Creativity

Busyness Band-Aid

It is a lovely and mysterious moment when an idea strikes. Whether it be a video I might make, or a novel that I will never write, or a drawing I could finish.

Last weekend, I perused a multi-story vintage warehouse with my sister, and came across this small Band-Aid tin in the search. For only $4, it was obviously too perfect to pass up – I’ve got this odd attraction to trinkets and old things to place on shelves. It probably stems from the same part of my brain that likes vests.

I set it up on a shelf in my kitchen, next to a small glass tea-candle lamp and an old yellow Gurkin mustard tin. It fit right in. Each day since, I’ve glanced up and felt a sense of satisfaction seeing my new Band-Aid tin sitting up in its place, like it had been there for years.

This afternoon, I happened to glance up at it again, and I had one of those lovely moments. An idea struck – an idea for a poster. What would the Band-Aid of a creative life be? I jotted down some quick ideas in my notebook. “Sleep”? “Silence”? “Take a walk”?

Before deciding on a direction, I took my own advice and stepped away from my computer. Me and my roommate went on a walk down the lake a few blocks from our apartment, and as we walked across the footbridge overlooking Lincoln Memorial Drive, I told him about the idea. “Oh, yeah yeah yeah,” he said excitedly. We chatted back and forth for a while, throwing ideas out.

“I’m trying to think of puns that go with Band-Aid,” he said. “Hand maid!” We didn’t go with hand maid. We kept walking, enjoying the cool weather, then finally, walking through the front door, landed back at my original concepts.

Here is my poster for the day. It’s been a while since I made one, and it felt good to be back in it. For a while at the beginning of the year, I was making a poster like this every day. It’s nice to look back at past self and be stoked at all the work he did… But it’s also nice for present self to have the freedom to take a break without feeling too bad about it. That’s a balance I’m still trying to find.

The Art of the Find

On a rare scroll through Twitter the other night, I stumbled across a blog I’d never seen before. Created by a designer and web developed named Reagan Ray.

Reagan is a curator. He collects things he loves, category by category, and shares them with the world. From famous Texans, to comic book super hero lettering, to his top 22 sci-fi films.

His most recent post takes you through the title lettering of all the Oscar Best Picture winners. From the 1927 Wings to Parasite. It’s a beautiful scroll. Having it all collected in one, clean place, allows you to look and make new connections and think in new ways about the work.

A section from Reagan Ray’s ‘Best Picture Lettering.’

Curation itself can be an art form – the act of actively looking for things you love, things that inspire you, and collecting those things from the corners of the world. That’s a gift for others to find. A place for others to find appreciation.

In a Wired interview, musician, Brian Eno, said:

“An artist is now a curator. An artist is now much more seen as a connector of things, a person who scans the enormous field of possible places for artistic attention, and says, What I am going to do is draw your attention to this sequence of things.

(Here’s the full quote for free)

Scrolling through my Pinterest boards, I see the collections of things that have inspired me visually. Flipping through my notebook, I see the quotes I’ve curated and documented in pen.

Looking through my movies-watched list, I can see patterns. Scrolling through my saved Instagram posts, I see phases of art as I scroll through months and years of saved artworks. Cartoons, then comic book illustrations, then lino-cut prints, then ultra minimalistic posters. Then architecture photographs, fashion illustration and logo designs. We are all curators in a sense.

Looking through your curated collections from seasons passed can show you what you cared about. What you liked best. What was making an impression.

What we curate doesn’t only help guide what we make or what we share, it also tells us about ourselves. It can invigorate us, or show us our own growth.

Curating doesn’t just document the world around us, it documents us.

Imaginary Instruments

I’ve had a couple tedious work days in a row. The kind that felt like I could not, for the life of me, figure out a solution to the problem I was working on. The sort of hours spent pondering how anyone could every possibly be so pitiful as to pay you for anything you ever make, because it’s all utter rubbish, and you should’ve been an electrician instead. These last couple days, I’ve taken to pacing around my kitchen when I hit the dead ends. It’s a better alternative to tearing my own hair out, but doesn’t come with the brute satisfaction. Sometimes I lay on the couch and toss my baseball up and down, over and over, seeing how close I can get it to the ceiling without putting a dent in the popcorn plaster. But these aren’t sure fire ways to clearing my head or finding a solution, or even alleviating the frustration. It’s in these moments that I wish I played an instrument.

I recently discovered that Einstein, when faced with a problem he couldn’t seem to solve, would pick up his violin, and play.

Apparently he even named his beloved violin – Lina she was called. He often talked about music as an inspiration and source of joy in his life.

If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. … I get most joy in life out of music.

This connection between Einstein and music seems an odd one at first, but this video beautifully describes some of the science behind it. 

