Practicality And Creativity – A Ramble

2017 Artwork Practicality Article sketch

In a way, practicality shapes everything. This often happens in fairly indirect and/or subtle ways. Although I could list countless modern and old examples of this, I’ll be focusing exclusively on how practicality can affect the kinds of art that we make, the kinds of stories we tell, the kinds of comics we produce etc… And whether this is a good thing or not.

One obvious place to start is the internet. In terms of practicality, the internet has revolutionised how creative works are published and shared. Because anyone can publish anything instantly, the number of opportunities for creative people have increased significantly. Although it may lack the tactile joy or subtle authority of print, posting stuff on the internet is about a thousand times more practical than traditional print media is.

But, the practicalities of the internet have shaped the way that art, comics, writing etc… are made and presented. For example, this article uses block paragraphs instead of traditional paragraphs for the simple reason that it’s easier to read on a continuously-scrolling computer screen (which doesn’t have any defined “pages”). Most online articles do this for exactly the same reason, even though it would be unthinkable in print media.

Likewise, if you look at the artwork and comics on this site, many of the images from the past year or two are square-shaped. This was, in part at least, a practical decision.

When websites automatically re-size images, they’ll often make elongated portrait or landscape images look considerably smaller. However, websites tend to display square-shaped images at a slightly larger size/ resolution when they’re automatically re-sized. This is especially true with webcomic updates, like this one:

"Damania Repressed - Three Words" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Repressed – Three Words” By C. A. Brown

In addition to this, the internet also tends to reward regularly-posted content. Whilst some may lament how this has shortened people’s attention spans, it can actually be a surprisingly good motivational tool for people who post things on the internet. After all, it gives you motivation to find inspiration regularly (or find techniques for getting around writer’s block etc..) and to keep practicing your art, writing, comics etc.. regularly.

On the downside, it usually means that you may have to avoid, abandon or alter any creative ideas you have that seem too “time-consuming”. But, this often just means that you have to break larger projects down into more manageable pieces (eg: posting individual chapters of a story every few days etc…), or it means that you have to find ways to make your project ideas more lean and efficient. A certain amount of time pressure can occasionally result in more quality, rather than less.

Yes, this can lead to a certain level of “quantity over quality”, but – thanks to the nature of the internet – it’s less of an issue for the simple reason that, if you post something crappy online, then your audience won’t have to wait too long for the next piece of content (which might be better) to appear.

But, moving away from the internet, I’d argue that practicality can also have an effect on the materials that artists, writers etc… use. For example, most fiction and/or non-fiction writing these days is done with a keyboard rather than a pen.

Although typing doesn’t have quite the same intuitive “feel” or level of individuality as traditional handwriting does, it has countless practical advantages (eg: correcting mistakes, making copies, it’s easier to write longer things etc…) which have made keyboards the dominant writing tool of the 21st century.

The same sort of thing is true for art too. These days, there are many artists that use exclusively digital art supplies for practical reasons. Although I still use relatively traditional art mediums (eg: watercolour pencils – a practical improvment on traditional watercolour paints), I still usually edit scans of my artwork fairly heavily on the computer before publication. This is because of the sheer freedom and flexibility that image editing tools can give you when compared to the unchangeable finality of paper.

But, of course, digital tools also come with their own sets of limitations. Like with typed text, there’s less room for individuality when you’re creating digital art – I mean, digital art looks like digital art. Likewise, you don’t have a tangible “thing” after you’ve finished making a work of digital art.

This is one reason why I often use a hybrid of digital and traditional mediums, the other reason is (ironically) practicality too. For all the advantages of digital art tools, when I’m sitting at my computer with my sketchbook on my knee and a pen in my hand, I don’t have to worry about my sketchbook crashing, I don’t have to worry about it taking up screen space or processor space when I’m trying to watch something on my computer whilst painting etc….

On the downside, it often means more drying time for watercolour paintings and more digital editing time. This is also why I’ve started slowly shifting towards more digital artwork in the small pictures at the top of these articles (eg: a traditional ink line drawing, but with the colours, background etc… added digitally).

So, yes, practicality can have a subtle- but noticeable – effect on the kind of art, comics and/or stories that people make. Like everything, there are good sides and bad sides to this.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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