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Two Ways to Create

It took me awhile to get a grasp on this concept of having two artistic brains, but I think it will help you to improve much faster. This may seem high concept, but I urge you to bear with me.

Observational vs. Conceptual

One of these brains is observational. This is the one most commonly associated with drawing from real life and things that are in front of you, art that involves replicating something.

The other brain is conceptual. With this, you’re creating artwork based off of your ideas.

Of course, these aren’t literal brains, or portions of the brain. They are, however, fundamentally different ways of thinking and approaches to making art.

Let’s clarify here that this isn’t a stylistic difference, one of realistic art vs. stylized. Building backwards from how something got onto the page through your brain, one of these is filtering past experiences and influences, while the other is something you’re drawing from directly.

Functional Differences

I’m going to draw what I see, and render it the way I see it in front of me.

I’m going to use what I see as a base or an influence for something new, or I’m going to put my own unique twist on it.

You may not be too keen on creating art observationally or replicating something because you have so many ideas for characters & stories. You’d like to skip the boring stuff and get straight to what you think of as true creativity. That’s totally understandable, and it’s the way I lean as well, but here’s why that can be an issue.

Don’t let your observational brain atrophy

When it comes to creating conceptual artwork, you’re actually pulling from the observational brain. Perhaps I want to create a character based loosely on y a deep sea fish. I can only stylize, exaggerate, and decide what I THINK something should look like so much, before it starts to become apparent that my fundamentals are lacking. Maybe I start to simplify things in the wrong places. Something can only look so stylized before it’s clearly wrong.

On the other hand, even if I wasn’t creating this deep sea creature as an observational exercise, I could still draw on my past experience of rendering things similar to it, and have a better final conceptual piece because of it.

Whenever you create things observationally, you’re practicing your skills and building a mental visual library.

When you practice the observational side of things, you’ll be able to use reference more effectively when creating your concepts. Most importantly, it will help you to turn off the part of your brain that’s asking what design decisions to make, and instead focus on the technical aspect of what you’re creating: your draftsmanship, fundamentals, and rendering.

I’m going to call on something Nicholas Kole said to me, and as harsh as it is, it’s the reality check that we sometimes need: Your ideas give you something to share. But your technical skill gives you the right to share it. The more developed you are as an artist, the more effective you’ll be at bridging the gap between your ideas and the final product.

Those are the two approaches that you can take in creating your artwork, and I highly recommend that if you’re relying too much on conceptual creation, that you flex your observational art muscles. Speaking of muscles, next week we’re going to answer some of your questions, and talk about the two ways to learn.

In this realm of creating art based off something existing, I’ve set out to create a character from the game Animal Crossing everyday in January. You can see my progress everyday on Twitter, Instagram, Dribbble, or right here on my portfolio. It’s been a lot of fun so far, and even though it’s not a tremendously detailed or difficult task to render these characters, I’m definitely learning a lot in the process of doing them.