ADN 481: Digital Painting and Drawing
Class Discussion of Drawing, Painting, Digital Imaging, and the Creative Process
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01/14/08
Generate and Cull
Filed under: Creative Process, General
Posted by: mfreema @ 5:15 pm

When I go shopping for something, I like to collect all of the versions of them in the store, lay them out and narrow them down. You might hear me quietly talking to myself with statements like these:

“This one is too expensive, this one is too cheap, I like the features on this one and this one, but this one kind of does both. Another may have a better warranty, but I trust this brand.”

The best choice isn’t always an obvious decision. Sometimes it is nuanced and requires that you are able to compare all of your choices at the same time. After going through that process, you will be more aware of your options and be able to make more informed decisions.

A basic design strategy is to generate-and-cull. In this process, to generate is to produce a set of solutions and to cull is to reduce their number through a process of selection. Simply put, it is a two-part process that you begin by creating or finding a broad range of ideas or solutions, and lay them out together to analyze and select the designs that work the best. This strategy is most effective at the beginning of the creative process. However, it can be used throughout your projects or on a continual basis.

Of course for practical reasons, you need to work in a way that allows you to quickly generate a large number of solutions. Thumbnail drawings are commonly used because they can quickly convey a sense of the whole design and it only takes a few minutes to produce several of them. It is not uncommon to produce anywhere between 100 and 200 thumbnail sketches to hash out ideas for a project. Some painters may create nearly 100 paintings to stimulate ideas for a single work, or instead select a few of the more successful pieces as final works and destroy or recycle the others. By generating more work and selecting the best of the bunch, these artists also take the pressure off of having to produce a masterpiece each time he or she steps up to the canvas.

There are several benefits to the production and analysis stages as well. You spend more time “thinking while making” rather than planning. Engaging in making and doing stimulates creativity, especially if you feel you have artist’s or designer’s block. The result is a visual record of your creative process. Consequently, you also open yourself up to more experimentation and new ways of approaching your work. In the analysis stage you aren’t as concerned with getting a shaky idea to work, but instead you can survey all of your ideas at once and weigh the strengths and weakness of one design against another, or mix and match elements of each. The creative process is both an analytical and intuitive process. Your first response is usually an intuitive response, at which point you can begin to articulate why one approach is more effective or suitable than another. As you clarify your creative goals by comparing and contrasting ideas, you will improve your understanding of your current creative decisions. In turn, it will help to improve your work, your ability to articulate both your concept and your creative choices.  Likewise, developing the habit of broadening the number of solutions that you produce in projects will greatly increase your creative range over time.

The advantages of generating and culling during your creative process is that helps you to:

(1) Work through a number of ideas fairly quickly
(2) Compare and contrast their strengths, weaknesses, and overall feel
(3) Develop a more nuanced perspective about what you want the work to accomplish
(4) Articulate your creative direction more effectively
(5) Take chances and make less predictable or safe choices
(6) Increase the range of ideas that you come up with
(6) Reduce the stress of putting all of your eggs in one basket

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