Be Open to All Things Creative

An artist’s best catalyst to progress is their willingness to embrace ideas that are outside their comfort zone. Many creative people I have known throughout my life get too comfortable working in their genre. The information and material they digest is solely from the environment in which they work. This type of thinking is to an artist’s detriment. Never get comfortable in your creative environment.

If you draw comics, expose yourself to the ballet. If you write novels, embrace the theatre. No matter what creative art you practice be open to all forms of art and have a strong understanding of the creative environment of each. Ballet, opera, jazz, classical art, modern art, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, thesis writing, sculpture, animation, sequential art and so forth, every discipline has value and something to learn from and add to your own creative expression.

I once was speaking with a young comic book artist. He was having trouble envisioning how superheroes fly through the air. We talked about form, gravity and perspective — 1, 2 and 3 point – but he couldn’t get his head around how to draw the human form with grace and power, when flying high above the cityscape. I asked him, “Have you ever watched a ballet?” He laughed. It was clear the idea was quite off-putting. I explained to him about the physique of a male dancer, how powerful they have to be to lift up and hold their dance partner in the air with one hand. I went on to expand: “A dancer launches themselves from the stage into the air and, for a brief moment, defies gravity, evoking both power and grace.” He quickly pulled out his phone, searched for an example on YouTube and gasped, “I get it, now.” I then explained to him that the Achilles heel of most American comic book artists is their inability to fully understand the comic’s grid. How you tell your story, from panel to panel, is even more important than how you draw. “Learn about rhythm, study design and immerse your self in world cinema,” I told him. “Your creative world will expand and your work will mature.”

Similarly, I was doing a Q&A after a workshop I recently gave, and someone asked me about constructing scenes. Specifically, they wanted to know how to move a character through a scene and how you keep it interesting. I asked if they had ever watched a stage play. This person shook their head no. “Well, what’s interesting about the stage,” I explained, “is that we, as audience members, are focused on one scene at a time. Props are limited to the necessities, maybe a couple of chairs, a table and a lamp. The actors move in and around the props, maybe sitting down in a chair or standing up from one. They walk around the stage only when it’s necessary for their character to do so, while expressing dialogue that moves their scene forward.”

I could see the light bulb flash on above this person’s head as I was talking. I continued to elaborate. “We, the audience, are engaged by the actors’ gestures, the tone and changing volume of their voices…Even the stage lighting. You see everything is about the exposure to the right environment.”  Exposing yourself to theatre, and to film, helps you envision your own characters moving around the stage of your novel. Each chapter is one or several scenes, and your characters should act and move in a way that offers the reader clues to their personality, makes use of the objects or set props in their environment and, very importantly, moves the story forward. Writers must be able to visualize their characters and scenes completely. A study of both stage and cinema is incalculably beneficial to both new and maturing writers.

We must all consider the value of acquiring knowledge in various artistic disciplines as we move forward with our career.

Kaja Blackley is the author of Maggie MacCormack and the Witches’ Wheel now on sale at: maggiemaccormack.com