Recently, Austin Kleon – my favorite author of the moment – has recently taken up piano in his free time.

Playing an instrument can sort of be a super power. A super stimulus for the brain. Plus it’s beautiful and sophisticated and an excellent use of time. There are no downsides to playing an instrument. It is good for you in every way. But… it’s hard. And that’s where I get stuck.

These last couple days of tedious work, though, full of pacing and hair tugging and rubbing my palms into my eyes, may be enough to push me into a new musical journey. Maybe an instrument is just what I need. More music could never really hurt.

My favorite composer, Aaron Copland, said at a concert dedicated to him for his 80th birthday:

I was able to spend my life at music, in music, with music. Not everybody is so lucky.

Beautifying Scraps

Image via SixtySix

This is Nicole McLaughlin, 27 year old designer based in New York. She specializes in upcycling and sustainability in her bizarre and fantastical apparel.

Image via Nicolemclaughlin.net

This video dives into Nicole’s thoughts on sustainability in design and fashion, and her making-process (you can skip the in-video ad from 0:45-1:27).

I happened upon Nicole’s work within the last couple weeks, on one of my brief and shallow dips into Twitter, and was immediately captured by the playfulness and originality of her designs. Not only is she making things that are so clearly sustainably repurposed goods, she is doing it in a way that highlights the past lives of each item. Like a woodworker highlighting live edge of a maple slab, Nicole is beautifying the scraps of material. She is creating a sense of fashion in a place few people have ever looked before.

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After gaining traction online with items like volleyball slippers and bread mittens, Nicole has become a voice in the fashion world for sustainable and eco-friendly design.

Her creativity and willingness to play with her work is inspiring.

You can read a more in depth look at her life and work here.

Sharpie and Newsprint: A Collection

I spent a chunk of my evening alone in the apartment drawing these 18×24″ sharpie-on-newsprint scenes.

It was quite a fun process, and, as always happens when I pick up a pen or a paint brush, it made me want to do more traditional work.

But it makes me want to draw with sharpie and pen more often specifically. There’s something really freeing about completing a drawing with no ctrl+z. The inability to erase presents a higher bar of entry to the drawing process, but once you’ve forced yourself past the bar, it can be a much more enjoyable process. No more kneading back and forth across the same spot on the page over and over.

You’re stuck with every line, no matter what, so you start to let go of some of that tension, and just let the lines fall where they’d like.

This evening also helped to fortify my opinion on quantity masking crudity. These drawings are not beautifully crafted – and yet, as soon as you start building the quantity, the total picture starts to become more impressive.

Author Talk with Austin Kleon

A couple days ago, I had the opportunity to watch a conversation between Austin Kleon and Jessica Abel live.

Here are some of my key take-aways from what Kleon had to say:

    • “I’m a student who never went back to school.”
    • “The only way I can [write] these books is ask what I’m trying to figure out. They’re selfish.”
    • Everything that’s good for kids is good for you… Space, time, books, fresh air and walks.
    • Stop asking direct questions to find the answer, just figure it out.
    • “You’re just a mashup of what you let into your life.”
    • Every writer should work in a books store or a library to be forced to think about the reader.
    • Kids aren’t afraid of a blank page, because they have no expectations of themselves. And they’ve got some incredible confidence. 

One thing I’d love to do once the world returns that I’ve never done before is go see authors speak in person. I never really recognized books tours as something I’d be interested in, but I’m certainly interested now.

Finding the Purpose

Upon reading a recent post where I discussed pens and an old friend from high school, my sister Lauren pointed out her wish for a broader why? in the writing.

“As it stands,” she said, “it’s warm and innocent and beautiful.” Stop it, I’m blushing.

“But if I had a wish,” she went went on, “I’d love to read this with a little more about the why’s, the lessons, or a parallel into some other life truth or something weaved in.”

Well. Yes, she’s right. In writing, I so often find myself stopping at my original thought. But this often leaves my writing feeling unfinished, without depth. When I finish my original thought, I need to stop and think how does this connect to broader life? Why does this matter?

This is something that Hank and John Green do beautifully in the weekly videos on their Vlogbrothers YouTube channel.

Hank even describes this phenomenon at 2:55 in this lovely video about arbitrary human design.

And just for fun, here is another Vlogbrothers video, made by John this time. It’s one of my favorites.

I think the thoughts bouncing around in my head at present can be summed up in the words purpose and meaning. That’s what I feel I’m often missing in my work.

What is the purpose of this story? Of this drawing? The meaning of this video? What am I hoping for friends and folks to get out of this thing I’m making? If it is simply beauty, then great. But there is often more room than I think for deeper purpose and beauty to live side by side.

That’s something I’m trying to learn right now. How to infuse purpose and meaning.

