As I wondering what I should write my next blog about, I thought it might be interesting to explore the process a little of how a conceptual image is made.
I recently read a book called the “Outlandish Companion”, which mainly consisted of stories and notes from the author on how she came to write her stories, what inspired her and her daily work flow. I found it fascinating. (This is probably connected to my love of behind the scenes and special features in movies.)
Let me be the first to say that there are many different methods to creating art and finding inspiration. I will just be sharing my personal process (even I don’t follow it all the time) In hopes that one of you might find it helpful or even just a good exercise outside of your normal routine. I would love to hear from you and learn what your process is too!
Let’s break the process down into a few different parts:
Initial idea – I think the main part most people struggle with is “how in the world do you come up with an idea for a picture in the first place??” Well, personally for me, I get ideas from all sorts of resources. As you can probably tell by looking at any number of my pictures, I get tons of concepts from books, movies and music.
If there is a particular phrase or scene that I find moving, or simply intriguing, I try and think how I could re-create that feeling in an image. Other ideas may come from something someone told me that really struck a chord, or even a certain emotion I’ve been feeling and want to explore more deeply... Basically, inspiration can come from an endless amount of places.
One of my favorite stories is that the whole series of The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S Lewis, came from a dream he had. In which, he saw a fawn in a snowy wood with an umbrella, next to a lamppost.
If you’re really feeling stuck, there are lots of websites that will give you prompts and ideas. This last year I was part of a group of talented artists who were all doing a 52-week-challenge. Each week the leader posted a theme and we were welcome to interpret it as we wished, or come up with our own concept too. But having to follow a theme you didn’t come up with can really force you to grow and think outside the box. (Here is a link where you can see what the group I was a part of created! http://www.conceptualmagazine.com/get-involved/52-week-project-2016 )
The important part is that you take hold of that tiny spark, examine it, give it some oxygen and watch it grow into a flame.
Game plan- Once you have a kernel of an idea, it’s good to mull it over and think about the different ways it could be portrayed. Let’s use the" Pull on the Heartstrings", for example. I knew the general emotion I wanted to portray… that of wearing your heart on your sleeve or having a lot of empathy/sympathy for people. So, I knew I wanted to do something with a heart. I had all this red yarn laying around, the yarn was kind of the color of blood. Should I wrap myself up in it? Or have it connecting two people from their chests? Maybe I could tease the yarn apart and make it look like veins! You get the idea. ;) If the photo I’m trying to create is more complex, I might sketch out several versions to think about the best angle it could be shot from, what sort of props and location I would need… that sort of thing.
Go time! – Well, now you’ve got a stellar concept and it’s time to put it into action. Typically, there are two ways you can do this. 1 – Grab a willing friend and use them as your model. This is always nice because it gives you greater control over your camera settings and positioning. You are able to get a lot more variety in your shots if you don't have to shoot from a tri-pod the whole time. It’s also just fantastic fun and you will create some very unique memories.
2 – Self-portraits! I will say this method has its advantages as well as disadvantages. The main advantage is that if you don’t happen to have any handy models laying around, you never have an excuse not to make an image. It also is fun to play a new part every time. I’ve often likened it to a musician. They will write the music, come up with the lyrics and then perform it too. The downfall is that it can be fairly tricky. Mainly, to get your cameras focus in the right spot and then to time things correctly. If you want to be super ambitious, you can give this a go without a shutter release. Just set the 10 second timer on your camera and run! (Not too hard though, because you want to look calm and collected by time the shutter clicks). This method is great if you’re trying to add a little more cardio into your life. I personally use the Canon 6D which has a built in WIFI feature, allowing me to use my phone as a shutter release. I can actually see what my camera sees as well as change the settings. It’s pretty nifty.
Finishing touches – Now you have your raw images, it’s time to put it all together and make some magic happen! Though a conceptual image does not “require” lots of manipulation, it does often make for a more surreal, intriguing image. Since this blog is mainly about the creative process I won’t spend a lot of time here on the actual Photoshop part. At this point the hard part has been done. Photoshop just takes lots of practice. If you have the imagination and creativity, you will be unstoppable!
** Original Illustrations for the Chronicles of Narnia by Pauline Baynes