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tekn0lust's avatar

Artists, Could you describe you visualization process?

Asked by tekn0lust (1853 points ) April 17th, 2009

Specifically I am wondering how you visualize your works prior to doing any physical work. I’m thinking about 2d works like painting and drawing even digital works, but probably applies to 3d works like sculpture, etc.

When working on a new piece do you fully see what you want your final image to be or do you see a basic structure that will evolve as you physically work on it. What percentage of the final work do you visualize prior to starting work.

I really open this question to anyone, whether you are a closet artist or a galleried professional. There is no right or wrong answer. Sorry for the vagaries, run with it.

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14 Answers

drClaw's avatar

Sometimes I just start creating something in hopes that it eventually forms into a coherent piece. Usually however, I sloppily sketch until I have recreated the vision in my head and from the sketch I create the piece in whatever medium it was intended.

wundayatta's avatar

Is it visualization when you see your subject in front of you?

My son, who is nine, has started drawing like crazy, maybe half a year ago. Mostly he has been using books that show you how to draw this, or that. He’d also been tracing things from books. We encouraged him to draw freehand, and he’s started to do that, too. It’s pretty incredible, I think, especially for someone as young as he is.

He’s been drawing these copies of pictures of lions and tigers and fish (oh my). He has a book with drawings of creatures from nature. I asked him how he thought about it, but I don’t think he understood. So I asked him where he started, and he pointed to, what seemed to me, a random place. Then he proceeded to tell me the sequence in which he drew the whole thing.

We’d had psychological testing done of him before the school year, and one of the tests was to see a set of lines, and then draw them from memory. Most people draw the overall shape first, and then fill in details. He started with a little detail, and worked his way elsewhere. As a result, his whole drawing was out of proportion.

Now, it’s different. He gets the proportions right. He still starts with a detail—it seems like it could be any detail. I don’t know how he gets from the detail to the entire drawing, but it seems to me that he must see the whole thing in his head, and then he copies it down on paper. He doesn’t need to draw preliminary sketches or lines, because he already knows exactly where everything goes.

Is this possible? Does this make sense? Is there anyone else who draws or creates art like this?

tekn0lust's avatar

What prompted this question was the following link that I found earlier today.
http://englishrussia.com/?p=2546#more-2546

Many of these images represent physically impossible scenes, at least with our current understanding of physics. I began to wonder what this(and other) artist process must have been like.

@daloon I think there are some people who can visualize and translate that vision into physical medium and some who simply cannot. I am the later. I can imagine these interesting fantastical scenes like those depicted above, but I have no mechanism for expressing them in a physical form. For one I lost most fine motor control in my fingers when I lost a fight with a 110V outlet when I was little. For another my brain just cannot translate those visions into physical medium.

It sounds like your son has some real inherent talent that can be trained up to do beautiful artistic work. I’m glad to see you nurturing that.

RedPowerLady's avatar

this is a good question and I wonder this myself. I have no capacity for visualization myself which makes me no good at art from thought or even some forms of meditation

wundayatta's avatar

I suspect those images are not visualized from the beginning. Rather, the artist sorts through a lot of pictures with certain concepts in mind. They may even be reading stories and seeking to illustrate them. They are fairly standard science fiction illustrations. There are many tropes in science fiction illustration, but they are all fairly well known. It’s already difficult to do surprising things in that area.

Anyway, you look through photos with impressions from a story, and you find pictures that seem related, but need to be turned futuristic, and then you put it in photoshop, and you’re off to the races.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

My works are an evolving thing as I go through the process. I start with an idea but it morphs in the process. Very few artists have an image in their head and process to make it exactly as they envisioned it. There’s a cetain amount of deviation. It;s in that space, I think you just have to go with where your work is taking you and not try to force something that just isn’t happening.

3or4monsters's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic beat me to it.

I have a loose, general idea in mind, and then something else takes hold and can change the outcome (the “deviation”). Sometimes it’s a sudden idea halfway through, sometimes it’s an accident in execution that can be manipulated into a new direction, often times improving the piece.

More often for me though, my vision exceeds my actual skill, and I will modify positioning, posture, expression, and composition in such a way that accommodates my lack of skill instead of my skill determining the outcome. In this way I find new ideas.

