I came across an amazing quote from the composer Vangelis in a lengthy article linked here.
“Vangelis always prefers to use his first take whenever he can, even if the recording contains small mistakes, because he sees his first takes as more honest than rerecording the same music again.”
I found it inspiring that he tried to use his first take even if it had a ‘mistake’. It makes you ask – what is a mistake? If we are using art to communicate and we want communication to be genuine, honesty is worthy of a few mistakes, isn’t it?
A creative process is not just a process of refinement. It’s also a moment of inspiration. Of surprise. As a commercial artist you are paid to execute to an expected standard. In some ways you are paid to lie. Ones salable skill becomes reproducing something agreed upon as being inspired and excellent and making ALL your work inspired and excellent. To make every stroke, every page an act of inspired honesty and completeness. But good creative execution is not just a process of refinement. I wish it were that easy. Great creative execution is also about the moment. A string of ‘moments’. And simply refining, scrubbing, erasing and sanitizing does not always mean better. There is incredible value in the unmitigated act.
I’ve always been fascinated by the differences between the process and practice of writing and drawing. When I start to come up with a story my brain bounces between words and images. I may hear dialogue, or voice a particular dilemma that generates a story, but images come along and start altering and refining those words. And back and forth it goes.
Writing is a process that better embraces a series of refinements and editing. Obviously you still need the inspiration to create the story. And the inspiration to use the words as you see fit. But the visual arts gets more bang-for-the-buck from that immediate inspiration. It also depends on the genre or style of illustration you are pursuing. A formal portrait or landscape takes a certain amount of reworking and structure and editing. But for me artists like William Steig always captured my imagination and part of his process was definitely embracing the immediate.
That’s not to say that you don’t prepare to do your work. I don’t just sit down and scribble something out, pronounce it ‘done’ and go get lunch. But the editing process happens on small bits of paper and sketches and in my head. When I start to build a final work I don’t want to ‘trace’ lines I already drew. I want a rough guide and then (I can’t think of a better word) I hope for the best. Often I end up reworking and refining. Getting notes and altering things. Getting a new text and changing the images. But if I need to do that for too long on a particular piece, I know I have blown it.
I have great respect for the comic industry inkers who do amazing brush work to bring intricate pencils to life. But I don’t feel close to that work. It can often feel overwrought. The process that motivates me is a little murkier. More subtle.
Trust your first take. But be willing to start over if you have to.