planned. Try being more calculated in the parts where you usually are carefree

The Sweet Spot Between Overconfidence and Anxiety

Optimal levels of anxiety tested as middle range by scientist, Business Insider explains. If we’re overconfident, there may not exist enough anxiety to focus and perform the task at hand. With too much anxiety, we’ll have trouble performing even basics of tasks. Self-described worriers tended to have “high levels of brain activity when they made mistakes”. The test became difficult compared to those with less anxiety.

Try this: Actively Practice worrying less. Actively practice worrying less. Working out. Meditate. Question and answer the facts behind your worry. Practice optimism. Seek help – friends, family, therapy.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

When Creativity Feels Hard, Take Action

You might think being creative on demand is “hard”. Here’s what I’ve learned on the job.

I’m sad that society heavily sells this idea that creativity is “too hard” That we are constantly being indoctrinated into it. Adults spout tropes about the difficulty of creativity, sounding like children talking about monsters under their bed. No evidence of a monster, just fear. (See also: Face the Fear of Failure)

Hard is one of my least favorite words. Most of the time considering difficulty is impractical. When you catch yourself doing it, take it as a sign to practice. Pondering how easy or difficult a task manifests as a common procrastination habit. We place mental blocks in front of our own goals to protect us from imagined outcomes.

Anyone who got to the point where they could read this has already tackled countless difficult tasks.

Fairly early in my career, a more experienced designer told me starting with a blank page is the hardest part of the job.

So I’ve found to make it easy, at the beginning of a project I focus on the most practical parts of it. Break apart the project. Open a document. Get the size right. Put something on the page without judgment.

If it’s a particularly creatively challenge project, I name the file “Project Name Ideas”. Then it’s a super judgment-free space.

If you know any text or ideas for text, put it on the page. If it’s even more intimidating, scribble some messy thoughts on paper.

Sometimes just drawing boxes or grabbing a photo or texture works. Or make a list of steps.

Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Look at inspiration and try using very specific parts of what you like in your own idea. Draw from a few inspirations and try getting them to mesh together

Try out the bad ideas too. Afraid of becoming unoriginal? Copy something and then try to fix it until it’s unique. Make something hideous and see if you can fix that too. Even at your worst, you’ll have some usable thoughts.

The important part I’ve found is to show your work. If someone could see you, could they describe an action? Thinking is not an action in itself.

Think through actions and through making.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Acrylic Painting Tutorial: How to Paint a Composite Image

You’ve seen modern artists use tools like Photoshop to composite images. The tools may have changed, and at the same time creating compositing isn’t an entirely new thing. For centuries, artists including DaVinci, Michelangelo, Escher, Norman Rockwell, and Leyendecker have taken objects and changed the setting, lighting, backgrounds and composition. In more recent years, comic book artists are known to create huge narratives every month filled with detailed objects and scenes. For books on how comic artists create their visuals, along with information on anatomy and drawing basics, I’d suggest How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and Drawing Dynamic Comics. I refer to these for a lot of my painting designs and poses.

Mona Lisa probably wasn’t sitting out in nature the way DaVinci depicted her. In painting the Sistine Chapel, standing on a scaffold with the speed limitations of fresco painting’s drying plaster, Michelangelo wouldn’t have the time to observe angels in the heavens even if such a thing did exist. Escher’s impossible perspectives were inspired by the architecture and landscapes of Italy, although he was unable to live there during most of his life. Rockwell relied on live models and created his scenes as close as possible in real life, though like most illustrators, there was a lot of liberties taken right on the page. All of these artists relied heavily on their own sketches and studies.

Leyendecker detailed his process which is similar to many artists especially before the advent of photography: “First make a number of pencil or charcoal studies. Select the most promising and on a sketch canvas do these in full color, oil or water with plenty of detail. Keep an open mind and be alert to capture any movement or pose that may improve your original idea.” Personally, as you will see below, I may tend to skip this level of detail and just work things out on my final painting just because of my own lack of patience.

