We, the digital set, the technorati, the first world era, are castigated for looking down at our phones constantly.
But there’s a world to notice down there. On the ground, the street, the road. It’s all strange and overlooked colors, bits of stone, stains, scraps, fluff, fragments, trash, cracks, critters, patterns, paint, plants, paper, pools, plastics.
If your habit is to look down at your feet as you walk, spend some time looking up. But if you’ve been on your phone or staring straight ahead on your commutes, check out the view below.
I’m back! Probably! It’s been a long, traumatic move. Being in a new place, with old stuff, is disorienting. Habits I thought I’d established are more easily broken. But still, change is usually good. It’s inevitable, so better to go the Taoist route and bend rather than break.
As easy as it is to blow off posting here, it’s also uncomfortable. I like the discipline of it, and I think it helps me, creatively. It’s also easy to beat myself up about missing days, but that approach only makes us want to stay away more. Whatever we do—our thing, our work—if it’s habitual, is valuable not just for its content, but also its ability to act as outlet, or creative hydrant. Its meaningfulness is deeply ingrained in the simple act of creation. We should continue.
It’s always hard to work my routines into such a big anxiety- and stress-inducing event as moving house, but I’ll still be giving it a shot. There’s value and relief in hanging onto whatever steadiness can be had on a metaphorically stormy sea.
One of the reasons for keeping a sketchbook on you at all times (or whatever notebook you’re drawn to—ha! Drawn!—for your medium and your thing) is to be ready to work on creation or making when its time. Not just when inspiration strikes, but to order.
It’s well demonstrated that creativity can be made to order by habitual attempts. Even when your best equipment is all boxed up, a moment to get out of the world and into your vision is good for you.
We’ve got a friend visiting who owns a car. My lack of knowledge about how to navigate parking downtown, where we live, including meter boundaries and cost are practically nil. In less than a year since moving, and giving up my car, I’ve remained virtually locked into public transit and walking.
I felt helpless to answer questions and solve problems. “Just keep driving around” was almost wholly inadequate. It strikes me that humans—for all we talk about history repeating and not learning lessons—are still eminently adaptable. Circumstances around us may change, but most of us can melt into the new mold quickly.
When I think about new directions to take my work, new media to explore, and new situations that restrict what I might do, I don’t keep this in mind. I get frustrated trying to recreate circumstances and methods of the past. While that can sometimes work for a lifetime (Turner), it might not be possible for some (Stella), and I could be doing myself a disservice, wasting energy needlessly.
Maybe just melt into the new mold first and the rest takes care of itself.
It’s a nice view from our apartment, mostly of the buildings next to ours, but the west Portland hills rise up behind everything and it looks like a diorama. It’s inspiring and uplifting. I’ve wanted to live in a downtown apartment since I was little.
It’s also a different sketching perspective. Since I’ve never lived this high up before, I have a new set of angles to discover and try to capture. Both these aspects are fulfilling and fun, and it’s a big change from many years near the ground in L.A.
Simple things feed into our feelings and our creativity. We shouldn’t undervalue a change in view.
With some regularity, the song “Changes” by Yes fills the phantom ears in my brain. Just the memory, of course. It’s sad and jarring, as much as I like it and the way they made it. Sort of like an Anselm Kiefer painting.
It reminds me that nothing stays the same for long. We move through time, or the other way ’round, and there’s always a new way to look at our work and the world we interpret through it. It should be humbling, at least enough to get us to keep practicing, trying to see the new stuff.
There’s always a shift when I start searching for something new to make, but most of the time, it comes back to observational drawing & painting. It’s a comfortable place to get some interpretive ideas happening and also keep skills in a semblance of shape.
It’s one of our oldest art traditions, and therefore a bit primal. Drawing or painting the things you see links a kinship to those earliest artists drawing bison and horses in the dark.
There’s a focus and feeling of connection that nothing else can boast. Even though first sketches are often crude, pieces of them have power.
What we want is to be different in some essential ways as we move our work along. We’re aiming to be better than we were yesterday, to change and to grow.
Actually, it’s best not to be specific about day-to-day progress or lack of it. There may be long periods where you feel like you’re getting nowhere, or even getting worse. But in the grand scheme, better than before.
But if you only ever do what you know how to do, you risk ruts and stagnation. It’s great to thoroughly explore mediums and idioms, but it’s in trying new things and new ways that we gather a storehouse of future possibility and potential.
Try new tools, new methods—your other hand if you’re not ambidextrous. Keep trying when you’re better, too. No dinosaurs. Art should be just as challenging and open as when you first started on your 100,000th piece.
On its own, change isn’t good or bad. It’s just inevitable. Time does, indeed, march on, and the bell tolls for thee. We don’t have a say in whether there will be change, in the world or in us.
But our choice is how to approach that existential reality. We can despair and give up—or become apathetic—but we can learn to value changes that are coming. There’s something different that’s going to happen. It means there is always something new to work with and incorporate.
Along with my New Year’s resolution to read more books—rather than just stuff online—I’m trying to do more active listening and looking. I walk a similar route to work, or take the same buses, and it’s easy to zone in on the sidewalk and mask the traffic noise with headphones.
But I noticed a new store had opened along my commute, and it had done so without me noticing for weeks, probably. In October, the storefront was vacant, and now it wasn’t. So I’ve been redoubling my efforts to keep looking around at my familiar paths and sights with new eyes.
Some things that help that:
Drawing things I haven’t drawn before
Trying to memorize details of a shop or a corner so I’ll notice when it’s different—and it rains a lot here, so things are often different when wet
Slowing. Down. As. Much. As. Possible.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.