Many of us creatives spend hours and hours honing our technical skills, and appropriately so.
But just as important is honing that imagination to conjure up the movies in our heads that we work from. The clearer we can see and experience those, the better our creations will be.
Clear mental images + intense emotion = great art!
The more vivid the images are in our minds, the better the work will flow and the better the end product.
If you are writing dialogue, does the seven year old speaking sound distinct from the science teacher he's talking to? Does the policeman sound different from the bank robber he just nabbed?
Perhaps your story is more fantasy-based and all of your characters are talking animals. They'll each need distinct personalities, and when they speak or act, their words and mannerisms need to naturally match those personalities.
If you are the illustrator, your illustrations need to match up with the narrative. When the seven year old and the science teacher are chatting, do their expressions and stances match the dialogue? How about that policeman and robber? Is it evident who is the authority and who is the lawbreaker? How would they differ?
If you're illustrating a book with animal characters, can you capture their personalities? How would a shy kitten differ from a bossy rabbit? Or a wise-cracking dog?
So, how do you hone that imagination of yours? The same way you learn to identify counterfeit money … you study the real thing. Just like Disney artists observed and studied real lions in order to produce the stunning images and animation in The Lion King, any creative’s work will be terrific in direct proportion to how well they observe and interpret real life.
In the Grand Illusion articles, I talk about this very thing … learning to see and observe your world.
Pay attention to the way people move, speak and interact with one another. Listen to how they talk. How they interact with their environment. Listen to the inflections in their voices. What's happening on their face and body when they're excited, mad, happy or shy?
Keep a journal and/or sketchbook and make notes and sketches about your observations. When those aren't at hand, make mental notes. Pay attention. OBSERVE LIFE!
The better you get at this the clearer and better will be the images and knowledge base that you draw from in your head, and the better you will be at your writing, drawing, or whatever creative thing you do. Written dialogue will be more believable. Illustrations will have more life and energy. And you will connect with your target audience in meaningful ways. Which is the whole point!
The fact of the matter is, if you are a creative, you have probably had the experience sometime in your life of feeling like the odd ball in the room ... and probably you've made some efforts towards overcoming that uncomfortable feeling ...
I can remember in younger years that I always seemed to pick up on the subtle details around me in my envirnoment and people that others seemed not to notice. My emotions, good or bad, always seemed a notch or two stronger than what was needed. It was rattling and I felt self-consconcious about it all until I finally realized that was part of having my artistic bent.
When I turned from resisting it – because it felt "not normal" – and began leaning into it, life changed for the better. I was discovering my pony, though I wouldn't have called it that way back then.
Maybe you don't care for my pony metaphor. Maybe you do. Doesn't matter. Call it whatever you please.
Next time you go out into the world, pay close attention ... to what you see, what you hear, how you feel, what you think, anything you experience and any response you have. Make a mental note of it all. Then, when you're back to doing that creative thing you do, call up whatever you need out of that stored resource and see what a difference it will make.
Call it what you will ... you'll be riding high!