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The Creation Story of an Aphantasic Artist

Up-and-coming aphantasic artist shares techniques for creating original work
aphantasic artist
 The Creation of Adam, Artwork by Zoe Aguirre

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 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 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 expressing my creativity.

Through trial and error, I have managed to find techniques that work for me and am on the right path to discovering my true originality.

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 10 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 find myself concerned that what I’m creating isn’t original. However, unlike most artists, I lack a functioning mind’s eye. I often find myself questioning whether or not it’s even possible to create original work when you can’t picture things in your mind.

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

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.

Techniques for Creating Original Artwork With Aphantasia

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, am I able to identify the core characteristics 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 work.

I look up as many different images and examples as I can find from other artists. References give me a more complete idea of how the object looks, how it folds, how 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. The way you become original is through imitation to some degree. When you first start out as an artist, your work is mostly going to 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 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 main form of artistic expression was through recreating art. This significantly improved my ability to create original work overtime. How exactly does this work?

If you draw the same thing over and over again, eventually it 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 what you might find is 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. Through repetition, I was able to build muscle memory and increase my accuracy and confidence as an aphantasic artist.

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’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 percent confident (yet!) in my ability to draw original work, I have made significant progress by putting these techniques into practice every day. After weeks of dedication and hard work, I noticed significant improvements and have come a loooong way to now 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.

My best advice? Try different techniques and keep pushing yourself to discover the strategies that work for you. 

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

So long as you are creating, you ARE an artist, and you’re 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?

Follow my journey here.

What does your creative process look like?

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…

Zoe Aguirre

Zoe Aguirre

I am a new found artist learning to overcome my mental blindness.
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