Follow Stupid Ideas

Jul 14, 2014 / Photography / how to be creative

In a previous article, I talked about how in the process of creating art you develop mantras–things that guide you in art making. Here is one mantra: follow stupid ideas.

Most of my images start out as stupid ideas. It’s true. If I’m working on an image, and I don’t think that it’s stupid at one point during the art making process, then more likely than not, that image will be dead on arrival (DOA). It will be a boring image.

Case in point: the River Crossing image I thought was a stupid idea.

I was out shooting one day when I happened to see this tree shadow. I thought, “wow, this shadow looks like the River Styx,” (eye roll here–I seem to always draw on mythology when I see potential images). It was an interesting idea, but I thought it was stupid. How could that really work?

Over the next couple of weeks, this idea grew on me, to the point that I was dreaming about it. I gave in and started thinking about how to make the idea work. A Million Suns is about this man looking for his future, and so I was thinking that the left side should represent the present (or reality), and the right side should represent the future (or the dream). The work is also about making choices, so the character could choose to stay in the present or make a leap to the future. For the life of me, I couldn’t decide what to put on the left side and right side of the image. I couldn’t picture it all. All I saw was the river.

There were many attempts on this image. I failed and failed constantly. At some point, I realized that I was approaching the image all wrong. I was creating the environment first rather than shooting the character in the environment. I changed my approach. I shot the character first.

After collaging, montaging, erasing, and trying out many variations, I finally hit on an image that had potential. It happened unexpectedly. I had this stupid idea of placing a sky background but what would be special about this background was that the horizon would be bent and tilted. And BAM! Just like that, the image came to life. When things like this happen, I always think, “Did that really happen? Did I just make this image?” When I question whether I really created an image or not, I know I’m on to something.

The image felt right; there was still a lot to be done, but the core of the image was in place. And it all comes back to a stupid idea (maybe ridiculous is a better word). And so that is the mantra: follow stupid ideas. If my rational mind thinks it’s stupid, then maybe it really isn’t.

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About the Author

Jonah Calinawan

Hello! I’m Jonah Calinawan, an accountant turned artist.

I create cyanotype art that makes you think and write about the creative mindset to help and inspire you.

When not shooting photos, I teach myself piano and recommend pianist Josh Wright’s Propractice tutorials (affiliate link).

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