Art School Boot Camp: Transforming Ideas into Art | Christine Nishiyama | Skillshare

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Art School Boot Camp: Transforming Ideas into Art

teacher avatar Christine Nishiyama, Artist at Might Could Studios

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      A Guide from Idea to Artwork


    • 2.

      Stage 1: Sponging


    • 3.

      Stage 2: Incubating


    • 4.

      Stage 3: Building


    • 5.

      Stage 4: Revising


    • 6.

      Project Assignment


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About This Class

What makes a drawing a piece of art? What makes splotches of paint on a canvas artwork? What makes snippets of recorded scenes a masterpiece?


To create a strong piece of art, the idea has to be strong. You could be a technical master and able to paint the human anatomy in perfect realistic detail, but if you ain’t got an idea, then you ain’t got art. The idea is king, and the idea should be the focus in artmaking.


There are thousands of tutorials on how to master your craft: how to draw a horse, how to paint fluffy clouds…But what about a tutorial on how to develop ideas for meaningful art? And how to use those ideas to inject emotion, feeling, and intellectual thought into our work? That’s what I aim to do with this class. Instead of focusing so much on technical prowess, I hope to encourage you to focus on the emotional and intellectual investment in your work.

By the end of the class, you’ll have a new process to take your art to the next level, the confidence to step beyond studying technical craft, and a guide to start developing ideas to make the art that’s meaningful to you.



Check out my other Skillshare classes here!

You can also see more about me and my work on my website:

And you can sign up for my email list for weekly essays on creativity and artmaking!

Thanks so much! <3


Meet Your Teacher

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Christine Nishiyama

Artist at Might Could Studios

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Hallo! I'm Christine Nishiyama, artist + founder of Might Could Studios.

I make books and comics, and I draw a whoooole lot. I teach aspiring and established artists, helping them explore their art, gain more confidence, and discover their unique artistic styles.

My core belief is that art is good and we should all make more of it. 

Instagram: Yeewhoo, I quit all social media! 

Books: Check out my books here, including a graphic novel series with Scholastic!

Subscribe to my Substack newsletter: Join over 10,000 artists and get my weekly essays on creativity and artmaking, weekly art prompts, and behind-the-scenes process work of my current picture book. Subscribe here!

