Creativity is a fluid term. Difficult to pin down, it finds its way into a variety of situations, lending its spark to circumstances commonplace and compelling alike. For Carli Ihde, an extraordinary artist who thrives in a variety of usual and unusual media, that spark of creativity or inspiration can easily be found in the everyday, in the way an artist draws wrists, or in the momentary connection found in conversation with a stranger. “It’s super bizarre, but sometimes something will just knock you and you’ll have that visceral reaction to a small thing, a small spark.” In speaking with her, one of the most remarkable things is how easy it is for her to become inspired and how frankly she believes that it can be simple for everyone: “I think that people go searching deep for this inspiration and I believe that inspiration is super shallow. It’s not the inspiration that’s deep, it’s how and in what direction you take it.” And Carli is able to take her inspiration in a host of different directions, from covers of comic books to murals, from rotoscope portraits to henna and elaborate pumpkin-carving. Inspiration may be shallow, but the results of her labors never are.
Concealed behind her success are years of practicing, experimenting, and creating. Carli is a commercial artist and spends much of her time producing new art, regardless of whether she feels in the mood to create or not. As a reformed procrastinator myself, I’m sympathetic to the plight of any individual who would rather sit down and watch Law & Order (something Carli loves with a passion) than come home from one job only to sit down to the labors of another. But, as she casually remarks, “after you’ve created something, don’t you feel a lot better?” If you can just force yourself to sit down and work, the rest will follow. Part of the driving force behind this mentality is that Carli has a refreshingly cumulative perspective when it comes to creativity. You can always return to art; it will be waiting for you. Besides, “no practice is bad practice. Any drawing will get you closer to your goal as an artist, anything you can put down on paper will get you closer to being a better person.”
Just like a writer who develops draft after draft before the finished product, much of Carli’s creative work happens behind the scenes and many of her works begin with a series of thumbnails (very small gestural renditions of the layout of the final piece). In this penchant for preliminary drawings, Carli finds herself in good (and noteworthy!) company. “One of my favorite paintings by Picasso… I saw it in Spain and it was amazing, because the Guernica exhibit was five full museum rooms filled with [preliminary] sketches and paintings and it wasn’t until you got to the final room that you saw this humungous painting.” It turns out that, yes, even the masters need to work their way through the drafting stage. But, one of the reasons that she tends to produce so many of these thumbnails is because she doesn’t believe in using an eraser at this stage, “you can’t get movement if you’re erasing and redrawing a line.” Movement, flow, and expression are all stylistic elements that Carli emphasizes in all of her work, drawing inspiration from animators as well as artists like Norman Rockwell, Alphonse Mucha, Gustave Klimt, Egon Shiele, and Frank Frazetta. However, as she will be the first to tell you, creativity is unpredictable and even the use of thumbnails is only a general rule of thumb: “it is important for me to say that one of my favorite drawings in the world that I’ve ever done didn’t have any preliminary sketches or thumbnails to it.”
For Carli Ihde, the creative process is diligent work, requiring the creator to sit down and show up for work each and every day, but the rewards that the process promises are well worth the effort. It is important to be inspired and to follow inspiration, but it is equally important to not wait for inspiration to strike in order to be productive. The very act of sitting down and putting pen to paper can be enough to achieve a sudden flash of inspiration and, even if it doesn’t, none of that work is ever wasted.
But Carli’s most poignant piece of advice is perhaps the most universally applicable: “don’t let anyone else tell you what’s good or bad when it comes to art. If I say something’s not art, to me it’s not, and it’s the same thing for anyone else. Don’t like someone’s art just because they’re a good person and just because it’s universally accepted as good doesn’t mean that you have to like it.” In short, don’t be afraid to have your own opinion and to be vocal about it; people might push back, they might argue with you or engage with your opinion, but that’s the beauty of subjectivity and it’s where any meaningful conversation about art, creativity, or innovation begins.
Explore more of Carli Ihde’s work at https://carliihde.deviantart.com