My coworker Lydia just celebrated her fifth anniversary with SmallBox. Not only is she our champion of collaborative processes, she also is the sort of gal who has a word of the year. This year’s word: PLAY. As part of her anniversary gift, we decided to make and frame a collaborative piece of art inspired by her word.
Each participant was to create a 5″ x 5″ piece to be framed together – any style, any medium, so long as it was flat and related to the theme PLAY. I chose watercolor for my medium.
One of my evergreen goals is to create more. It’s a balance I struggle to find – connecting time with ideas, loving what I’m making in the moment, finishing. On the morning I painted my contribution, it all came easily. That’s not always the case for me, so I wanted to get at why.
The importance of getting started.
Just getting the watercolors (or whatever supplies) out is half the battle. I set out to paint one watercolor, but ended up with four. It’s surprising how much I need to remind myself this simple thing. Resolve to start, even without clarity of what exactly to make.
About that whole getting started thing. Another simple revelation: I should be giving myself specific assignments with deadlines! It’s funny to think back on the productive days of school, when writing and making of things piled up in heaps. Parameters give a starting point, so there is less stress over concept. It’s also fun to push to be creative within a boundary.
The assignment also forced me to allow a few flops. I threw away my first attempt, and 2 others in between. I might have given up on a normal day after the first bad watercolor.
Knowing she takes playful and interesting photos, I looked to Lydia’s instagram feed for inspiration. Though I haven’t ever turned to a social site for art ideas, it worked really well. I tried painting one image of “December Mushrooms” which ended up looking a little like mustaches. In one image she wrote: “Sky. And it smells like campfire. My heart explodes.” which inspired the final watercolor. Another reminder: sometimes I take art too seriously. Find inspiration in unexpected places (yes, even the internet).
I mostly work alone in art. Working with others toward this larger goal was rewarding in a very rich way. Added to my to do list: find art partners.
In theory, last Monday started out perfectly. I got lost in writing until it was time to race in to work. Trouble is, that meant I never made it through my morning weekly planning. Writing is also part of that typical routine, just not so much of it.
Before I knew it, the week was a run away train. I never framed up my priorities just right, and so I swung at things as they flew at me, boxing through the week blindfolded, feeling a little lost. Yuck.
I never could get back on track, and just resorted to slogging through til the weekend.
Thankfully, there was no crisis, nothing major dropped or forgotten, but I can’t help but wonder how I let this happen. After spending so much of December reflecting and realizing the importance of mornings (among other things), how did I get so far off the rails?
With the promise of fifty degree weather and no ice on the trail, I set out for my first run in the great outdoors for some time. And I thought, This is it!
It wasn’t just that I decided to write Monday morning. It’s that I lacked the mental clarity or the discipline to recover later that day, or to carve out the time to refocus throughout the rest of the week. And the reason I couldn’t refocus?
Bringing myself out of the muck that is ‘computer brain’ increasingly requires physical activity. That’s what was missing. There’s simply no substitute for it.
I’ve suffered a bit of a double whammy. My regular yoga teacher moved to a studio way up in the ‘burbs, too far for me to follow. Add to that the weeks of iciness of the side streets and Monon Trail (meaning no outdoor running for me, falling expert that I am), and my whole physical routine was off.
I’ve made some trips to the gym, but it isn’t the same. It’s hard to find any kind of clarity with all of the smells and sounds of the gym, when working out requires a machine and forces a different kind of screen time.
Today, on that rare winter day that teases spring, my intended two miles turned to four.
Pounding, heart in chest, feet on pavement, wind and breath. Then, that flood of thought that comes with a good run.
The other night, after much tossing and turning, I gave in and got up out of bed. I wanted to see why things seemed so bright. There was so much light pouring in through the windows at the back of the house, I thought there must be someone working in the alley, a car idling with their brights on, something.
But, no. It was just the moon.
It’s hard to share just exactly how captivating that midnight moon was. In a half-tired state, I grabbed my camera for a mini-photo shoot to try to capture its beauty. This photo doesn’t do it justice.
A couple of things:
1. The moon will never look just like that again. Isn’t that a wonderful thing to consider?
2. Standing there in my pajamas and house shoes on my back deck, snapping away in the iciness of twenty degrees, snow on the ground and icicles overhead, I felt truly alive. This is the type of moment that reminds me I still have it. That old fire to discover, to experience, to create. Even when it isn’t easy or comfortable. Even when nothing to show comes of it.
That feeling. That’s the keepsake of that midnight oil.
Brainstorming can be a randomly beautiful thing, with no structure, just shouting it all out: a worthy idea appears. Sometimes that is enough. Other times, putting a new lens or technique on a problem is helpful. If you need more of that, I’d recommend checking out Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming by Ellen Lupton.
Many of the techniques will be familiar for creative agency types. Mind-mapping. Sprinting. Co-design. Each description is simple and concise, and as a whole, the book provides a great overview of techniques. Even if you already know them, no matter. Where the book really shines is the real world examples paired with each technique. It’s incredibly inspiring.
One example of collaboration, the Reinvent Mural really struck me. A group of designers collaborated to create a a series of images for a gallery installation. Each image leads to the next, a similar shape, but also something new.