Those are very abstract words that do not lend themselves to a very tangible goal, but I will work on reducing the thought down in the stew pot of my mind to a more understandable objective.

Goya and Van Gogh

Two famous painters from history – Francisco Goya and Vincent van Gogh – were born on this day, 275 years and 168 years ago respectively. I do not have anything very insightful to say, I just scanned through each of their works again this evening, and pulled several ‘comparable’ pieces (only in rough terms of color and subject matter) to put on display here.

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First we’ll start with self portraits, hard at their work. (These remind me of one of my favorite paintings)

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Churches with blue skies.

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Women in blue.

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And finally, secluded gathers behind tall trees.

It’s quite beautiful to see how unique these two worlds are. And, despite how different the subject and scene of each painting is, how clearly every work fits in to the over arching world of the painter.

Both Goya and Van Gogh really found their thing. I wonder, when I’m old and gray and looking back at my life’s work, what my thing will be.

Here’s a bonus video about a piece of Goya’s work by one of my favorite YouTube channels.

Less, But Better

Rams, a documentary by Gary Hustwit, paints a beautiful picture of the life, work and philosophy of one of the world’s most influential industrial designers – Dieter Rams.

Kindly, organized and reclusive, Dieter Rams does not fall in with the authoritarian stereotypes of world-changing innovators – like Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison. He is generous with his time and ready to help. His demeanor is remembered by some of his former employees as fatherly. Through his 40 year tenure at the German electronics company, Braun, from 1955-1995, he gained the respect and loyalty of those he worked alongside.

Rams’ home office. Nearly everything in this frame was in part designer by Rams himself

Although his attitude and leadership differed greatly from that of Steve Jobs, they’re design sensibilities were much the same. The work of Rams is perhaps the single greatest contributor to the design of Apple products we see today.

A 1956 Braun record played, dubbed “Snow White’s Coffin,” due to its early use of plexiglass in the lid
A comparison of Dieter Rams’ designed radio and the first Apple iPod

A CNN article on Rams and man and Rams the film asked the director, Gary Hustwit what if he’d asked Rams about his influence on Apple Products.

“He thinks it’s a compliment. He likes Jony [Ive, Apple’s former Chief Design Officer] a lot. But I think it’s hard for him to judge that impact because he doesn’t have a computer. He’s not on the Internet. He’s not interested in digital interfaces and user experience design and all these screens that we have to look at all day. There are no screens in his life, there’s just an old Braun television from the 1980s and that’s really the only screen in his house. It’s just not something that he’s interested in engaging with.”

Rams’ leading philosophy in design and in life is:

Less, but Better.

This leading ideal is then broken up into the now iconic 10 Principles of Good Design.

  1. Good Design is Innovative.

     

  2. Good Design makes a Product Useful.

  3. Good Design is Aesthetic.

  4. Good Design makes a Product Understandable.

  5. Good Design is Unobtrusive.

  6. Good Design is Honest.

  7. Good Design is Long-Lasting.

  8. Good Design is Thorough to the Last Detail.

  9. Good Design is Environmentally Friendly.
  10. Good Design is as Little Design as Possible.

When asked by an aspiring industrial design student what advice he had for her, Rams replied:

“Keep your eyes wide open.”

Quantity Masks Crudity

Even crude work becomes impressive in high enough quantity. Like Jason Polan’s Every Person in New York.

Pretty much anything becomes impressive or beautiful to us humans in high enough quantity. LEGO clone troopers. Layers of paint. Words repeated a 100,000 times in a row.

Sometimes, if you find yourself struggling to create a singular masterpiece – create 50 or 100 or 1,000 small, crude pieces. And the mass collective can become the singular masterpiece.

If you’re struggling to write the book, just get one sentence down today. In her book on writing and life, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott describes her own writing process. She sits at her desk, wondering what on God’s green earth to write, maybe hyperventilating a little, until she finally notices the 1-inch picture frame beside her monitor.

It reminds me that all I have todo is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running.”

The title of that chapter is “Short Assignments.”

Lots of short assignments lead to big payoffs. Often times, quality only comes with quantity. With practice. With repetition. Or simply, with enough of the bad that it simply morphs into a giant, singular good. David Bayles and Ted Orland display this idea beautifully in their book, Art & Fear:

[A] ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Quantity leads to quality.

This project – drawing 100 of something – taught me this lesson in my second year of art school. In my case, it was finding spaceships within splotches of watercolor.

Today, I started a new quantity-over-quality project, with these 2×3 inch paintings of shapes. It was fun to paint with real brushes again, rather than my stylus and computer. And though these are not special in any way individually, I’m hoping once I fill a wall with 30 or 40 of them, the quantity will mask the crudity.