Crappy Ideas and the Importance of Capturing Them

a zillion notebooks "To have good ideas, have lots of ideas." - Linus Pauling

Those notebooks pictured above are all filled to the brim with the loosest, crappiest sketches you will ever see. Millions of chicken scratches. A graveyard of bad ideas mixed in with a few good ones that made it to the promised land of finished illustrations. But by far, the majority of them are big stinkers. But these stinkers are totally necessary, in my opinion.

When I first get an assignment I usually think of several ideas that could work... avenues to explore, so I get out my cheapy, green spiral-bound notebook and jot those down, trying to capture the essence of my thought without giving much thought to how those sketches look. No one ever looks in my green notebooks so it doesn't matter anyway. I probably fill up one notebook per month, so there are a LOT of them.

I've heard of illustrators who sketch directly on the computer with a tablet or mouse, but for me, paper feels right. I like the tangible quality of pencil on paper. I love that it's so quick and easy and you don't have to remember to hit Save or be tied to a computer for this creative process. Working on paper allows me to have freedom... and the ideas can strike any time so paper is totable.

For me, it seems like bad ideas need to come out before anything of value rears its head. And these first sketches are usually cliches or way too obvious or been done many times before. It's important to keep searching. But I find it really valuable to get these first ideas down, without judgment or thinking too much about it. It's allowing myself to play and jot and doodle... enjoying the process and clearing the muck... Not putting too much pressure on an outcome and not trying to force every idea to be a good one. (Because that would take all the fun out of it!) It's about getting lots of ideas down, not the quality of the ideas (those come later).

Once all of the initial sketches are out, I leave them behind. I try to walk away from the assignment and sketches for at least a day. This gives my mind time to marinate and work on it without me. After that time I usually come back to the notebook with a few more ideas. Ideas that weren't obvious at first. But sometimes I notice a glimmer of something good in one of the first sketches that I didn't recognize the first time around (so thankfully I jotted it down!). But usually those sketches really were just crap and getting them down made way for better ideas. :)

If all goes to plan, by the time the sketches are due, I have about 2-3 solid ideas that are worth presenting to my client. They never have to see all the junk that led up to them. It gives me the satisfied feeling that I explored all my options, and I'm giving them something that is really thought out. It saves me from giving them an initial, crappy idea only to think of something better when I'm into the final illustration process, and there's no turning back. Sketching all these ideas is just a way to feel confident in your final piece.

* * * * Thank you for all the great music suggestions! I've been checking them all out on iTunes. Keep em' comin' if you think of more! :)