Last week I was invited by the Art & Design Faculty at Mounts Bay Academy (one of the two secondary schools here in Penzance) to give a short talk to some of the students. The premiss was to explain my work, the ideas and processes behind it and a little about my journey from scientific illustration to fine art. The kids were brilliant and after my talk two year 9 students, Jess and Tom, interviewed me for the school radio station and a piece in the newsletter. Mounts Bay Academy was one of the first secondary schools in the UK to give every child an ipad as a learning aid. It was no surprise to me therefore that while Jess interviewed me using the questions she had researched and prepared on her ipad Tom, recorded the interview on his for later use with other media.
Thinking back on it digital devices have been part of my creative process for almost all my working life. I have been using Apple Macs and the great plethora of art and design software that arrived along with them since the late 80’s. I commented on this during my talk, making a joke of how they didn’t look half as cool back then. I explained how I use it as part of my creative process. I wanted to emphasise that a pencil, a camera, a brush, an iPad or a pallet knife are all just tools. It’s not the medium, it’s the ideas that count.
This brought me to three key points I wanted the kids to take away from my address. Inspiration is all around us if you know how to look with a creative eye and an open mind. The technology in your pocket is a great tool so it doesn’t matter if you use your smart phone or a digital camera to record what inspires you. Keep a sketch book so that you can put all your ideas in it however vague they may be.
Sketch books were something the art teachers were also keen to encourage. It seems students don’t always see the relevance of them or the importance of keeping one as a useful habit. Like everyone who has ever been through a formal art education I had the importance of keeping sketchbooks ground into me. Sketchbooks, sketchbooks, sketchbooks. It’s a mantra beloved by foundation course tutors worldwide, and an essential part of the coursework for GCSE or A level Exams. Art Historians adore them for the record and provenance they provide. Even us mere practitioners find other artists sketchbooks endlessly fascinating for the window into another’s creative thought processes
Keeping a sketchbook of some kind is a habit I find useful, if not essential. With my mind often jumping between ideas somewhat erratically and my tendency to get distracted it has become somewhere to record snippets of information, moments of inspiration, doodles, designs and even the occasional en plein air sketch. But am I wrong to try to perpetuate their use in the potential artists, designers, and architects of tomorrow? As I had already told them they have the technology with them everyday to record images of the world around them so why not use it for thoughts and sketches too?
During Grayson Perry’s superb series of Reith Lectures for the BBC he was asked whether acquiring skills and technology paralyses creativity? His reply mirrored my own thoughts on this, he said “Oh no. absolutely not. You know I mean it’s a great joy because as soon as you learn a technique, you start thinking in it. That’s the great thing, you know. When I learn about a new technique, suddenly my imaginative possibilities have expanded…A phrase that I like is “relaxed fluency” you know when you get into the zone and you’ve done your 10,000 hours and you’ve become really skillful.”
I have most definitely done my 10,000 hours and I would say I am as relaxed and fluent wielding Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator as I am a pencil. So why do I still have a sketch book?
Perhaps it’s just the technology I grew up with. My training was very traditional too, water colour, pen and pencil, hand rendered typography and pasting up pages. So it’s hardly surprising that when it comes down to it, I think with a pencil. But what if you grow up using something as sophisticated as an iPad?
For people like myself the development of technology and the new creative possibilities it holds is as astonishing as it is exciting. For the new generations of young creatives like those at Mounts Bay Academy it is just part of everyday life. So if there is one thing I have learnt from my visit to them, it is that perhaps I’m not as adept as I thought. I don’t think with the technology after all… but they do and I can’t wait to see what they create.