It got me thinking of it as a sort of a visual version of the telephone game, or chinese whispers. Remember that old game? The one in which words are whispered into the next person’s ear, on down the line, and then, ta da! Out the other end comes, more often than not, an entirely different word or phrase.
It might be a silly child’s game, but it very effectively illustrates the potential for re-framing, even total warping in human communication. Each individual perception, each new touch has incredible power to shift things.
I played around with this idea in a quick sketching session. Oh, the strange paths that can unfold out of the brain!
Parentheses >; Black-eyed peas >; Macaroni >; Old school telephone handset >; Magnet >; Lightning bolt. This ended pairing the pea and the bolt, a bit of nonsensical fun.
From Indiana >; Creepy bird mask >; Tornado >; Stairs.
Or another path:
Indiana >; Thought bubble >; Whale.
X >; Pliers >; Tooth >; Rockin’ guitar >; Rocket >; Spotted shark.
This was a solo experiment, but as fascinating as it is to marvel at the leaps one mind can make, a group application is what I’m more interested in. For this experiment, I’d set it up so that only the first participant sees the source image, and each to follow would see only the most recent sketch in the series.
The reason I’m so taken with this is this: it reminds me of how brands evolve as they’re carried. As an organization, we may design a logo, choose our words or how we want people to feel, but the moment it’s out in the world, it gets touched, shaped and shifted by others. Customers, fans, friend or foe can perceive what they will and share your brand with others through their own filter. Like it or not.
Think about this: if you were to telephone sketch your logo, where would it take you? If your customers or fans did it, where to then?
I’ve been here before. Standing at the end of the sidewalk of another year, thinking how fast time vanishes and how little I have to show for it.
In work and volunteering, I’m very driven toward excellence. I don’t always achieve it, but in the process I give much of myself (energy, time). The sum of that effort has often left me falling short on more personal goals and pursuits. At the end of long days and weeks, it’s quite easy to deserve relaxation and forgo all other priorities.
Understanding the balance of discipline and creativity.
I’ve seen the fruit discipline bears this year more than any other, namely in the pursuit of health. Think Kit, too, has had a hand in this realization that’s been in the making for the last six months. Looking back on this and the last 30 posts, not all are created equal. While there are a few I’d gladly scratch from the blog, more powerful that that: I can write and create daily.
Discipline. Why have I resisted you so thoroughly for so long?
I’ve prized chaos, surprise, even random luck. I’ve frowned at a life too scheduled, convincing myself structure equals rigidity, fearing discipline would snuff out any chance for surprise and delight.
I’ve declared I could never get “facing of the page” to work for me. I’ve long given myself the excuse in the form of rally cry, Let us all be enjoyers of things!
I admit it with some shame: I believed with such fervent folly that one day I’d just wake up and create something miraculous. When I read the words of wisdom from writers and artists of yore about their discipline, I always thought, Bah! I don’t believe in that. I can’t sit down to write or draw or make things when I don’t have an idea, without that initial spark of inspiration.
It’s taken a lot of life changes and the wisdom granted with another passing year to get here. Most of us are not gripped by madness at 3 a.m. one random morning, and continue working day and night for three weeks straight to publish the great American novel with barely an edit. This is the more rare thing.
Creativity might be fed from some unknown forces, yes. It sometimes springs forth, all mysterious, dark and seductive. Once it appears in this way, it’s easy to be deceived, to believe it will just appear again and again, and good work will follow.
But no. It’s the ones who get up early, or reserve the hours before bed, who find a way to commit time and keep focus who look back on their year and feel satisfaction in their body of work.
Feeding creativity isn’t as tricky as I credited. It isn’t so dark or secret, it’s there for the taking by any who care to make space for it. It’s the flexing, just like a muscle. The commitment to doing and making, even when that creative spark seems elusive. It will come. It will come, I realize now, if I am there to meet it.
I know I’m joining a chorus of many others who have come to understand this. With one foot in 2012, and the other stepping toward 2013, I’m glad to welcome this strange new fellow, discipline. Let’s see what I can do with you.
This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “What are you looking forward to the most about the next 365 days?”
In any given year for nearly twenty years, if asked, ‘What is my purpose in life?’ I would have said: create, create, create.
Just one simple word. I’m incredibly driven by the magical process of thinking > idea! > making. For me, it’s not always clear from whence ideas come, but there they are, begging to be reckoned with, this thing that is uniquely mine.
About six months ago, I had the opportunity to think pretty deeply on my own purpose as part of Factory Week and landed on something close to create, but a little more me: make goodness. It sounds a little silly, but sort of like how I talk.
In thinking on it again, make goodness just sticks as my personal mantra. I think it applies to much of what I value, representing both the grand and simple pursuits of my life:
Writing. A lot. I hope.
Building something really amazing for my favorite nonprofit: Indy Film Fest.
Gardening. (I will pickle this year, I will pickle this year, I will pickle… maybe I have a gardening mantra, too?)
(you get the idea!)
There were some other words I considered:
I love bringing people together, so I liked connect or convene.
