My Lack Of Imagination

I’ve been sketching for about six years.  During all of that time I’ve been a dedicated urban sketcher.  Nearly everything I’ve drawn has been from life, mostly from my perch upon a tripod stool.  Those of us who work this way are fond of extolling the virtues of drawing from life.  If drawbacks are mentioned they generally relate to how weather and/or material limitations affect the actual drawing process.

One thing we always ignore when talking about location sketching is that there is no exercise of the imagination when you’re trying to depict some object or scene that lies before you.  We may simplify, or even modify the scene but nevertheless, the scene provides the subject of our work.

Because of this, I’ve developed very little imagination when it comes to generating my own scenes.  Yes, I can draw a dinosaur creature and maybe even a funny-faced character, but drawing a citiscape or landscape from my imagination – no way.  And while I can draw cars, statues, and airplanes when I’m looking at them, I can’t draw one from my imagination to save my soul.

My buddy Yvan has told me that I should spend time drawing from my imagination, because if I did I would look at the world differently, generating a different kind of knowledge about my world.  I know he’s right but I’ve found it difficult.

These days, however, I’m sort of stuck at home a lot and often my hands don’t function as well as I would like.  Yvan showed me a lot of the small vignettes he draws (which are amazing) to develop his imagination and I decided to give hem a try.  His approach is pretty simple:

  1. Paint a block of color(s).  Not too big (the ones here are only 3″ to 4″ wide).  Add some blotches of color (low contrast is best as it doesn’t force you in one direction).
  2. Let them dry (or not) and imagine what sort of scene can be made from the blotches of color contained within each block.

That’s all there is to it.  While the ones presented here are the first two pages of these things I’ve created, they don’t have to be landscape/citiscapes.  Yvan likes to invent candlesticks, fancy bowels, statues, or groups of people.

I’ve found this hard, mostly because I have no imagination, no “vocabulary” for making stuff up.  But Yvan is correct, I’m looking at everything differently, asking things like “what are the typical shapes of citiscapes”; “what are the features of vases that one could use to create a new type?”, and a million other similar questions.  There’s lot of fun to be had here and I’m convinced that it will help me with my “normal” drawing.


15 thoughts on “My Lack Of Imagination

  1. What an interesting coincidence… I just finished up an on-location class, but for the last class, we met in the instructor’s studio because it rained. She led us through some very similar exercises — put down some watercolors in a generally landscapey kind of way, then turn the blobs into trees, mountains, etc. I had a very hard time with it, but it did make me realize I don’t look closely enough while I’m drawing from life because I know I can always look back again. It was a very interesting and humbling exercise. I can see your point completely — I think I would be much more observant even when I’m not sketching if I knew I might use that information to draw later from memory.

    – Tina

    • Humblling…yeah, that’s the word. I guess since you were in a landscape class it was natural to do the paint step to reflect a landscape. Yvan suggested that I try to avoid any notion of what the sketch would be about when I put down the paint and I confess that I find that VERY hard, though it’s obvious from his work that it really opens up the possibilities. Mostly it’s that opening up of my eyes to new ways of looking/seeing that, I think, is the most valuable part of this exercise.

  2. Are all the drawings on this blog ones that you have now done? They look good. I am an armchair sketcher (photographs) due to back problems and I just started to look at blank pages to try and use my imagination. And surprise the pages are still blank!

    Willl have to give this next method a try since MY method is not working……. I see some of the wonderful pen and inks people do obviously from their imagination so I keep hoping mine (imagination) will pop out sometime soon.. thanks to Yvan and you. -Barbara

    • Yes they are; I’m glad you like them.

      Because of my knee and arthritis problems I’m quickly becoming an armchair sketcher, though I find it hard to draw from photos. Keep in mind that your house is full of sketching subjects. You could spend a lifetime drawing the objects in your kitchen. If you scan through sketching groups you’ll find lots of great sketches of kitchen utensils.

      • I draw from my iPad. I think because that was how I started drawing a few years ago, then I find it easy. I would love to go out into the world and sit and draw but right now it is not so easy, but I can take photos of what I want to draw and I do draw a lot.

        Having said that I know I must lose something when I don’t draw from real life, anyways, that is something for the future maybe. I will have to check out the kitchen sketches…..I haven’t seen much in that line.

        • To see kitchen sketches, you need to go to sketching groups rather than ‘art’ groups. For sketchers, the emphasis is on the fun and process of drawing, not the creation of things to hand on walls. Because of this, people draw their food, their friends, their sofa, and all sorts of things. I don’t have experience with digital drawing but with pen drawing, most of my joy comes from making lines with the pen so the subject doesn’t matter as much for other artists.

          • I don’t use my ipad to draw on. I use it for my photos…I like the feel of pens, pencil and real paper in my hand. . I think that is what art is about. Kind of like a real book with real pages. Meanwhile, I will check out kitchen utensil art as you suggested. Thanks…

  3. Great Larry!
    We recognize so many visuals elements, the information must be stored somehow in our memory. I guess these exercises enlarge the access door.

    • I suppose you’re right but doing these I’m constantly faced with “what does xyz look like?” and frustrated that I don’t know. That’s actually the good part because I’m now standing at the bus stop looking at the benches, phone booth, and squinting at the buildings on the far side of the street as I try to see the general shapes. Thanks, Yvan.

  4. Yours drawings are not bad !!!

    A few years ago, I took courses for adults at a Beaux-Arts school, and the teacher asked us 3 or 4 times during the year, to draw from imagination through the hour !
    It was VERY VERY difficult for me, but I had to do, because the other people did…

    But, at the end, I was happy to have worked, not for my bad drawings, but because I suceeded in drawing !

    I think that with a little practice, but regular practice, things become easier.

    Good luck !

    Another person with a bad back, soon an armchair sketcher.


    • I smiled at your comments about being forced to draw from your imagination. We (including me) are all too comfortable believing that we will get better at art by simply repeating what we already know, even though every one of us have gone through school which taught us stuff by asking us to do things we were uncomfortable/unlfamiliar with doing.

      Sorry to hear you’re “soon an armchair sketcher.” We’re a sorry lot but I keep telling myself that at least my hobby is art and not mountain climbing 🙂

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