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Pros & Cons of Working from Imagination

The Definition of Imagination is The mind’s ability to be creative, form new ideas and images. Have you ever wanted to tap into your imagination and ride a wave of creativity?

In this 3 part ARTicle we’re looking into the answers to What are the Pros & Cons of using: Photographs, Imagination, or Realit­y. Here’s a link to Part 1 where we talked about Photography. In this, Part 2, we will be looking at Imagination.

Imagination is everything. Albert Einstein

What are the benefits of creating art using imagination as the content source? And are there drawbacks? By learning of the advantages and disadvantages of each source (Photographs, Imagination, and Reality) we’re able to choose which one(s) works best for our art. Let’s jump right in!


Brain Workout: Images has been depositing into our mind’s eye ever since we first could see. Even when we are inventing scenes we’re constantly withdrawing from our memory bank. No wonder one of the paybacks of drawing is improved memory! And that’s not the only brain benefit; you’ll also have the advantage of improved hand/eye coordination, and decreased stress.

It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one’s memory. … Imagination collaborates with memory. Edgar Degas

Be an Imagineer: It’s what Disney calls their visual artists…and I love that! Can us non-Donald Duck drawers still deserve the title? I, for one, aim to! (I found this fun little book online while doing my research The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles). If you get it, let me know how it is!

Jump Genres: I wasn’t an art history major so I won’t pretend to be an expert. But I will say different genres were created or fueled by artists’ imagination. Working from your mind is the ultimate freedom of expression. You can create your own reality, like Surrealist artists René Magritte and Salvador Dalí. The Symbolism Movement happened as a direct response to the Realism/Naturalism art which was popular in the late 19th century. Realist artists worked from observation, attempting to truthfully capture subjects without embellishment, supernatural or unrealistic elements. Artists rebelled against this, moving towards Symbolism which favored imagination, dreams, and spirituality as the main source of inspiration. Gustav Klimt was part of this movement. With other art movements, you’ll find similar stories; artists tired of established rules, wanting to create new ones. Abstract & Picasso. Expressionism & Degas. Maybe your imagination will create a new genre.

There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? George Bernard Shaw

No Limits: Feel free! When you create your own world there’s no need to defend your art to others, or yourself.

Illustrate the Unseen: When you let go of strict realism you can get fantastical, whimsical, mystical, mythical, emotional or spiritual with your art. If this is what you’re interested in, the much-loved artist James Gurney has a book Imaginative Realism that’s worth checking out. Though the founder of the Hudson River School (the early American tradition of landscape painting) painted realistically, Thomas Cole was also a great believer in imagination…

If the imagination ‘is shackled’ to what the eye can see, ‘seldom will anything great be produced in painting or poetry. Thomas Cole

Dream on: Literally, draw your dreams! I did. The other morning after waking up from a vivid dream I drew this ARTicle’s cover image. It was a great experience! I felt like I was building a bridge from one world to another. Whether you gather your images while sleeping or while day-dreaming it’s up to you.  Marc Chagall was known for his dream-like art. Below see Chagall’s­­ drawing “Jacob’s Dream”.


I will admit here and now that I am hard pressed to think of “cons” for working from your imagination because I believe it is just that constructive to creative growth. Yet there are serious drawbacks when working PURELY from imagination if your goal is realistic art. So here they are:

Contrived: Nature contains innumerable nuances that our minds cannot take into account. Even the well-versed academic artist will have the tendency to create “iconic” drawings and paintings, ie: drawing an ideal rather than something more varied like we find in reality. When I think of this I think of the Italian Renaissance artists creating works such as Botticelli’s “Primavera”; it’s not a real-life representation of a scene rather it’s a feeling, an idea. And that was fine because realism wasn’t his goal.

I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them. Pablo Picasso

Missing the mark: Again, if realism is your aim you’ll need photo or real-life references. Landscapes can be created à la Bob Ross. When you try creating a still-life (ie, a painting or drawing that features an arrangement of inanimate objects as its subject) it gets more challenging. But the ultimate difficulty, in my opinion, is drawing or painting a realistic looking (and physically correct) person with no references. In my academic years, there would be pop-quizzes of drawing anatomy from memory. Even for me who was spending 8 hrs. a day, 5 days a week with a model, correctly drawing the body out of imagination/memory was a tough test!

You need more tools: Even the Imagineers at Disney need photographs or real-life references to bring what they’re dreaming-up into reality.  Animator Glen Keane created Beast from “Beauty & the Beast” by sketching the wolves and the gorillas at the LA zoo, drawings from photos of lions, and studying a taxidermy buffalo head in his office. Almost like Frankenstein, Glen stitched together his lovable “monster”. Though the Beast is a purely fictional creature, he was created with the help of photographs and real-life references.


Final thought: A creative mind is a wonderful gift! I like to think of an artist’s imagination like flying a kite; it can only soar to great heights by the existence of the string holding it to earth. If you want imagination to be your main subject source from which to create your artwork, supplement it with a secondary source (a string to tie you to earth). It’s my belief that no matter which genre of art you cling to, including strict realism, your artwork will only benefit from using your imagination. So dream on!

Now let me hear what you have to say. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Coming Soon: The 3rd and final installment of this ARTicle Pros and Cons of the Source series. Next up, Working from Reality.

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  1. I am a great supporter of « Drawing in professional meetings ». It is the time for you to let your imagination fleeing away, with this particular attention you must pay to your drawing but, also, to your boss and colleagues, in order not to be caught red hand in something which might make them believe that what they are talking about is not valuable enough to retain your attention. In such circumstances you may benefit of this double tension: making a good drawing versus being a good meeting-attender. It is the time for you to draw flying buildings or whatever you dream of…