How is it possible to be an original artist if you can’t envision what you’re trying to create?
As an aphantasic aritist, this question has passed through my mind many times. I first discovered I had aphantasia, or the inability to create mental images, in 2019.
The discovery that my inner world was different than other artists was a tough pill to swallow, and even (at times) swayed me from pursuing art. Yet, as a new up-and-coming artist, I remain determined to finding new ways and novel techniques to express my creativity.
Through much trial and error, I have finally found techniques that have worked for me and am now on the right path to discovering my originality.
Before I share some of these techniques, I thought it would be fitting to provide some background. I am 21 years old and I work full-time as a safety supervisor. As a safety supervisor I am responsible for the application of safety procedures on the ground. What most people don’t know, is that being a safety supervisor requires a lot of creativity. A big part of my job is coming up with new activities to address certain at-risk behaviors. I make agendas, handouts, calendars and even create new systems for tracking paperwork. When I am not creating new safety procedures, I am busy being an artist.
I have always been a very creative person. I have been drawing, painting and playing instruments since I was 10. For as long as I can remember, the arts has always been my passion. Yet, calling myself an artist is something that has never come easy for me, especially since discovering I am aphantasic.
Like most artists, I find myself concerned that what I am creating isn’t original but unlike most artists, I lack a functioning mind’s eye and often question; can I create something original without the ability to imagine it my mind?
This all changed about 3 months ago, when I decided I wanted to start drawing again after having a burst of inspiration. I knew I struggled with originality and mental blindness but decided to try to work on mastering different techniques for improving my art. After working a few hours every day, I am finally starting to find my way through art. The following are some techniques to try that have worked for me.
Techniques That Work For Me
1. Start with a Single Object
One of the first things I do to initiate my creative process is to start with a single object. The first question I ask myself is what does that object look like? Is there an object around me that I can look at? Whether through physical observation of an object in my immediate environment or based on pure logical reasoning, I will then identify the basic characteristics of the object. Simplifying and breaking down what I am attempting to create based on shapes and their characteristics helps me get a general idea of what it looks like, its dimensions in space, or even how I want it to look. Once I have the basic shape of that object, I repeat the process for the rest of the items in my work.
2. Using References
Once I have the shapes done that’s where references come in handy. I use references in almost every piece that I do whether my objective is to create something original or to recreate another piece of work. I look up as many different images and references as I can find to give me an idea of how this object looks, how it folds, or how shadows fall onto it. I figure even though I can’t picture what I want the object to look like in my mind before I draw it, I can gain inspiration for my work from others and use these building blocks to see (quite literally) or get a sense of where I am going with my artwork. In fact, this is one of the greatest paradoxes of originality. The way you become original is through imitation to some degree. When starting out as an artist or creator, your work is largely going to reflect the ideas of your influences. That’s how you find your voice. The more you make things, the more your voice will become a collection of those influences and start to feel original.
3. Muscle Memory
My main form of artistic expression is through recreating art. A method I often use when recreating art is relying on muscle memory. I do this in order to build up my muscle memory so that I can create original art. For example, if I draw one thing repeatedly eventually the idea of how that shape feels when I move my hand will come more naturally. I use this technique with some of the more difficult shapes like hands or the outline for faces. What I will do is think about what it is I want to recreate (it being a poster or fine art) and find the right angle and colors I want to work with. I tend to find images that will challenge me especially without harsh black lines because I tend to hide behind heavy line work. When I first started building my muscle memory, I started with simple images with things like fruit and lettering. After that I started moving on towards fine art and posters from different tv shows.
It’s important to find images that you want to draw and that you are comfortable with so that you don’t overwhelm yourself or get discouraged. In my opinion repetition is the best way to learn especially when you have aphantasia; training my muscle memory through repetition has helped to level up my accuracy and confidence. The key to building good muscle memory, however, is to focus on the quality. You wouldn’t want to build muscle memory by repeating the same mistakes over and over again. So take it slow, especially when you are 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.
Despite not yet feeling totally confident in my ability to draw original work, I have made significant progress and have come a long way to thinking myself an artist since discovering I have aphantasia.
Whether you are aphantasic or not, being an artist is a hard and long path and it’s important to take it one step at a time in order to be the best you can be. My advice? Work with different techniques and keep pushing yourself to try new things. Because your art is an expression of your inner self, an outward symbol of your interpretation of either your inner world or your perception of the outer world, then as long as you are creating, you ARE an artist and you are certainly entitled to claim that for yourself.
This is my creation story as an aphantasic artist, and it is only just beginning. You can follow my progress here.
What’s your creation story? What does your creative process look like? Join the discussion below and share some techniques that work for you.
We all go about the creative process in different ways. Ed Catmull, former CEO of Pixar who created some of our favourite Disney classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Inside Out; also happens to be blind in his mind’s eye. A BBC News article featuring his story has illuminated…