agenda by Zosia Swidlicka

reading time 4 minutes

As a writer, I often suffer from blank page paralysis. I lean over my notebook, pen poised in anticipation, and yet nothing comes out. I stare in front of me; I shift around in my seat, I vacuum the whole house and… still nothing. But this feeling isn’t limited to just writers. Artists, designers and all kinds of creative thinkers are at the mercy of this debilitating curveball. So how can we overcome it? The book Giancarlo Iliprandi: Sketch, Think, Draw has answers.

Giancarlo Iliprandi (1925 – 2016) was one of Italy’s foremost graphic designers. Spanning advertising campaigns, posters, window displays, exhibition design, art direction, typeface design and brand development, his work is dynamic and impactful while retaining a certain sensibility. The publication reveals that beneath all this lay a steadfast methodology that Iliprandi practised religiously. It holds the key to banishing the dreaded creative block once and for all.

There was one thing that Iliprandi did that set him apart from his peers. Unusually for a graphic designer of his generation, he studied painting and set design at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts. It is here that he discovered drawing and began to fill notebook upon notebook with sketches. His extensive travels to far-flung destinations around the world are all captured on paper. This is where we begin to unravel his secrets.

The book reveals how Iliprandi would focus on important details such as the movement of hands, the profile of a face and the significance of different garments. This wasn’t just a study exercise. “Drawing is wonderful medicine,” he says. “It helps you enter into the landscape by deepening your point of view. It helps reveal people, as you try to grasp their hidden lives. Chasing fragments, details, sketches, before they escape from your thoughts.”

Delicate lines and watercolour washes bring out the doors and windows of Oman in front of us. A jumble of animals and robed figures recreates a market scene from Chad with bold red lines hastily applied on the page, evoking a sense of organised chaos. Iliprandi’s impressions are scribbled beside the drawings: “These so-called maidens of Niola Doa…what are they looking at, what are they waiting for, where is the ritual, the mystery, who will arrive?”

He examines the different shades of green that crop up in Punta Arenas. “Grey-green, turquoise, emerald, billiard. Then pine green, wagon green, military green, sage green, sludge green.”

Drawing was primarily a communicative aid for Iliprandi and his graphic design work, but he recognised the importance of drawing for pleasure; for the pure sake of it. In his hands, drawing is not just a way to document what you see; it becomes a physical and mental act that starts and ends wherever you draw the line:

“Maybe what’s best is to make many drawings in a way that frees you from the need to represent reality: in these drawings, your pleasure is no longer connected with what you draw, but with the line you make.”

So the first rule is to keep drawing, writing or designing, and not to worry too much about the end result, but to focus on making a line and following it wherever it goes. Creating for pleasure, rather than for a specific assignment, frees us from any mental barriers and restrictions we impose on ourselves. But what about those of us who can’t transport ourselves to the Sahara? It turns out that the true barrier to creativity is not our surroundings, but our own thoughts.

“Action comes before thought,” says Iliprandi. If you practice every day, eventually the gesture will become instinctive. You will no longer have to think before doing; your hand will just find its way to that blank page in front of you and fill it up naturally. In order to do so, “it’s important to train yourself by taking on a lot of work, and by looking at the work of those around you. You must store up a great number of solutions and models, to be able to then rework them at the right time.” Action can only come before thought when you have built up enough references, impressions and experience to draw from.

In the introduction to the book, American art director James Victore says, “The most beautiful thing a human can do is draw a mark with his bare hands.” Next time you sit down to put pen to paper, don’t reach for the vacuum cleaner. Enjoy the physical act of following the line across the page, and get your mind out of the way. Repeat as necessary.

The book ‘Giancarlo Iliprandi: Sketch, Think, Draw’ is available here.

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