Stumped? Look at clipart!

If you’re reading this and your birth year starts with “19__” then you probably already know what clipart is. For the younger generations and those living under rocks, here’s a quick recap: 

What is ClipArt?

ClipArt was pre-made graphics of every object, occasion, and emotion you could think of. It was popularized in the 80’s and 90’s, primarily in Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. You might recognize these little guys above! Microsoft ended its support for ClipArt in 2014, but ClipArt is still used today on other websites (like Canva!) to help the everyday person bring creativity and visualization to their documents and presentations.

While clipart was intended to help non-artists insert “art” into content, it can also be used as an idea generator… for artists! 

We’ve all been there. You hear a word and want to create a drawing, but when you put your pen down, your mind draws a blank! “Wait… how do I actually draw this?!” Things can be hard to draw if they’re:

  • Groundbreaking or new ideas and innovations (like AI or Cryptocurrency in 2015)
  • Things you’ve heard of but haven’t seen yourself or know how to draw from memory (like a Model T car)
  • Things you’ve never heard about before and don’t understand (like genome sequencing)
  • Abstract ideas or concepts without existing concrete visuals or associations (like Autism or a parody)

It doesn’t matter WHY you’re stumped as long as you’re committed to overcoming your obstacle! When you can’t find a drawing within yourself, look to others… and the fastest way to reach others is through the phone in your pocket. 

Google is your friend

Head over to Google and search the word or concept you’re stuck on plus the word “clipart.” Then go to image results. And voila! Endless scrolling of images other people have already created to illustrate your concept! This should get your creative gears going and help you generate ideas. 

It’s important to use the word “clipart” in your search because the image results will be more simple and straightforward, and are less likely to be stock photos with real people. 

But whatever you do… DO NOT COPY. 

You should know this already, but do not copy/paste the image from the internet and use it. Do not trace the image and call it your own. Instead, steal like an artist. Take the idea and add your own spin to it. Change the body position, color, character, style, or elements while keeping the idea intact. 

We get by with a little help from our friends.

Take it a step further! Every time I encounter a hard-to-draw word I add it to a note in my phone. Once I have a list of a few words, I’ll sit down to research how to draw them in different ways and practice drawing them. I’ve reached out to friends and asked if they would be willing to help me figure out how to draw it, or how they would do it. I can also bring my words to Graphic Jams or the Sketch Academy Community to get others’ ideas and approaches. Sharing your hard-to-draw words with others can help them out, too! Chances are good you’re not the only one who’s been stumped on the same thing. 

Drawing is communication

Remember, drawings are primarily about communicating ideas, not being perfect and beautiful. Ideas can be communicated simply and metaphorically- a stick person with a question mark is just as effective (if not moreso) than a complicated illustration of a person looking curious. With simple drawings we focus on the ideas, with complex drawings we focus on the art and the idea becomes secondary. Not ideal for sketchnoters! 

If you’re stumped on how to draw something, start simply and add complexity only if you think it’s necessary.