Nobody has to know that part though. It’s like tripping and falling, and announcing that I meant to do that. :)

unused_bagels's avatar

When I paint, I usually have a jumble of images floating about in my head that I want to include in my painting. I fiddle around with the images, either sketching or fooling about in photoshop. After I start painting, the composition is still fluid, in that I still change it around as I go.
It’s like I’m slowly discovering a part of myself as I paint, so the artwork more evolves on its own for me, and I’m just channeling it onto the canvas.

TheKNYHT's avatar

I have a general idea in mind when I start to sketch a landscape scene or some other imaginary scene, but a strange thing happens once my pencil makes contact and starts to draw the first few lines; details seem to come out of no where and fall into place: like watching invisible jig saw pieces magically appear on the paper. And the more I draw, the more I can ‘see’ on the paper, until I’m about a third of the way done, and by then I ‘see’ the picture complete with details.

… I know: I’m wierd! : P

Reminds me of something Michaelangelo once said: When I look at a piece of marble, I already see the image locked inside of it; I just remove the remaining stone to free that image so it can be seen.

shadowfelldown's avatar

NOTE: sorry for the rather ridiculous length of this response… I guess am just really excited about this whole process that I have been working on… but in my defense, the question DID ask HOW I visualized my art… it never said to answer in 500 words or less…

I have actually been trying something rather interesting along these lines lately. Up till now I just started drawing with some sort of idea in mind and then let it take me where it will… and honestly, it usually comes out just fine. Unfortunately I have been finding that the result simply does not give me the control over the final product that I would like to have. Further, it doesn’t give me nearly the detail that I would be able to include if I was drawing from life.

Lately, I have been trying to create a process through which I might be able to draw from observation within my head. By utilizing a combination of meditation and self hypnosis, I put myself into a dream like state while still maintaining full control of my hands (so that I can draw). once Inside, I have full lucid control over the dream world, so I set up things like I want them to be and then simply copy what I see onto paper.

For example:
I did a painting recently where I wanted to show a person that had just smacked into the canvas with some speed, as if it were a window. I was finding it pretty hard to think of what the pose would look like and how the flesh would spread where it contacted the glass. I therefore set up a place in my dream world where I could throw people off of a high dive so that they would smack into a glass table below. I would just wait for the falling people and draw the impression that their bodies made on the glass. It took a few tries, but eventually I got something that looked pretty much like what I was after, so I did a sketch and then proceeded with the painting.

It may seem a little weird that this system would help me, because, presumably, I cannot see anything by using this method that my brain did not already know. While this is admittedly true, I think it might be that our brains are not very good at thinking in 2 dimensions, so they to try pretty hard to compose an image straight onto paper. On the other hand, the brain is incredibly good at thinking in four dimensions… it has to be, because everything that we interact with everyday is four dimensional. The subconscious brain does millions of tiny calculations all the time to keep moving through this 4d world, and has gotten quite good at it. That is why it is so hard to make believable animation… the brain is just too picky.

When I am using this method of visualization, I let my subconscious take care of things like movement, perspective, lighting, physics, and so on. It runs a simulation of the real world and everything in it behaves like it should. If you make a human, they will usually move pretty much like a human, and as long as you know your anatomy, they can be quite realistic looking and you can put them in any pose that you want.(although some of the musculature will undoubtedly react incorrectly) The functional result of all this is that you can set things up vividly and accurately within your mind by simply willing it to be so, while still maintaining the plasticity to change things around infinitely.

Any object that you create will exist in 4 dimensions, and I have found that the brain will automatically account for different viewing positions. If I draw a fruit still life, and then walk to 90 degrees, and draw it again, the brain will automatically interpret the three dimensional movement and the resulting still life will look like the same subject seen from a different angle. (you have to concentrate on the fruit while you are moving though, or else a couple of the fruit are liable to switch places… but more on that later)

The other neat thing that I have found is that at any point you can let your subconscious mind slip into full dream mode, and guide the action… often with very strange outcomes. this makes the technique ideal for brainstorming ideas.

There are some major downsides to this method though, first off, it is extremely hard to initiate the proper mental state. it basically consists of giving yourself a hypnotic suggestion that you (your conscious mind) are entering into your dream, but you can still control you arms. it is kind of like sleepwalking… but with arms. The mind really doesn’t like doing this, and I have found that sometimes, I simply cannot do it, no matter how hard or long I try.

