Turbocharging Your Creativity

Since mid-January I have been taking an SVS Learn “live” course* called Turbocharging Your Creativity. It teaches new tools for generating creative illustrations. The course certainly has taught me some new ideation techniques, but it has also been useful in forcing me to drop my perfectionism and finish drawings relatively quickly. I am also spurred on by knowing that other artists will be evaluating what I post.

The Turbocharging course starts of with quick, limited assignments and then progressively builds on them, so by the end of the ten weeks, the final project makes use of many if not all of the steps learned previously. For that reason, each assignment is more difficult than the ones before.

Today I am finishing the last project for the class, but won’t post it here yet because I want to wait for feedback and make revisions first. I will, however, post two previous assignments below. Both are in black and white, because color is the last step to be added.

The first illustration is from a project in which we researched a celebrity and then created a portrait illustrating something we found out about him or her.  Being a glutton for punishment, I chose someone I didn’t know much about and for whom most of the information available was in Italian: Anna Magnani (Mahn-YAN-ee). I’ve found this star of Neo-realist Italian cinema to be fascinating ever since I saw her in Rome, Città Aperta, a post-war anti-fascist film. She is best known in the US for her Oscar-winning role in Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo.

What is so striking about Magnani is that she is the anti-starlet. She has an earthy personal presence that is immediately recognizable and consistent throughout her roles, as well as in her personal life. Magnani was a passionate lover, a heavy smoker and coffee drinker, and not surprisingly considering the preceding, she was also an insomniac. Later in life she took to wandering the streets of Rome at night, talking to prostitutes and feeding stray cats.  So my portrait combined and illustrated those traits:

This is a digital portrait, but since I am used to doing portraits in oils, I used a similar technique, using Kyle Oil mixer brushes (now part of Photoshop CC) in temp layers in order to work “wet into wet” without the whole painting turning to mush. (If you want to learn more about temp layers, you can have a look at Ctrl + Paint’s free video library, which is where I learned about them.) The result is much like one of my oil portraits in its early stages. (I wanted to leave it a bit rough to emphasize Magnani’s character.) But I found the same limitation with the digital oil technique that I had begun to find with my traditional oil portraits: It relies heavily on reference, and in this case I couldn’t find consistent, good quality reference, nor could I take my own.

So for the next project, which involved picking a narrative moment from one of three given podcast episodes, I determined to try something new. After generating a lot of before, during and after ideas from my chosen podcast and narrowing down the choices with the help of my teachers Lee White and David Hohn, I came up with this toned sketch, using a digital technique similar to pastel:

I like to show the sketch to friends before I explain what it is about, but people usually get it right away: The story, from the Lore podcast, is about a 17th c. witch trial. Christian Shaw, an eleven-year-old Scottish laird’s daughter, accused several family servants and itinerants of having bewitched her. In the end, six people were hung. We don’t know exactly what her motive was or how real her symptoms were, but we do know that many years later visitors found a hole in the wall beside her bed, suggesting that someone was feeding her the nails, rocks and feathers she dry-vomited as the main “proof” that she was bewitched. It horrifies the modern mind to think about the people she accused finding themselves caught up in an a vortex of accusation and hysteria in which anything they said or did would be used against them. I have chosen to portray Christian after the executions, looking up at one of her victims and perhaps facing a moment of self-reckoning.

And then, just for dramatic effect, I created a version in which Christian is fully aware of her actions and unrepentant:

And now I’m off to finish my final project and proceed to Bologna, where I will attend my first Bologna Book Children’s Book Fair. The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the largest children’s book fair in the world with plenty of opportunity for illustrators, but more about that later. First I have to experience it for myself!

Meanwhile, in case I don’t get to post again before next weekend, Happy Passover and Happy Easter!


*SVS Learn includes a free forum, a subscription video library, and individual, classes with feedback, sold separately. The individual classes are conducted through a private bulletin board and videos posted once a week, so people who live in different time zones can all upload their work and get feedback.


2 thoughts on “Turbocharging Your Creativity

  1. Laura,

    PLEASE continue posting about your experiences with this, frequently and at whatever depth you can stand! Nothing is more precious to the person in need of it than a plain recounting of the journey someone else has taken down a particular path. And these days it’s quite likely that such people will end up discovering blog posts like this one.

    Meanwhile, I’m in awe of your gifts … and your ability to translate them to a whole new medium. Sometimes it’s a joy just to watch someone else do work that is far removed from your own abilities. It teaches me at a level far deeper than where I learn when I study stuff I am knowledgeable about or skilled at.


    1. Thanks, Rick! I’m about to do just that with my Bologna Book Fair experience. After which, I’m not particularly in awe of my own gifts, but I know it’s 99% hard work, and I’m prepared to do that! But yes, there is a sort of meta-learning level as well. Lots of things we learn translate to other fields.

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