Whether connecting the dots for people when I can tell they don’t get something, or bringing people together that ought to meet, connecting is rewarding stuff. For example, one of my new missions is to match-make co-workers with nonprofits. Finding a good fit does transfer some goodness into the world, so, I’m going to say this is loosely covered by my mantra already.
I love the idea of inspiring others to create, so I considered words like ignite or spark.
I ruled this out because I feel I have a lot of personal making to do before I could really inspire others. Maybe one day.
This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “Write a mantra for the year ahead – how you’ll approach it, what you wish it to be. How’d you arrive at the mantra?”
I’ve lived in my house for just a couple of years. From the start, it’s felt cozy and full, save above the fireplace in the living room.
For months, I stared at the blank space, dreaming about the art my husband and I would buy to hang there. We browsed at art festivals, hunted at Midland, we gallery-hopped on First Friday, and still didn’t find the right thing. I saved and spent the money for a painting to fill the void several times.
And then we found it. The one.
Contracted by Susan Hodgin
I’ve been buying art since I was in high school. Over the years I’ve acquired a couple of paintings, a handful of prints and more than my fair share of ceramic pieces.
I’ve been gripped by art plenty of times before, but this was different. This was love.
A couple of months in and it still takes my breath away when I walk through my door. This year, I learned what it feels like to be a collector.
This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “What new things did you learn this year?”
It wasn’t until this year that I began to understand the joy of mornings. A chronic night owl with occasional insomnia, I looked at any day requiring a 7 a.m. wake up as another dubious battle to be waged.
I got a foot in the door, or I guess out of the door, with purposeful mornings this year. For the second half of this year I didn’t miss a week of running at least two mornings. The other mornings, I spent getting a head start on work, or sifting through my often neglected Google Reader subscriptions. It was a start.
In 2013, I want to make mornings more meaningful.
More reading. And writing.
The old school reader in me still loves thumbing through pages, the smell of books, the gloss of magazines. I think I need more book store and library trips to replenish my stack of actual print material. If I want to be sure I take the time I need to write, it must be in the morning, before the barrage of email and urgency of work takes over for the day.
Once I get invested in tasks in the a.m., I can get lost in them like no other time of the day. I get my best work done in the quiet of my home before the sun rises. Sometimes I get so focused, I lose all track of time and forget to eat breakfast until it’s too late. I’d like to explore some make ahead breakfast recipes.
Let’s get physical.
On the days that start with fresh air and getting the blood flowing, I feel more alert and focused for the rest of the day. I don’t want to run every morning, but would like to walk my dogs on the off days.
I was really inspired by the inspiration board exercise and the rush of ideas that came afterwards. The next day, I woke and made a mini painting. I won’t always have time for a major project, but a few doodles should be manageable any morning.
Why the shift?
I’m not sure what happened. I may owe this shift to this year’s focus on my health. It could be that my workplace adopted a freedom policy. For the first time I had no guilt about either sleeping in, or getting up early and designing my mornings to be just the way I like them. Maybe it wasn’t the morning so much as the rushing around and commuting that I resisted all of these years.
I’ve just scratched the surface with mornings. In 2013, I’m looking forward to filling my early hours with more purpose.
This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “What new traditions do you want to start this year?”
This summer, my husband and I talked about how much we needed a getaway to a cabin in the woods. We meant to plan it for our anniversary in October. We got busy, time slipped away and it never got scheduled.
Our one big vacation in 2012 was an east coast swing, from Annapolis to Philadelphia to NYC. It was exciting and amazing, but in 2013, this is what I want vacation to look like:
About this inspiration board process:
This morning when I woke up, instead of reading up on blogs or diving into a work project as I often do, I got out the scissors, glue stick and a big stack of magazines.
Vacation hadn’t been on my mind recently, but I’m not surprised I went there. I’ve had a long week: 11 hour work days, Think Kit management, Indy Film Fest board meeting.
But then something really surprising happened.
What happened next, you ask?
Just after completing this inspiration board, at the young hour of 7 a.m. I got not one, but two big ideas in a row. The first, a personal creative project for me. I’m not ready to share it yet, but I will say it involved a quick domain purchase. The second, an idea for a new pursuit for my husband.
Will either of these ideas be realized? I don’t know. But any day that delivers two ideas I’m proud of is a good one indeed. Morning crafting, I may just re-visit you more often.
This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “What do you want your life (or your kitchen, your job, your x) to look like? Create your own inspiration board.”
For years, I never really noticed this:
Then one day in Broad Ripple, walking passed a pocked-up utility pole, I was struck by the strange beauty of the staples. Not to mention all of the scrappy hope that went into posting them there.
Each one represented a band who hoped you’d go to their show, a small business looking to build up a tribe and the like. Call them rust or litter, I can’t see (or unsee) them as I once did.
Last Friday in Fountain Square I discovered I’m not the only one who has found inspiration in the stapled-up utility pole, though this was of a different sort:
I caught Tasha Lewis in the middle of her installation of these cyanotype butterflies on Virgina Avenue across from the Murphy Center. She uses tiny, but powerful magnets to attach these winged creatures to the staples left behind from flyers of yore. There’s just something about stumbling onto art in unexpected places. Love seeing stuff like this in Indy.