A gateway to the Imaginary
Being creative isn’t the same as being imaginative. A comment artists will often hear goes along the lines of “I wish I could be this creative” or “you’re so talented”. Personally, I believe creativity is triggered by curiosity in an artistic field and it then becomes something that needs to be practiced to achieve a certain level or mastery. It’s the same curiosity that will direct other people towards sciences, literature or a vocational career.
One’s creativity can definitely serve as a gateway for others to unlock the power of their own imagination. Being imaginative is something that lives inside all of us. The level to which we nurture it can vary greatly and is proportional to our indulgence and appreciation of the arts. In my opinion, good art should invite the spectator and show them something they would not have thought of on their own.
No one shoe fits all
Visual or performing arts are a lot like ice cream: there is no such thing as a single flavour that everybody loves. Style is often what we respond to in our appreciation of one’s craft, yet it is not what we really enjoy in the long run. Substance is by far what makes a creative piece worth our consideration. The story you are seeking to tell as a creative is really what matters. Responding to one that matters to you as the viewer, or listener is what makes it compelling.
To tell a good story, the hardest thing to accept is the notion that it won’t appeal to everybody. The cool thing is that within your particular realm of storytelling, you can take tangents and experiment as much as you want. Fans do not have to love every single piece you create, as long as you don’t slam the door in their face. Art should spark a discussion not alienate you from your audience.
As many of you know, I am personally more geared towards stories that leave a lot to the imagination. I don’t particularly enjoy films that tidily tie things in a bow, making the tale feel like a succession of checkboxes that need to be neatly ticked. It’s just where my preferences lie and it does inform how I approach the storytelling of my art. I will invite you in with open arms, yet I’m not here to hold your hand, you are free to make your own interpretations.
Of course, the target audience of a specific piece will always help determine how self explanatory it has to be. A board game battle map design will strive to be as clear as possible, purely for gameplay purposes, while a personally commissioned map will focus on telling a tale that matters to that specific person or group. I think it’s fair to say I never create art in a vacuum but its intent will vary greatly and be determined by the people I am creating it for.
Gorgons are monsters too
I’d like to invite you to look at a piece I just finished since it illustrates my point quite well. To situate it, I need to quickly tell you about a series of designs I have been creating for the Voyager’s Workshop since it started about 3 years ago. Dicing Monsters One Roll at a Time is a family of illustrations that celebrate fantasy tabletop role-playing games. While a number of them have been translated to apparel designs, they all started as standalone illustrations, making for compelling wall art prints. Having diced monsters, I proceeded to bring the same fate to goblins and dragons.
As I mentioned in last month’s blog post, I have been taking a stroll back into greek mythology inspired games lately. One day, it resulted in my son telling me I should make a new design that says “Dicing Gorgons”. This incentive, of course, sent my mind racing. It wasn’t long before I doodled a few ideas in my sketchbook and considered what treatment was best suited for them. It made for a nice project that would also serve as a warm up and cool down distraction amongst the requirements of ongoing commissions and other client projects.
Familiar but different
It’s not often that I paint a still life but this was a great opportunity. So much fantasy art concerns itself with adrenaline filled action battle scenes, especially tabletop gaming illustrations. I wanted to tap into that concept but bring it forth in a completely different way. Rather than capture a frozen moment in time, I looked at having this entire epic battle take place in, you guessed it, your imagination!
While many of the objects depicted are inspired by ancient hellenic mythological tales, others such as the enigmatic polyhedral stone and the green liquid filled vial are reminders that this is a pure work of fantasy. There are tabletop role-playing games that use ancient Greece and its myths as a setting, but also others that, by adding a separate fantasy twist, transform it into something slightly different altogether. There is enough familiarity here for you to get your bearings, even though other elements are introduced.
The general idea behind this piece was to provide you with enough imagery that you are able to recreate something unique to yourself. There are clues in the objects themselves, their arrangement, state or depiction that might trigger memories, references or extrapolations and guide you in your interpretation of the piece.
All work and no play
That definitely would make for dull artwork. Yes, making art is a lot of work so injecting it with a certain playfulness is essential. The other thing to keep in mind is that it will carry on having a life of its own, so fun has to be had looking at it as well. That is mostly why I strive to create storytelling art that allows you, the viewer to bring your own cultural and emotional baggage along and add it to the mix. Hopefully, it will make your enjoyment of it more profound and memorable.
As I said earlier, I don’t aim to appeal to everyone. Telling a relatable tale does mean that, out of your entire audience, it will leave some cold while others will find that it speaks to their sensibilities. It will have allowed them to feel that their imagination is alive and well.
Wouter F. Goedkoop is a multi-faceted designer, artist, cartographer and storyteller who, after living across Europe decided to find his home in Nova Scotia where he lives with his wife and kids. He helps people and companies connect with their audience in meaningful ways by telling relevant and impactful stories. For commissions and freelance inquiries, please use the form on the contact page.