I used to work at a studio of illustrators. One of our catch phrases at the time was, “generally, your first impression for an illustration idea is the right one.” Logic follows that if I just put down one sketch, it would likely be better than any that followed. And of course, this isn’t real.
The impression of the idea may be correct, but the solution is rarely so. It takes exploration, and as soon as I find a great solution, five more pop into my head. Each one leads to another. They start slow, then cascade. Solutions evolve.
The Sky People was done for Irene at Tor Books. The story, by S.M. Stirling, sounded lush, fun, and a bit nostalgic. Here’s the mysterious planet Venus of long ago, full of steaming jungles, dinosaurs, mammoths, crashed spaceships, and lost airmen. I wanted to get this one right.
Below are the beginning thumbs, with a star over one of the sketches, upper right on the first page. I came back to that one. I didn’t know it at the time, but the idea developed toward that one. One of the first.
Note: Click on the images for full-size versions.
These are the sketches as they evolved, freely drawing from my wee brain, searching for the right composition, the right balance of elements, the right atmosphere. It’s work to find the right balance. As soon as I had one down, I had two more in mind, waiting to get sketched. I explored horizontal formats first as I like the cinematic feeling. Verticals may have solved the problem just as easily.
I finally narrowed it down to two sketches that got combined with the first sketch above. I still wasn’t quite sure, but I had to make a decision, trusting that I’d done enough to really know what I wanted to see. I had it in the beginning after all, but I still needed to explore.
I shot some quick reference of me under lights to get the right effect for the figures, and projected this loose sketch onto the canvas.
One key factor that solves any problem of “illustrator’s block”...just start drawing. Ideas come from action, not drumming fingers. Most times, one needs to draw more. It starts with thumbnails. Same for writing. Don’t know what to write? Start typing.
Ideas are cheap. Solutions, divine.
Those older ideas aren’t for naught. I was able to revisit an earlier sketch for The Society of Illustrators’ scholarship fundraiser, MicroVisions I. (The below image is the actual size of the art.)
This post originally appeared on Muddy Colors
Greg Manchess is an artist and writer working in New York and Portland.