Draw Upon your World

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Draw Upon your World

We rarely think about tapping into our own wealth of experience, which is safely stored away in our own brains. We can call this experience the known world - something that we are already familiar with and often almost dismissive of. Recalling it and looking at it again in a different way is harnessing a valuable resource that we often overlook. The chances are - if you are taking Art, you may not be so familiar with the field of mathematics or science, yet these forms of communication can inform and enrich what we already understand, leading us into fresh areas of creative expression.

Good ideas come more freely from things we are interested in and have knowledge of, so if you are given a choice, make known topics your starting point for stimulating your imagination.

Take the example of a dragon. A dragon is a familiar creature known all over the world. It is interpreted in hundreds of different ways and yet it is still recognisable as a dragon. It has never existed, yet it is constantly recreated in human imagination - inspiring artists throughout the generations and cultures...

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They are incredible creatures, because in the dragon there are elements of other creatures that do exist and that we recognise. Most dragons have a reptilian quality based on fact and all dragons breathe fire based firmly in the world of fantasy. The step taken from fact to fiction happened in the brain, made possible by working from the known - our experience, to the unknown - our imagination.

Experience plus imagination created the dragon. Film producers have put this to very good use. For example:

Reptile and Acid = Alien

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Man and computer = Android

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Voice and machine = Robot

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Vampire bats and man = Dracula

Draw Upon your World

I am sure you can put together your own list. 

Ralph Steadman is an artist who has put together fact and fiction to produce fantastic visual effects. In his illustration, Roald Dahl's Fantastic Dream Machine, there are recognisable elements of body parts - the spine and brain of a human connected to inanimate objects bits of machinery to produce the 'dream machine'.

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In order to complete this work, Steadman visited Dahl's work hut where he said:

"Each day Roald Dahl sat at his mothers old arm chair next to a low table upon which were arranged small personal objects. These formed a landscape through which his thoughts could roam."

He found other objects, which inspired this piece - a black desk lamp draped with a flannel, which kept it at the right angle. A shabby suitcase nailed to the floor so that he could press against it to ease his back pain. The room reminded him of an aeroplane cockpit. This was Dahl's creative capsule inside which his imagination blossomed with his wild mischievous ideas.

Ralph Steadman took these visual objects away and used them to produce his own imaginative composition scattered with the known elements he found at Dahl's work place. Look carefully into the illustration. It is packed with the unusual and constructed with bits of photographs collaged together with drawn parts. Steadman imagined Dahl's spinal column as a fuel pipe to his brain, which was the engine that drove his powers of invention.

Here we have Roald Dahl using words to create his fantastic worlds, and Ralph Steadman using pictures to create his - both passing an inspiration to others, and both using familiar objects well known to them.

Start with the world you know, then add all unlikely elements to produce unique ideas.

For instance, look at the insect world. Perhaps going to a natural history museum, science lab or library. Make detailed studies of a variety of species that interest you in a whole variety of materials: ink graphite, paint, build up a batch of visual material which will become your resource for further work.

Now take an unknown quantity, for example, a splattering of ink on a page. Let it take its own shape; do not try to control it. Add elements of your creatures to the ink splattering until they take on a life of their own. Your imaginative creature can then be given an environment of its own. Again, work from the known then add unpredictable elements - you will soon have achieved a fantasy scene without resorting to copying other people's ideas. You can then further explore and develop your ideas using computer images, photographs, and print, or perhaps develop them three-dimensionally.

Examples from other artists are Odilon Redon's Smiling Cyclops (1883). Redon made it clear in this work that he had been inspired by his dreams. Depicting the melancholy of the night and shadows, which I think he does very well.

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At the other extreme in his work, Apollo's Chariot (1905 - 14), we have a representation of joy after anguish. Here he uses mythical themes to express his new found hope and light, which rose unexpectedly out of the artist's personality. Horses represent that newfound energy springing away into a luminous space leaving the dark serpent like despair wounded and defeated at the bottom of the composition.

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Many artists have had extraordinary experiences through anguish or joy. They have seen the extremes in life and it may be argued that these events have moved them to greatness, giving expression to their innermost feelings.

You may not have lived life to the extreme, but you will have had experiences unique to yourself, which form excellent building blocks for the imagination if you let it. Don't take for granted the familiar, but find unusual ways of expressing it. For example, Claes Oldenburg's soft sculpture of Ladder, Hammer, Saw and Bucket (1967).

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He took such an ordinary group of objects, but made them from unexpected materials - canvas filled with foam rubber. Almost too ridiculous for words, yet for its time, it was a unique concept and so unexpected.

Let us also look at Andy Goldsworthy's Scaur Water Dumfriesshire sculpture (1991)

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This was made from upturned icicles frozen between rocks. What an imagination to see dramatic possibilities in such a simple idea. It becomes the jaws of a mythical creature or the gateway to an inner world deep inside the Earth' scrust. Standing alone, these vulnerable spines delicately balanced on huge rocks like the transparent Gothic spires of a lost city. Nothing is too ordinary.

Goldworthy lives and breathes nature he has an excellent understanding of the natural world and uses it with such talent so he can find inspiration in a pile of decaying leaves or sand thrown up by the wind. His materials become precious because of the way that he presents them to us and that is what you are learning to do. To find joy in the unexpected familiarity of an ordinary world.