Expanding Your Creative Vocabulary

Recently, I experienced a Creative Meltdown. It wasn’t a big temper tantrum or anything visible – it was all in my head, and on my Facebook Chat with my illustration partner, but it was a real thing. This happens at various points in creative journeys, and if you are a creative parent, then you should be ready to recognize it. If you are a writer or an illustrator, then you will probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

After my Creative Meltdown, I decided to take some pressure off of myself.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.46.09 PM
A sketch that was fun to do – but isn’t quite the structure that I want for a picture book. It just doesn’t work for what works for me.

You see, I’d been working away on a book – the manuscript had been completed, and the dummy (storyboard) had been completed. I had the flow of the story worked out, the subtext working away nicely in my plan for the illustrations, and all that was left to do before being able to submit it was to create a few completed pieces of artwork.

That’s where the trouble started. I have been pushing and growing in a big way over the past year, and it seems like the rapid growth has slowed a little. I was having trouble coming up with the look that I wanted to tell this story in just the right way. I was thinking so big that I had clouded my vision.

Well, that’s the short version of what happened.

Fast-forward beyond the intense moments of my meltdown and you’ll find me building a Pinterest Board for an illustration study. That means, I’m going to find some illustrations that I love, that I feel resonate with my heart and soul, that I feel belong in the kind of picture books that I want to make, and I am going to … copy them.

Yep. I’m copying them.

Some copies from illustrations I love.

To relieve some pressure and reorient myself as an artist, it was time to do some copying.


  • allows me to not worry about creating something original
  • fast-forwards the design process (since it’s just for my own education, this is okay)
  • gives me an opportunity to pay attention to things that interest me, like how the lines are drawn, minor details that appear in certain artist’s works over and over again, and how the shapes are created, expressions are expressed, and how architecture has been designed
  • gives me a quick feeling of success, since the copies only take a short period of time (until I begin detailing them, once I feel I’ve captured the energy of the original artist)

Sometimes, feeling successful is more important than being successful. It’s about momentum.

You regularly hear that “the masters” copied each other. That’s how they learned. That’s how I am relearning my craft, improving and refining my skill set.

What I am doing is adding to my drawing vocabulary. I’m fattening up the skill sets that I currently have and picking up on little nuances, incorporating what works for me and leaving out what doesn’t. In the end, I won’t be able to draw like my favourite artists, because I am still going to have my own approaches, and the vocabularies of multiple masters.


Parents & Teachers: try it out with your kids. Have them study specific illustrators by copying exactly what they see, and keep a sketchbook around just for this. It will advance their drawing vocabularies in more ways than we can list.

Illustrators: DO THIS. Even if you’re freaking amazing, do it. It’s a great way to take the pressure off of yourself and to improve as a creator. While you’re copying, it’ll free up some room in the thinking space of your brain, and you’ll have loads of ideas when you’re done. (Probably.)

Writers: Read books. Read a million books. It’s basically the same concept.

Musicians: Play every kind of music. Same concept.



SPECIAL THANKS TO JAMI BUTLER, my critique partner, who helped me through the Creative Meltdown and gave me the term DRAWING VOCABULARY as she looked over my sketches.

One thought on “Expanding Your Creative Vocabulary

  1. Patrick, this is great advice. My mentor told me I needed to read 100 books in the children’s genre I wanted to write.

    FYI – your Pinterest link at the top is not correct. It does not go to your boards, but I did find you and will be following. I re-pin illustrations. If only I could draw. 🙂


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