The Electricity of Ideas

I’m a novelist and write books for a living. But my first love was illustration. I can’t remember learning how to draw. It was something that fell from the sky and landed in my lap. I was never formally taught techniques but as soon as I was old enough to hold a pen, I was drawing.

Writing, however, I had to learn. Telling stories came naturally but putting them down on paper involved certain skills and these I had to acquire the hard way. I used to think that illustration and writing were two distinct forms of expression. Now I believe they come from the same source. Visual artists and novelists are both curious about the world. We see the fantastic in the mundane and we’re obsessed with expressing our perspective in an authentic way.

All people possess a creative imagination. We all dream and we’re all capable of fearing the unknown or anticipating the future. But only a handful of us will pause the non-stop cinema of images and words that run through our minds and attempt to give them form. The illustrator and writer are not only willing to open themselves up to the spark of possibility, to the magnificent and the absurd, but are also ready to do the work and put it down on paper.

It’s the getting it down on paper that sets the artist apart. This is never easy because when you create from a shapeless idea, you don’t work to guidelines, and often not even for a pay cheque. There’s no guarantee that what you make will sing or will delight an audience. Often you can pursue an idea for days only to discover that it doesn’t work. Being an artist requires time: time to daydream and play, to explore the glimmer of an idea and to hunt it down and capture it.

The simplest of things can set me off: a ragged line on a pavement, the metallic bark of a dog, words spoken in a supermarket queue, a random image in my mind’s eye as I’m falling asleep. Such things seem to carry their own electrical charge. They light up the inside of my head and thrill me. But they’re also elusive and easily lost or forgotten. They must be pinned down before they lose their lustre.

The creative process is not a glamorous one. It’s an activity that requires solitude and discipline. The only way I can write or draw is to be alone. But while the journey is private, my overriding motivation is a public one. I create for others. I do it with the intention of bringing some form of happiness into people’s lives. My intention is to uplift, stimulate, provoke, inspire, to make others think and hopefully laugh.


First published with the Frances McKay Illustration.