Creating with Aphantasia

How do you become an original artist if you can't envision what you’re trying to create? Aphantasic artist, Zoe Aguirre shares tips on creating with aphantasia
creating with aphantasia
Recreation of Adam, Artwork by Zoe Aguirre

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How Can You Be An Original Artist if You Can’t Envision What You’re Trying to Create?

As an aphantasic artist, this question has often passed through my mind. I first discovered I had aphantasia, the inability to visualize, in 2019.

The discovery that my inner world was different than most other artists was a tough pill to swallow, and even at times, swayed me from pursuing art. Yet, as an up-and-coming artist, I remain determined to find new ways and novel techniques for creating with aphantasia.

Through trial and error, I have found techniques that work for me, and I am on the right path to discovering my true originality as an artist.

Before I share some of these techniques, some background. I have always been a very creative person. I’ve been drawing, painting and playing instruments since I was ten years old. For as long as I can remember, the arts have always been my passion.

Yet, calling myself an “artist” is something that has never come easy for me, especially since discovering I have aphantasia.

Like most artists, I am concerned that my creation isn’t original. However, unlike most artists, I lack a functioning mind’s eye. I often question whether creating original work is possible when you can’t picture things in your mind.

This all changed about three months ago when I decided to start drawing again after a burst of inspiration. I knew I struggled with originality and mental blindness, but I decided to work on mastering different techniques for improving my craft.

Techniques for Creating With Aphantasia

After dedicating a few hours every day, I am finally starting to find new ways of creating original artwork. The following are some techniques to try that have worked for me.

1. Start With A Single Object

One of the first things to try is to start with a single object. The first question I ask myself is: What does the object look like?

Whether through physical observation or based on pure abstract reasoning, I can identify the core characteristics and details of the object I am trying to create.

Simplifying things based on their core characteristics (shape, colour, texture) helps in coming up with a general idea of what the object should look like.

Once I have the basic concept figured out, I repeat the process for the rest of the objects in my work.

2. Use References

Using references is critical when you can’t draw from your imagination. I use references in almost every piece I do, regardless of whether my intention is to create something original or recreate an existing piece of artwork, like the image of Adam above.

I look up as many images and examples as possible from other artists. References give me a more complete idea of how the object looks, folds, shadows fall onto it, and its dimensions in space.

Even though I can’t picture what I want the object to look like in my mind before I draw it, these building blocks help me see (quite literally) where I’m going with my creation.

In fact, this is one of the greatest paradoxes of originality. You become original through imitation to some degree. When you first start out as an artist, your work will mostly reflect the ideas of your greatest influences.

That’s how you find your voice.

The more you create things, the more your voice will become a collection of those influences and start to feel and become original.

3. Build Muscle Memory

Improve your chances of creating original artwork by building muscle memory over time and with practice.

In the early days, my primary form of artistic expression was through recreating art. This significantly improved my ability to create original work over time. How exactly does this work?

If you draw the same thing repeatedly, it eventually starts to feel second nature. Try drawing one object 100 times, turn it around and repeat drawing it from different angles to make it different every time. Over time, you might find how the shape feels when you move your hand across the page comes more naturally.

When I first started building my muscle memory, I started with simple images of things like fruit and lettering. After that, I started moving on to more difficult shapes like hands or faces and eventually graduating toward recreating fine art pieces and posters from my favourite tv shows.

When levelling up the difficulty, it’s important to find images you want to draw and that you’re comfortable with so you keep motivated and don’t overwhelm yourself.

Repetition is the best way to upskill your artistic ability, especially when you have aphantasia. I could build muscle memory through repetition and increase my accuracy and confidence as an aphantasic artist.

However, focusing on quality is the key to building good muscle memory. You wouldn’t want to build muscle memory by repeating the same mistakes over and over again. So take it slow, especially when you’re first starting out. The more you rush the big picture, the more likely you’ll be to develop muscle memories that are difficult to reverse.

Creating Original Artwork With Aphantasia Takes Discipline

Despite not feeling 100% confident (yet!) in my ability to draw original work, I have made significant progress by implementing these techniques. After weeks of dedication and hard work, I noticed significant improvements both in my artwork and in believing in my artistic ability since discovering I have aphantasia.

Whether you are aphantasic or not, being an artist is a challenging and long path, and taking it one step at a time is essential.

My best advice? Try different techniques and keep pushing yourself to discover your best strategies.

Art is an expression, an outward symbol of your interpretation of your inner world or your perception of the outer world. It’s an expression of your true self.

So long as you are creating and working hard, you ARE an artist and certainly entitled to claim that identity for yourself.

This is my creation story as an aphantasic artist, and it is only just beginning. What’s your story?

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