“Artmaking grants access to worlds that may be dangerous, sacred, forbidden, seductive, or all of the above. It grants access to worlds you may otherwise never fully engage.” David Bayes & Ted Orland – Art & Fear.
Drawing a whole world from imagination takes extraordinary skill. Every movie you watch or manga you read is brought to life by extraordinary individuals. When you see Iron-Man team up with the Avengers or watch Robin become a part of the crew of One Piece, you almost want to be there to experience it yourself.
Drawing from imagination is less complicated than you might think. You need a visual library to reference important things you’ve learned, like the figure or perspective. You also need a healthy dose of design skills to become something of a concept artist – where you can use your creativity to conceptualize a world and its characters and record them with your drawing skills.
You don’t need to be a talented artist to do this. You have most of the tools you need to get started.
Drawing from imagination sounds exciting. Anyone can go and draw a tree outside or copy a reference photo, but nothing is quite as exhilarating as creating a character that is uniquely your own. You get to watch something you envisioned come to life. Your skill, your unique ideas, and your imagination work to breathe life into a world that never existed until that moment.
If you want to draw from your imagination, you only need to follow 3 simple steps:
1. Study from reference
3. Big, medium, and small
Studying from reference is what allows you to have a visual library. If you use photo reference to draw knights and horses, you’ll start adding those shapes and details to your visual library.
You might think, “I’ve seen a knight before, I shouldn’t need reference.” Try drawing a knight and see how that works. Better yet, trying drawing someone you see every day like your Mom or a friend from school.You might find it difficult to accurately portray their likeness. Unless you’ve been actively creating observational drawings about a subject, you’ll struggle to remember the details.
There was quite a stigma on using reference when I was first learning to draw. It was looked at as some form of cheating. Thankfully, many eyes and minds have been opened since then and it’s become less of an issue. Which is a good thing, because you can’t create a visual library without studying reference.
You only draw what you can remember. Active recall will help you do that.
Each memory you have has a storage strength and a retrieval strength. We used our reference study to store information and we use recall to retrieve it. If you only practice storing the information, you won’t be able to call on it when it’s time to draw from imagination. You need to practice retrieving it as well.
It’s as simple as letting yourself forget. Give yourself a day after studying your reference photos before you try drawing them again –this time without reference. You might feel some discomfort as you try to remember what the knight’s armor looked like or how the muscles of the horse flexed during a gallop. Just remember that discomfort leads to growth.
Give yourself an opportunity to try. Anything you struggle with can be reviewed and then you just repeat the process
In order to draw something from imagination – to design something from scratch – you need to understand good design. There’s more than one way to achieve visually satisfying design, but I find that this one rule makes the biggest difference – break down anything you draw into three categories, big medium, and small.
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the game, Alchemy Stars. The character designs for this game are outstanding. The game could be terrible (it’s really fun) and I’d still want to play it just to see the characters and environment art.
Louise is a perfect example of big, medium, and small working in harmony. Her book is massive! She even sits on it. This big shape gives your eye an area of rest. Her medium and small shapes contrast the large book and add visual variety. The cape, her skin, and the tree are all your medium shapes and those get broken up by small things like the mushrooms, laces, or the brooch on her cloak.
If you can think in these terms of big, medium, and small you’ll go a long way with your design, regardless of the kind of drawing skill you possess. And the more you train your design sensibilities, the better you’ll become at drawing from your imagination.
Visualizing your own ideas and bringing them to life is a unique experience. Even if you’re still learning to draw, it’s rewarding to develop your own characters.
You can draw from your imagination and let your ideas roam free for the world to enjoy. You may even inspire others to create characters of their own and develop an exhilarating cycle of imaginative creation.
Artists who draw from imagination are incredible. Why not be one of them?