Also, once you are in the right mental state, it is really hard to maintain for very long. Just like lucid dreaming, as soon as you become too aware of things, your conscious mind will try “wake up” and you will have to go back to square one. unfortunately, due to the fact that you are not 100% in the dream world, (you are still conscious enough to manipulate your hands) this eventuality is made all the more likely.

What I usually do to get back into the dream state is envision a series of doors that are made of random materials (not materials that you think of, just let your subconscious dreg something up.) I then try to think of the “key” to that door… the thing that I could do to allow myself through the door. I try to think of the most interesting and creative “key” that I can imagine and then try to envision what it would look like. I use each door passed as a hypnotic suggestion to bring me deeper into the trance state, while the visuals and problem solving serve to distract my conscious mind and open me back up to the lucid dreaming state.

The other minor bummer that I have run into is the lack of feedback when you are drawing. There is no paper and no pencil in the simulated world, so you basically have to do a blind drawing… sure, you could set up your composition and then draw it from memory while not in the dream… but that kind of defeats the point. you would be drawing from memory, not “observation”.

To remedy this problem, I have tried to link arm movements with some sort of visual feedback within the dream, (like a dot or cursor or something,) but I have had very little luck… mostly because it takes concentration to update the cursor position in time with my arm movement, and doing so tends to pull me out of the trance.

Perhaps the worst problem is that it is really hard to keep yourself in control of your surroundings, because you are functionally in a dream, and there are some pretty weird things that can happen. First off, object permanence is pretty much nonexistent, this is a real hard one to get used to. when you look at an object and then look away, the object seizes to be. When you look back, your brain will reconstruct the image from memory and will not necessarily come up with the same thing unless you take very careful note. this is important to remember when you have to stop in the middle of setting up a composition, and you need to “save your work” so to speak. the last thing that you have to do is examine the image and consciously note all the detail of the image that you want to preserve, because when the brain accesses the memory, it will reconstruct the scene with only those details that you specifically make note of.

Also, to aid in recall of the image, I would suggest putting in some sort of memory aid that will facilitate the recall of the scene as you left it. I use pieces of colored yarn, which I tie to the “room” containing the composition and then lead out through all the aforementioned doors. it seems to offer a pretty good aid to recall, as long as you can remember how many strings you have and what colors they are.

Dreams also have the nasty tendency to switch channels suddenly and without warning, and unless you are extremely disciplined, your thoughts will tend to wander at least somewhat. if your mind wanders too much, or your background/parallel thoughts get too loud, the dream will almost certainly respond by switching to something else, trashing whatever you were working on. it is prudent to destroy background thoughts as soon as you notice them. when I notice this happening, I usually try to focus on every possible detail of the closest object to drive out the other thoughts.

Also, you have to realize that just because you see something does not necessarily mean that it actually looks like anything. you are not actually in the world, and often you can mistakenly try to draw the “concept” of an object rather than a defined version of that object… although it will look at a casual glance like the object itself. if you start to draw it, you will likely come up with something that looks nothing like what you are intending. To be sure, look for details like tufts of hair or spots or something… the act of looking will undoubtedly make them appear, but this is ok because it at least defines that object’s unique identity, and avoids the risk of drawing a symbolic representation.

wundayatta's avatar

@shadowfelldown: this is interesting, because I do something similar for telling stories. However, I don’t have to go very deep in in order to tell the story. I just have to see the “movie” running inside my head, and then describe it. I don’t actually have to do any work at all, other than describing what I’m seeing. The action happens all by itself, one step after another.

When talking to my kids, I tell them the same thing. However, my son has decided to become an artist rather than a storyteller. I thought my daughter was going to be the artist, but even though she has a lot of skill at it, she’s not really pursuing it. Movie-making seems to be her thing. It’s amazing what the technology allows you to do these days.

My son draws in what seems like a strange way. It’s almost as if he’s coloring something in. He starts with some tiny detail, and gradually works everything in. No lines to plan, as far as I know. This suggests to me that he is doing something similar to what you are doing. Somewhere inside his head he knows the whole picture. So all he has to do is copy it out. Of course he denies this when I suggest that is what is going on.

As for me, when not doing stories, it’s slightly different. Playing improvisatory music is done best by closing my eyes. I imagine each instrument and each rhythm and melody as bands of light—kind of like graphs from a statistical analysis, except them move—maybe more like one of those “visualization” thingys that music playing software have. Except it’s not like that. It travels.