“You may now dismiss your model, but be sure you have all the material needed with separate studies of parts to choose from, for you are now on your own and must work entirely from your studies,” Leyendecker continues. “This canvas will somewhat resemble a picture puzzle, and it is up to you to assemble it and fit it into your design at the same time simplify wherever possible by eliminating all unessentials. All this is done on tracing paper and retraced on the final canvas.” Sometimes I will use the grid method or most often freehand rather than use tracing paper.

Tutorial

For the painting in this demo, I used a mirror with my own reflection, several reference photos some of which I had taken myself (of myself), and some real life objects for the still life elements. This was done on bristol paper which was coated with gesso. First I start with a very rough underpainting to lay out the elements of the composition. I wish I had photographed the initial strokes in a thin wash of purple acrylic.

Step 1:

First, I covered the entire surface with a thin wash of color. A more neutral surface is created and covering the white surface at a later time while trying to avoid your strokes can feel tedious. You can use pencil and sometimes I do, though it takes more work to cover it up later. Dilute your paint with water and you can draw with enough detail. You can also wipe off the paint with water before it’s fully dry if you need to.

Step 2:

Continuing with detail and mapping out values. This is pretty much just drawing and sketching. If you were following Leyendecker’s method, you may have already mapped this out in a study or sketch. I didn’t do this and worked out the details here. For this underpainting (or grisaille), I decided on dioxazine purple and titanium white. Purple under paintings are popular in watercolor to create depth when painted over. The color you choose for the underpainting will likely interact with your finished colors.

Step 3:

I chose this purple because it’s a color I often mix into my shadows as it’s can be very dark and near black. The idea being that it’s such a dominant color in my scheme that it makes sense to start there. Other popular options for value studies include mixing titanium white (or white gesso) with burnt umber, raw sienna, or mars black. You can also choose two complimentary colors to work with against white. Yellow and purple for instance. This seems a bit complicated for me when I’m just trying to draw.  Experiment in your sketchbook or on scrap to see how these create different effects. Browns are my other favorite method.

Step 4: 

The more finished the underpainting, the less thought you’ll have to do when it’s time for color. It’s never too late to make huge corrections or changes, however. It’s just paint and can be painted over. After I’m satisfied with the basics of the composition, I look closer at anatomy and work out some of the more important details. Fashion photos helped me pick out the shirt. Google Images and Pinterest are ideal for this stuff. If you have it in life, that’s ideal.

 

Step 5:

 

Most importantly at this point are the values of light and dark. I like to place light areas “behind” my dark areas. Dark areas are also “behind” my light areas. This can be subtle or obvious. The contrast in value between two areas is what creates the illusion of a line without literally creating an outline stroke.

Step 6:

In starting with color, I decided on a yellow shirt since it’s the compliment of purple. Using the compliment of a color in it’s shadows makes for more interesting shadows and creates more contrast than a pure neutral. For the skin tones, I did a simple wash of greens first as skin tones are heavily loaded with reds. (Point being that green and red are compliments.) For the brown hair, I decided to use blue with highlights of orange to create a varied brown. The theme of the foreground colors is warm tones. When applying color, thin washes are often useful so you can still use your underpainting as a guide. This isn’t always possible and that’s when having a photo of your underpainting or a nearly complete sketch is helpful. Thin washes also help to hide brushstrokes and create smoother DaVinci-like “sfumato” style painting. A wash of paint along the hard edges will create soft edges.

 

Step 7:

The blue translucent plate is just a matter of painting two images on top of each other, the wood of the table and the definition of the plate. With the right balance, you’ll have what appears to be a blue plate.

Step 8: 

Since the foreground is heavily doused in warm tones, it only follows that the background is cool. Cool tones recede into the background naturally, which is an effect called atmospheric perspective. Note that I made a number of corrections as I worked and didn’t rely solely on the underpainting. Taking photos at various stages and comparing tones to the final colors also helped as I work out the colors at appropriate values and contrast. Each local color is worked with it’s compliment. Colors also reflect nearby objects so they feel like they are in the same space. Note the yellow of the table near the yellow shirt.

