This week and next, we’ll be taking a little departure from the usual cartoon-a-week format. Today I’d like to have a brief discussion about [cue the voice of James Earl Jones with lots of reverb] The Creative Process. I’ll be referencing my own process for cartooning here, but it probably isn’t too different from that of other creative people. Generating ideas for cartoons and such is a lot like building and training a muscle. It is a little weak at first, but with regular usage it will grow bigger and stronger.
The first thing is to become a sharp observer. Many years ago when I was teaching myself the basics of cartooning, I made it a point to become more observant. In my art school classes we are constantly training and developing our observational skills. However, anyone can become more observant if they make it a habit to notice things.
The sources of humor are all around us. Look for humor in everyday situations. People watching is essential. Everywhere you go notice how people stand, walk, and gesture. Pay attention to speech patterns, expressions, style, and dress. Look for uniqueness and little quirks. People say and do the most peculiar things.
Gathering information from a wide variety of sources is a valuable habit. Books, magazines, TV, radio, the internet, and conversations with intelligent people are all worthwhile each in their own way. For this artist, 95% of what I read is non-fiction. I believe in the old adage that, “Truth will always be stranger (and more interesting) than fiction”. The weirder the truth, the more I like it!
The subconscious mind has a wonderful capacity to assemble information in new and interesting ways. Feed yourself a wide variety of information and then allow that 3lb. computer between your ears to go to work. The subconscious will make connections for you that would not normally occur through conscious thought. When these new associations are ready, they will bubble up to the surface of the conscious mind. Newly formed ideas will enter into conscious thought often while one is engaged in the most mundane and routine activities. Things like shaving, showering, walking, exercising, cleaning house, and driving are good times for ideas to show up. So be ready. It is important to document your "idea bubbles" because just like actual bubbles, once they "pop" they're gone, and you may never have that idea again. It is for this reason that I carry a large index card and a pen with me at all times, so I can scribble down ideas and thumbnail sketches. Soon I'll purchase a hand-held digital recorder for those times when sketching is not possible or the ideas are highly detailed.
Cartooning essentially is seeing things in new ways and then presenting them graphically in a fashion that others will find amusing. It comes down to having a different perception or slant on life. Finally, it is important to not only understand your own creative process but to honor it as well. And you do that by putting your ideas into action.