Imagination In Translation – A Ramble

2015 Artwork Imagination In Translation article sketch

Although most of this article is something of a ramble about my own creative development, there will hopefully be some stuff in it that might actually be interesting to you. But, if you’re not interested in reading about my own creative history, then it might be worth skipping to the last four paragraphs of this article.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I think that one of the many reasons why I hardly ever seem to write any fiction these days is because I’ve become a lot more interested in making art. When I was younger, my art looked absolutely terrible and my writing was mildly better. I thought that the only way to be taken seriously as a creative person was to be a writer. So, I focused on writing – up until my early twenties.

Also, when I was even younger, I always thought of art as being something impossibly complicated. It seemed like some kind of bizarre, arcane skill that made very little sense to me on a technical level (after all, I didn’t even know what perspective was, I didn’t know why things have to be shaded in certain ways etc…). All I could do was to make rather badly-drawn little cartoon drawings.

Not to mention that most of the art classes I had to take in my first three years of secondary school were mostly focused on traditional painting, “realistic” drawing and making collages.

These were not art forms that interested me at the time, since I just wanted to draw little cartoons (the only reason I make paintings these days is because I can use watercolour pencils, which means that making a painting is much closer to making a drawing than actually painting). So, I was quite glad to drop art when I started my GCSEs. For my international readers, GCSEs are courses which everyone in the UK takes between about the ages of 13-16.

Anyway, for a long time, my art was secondary to my writing. When I was planning a story, I’d often draw little pictures of the characters in my notebooks to give me a better idea of what they looked like. I’d draw pictures of the settings and, well, things that I wanted to include in the story. Often, the drawings came first. But I didn’t think of myself as an “artist” in any way.

But, looking back on it, I didn’t realise just how visual my imagination was back then. Although I don’t think that people have totally “different” types of imaginations (since we almost all think verbally, visually, physically and emotionally – although possibly in different proportions), my imagination certainly has a fairly large visual component. When I was a lot younger, I’d always be daydreaming about ideas for videogames, movies, comics, TV shows etc… rather than ideas for books.

But, since I couldn’t exactly make videogames or movies (and the only comics I could make when I was a teenager looked absolutely terrible), I’d often end up “translating” those ideas into written stories. And, in a way, this was kind of fun. After all, I’d end up with some kind of physical expression of whatever was in my imagination. I’d end up with something that I could show off to other people.

Even so, it was still a translation. I’d translated visual and physical (this is the best way I can describe it) thoughts into words. And, like with any translation, it would lose something.

I’d have an extremely vivid mental image of what the settings of my stories looked like when I wrote them ( even though I loved the “immersive” experience of writing fiction), but I’d have no real idea whether any of my readers would imagine them in the same way. And, yes, I know that this is kind of the whole point of written fiction. But, it still felt like a lot of my imagination was going to waste.

Of course, when I eventually got serious about making art and put the time into practicing it regularly about three years ago, I suddenly realised how much more of a “direct” form of creativity it was for me. How I could just put the images into my imagination directly onto the page rather than having to not only work out a way to describe them, but also think of a story that I could tell as a pretext for showing them.

For me, images come first and then stories can sometimes emerge from them. But it doesn’t work the other way round. So, trying to convert the products of my imagination into something else can often feel more like a chore or an obstacle in a fairly subtle way. In other words, like a lot of things in my life, I’d started out on completely the wrong “side” without even realising it.

So, how is any of this stuff actually useful to you?

One of the ways to learn which creative medium you would be best at is just simply to look at your own thoughts. When you imagine something, do you mostly think of it using words? Do you mostly think of it using images? Do you mostly think of it in a very physical sense (again, this is hard to describe) or do you mostly think about it in a very emotional sense?

Once you’ve worked this out, then you need to look for the medium that is most similar to your own imagination. For example, if you mostly tend to think verbally, then it might be worth learning how to write fiction. If you mostly think visually, then it might be worth learning how to draw or paint.

If you mostly think physically, then it might be worth looking at computer game design or learning how to make scupltures etc…. If you mostly think emotionally, then …well.. the world is your oyster. After all, emotions can be expressed through literally every artform that you can imagine.

But, ideally, you want to aim for something that means that you don’t have to “translate” the best parts of your imagination into something radically different (eg: translating images into words etc…).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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