Finally the finished painting. Is this what you imagined it would look like based on the underpainting?

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Quotes to help you have more fun

A few quotes that help me have more fun:

When overgeneralizing, be curious about what’s new and different:
“All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.” Alexandre Dumas fils

When it’s all or nothing, explore the what’s in between:
“We must stand firm between two kinds of madness: the belief that we can do anything; and the belief that we can do nothing.” Alain

When magnifying the bad and minimizing the good:
“Disappointment is really just a term for our refusal to look on the bright side.” Richelle E. Goodrich

Jumping to conclusions and imagining the other’s thoughts and possible terrible futures, be present:
“Our busy minds are forever jumping to conclusions, manufacturing and interpreting signs that aren’t there.” Epictetus

When emotional reasoning, look for truth:
“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” Christopher Hitchens / Hitchens’s razor. (Latin proverb “Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur”, “What is freely asserted is freely dismissed.”)

When “should” clouds your expectations, stop resisting:
“And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

When labels feel true:
“People are too complicated to have simple labels.” Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass

When blame, comparison and guilt cloud your senses:
“Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Review: Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pens

After a month or two of trying out these Bienfang Watercolor Brush Pens, I’m fairly impressed. With caveats. What are they? They’re a set of marker-like brushes filled with thin paint. Squeeze the handles and paint comes into the brushes. 

Sure, they look like brushes and you can do some watercolor effect type things. However, they are not watercolors and have to be used as their own medium. I think that’s part of the fun of the product! They’re somewhere in between markers and paints. Perfect for travelling with my sketchbook and adding touches of color.

A few tips for using them:

  • Work from light colors to dark. They’re fairly permanent and you can cover up your earlier drafting if you keep it light.
  • Give up on the idea of emulating local color. A green object is going to need white and yellow highlights and some red and brown shadows. I even just use the colors for their values often and forget about local color altogether.
  • Read the instructions. The instructions have a few tips for blending and smoothing things out. Using wet paper, the blending brush provided and lots more.

 

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Android App Design for Web Developers

Mobile apps are shiny, new and still exciting for users and developers. As it turns out, designers can easily tap into all of this.

Somehow, over the past month or so I’ve dived fully into Android app development.  I’m a print designer normally. I focus on magazines and occassional collateral. I’ve done some infographic design which felt like a natural extension of print.  Sure, I was part of the web page club in high school. A few years ago, I knew table based web design. Then I moved to learning css.  This time, I thought I’d study some Javascript.  When I learned that Phonegap could package a website on to Android phones as apps, it seemed like a great way to learn Javascript. Give myself a simple task of making an app and learn from there.

From Google’s documentation: “There are essentially two ways to deliver an application on Android: as a client-side application (developed using the Android SDK and installed on user devices as an .apk) or as a web application (developed using web standards and accessed through a web browser—there’s nothing to install on user devices).”

Phonegap (Apache Cordova)

Phonegap, soon to be renamed Apache Cordova, is an open-source mobile development framework developed by Adobe Systems. It allows web based development with all of it’s visual and technical advantages and disadvantages. It also allows you to access native featurs such as the camera, gps and accelerometer.

In theory, you can develop cross platform apps with a single codebase. “Build your app once with web-standardsBased on HTML5, PhoneGap leverages web technologies developers already know best… HTML and JavaScript. Wrap it with PhoneGap using the free open source framework or PhoneGap build you can get access to native APIs. Deploy to multiple platforms! PhoneGap uses standards-based web technologies to bridge web applications and mobile devices.” I haven’t fully tested this, but reports are that the differences in various browsers quickly can come into play.

Be sure to try out one of my trivia apps in the Android Market. Let me know what you think I can improve.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.