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Level: Beginner

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1. A Guide from Idea to Artwork: Hi, I'm Christine Fleming, Illustrator at Micro Studios. In this installment of arts good boot camp, we're diving deep and talking about how to transform ideas into art. What makes a drawing a piece of art? What makes splotches of paint on a canvas art work? What makes snippets of recorded scenes a masterpiece? To create a strong piece of art, the idea has to be strong. You could be a technical master and be able to paint the human anatomy and perfect realistic detail. But if you don't have an idea, then you don't have art. The idea is king and the idea should be the focus in art making. There are thousands of tutorials on how to master your craft. How to draw a horse, how to paint fluffy clouds. But what about a tutorial on how to develop ideas for meaningful art? What about a tutorial on how to use those ideas to inject emotion, feeling, and intellectual thought into our work? That's what I aim to do with this class. Instead of focusing so much on technical skills, I hope to encourage you to focus on the emotional and intellectual investment in your work. By the end of this class, you'll have a new process for developing ideas and transforming them into meaningful art so let's get started. 2. Stage 1: Sponging: Stage one sponging. The sponging stage is where you get the seed of the idea for your artwork. It isn't a fully fledged idea it's just the seed the beginning of an idea. Most good ideas don't come from sitting down and trying to think of a good idea. They usually come from real life from real experiences. It's something you heard someone say walking down the street. The look of the grocery store clerk that day, or just a frog stuck on your window. If you want to have a lot of good ideas, then you need to feed your brain with lots of good material for connecting things to make ideas. So once the seed of an idea seeps in you can't not think about it. It penetrates your thoughts you start noticing it everywhere and it creeps into becoming an obsession. You may have physical side effects when this begins to happen goose bumps on your legs, the hairs on your arms may stand up, you may feel butterflies in your stomach. It's a similar feeling to falling in love. What it really is, is inspiration. When it happens you'll know it and whatever you do don't let it go. So once you've become curious about something, this stage becomes a time of research and preparation. You sponge up and absorb everything you possibly can about the idea. You're not looking to solve problems here or find solutions. You're just paying attention and gathering all the information you can, surrounding yourself with the idea that is now your obsession. This level of inspiration does not happen every day. It's different than just having an idea for a simple sketch or drawing. You'll make a lot of art without this feeling. You can't just wait around for huge inspirations to hit you. You have to constantly be turning out work because you never know when something big will hit and you want to be ready when it does. Most recently, I went through all these stages with my book, We Are Fungi. So I'm going to share that experience with you here as an example of the process. Before I had the seed of an idea I was just going about my normal life working on various projects. But as I was working on those smaller projects I kept my eyes and ears open, to be ready to receive a seed for a big idea, should one decide to present itself, and then one day it did. All my life I've hated mushrooms. But one day I woke up with the sudden decision and motivation to like mushrooms. I don't know why I just woke up and wanted to like them. So I started ordering them at restaurants. In Los Angeles I had a plate of mixed mushrooms including chanterelles and morels. They were absolutely delicious, and that was the first time that I'd ever thought those two words could be used in the same sentence, and from there it was an obsession I wanted to know more. These mushrooms are so weird their texture so strange. What did they eat? Where did they live? How did they live? Questions kept coming up, and I kept following the trail letting my curiosity lead me and trusting in the obsession. I began noticing mushrooms everywhere. I read books on mushrooms, watched documentaries on mushrooms, and I went foraging for mushrooms. At this point I had no idea that this would ever wind up being a book. It was just a feeling of falling in love with mushrooms and I followed it gladly. 3. Stage 2: Incubating: Stage 2, Incubating. After the intensity of the sponging stage, the incubation stage sets in. This is the stage after you've had the idea, but before you actually begin making the artwork. You have to relax your grip on the idea a little bit and let it breathe. Try to forget about the idea. Put your books away, take a walk, take a bath, try to stop thinking consciously about the idea and what it could turn into. Letting your mind wonder like this, will allow you to relax and make more interesting connections. Every artist approaches this stage in different ways, depending on the type of art they're making and on each individual's process. But it typically involves playing and experimenting with the idea by drawing sketches, or writing little character studies. Or for some artists, it's just a period of pure incubation, where they let the idea marinate in the mind. In this stage, we're still not looking for a final solution, but we're modeling the idea and how it could manifest as an artwork. At the end of this stage, comes the event that will lead us into the next stage: The Epiphany. As the idea grows and develops during this stage, you'll eventually have a breakthrough of how to put all those thoughts and ideas together into a cohesive artwork. It may take time, but if the idea is a good one, it'll happen eventually. Then it's time to move on to the next stage. After I had thoroughly followed my obsession with mushrooms, I let it sit and marinate for a while. I stopped reading books and watching documentaries, though I still noticed mushrooms when I ran with my dog or visited the Farmers Market. I knew I wanted to make a book from this obsession, but I wasn't sure how I would make it. Would it be a picture book or a graphic novel? Would it be for young kids or older kids? Would it be been nonfiction or fiction? I let these things float around in my brain for a couple months while I continued to work on smaller projects. Gradually, I started loosely sketching little characters, just letting things flow and thinking a little deeper about what this idea really was. Then bam, I had two epiphanies in the same week. The first happened when I was looking through my collection of children's books that were mine as a child. I often revisit these to remind myself of what I liked about them when I was a child, and which ones spoke to me most. I found the book series, A Child's First Learning Library by Time-Life, and instantly knew