Thinking hurts!

(I’m still going to do it.)

First, this story is more an analysis of my current artistic predicament than one of my usual articles. Still, maybe you will find it useful for comparing with your creative mindset.
Let me tell you two stories to illustrate what I have been thinking about lately.

When I was still in primary school, I thought a lot when I was drawing. I did not perceive my sketches as making “Art,” but more as tools to analyze the world surrounding me. I would design things like furniture, machines, pipes (I loved pipes for some reason), or robots while thinking about how they were made, used, and what functionality they had.
Then, one day, feeling particularly confident, I challenged a classmate to a robot-drawing battle. I lost, of course, to a drawing of a cool, huge robot with lots of squiggly details.
Soon after that, I think, I started to focus less on thinking about the things I was drawing and more on the visual side, drawing and painting more and more elaborate pieces. Never mind the story — better-looking art equaled more immediate and stronger praise!

Let’s move forward in time to the present. Kana is currently making a comic about old Tokyo (Edo) — a period from which almost no photographic, reliable documentation exists. To make her drawings, she has to use different sources like stories, ukiyo-e paintings, museum exhibits, documentary movies, etc.
Recently she started to draw an Edo sushi stall, but there was a white bowl containing unidentified food-stuff on each of the ukiyo-e prints she used for reference. Of course, she just HAD to know what that was. After some research online, and then books, library, more ukiyo-e paintings she decided to visit the Edo Tokyo Museum because they had a sushi stall recreated there — and it also featured the white bowl! In the end, it took half a day of questioning the museum staff and a desperate call to the person who made the exhibition piece to confirm that it was just “gari” (pickled ginger) in the bowl.

Met with the same problem, I would draw a white bowl with some squiggly lines in it and moved on.

The thing is that this year I finally decided to try to get back to the main goal behind me coming do Japan — making art that conveys stories. Most of the art that profoundly moves me and that I look up to as an artist is story-driven. Books, comics, movies, animations were the things that made me want to create art. I would love to make some of these too! The more I look into it, though, the more I realize that thinking, digging deeper, researching, and empathizing can be THE key to making engaging narrative work. Yes, having skills to, in the end, translate those thoughts into something pretty, edible, and entertaining (and sellable) is also essential, but the contents should come first.

But thinking is so painful!

Maybe it’s because, so far, I put most of my efforts into the technical side of my art, and I almost always got rewarded for it. At the same time, the majority of my forays into more thought-driven work fell through. I find that, for me, spending time pondering over the next comic story or a character’s trait seems like an unnecessary and painful thing — I could be using this time completing another series of illustrations that someone will surely like! The image of every artist out there creating feverishly excellent pieces of art one after another presented by social media does not help either. The pressure to hustle is so great — spending a year on making, for example, just a story for a comic sound almost ridiculous!

Well, I’ll try to do it, anyhow!

However painful and possibly pointless it might seem right now, I still have hope that after I put the effort and time in this way of working, I might come away with something more valuable. Even if it’s just myself becoming more comfortable with creative thinking.

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