But there’s a problem with closing my eyes. I am usually playing for dancers, and so I have to keep an eye on them, because they are actually the score. I have to play what they are doing. This presents a problem. A problem, I believe, like the one you have. But before I tell you what works for me, I’m going to describe yet another similar problem.

This dance workshop that I play music for? Well, sometimes I dance instead of playing. I used to dance all the time before an accident gave me back my trumpet (another story for another day). At the end of the workshop, we usually gather together in a circle (sometimes an oval) sitting on the dance floor. We go around the circle and people get a chance to say something about their experience that night. A lot of people don’t say much. If you talk to them later about that, they’ll often say it’s because they don’t remember what happened.

Here’s what I think is going on. I think we have two modes of thinking; one is verbal; and other not. The verbal mode is good at describing things, and sharing information as we usually think of it.

The nonverbal mode is what people often feel as a mystical kind of thing. It tends to be confusing because people usually feel like they are connected to other people and indeed, to the world or universe in some magical way. They experience the feeling of unity, and often call this god.

This mode of being is very dreamlike. Images are flowing everywhere. You understand things in a different way; make connections in a different way; communicate in a different way. The problem is that it is nonverbal. There are no words in that side of the mind. Words are symbols that we manipulate in order to communicate. This other mode of thinking doesn’t have words. This means that we don’t know what we are thinking!

Rather, the linguistic part of our mind doesn’t know what is going on in the non-linguistic part of our mind. It is very difficult for the two sides of the mind to communicate. They can do it, usually in the dark of night, or while we are “thinking” about something else, but it happens in the background, in some mysterious way that we are not aware of. But this is how we have the “aha” experience. It feels like an idea bursts, fully formed, into mind. But what I believe is happening is that the non-linguistic mind has been working on the issue, and somehow finds a way to shove the idea into the linguistic mind’s attention, and voila! It’s an inspiration! [I think my non-linguistic mind is driving my fingers sometimes, because I’ll think one thing and my fingers will type another. FWIW, I just typed “inspirations,” before I saw what had happened and “corrected” it.]

When we dance or play music or, given your experience, make visual art, we enter into this other frame of thinking. Some people call it meditation. However, due to it’s nature, it is really hard to describe what goes on there. That’s how come people “can’t remember” what happened. That’s how come musicians will close their eyes. Maybe that’s how come you enter into the trance you need to “see” what you are creating. A curious thing about this—it can make it very difficult for artists to describe the artistic process. When something appears in a flash, it’s hard to tell what happened.

Musicians are often particularly inarticulate about what is going on. I think that other artists tend to be more articulate, in general. But still, the work appears by magic, and a lot of artists will cite god as the source of the work.

Well, in dancing, and in making music, or even in story telling, I needed (so I thought) to be able to talk about what happened while I was in this alternate frame of mind. I had to find a way to keep my linguistic mind watching, while going into the trance. Once I set myself the problem, it just became a matter of practice. I got better and better at it. I’m still working on it, but I can often remember a lot of what goes on when I’m “under.” I can describe it in ways that provide more information than most people can provide.

You have a particularly deep “trance” you need to go in to see what you need to see. It may be particularly difficult for you to do this, but you might try learning how to stay in the trance world, while at the same time seeing with the linguistic mind. You could see your hand at the same time as seeing your vision. It will be very difficult at first, but I think, if you keep at it, you’ll become better and better.

Oh well. Another long post. It’s only because this is something that really interests me, and that I have thought a lot about. I hope this is interesting to you (if you’ve read it all), and maybe even useful.

DarkScribe's avatar

First I open one eye, then if that doesn’t work – I open the other.

maggiemaye's avatar

Yes, @daloon, what you said makes sense. I don’t think you can teach it. I can’t explain how I do that except that I do see it all in my mind’s eye and then I let the drawing or painting draw or paint itself. It tells me what it wants to do and often it’s much different than the preliminary sketch…which I make only so I don’t lose the conceptual framework of the idea. It’s mostly done in my mind before my pen or brushes ever touches paper.

gottamakeart's avatar

my best work is ALWAYS designed-in-process, no plans, just go for it. :D

creativity is best enjoyed as free-flowing, not controlled.

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