I see a lot of competitions that I think would be really fun to enter, and I mark them down on my calendar. I get all excited about doing some piece of art, but at some point in between now and whenever the contest deadline is, what usually happens is that life overtakes my good intentions and I never end up entering the contest.

So I want to help you avoid this particular problem by running through this brainstorming process that I would use if I were going to enter the Martha's Vineyard Drawing Prize. If you follow these stages now, you will be ready to enter in no time!

Each year there's a theme for the competition. I am using the 2019 theme 'The Ties That Bind' for this example.

Rather than hoping inspiration strikes out of the blue (or if I have too many ideas), I brainstorm the theme with some word association to get them all down on paper. I'll take a page in my sketchbook and I'll just start writing some stuff down without worrying about specifics. As I write, some ideas will seem better than others but I keep going. Here's an example I did for you. Some ideas will be terrible but I just keep going.

Usually as I brainstorm, one or two of these ideas will start to form into something I can work with. I put a star beside my favorites, perhaps flip over to a fresh sheet of paper and work out the details of my idea, but what's most important is that I make a decision and move on.

No need to overthink it! There are always going to be more ideas than time to draw them all. Just pick the one you like the best right now, and get started. Enter the competition and no matter what the outcome, you will have completed a piece of artwork and explored an idea. It's a talent and a blessing to be able to enter new worlds of our own creation, through drawing.

- Elizabeth Whelan

sketch and thumbnail in preparation for larger artworkAfter I decide on an idea for my drawing, I do a couple of very small sketches. First one is a thumbnail, and in my case it's typically about 2" x 1" -- very small.

In this thumbnail I do a very, very quick layout of how my idea might look on a page. And I concentrate mostly on what I see as the light and dark areas of the idea I am going to draw, without any detail at all.

What I am looking for is a good design in the relationship of dark to light values, and when I do the larger drawing I am going to want to maintain a good deal of that contrast. (This approach is often refered to by the Japanese name 'notan'.)

That takes me only a couple of minutes. Once I get that little thumbnail right, I usually do a larger sketch (about 4" x 5") also without much detail. These stages are very useful when it comes to helping me eliminate unnecessary detail, or move things around for a better composition. It's a lot easier to make those changes in a small rough sketch than it is when I am working on the final drawing.

And that's it! If I like what I see at the small scale, it will usually work on the large scale as well, as long as I stay true to the overall pattern of light and dark that I established in the thumbnail.

- Elizabeth Whelan