The New Creative Artist by Nita Leland

The New Creative Artist
I received a review copy of The New Creative Artist: A Guide to Developing Your Creative Spirit by Nita Leland from North Light Books. Leland is the author of several popular books including Exploring Color, Creative Collage Techniques, and The Creative Artist, her first book, of which The New Creative Artist is a considerably revised and expanded version.

Leland has long had a presence on the web. Her blog Exploring Color and Creativity, which is one of the oldest links on the lines and colors blogroll, covers a variety of art related topics, as does her web site, which contains an extensive, if loosely arranged, array of resources, from a succinct description of split-primary color mixing, to an extensive list of art related books and mini book reviews. (Her site is perhaps best navigated through the site map.)

Leland often brings her resources to bear in service of those who need some help or guidance getting started down an artistic path. She has been teaching workshops since the ’70s, and her books, in particular The New Creative Artist, work hard at building a bridge onto that path, either for beginners or even seasoned artists who are struggling with being “blocked” or are in need of a recharge for their artistic confidence.

The New Creative Artist is a compendium of suggestions, exercises, and short articles on various ways to jump start the creative process. Like Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination, also from North Light Books, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, Leland’s creativity enhancement principles are not new, the value is in her choice and presentation of them.

Like Keys to Drawing With Imagination, The New Creative Artist makes those techniques specific to artistic creation, as opposed to the many creativity enhancement books that try to cover all bases and include business and office creativity in the mix. Also like that book, this one is bound as a spiral/hardback hybrid meant to lay open flat on your drawing table while you work. Unlike Keys, which is specifically related to drawing, Leland’s book is more generally oriented to a variety of artistic endeavors, including painting, drawing, collage, and even crafts like fiber arts, papermaking and decorative painting.

In the process, The New Creative Artist serves as a brief introduction to a multitude of artistic techniques. Various mediums and working methods are mentioned briefly, but with enough detail to engage in them. Her section on Drawing Methods, for example, gives you short but workable descriptions of contour drawing, gesture drawing, portraiture, figure drawing and even the Surrealists’ specialty of automatic drawing. She also talks about design in relation to composing works, and the importance of elements like shape, value, rhythm, contrast and balance.

Design is perhaps an issue in the appreciation of the book, The book itself is an intense exercise in book design (by Wendy Dunning, possibly in collaboration with Leland). It is full of colors, patterns, textures and graphic elements meant to look like notes or scraps of paper, with exercises and quotes written on them, scattered about as if lying on top of the pages. It’s illustrated with works from a number of artists, in addition to Leland’s own, that generally use a bright palette. While sure to be delightful to some, The overall effect is, to my eye, a bit feminine, and may be off-putting to hard bitten concept artists, comic book artists and dyed-in-the-wool starving-in-a-garret bohemian painters. If you can get past that initial impression, and the cheery, informal, hand-holding tone of the text, you may find that the techniques are just as valid as if printed in plain Garamond on stark white pages.

There is an online preview of the book, which allows you to thumb through small but legible examples of over 30 pages.

Though of potential benefit to almost any artist who wants a source of techniques for unblocking and reviving artistic confidence, (one the best of which, I feel, is to break from what you are used to doing and explore another approach, medium or set of tools, as this book suggests), the The New Creative Artist is more directly aimed at those who are working to get started, and who will find it full of gentle encouragement and a wide array of approaches to creative exploration.


5 Replies to “The New Creative Artist by Nita Leland”

  1. I love you blog–it is one of the few I visit daily–so I’m sorry that my first comment is a negative one but… saying that the “overall effect” of what amounts to bad book design is “a bit feminine” is kind of ridiculous, don’t you think? I flipped through the online preview of the book and you’re right, it is a dizzying mess of colliding colors, fonts and layout approaches. I’m not sure why this is considered feminine–it’s simply bad design. Not to mention that your caveat that it might be off-putting to “hard bitten concept artists…(etc.)” seems to assume that the above would be male.

    Anyway, as I said, I love your blog, it is an inspiration. I just felt the need to call you on this one little thing. All the best…

  2. Polly,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Perhaps you’re right, but I didn’t quite know how else to describe it. When I say something is “feminine”, it’s far from a pejorative, merely an attempt to classify something in a way that makes sense. If you look, for example, at the graphic design of magazines meant to appeal to an audience of women, they are often more highly decorative and use different colors than the design of magazines aimed at a male audience. It is the predominance of those elements that makes me think of this design as “feminine”. (I’ve long been curious whether women and men see color differently. I’ve never understood how many women can find large areas of pink, for example, appealing.)

    I don’t think this design is “bad design” either. I think it is well suited to its purpose and intended audience, and can be easily navigated, read and understood. Something that meets those qualifications isn’t bad design (font choices not withstanding). The fact that it may not be to my taste should be irrelevant.

    And yes, I do assume that most of those who fit the description of “hard bitten concept artists…” et al, are predominantly male, at least by number, but I also assume that those women who fit in those categories might also find the appearance of the book off-putting.

    I think the design and tone of Leland’s book are a good fit with her core audience. Perhaps it tries a little to hard, but it goes out of its way to attract attention and to keep the level of interest high, like a speaker who frequently interjects colorful stories into a lecture. My description of it is not intended as a criticism, but an attempt to get part of my core audience, who might be put off initially, to look past a design not aimed at them and see the content that would be of value.

    Thanks for the good words about lines and colors, BTW.

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