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.
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 never mind-mapped to write a story before. Today, I sketched out a mind map for a side project I’m calling Extracurriculum, and was inspired to try it for a short story series idea I’ve been mulling over for a bit. While I haven’t written from it yet, I am inspired by how much more direction I have, how clear the ideas and characters are becoming before writing the first sentence. Why didn’t I give this a whirl ages ago?
I don’t want to share too much detail – I’m pretty private about creative writing until I get it to a certain point. I’m looking at a leisurely holiday break where I’ll have plenty of time to face the page.
For now, it’s movie time for the annual Griswald Family Christmas.
This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “Mind map a project you want to tackle in 2013.”
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?”
When I go to a yoga studio, I seek out the instructors who move at a faster pace. This typically lands me in vinyasa flow classes with a “one breath, one movement” approach. The kind of class where I leave drenched, and not because it’s a hot room, but because I worked for it.
At the other end of the spectrum is yin yoga. It’s peaceful and slow, focusing on fewer, deeper postures. I find it incredibly challenging, but not in a physical way. My brain just goes all over the place.
I’m a thinker. If there’s anything I continuously fail at it’s quieting and calming my mind. I’ve been aware for some time that my one big beast is finding focus.
It didn’t occur to me until today that this might affect my listening skills. I know. Hello, Captain Obvious, right? If my mind is always moving, I can’t possibly listen as deeply as I should.
When was the last time, with a clear mind, I gave full and total focus to the conversation at hand? When I could honestly say there wasn’t something – an incoming email, a random thought, my next meal – lurking in the corners of my head?
Today, a couple of things happened. This is about to get heavy. I went to ThriveMap, a purpose-finding and goal-setting event. They asked me to write my eulogy, what I hope my loved ones would write about after my passing. This is a grounding and sorrowful thing to consider.
Then, the horrific news from Connecticut, another senseless loss of lives. No pretend stuff here. Real eulogies that shouldn’t yet be written.
If ever there was a time to listen, to love, to live in the moment, now. Now I will go home and listen as deeply as I can.
This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “Listening — when was the last time you listened to someone, where, why?”
Indiana knows how to crown clouds with the setting sun. An exact replica I could never capture. Instead, I took the idea of fire in the sky quite literally and lit a fluffy cloud aflame.
I am an inpatient dabbler in art. The ideas come and I want to get them down on paper or canvas quickly, then move on. In an art class during my freshman year of college, the teacher observed incorrectly: “You draw with the confidence of a senior.” Less than confidence, it’s an urgency to finish, one that I find tough to shake. My haste makes for art that garbles the original idea, often leads to abandoned work, or even discourages trying in the first place.
Sometimes I can will myself to slow down. Other times, I try to fill the need to create with a quick win.
I made this ode to Indiana this morning because in reflecting on 2012 creative projects, I was feeling low that I had created so little. From ideation, to pencil sketch on canvas, to color mixing to finished work, this 4 x 4 inch painting was the work of a half hour or so. While not a work of which I’m very proud, at a time when I needed it, this little Fire in the Sky filled that need to create.
This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “What did you make this year? Whether work-related or something more personal (like a song, craft project, or work of art), share your process and the end result.”
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.”
A Good Kind of Disruption
I might not have noticed if I hadn’t accidentally hoarded my vacation days resulting in an extra long winter break. Aside from a bit of work on Think Kit I spent far less time at a computer since I don’t know when. Whatever work and thought patterns I’d developed were wholly disrupted by excesses of lounging, family time and movie-watching.
Sore Thumb Multitasking
And thank goodness. Otherwise, it may not have seemed so weird on returning to work when my brain instantly switched to that internet-fueled multitask mode – you know, the one when you have one eye on tweetdeck and incoming email while you’re knee deep in a project.
That first day back, I didn’t sit at my desk to work straight away. Instead, I stopped in the main room to flip through the newspaper. In came a co-worker to chat up the holidays. As we shared stories of our break, I couldn’t stop thumbing though the paper. All the while – my thought process: “Wow, this is really odd. Why am I flipping through this during our conversation…” until the inevitable lost train of thought.
A-ha! That was weird, huh?
Routine multitasking of internets and inboxes would have felt like the normal business of getting back to work. This multitasking was just plain weird, so I had a greater awareness of the shift in my brain. I noticed the fogginess, the slower processing, the not-quite-grasping any one thing as fully as I might with a more singular focus. It became obvious that despite the gross inefficiency of chronic multitasking, I was hard-wiring my brain to work this way, even when it didn’t matter.
Frankly, it scared the hell out of me. I wonder if I can break this bad boy, and if so, how much more I’ll accomplish?
In the days of apartment living, I bought this tiny desk. It serves more as a storage place for mail piles, knitting needles and other supplies. I tend to only work here if I want to use my Wacom drawing tablet. The desk is just wide enough to house my 17” laptop, the tablet and a cup of coffee.
Mostly, if I’m working from home, it happens right here:
This post is part of Think Kit 2011.
Yesterday at SmallBox, my coworker Justin Shimp started playing some songs from his youth. It sparked a conversation about music we bought when we were kids. There was a brief time in my early music-buying days when new releases were still pressed on vinyl. My sister and I had some great albums – Madonna’s True Blue, Thriller, and some true eighties gems like Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.
When I think of my early music obsessions, I always think of a 45 I had of Suzanne Vega’s My Name is Luka. On the flip side, she sang a Spanish version of the song. As a young midwestener, it was exotic and mind-blowing – and in hindsight it was pretty darn progressive for the time.
Reminiscing about that 45, I’ve decided I’ve got to have it again. I’ll be scouring used record bins, and I’m pretty excited about this new vinyl mission.
See, here’s the thing. I don’t like to mindlessly shop for things. One of the reasons I love going to antique stores is because I have an almost complete set of light blue depression glass. Five tea cups, six saucers, six side plates and three dinner plates. Four pieces away from completion. I’m sure I could find them on eBay, but then I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of the hunt. I love going in to places like this with a mission. I have others, like finding the best tamale, and now, an old Suzanne Vega 45. I like attaching purpose to the things I do.
It has me thinking about vision and mission in business and life too. I recently went through an exercise with the Indy Film Fest board to revisit our own statements. Like so many businesses and organizations, ours didn’t really reflect our identity. The statement was stiff and boring and verbose. As a group, we brainstormed. We stared at each other a little. We had a hard time finding our voice, feeling okay adding personality into something so official as the MISSION statement. We wrote several lines, mashed them up, crossed some out, narrowed it down.
It was liberating. And awesome. I can say our new mission statement in conversation and feel like a real person, not a talking head reciting some lofty, meaningless phrase.
I’ve read some personal mission statements here and there on the web. Often, I don’t feel like they say much of anything about the person they’re meant to describe. I’ve never gone through the process for myself personally. Maybe it’s time, but I’m hoping for something bigger, more defining than the little missions I assign myself.
If I write it, will I use it? Will I put it here on my blog or my resume? Will it guide the choices I make? I’m not sure, but I think I’ll enjoy the process either way.
Until then, placeholder: ‘I seek the best tamale in the world, an old Suzanna Vega 45 with My Name is Luka en español and blue depression glass plates and tea cup.’
Image credits: Suzanne Vega – “Luka” photo by Geoff B. via Flickr | Untitled photo by nosuchsoul via Flickr