thoughts about riffing on ideas & imaginary ombré jellyfish
"Make more. Make as much as possible. It’s become my mantra. It’s the one way to learn."
Riffing is usually associated with jazz or comedy, for example, where a musician takes a motif or melody and improvises different possibilities. So let’s take this idea and apply it to art!!! Oh how quickly a full pad of watercolor paper can go when obsessed!!! So freeing to get ideas OUT onto the page without deciding in advance what will theoretically work and what won’t! When I do this, I wind up with fresh ideas that I might never have discovered! So you can riff via tiny sketches or mark-making but why not riff on an entire page? It’s like the way you might tackle a sketchbook page, where you’re trying to get the feel for a scene or a perspective. Capturing a mood, a framework, documenting the flowers that are in bloom, whatever. Getting it all down on paper — loose and un-scripted, so to speak!
So that’s what I did with this little adventure… not pushing any of this to a conclusion or making it have to fulfill any requirements. A full 9x12” Arches watercolor pad of experiments?!?! And that’s the thing with riffing and brainstorming — you will absolutely NOT love everything you develop. I think that’s really the point. If you only make what you KNOW will work, you aren’t expanding your creative process. You aren’t bringing in new elements, fresh life. So throw some wrenches into the process, add some twists, play with ideas, be willing to make stuff that doesn’t look like any of your other stuff. And don’t apologize for it. Don’t critique it. Look at it, figure out what worked, and do more of that.
I love that the creative process is different for everyone — from the outside, I bet it seems like mine has little structure — but there actually is a method to my madness.
What I’m doing is riffing, or exploring, potential ideas. I’m letting the ideas morph and change as I go, starting each page with a twist on the original concept.
A starting point [the bubbles]
A problem to figure out [how to incorporate them in a composition]
A concept or hypothesis to explore [they should be part but not the entire thing] [next I’ll explore color possibilities]
An idea to take on tangents [what kind of bubbles? should they be different sizes? do I want them to be underwater or have depth? do they need to connect? can I morph this particular shape? what other shapes make sense?]
Meta stuff to contemplate [is there a story involved]
And options for the substrate. [does this work better in landscape/portrait/square format/big/small/etc]
This kind of process is visible in my recent gouache journal as well! Do you like to know where your page will wind up? Or let the work unfold? A little of both, I would guess! Your process is wonderfully unique to you! Oh and hey! You can explore art journaling, mark-making, and paint play in watercolor/gouache and pencil in my latest workshop Tiny Adventure!
When I paint, I’m happily inhabiting my own little world. An apparently this week it’s a world of non-poisonous imaginary jellyfish? Hmmmm. Floating ombré soap bubbles? Knotted batik scarves?
These are not meant to be anything "whole" or "finished" or even "composed" but rather like painted sketches of loose thoughts. I taped off the edges to create a white frame around the explorations — it’s nice to have a little starting ritual especially if it just takes a minute or two to do.