that it was in the same vein of my idea, mostly nonfiction, but with a little fiction thrown in. Then later that week as I was browsing Pinterest, I had my second epiphany. I came across Edward Gorey's illustrations. I had loved his book, Old Possum's Book Of Cats when I was young, but there was a whole other side of Edward Gorey's work that was quite creepy and dark, and also cute and light at times. I loved the juxtaposition of the two, and that's when the breakthrough with my book happened. I knew then, that I wanted to write a mashup book for children about mushrooms, mixing nonfiction and fiction, mixing cute and creepy. It stood in mushrooms perfectly with all their mysterious science and slimy adorableness, and so, I set off on the next stage. As a side note here before we continue, don't be afraid if someone else has already had your initial idea before. I am most definitely not the first person to decide to write a book on mushrooms, and I won't be the last. People have been writing books, making movies, and painting things for millions of years. So chances are your idea has already been done, but it hasn't been done by you. Put your thoughts, your emotions, and your feelings behind an idea, and the idea becomes yours. 4. Stage 3: Building: Stage three, Building. Now that you've had your epiphany, it's time to start getting the idea out of your head and onto paper. This is when we start actually making our piece of art. You've now settled on your idea and the form of the idea, so now it's just a matter of figuring out how to make it. This stage includes prep work like under-paintings, color studies, storyboards, sketching, character development, plot development, whatever the steps of making your artwork are. As you begin, sometimes things just fall into place and the first draft goes smoothly. But most times, trying to put the idea down on paper leads to confusion, fear, and doubt. Is this really a good idea? How do I go about doing it? This isn't turning out like the idea in my head at all. I'm a terrible artist. The writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher described breading her first draft of the story like skiing down a steep slope that she wasn't sure she was clever enough to manage. Don't let these feelings get you down. They're a natural part of the process as you're wading through uncharted territory. If the feelings become overwhelming, take a break on the project, go back to the ideation and incubation stages and revisit your idea, reread your notes, remind yourself of the original seeds and inspiration of this project. Other than that, it's really just a matter of powering through and believing that you'll figure it out somehow. After I knew what type of book I wanted to make, I said about making it and at first it went terribly. Just because you know what you want to make doesn't making it easy. I struggled to find the right character, the right plot line, the right balance of fact and fiction, creepy with cute. But I stuck with it, and I did breaks when I needed to. I read the manuscript over and over until I was happy with it. Then I moved on to storyboarding and then character development, sketching. Each stage taught me something about the book I was making and where it should go next. There is tons of going back and forth, changing parts based on new things I learned about the book by making the book. I had moments when I wasn't sure if it was going to work or whether I could make it work. But I stuck with it and reminded myself that I always have these feelings with every book so I might as well keep going. Eventually, it all came together and I had a fully written and illustrated picture book Dummy. 5. Stage 4: Revising: Stage 4 revising, this is possibly the longest and hardest stage, depending on who you are and what you make. Ideally you have the time to let the artwork sit for a while and marinate, before you go back to revise it. This will let you come back to it with fresh eyes instead of eyes of brand new star struck parents to the most beautiful baby they've ever seen. This is where you take your final artwork and give it a hard and critical look. You go back through the whole thing. Refining what feels rough. Cutting out what's unnecessary. Doing whenever you have to make the art communicate the original idea in the best way possible. This is also where it's a good idea to share your work with others. Show it to your trusted community whether it's a close friend, your parent, or your fellow artists in a place like Skillshare. These people will have truly fresh eyes because they don't have the fully formed idea already in their head. You need to know that the artwork can communicate on its own to others who are new to it. Once I was done with my book, which I titled We are Fungi, I thought it was the single greatest children's book that anyone had ever created. I was a star-crossed lovers in love with my own creation. At this point I felt ready to share this amazing book with other people, and the first person I usually share my work with is my fiancee. Each and every time I'm immediately brought back down to earth. He reads it, smiles and says, "It's nice.'' What, nice? This is the single greatest achievement of my life. It's my baby. It's the result of six months of work. It's amazing, isn't it? You need someone that can give you honest feedback on your work. It's important to bring yourself back down from imagination station. Revisions require being in the real world and looking at your work with a hard eye and thick skin, it can't be your baby. As my design professor would say in college, "You got to break up with that thing, like Ben broke up with J. Lo". I gave in, I made a few small changes and then send the book to my agent so she could help me refine it and make it better with direct feedback. I still believe that I made a good book, but it's not perfect and it can be better. There's tons of things that I can revise to make it better, but all of that should be expected. Now I'm embarking on the process of revising and reworking the book to make it truly amazing. 6. Project Assignment: Project assignment. For our project assignment, we're going to stick with the sponging stage. After you've watched these videos, take a few days to let your mind wander. Take time to notice any paths your curiosity it might be trying to lead you. Notice the people you interact with, the world around you, and the experiences you have each day. Is there something that keeps popping up in your life? Something you keep noticing over and over? Follow any questions that pop up and let your curiosity lead you. Choose an obsession that you can turn into a meaningful art project and share that obsession with us in the project gallery. You can see the project from my experience with we are fungi in the project gallery to give you a jump-start. I hope you enjoyed this class and learn some helpful techniques on making meaningful art that's based on ideas and not just technique. Thanks again for taking this class and I hope to see you in the next art school boot camp.