How and why
Every first Tuesday of the month for a long time (for years now, and I used to do it every week) I’ve chosen three prompts at random and posted them on Instagram for people to draw. I call this Transmundane Tuesdays. (Transmundane means existing outside of the physical or visible world.)
Creative prompts are just things that spark ideas. People use them to inspire visual art, poetry, songwriting, you name it. Those of us who make art tend to gravitate to the same motifs over and over. I’m always drawing women’s heads in profile. Maybe you are always drawing horses or psychedelic landscapes or gothy manga people. We all have our thing.
Returning to the same subject matter again and again isn’t bad. I can envision a scenario in which I draw nothing but women’s heads in profile for the rest of my days, and each subsequent drawing leads me to something new. This approach has been the basis for lots of formidable art practices. Look at the botanical art of Maria Sibyl Merian. Look at Mark Rothko. Maybe I don’t even need to learn and evolve with each new iteration. Maybe it just feels good to paint a woman’s head in profile a thousand times and that’s enough. Art serves all kinds of purposes for the artist.
But sometimes we’re actually bored and we don’t know it until we’re pushed suddenly off of our well-worn creative paths. We may find ourselves in new territory then, and we may feel some kind of awakening that we haven’t felt in a while. That sense of awakening does seem critical to art-making. If we’re not experiencing it, sometimes we have to make it happen. This is why I like prompts.
I developed the Transmundane Tuesday prompts for a workshop I was planning at Manchester Craftsman’s Guild in Pittsburgh. It was for teenagers and I was told they were interested in character design. This seemed like a good way to push them off of their well-worn paths. I made up a bunch of prompts in three categories.
TRANSMUNDANE: otherworldly or paranormal
MUNDANE: everyday descriptors
GARB: clothing and accessories
I put them on color-coded slips of paper and drew one prompt from each category to create a character that I would then force these teenagers to draw. They were funny! I posted a bunch of them on instagram and, lo and behold, people just start drawing them. And then they asked for more prompts. So I made it a regular thing and #transmundanetuesdays was born.
That was in October of 2019. These days, if you visit that hashtag on Instagram, you’ll find over 13,000 posts. You’ll find art by kids, by well-known illustrators, and by adults who are drawing for the first time since childhood (a lot of people did this during the pandemic). Perhaps I’m biased, but I find it incredibly moving - all of us making art together with a common starting point and every possible outcome. You can click the links under any of these paintings to see other art that was made using the same prompts.
That’s the story of Transmundane Tuesdays. And, by the way, today is the first Tuesday of the month. So without further ado, go ahead and draw this:
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