Modular Synthesis

I watched a documentary about the rise, fall, and rebirth of analog modular synthesizer technology called I Dream of Wires.

I was amused to think that modular synthesis is what many artists do as part of their work. We take bits of ideas and parts of a whole and put them together in new ways, moving plugs and dialing certain elements up and down.

We make and remix concepts and create new things in the world.

Train Keeps a-Rollin’

Momentum perpetuates itself. Get a streak of anything going and it’s easier to continue on.

Once a habit of creation becomes a compulsion, it can turn into a compulsion. For art, this is nearly always to the good. It overcomes doubt, outweighs sloth, and undermines indifference.

All night long. With a heave and a ho.

Collaboration Is the Future

Group projects, co-authored work, co-operative ventures: do them. The image of the solitary artist making all their stuff out of dreams and magic alone in a white room—or dingy garret—is a trope that obscures the increase in group creation. It’s common to see group work and teams, from design to video games to film. There’s plenty of room to grow, too.

It’s healthy and inspiring to get out of your own mindset for a while and work with others to make something.

It feeds your own drive, through ideas and concepts you hadn’t or would never have thought of, and that makes returning to your own projects feel fresh. We learn from teaching, we learn from collaborating, and learning should never end. Otherwise, we can stagnate or lose touch. With the world and our muses.

Bring It On Home

What if I used a song title as the title of every blog post? Probably just confuse everyone, actually.

Having given us all an out for taking a break from our creative stuff yesterday, I have to pull it back in again. It’s time to get back to the habit of doing. It’s way to easy to keep indulging monkey mind and let it go another day, which turns into three, a week, a year.

It’s true, some geniuses blast out a veritable torrent of work all at once, having done nothing for weeks or months. But I’m no genius. You may be, but then, if so, why are you paying attention to me at all? You just need to listen to your inner muse and let your ideas flow into reality to the blueprint of your vision. Most of us, though, are fumbling a bit and trusting that eventually the thing will have a distinct shape.

Starting up, keeping the habit, working steadily toward a finished piece is going to get things done, which is the real goal. Judgment about its worth, evaluating its place in the world—that all should come from others and after something is finished.

For now, you put aside fear for an hour or three and get the mechanism of daily practice (or near as damn it) back on track.


The same old dull routine. It makes you crave a change, tired of the stuff you’ve made that’s become regular, overly familiar. When habit has become tedious, it might be time to let it go for a day.

Change is good, and taking a break from monotonous behavior of any kind can reinvigorate you, re-energize you. It might be a relief to break out of a rigid structure of rules, even when you’re the one who’s set them.

Let the routine go for once, laze around, do nothing, think about a new direction, explore your surroundings. Everything is fodder for a new making. Indulge.

Just don’t go more than a day. Be back to the habit soon to put the new fire into the old coals.

Donut Shakes

That title has nothing to do with what I’m writing about, here. I just was suddenly struck by the notion that I heard Krispy Kreme was offering such a thing in their stores, the term was weird but evocative, and I should make something with that title, at some point. But why not now? There are plenty of places I could go, bouncing off it. Not to mention, it’d make a killer band name, too. Sometimes we should go with our instincts.

Instinct is both hazard and helpmate. It is the raw stuff of the best ideas and a path to quick disaster, left to its own devices. It’s easy to become directionless, as well.

Taken for its best qualities, though, it’s a wonderful starting point. It’s freeing and energizing to let your instincts guide your process when you begin a project. I tend to get in my own way at the start, second guessing my choices and doubting my ability. If I push those fears aside and go with my first instincts, I can start something, and once started, it’s easier to continue. It’s also easier to consider, change, edit, and improve something that exists. Doubt can stop us cold before we put a brush in our hand or a keyboard under our fingers.

Just Out of Reach

There’s a feeling of dread that surfaces sometimes, when you’ve been working on something a long time and it just doesn’t seem to be successfully presenting the ideas you had for it. The vision you started with hasn’t come to be.

The feeling is often temporary, a loss of confidence we all feel now and then. But if it persists, you have two choices when that feeling arrives: abandon the project, or forge ahead. I can’t say which is best, it’d depend on the circumstances and the work. If you still believe in the vision you had, it’s probably best to live with the feeling for a while, but trust in the vision until the work is done. Only then can you look back with perspective at the whole and decide what serves it and what needs fixing.

If you’ve lost the vision, though, or the connection you had to it, you might do well to move on to something else. I don’t advocate throwing it away, at least not yet. But put it out of sight for a while—a month, a year—and get your newly-refreshed eyes on it later.

Unless we believe in the work, few or no others will. You can show works that you think are less successful, but don’t show anything you don’t believe in or that’s disconnected from your vision.

A Little Too Quiet

Working in silence, or nearly so, can free you from distractions. I always used to get a tremendous amount of painting done overnight, during deadlines at school when something had to be done for the next morning. Often, I’d end up working through the night, staying awake to finish a piece for class.

But while deadlines can be harrowing, there’s inspiration to be had when working alone. If you don’t have a studio to retreat to, it can be a similar feeling to have the place you live all to yourself, when everyone else is asleep. It’s just you and your work, you listen to the piece, it speaks to you, and your conversation goes on, in feelings and impressions rather than words.

Sometimes it’s helpful to pull an all-nighter, even when you don’t have to. Experiencing the quiet space around you is both calming and sense-heightening.

When You’re Weary

You get tired. Holidays are especially wearing, and stressful in ways that can’t be fully overcome by the excitement and joy they also offer.

So, what do you do about it? Same as everything else you feel, you accept it and keep moving. The only thing certain about life is that as long as it exists, it moves. It moves forward through time—at a terrifying velocity, sometimes—even when we’re sitting still.

Do small work. Do quiet work. Do deliberate work. Your work doesn’t have to be grand or frenetic all the time, it can move with time, as life moves. This is part of being kind to yourself and respecting both feelings and your practice.

The New Thing

Craving the new is a natural part of being a novelty-seeking species. We love innovation, new albums, the latest book by a beloved author, a new season of a show we’ve followed for years.

As the new year begins, though, you shouldn’t forget about what’s been left behind. It’s useful to our next work to occasionally take stock of previous ones, especially unfinished stuff. Dig out old sketchbooks, unroll stored drawings and paintings, see what you like in them and what wasn’t working.

The road ahead can sometimes be better chosen by looking back at where you’ve been.