Exploring and visiting new places is wonderful fuel for creative fires. Today, we spent some time in a completely new neighborhood, seeing what shops were around and what various apartment buildings looked like.
Coming back home, I was tired, but felt like I’d done some questing, and had new supplies and jewels of ideas to make stuff with.
Don’t discount a simple trip to a new neighborhood.
A popular trope about writing mysteries is that the author starts with the ending in mind and writing the plot back to the beginning. It’s probably not used universally, at least not any more, but there’s a bit of a corollary to other art practices.
If you have an end in mind, or a grand vision of some kind, it’s easier to start moving toward it. The hard part is when your execution doesn’t match the image in your head.
I find if I start with that kind of overall vision, I can’t stay too wedded to the original concept. It’s easy to become disappointed and discouraged by my abilities, or to realize the original ending wasn’t really that great to begin with.
The thing I’m making may be better off going on another direction, entirely. It’s mostly about creating the map as you simultaneously make the territory.
The number of times someone asks “what do you do?” when I say I’m an artist varies over time, but it’s a frequent question. And I don’t often know what to say.
If you only do one thing, or only have done one kind of art, this might be easier. But most of us work with multiple media or disciplines. And few artists want to be put in a box, anyway. Yes, today you’re writing a book. But you used to make cartoons, or play keyboards, or make videos. What you’re doing now isn’t always the impression you want someone to go away with.
But there isn’t often an easy—or consistent—answer to the question. It might be because we are all in a state of becoming. We’re still figuring out what we do. You’re a painter. But what kind of painter? There are sub-sub-genres and myriad methods.
And this isn’t for the people who ask you The Question. But it almost doesn’t matter what you tell someone else. Your work is what matters, and as long as you’re making some, it’s part of the process of discovering and revealing itself back to you.
photo: work by Sanya Kantarovsky, Modern Art gallery booth, original photo by Mark Blower
It’s nice to see L.A. start to be ever more seriously considered a center for fine art, despite my reservations about art fairs in general. As the population giant of the West, it’s inevitable that thousands of artists make their homes and studios there, with plenty of innovative and alternative ways of seeing and making.
The first thing you are asked to do in any drawing class for homework is to start a sketchbook. Sometimes there are specific things you’re asked to draw, but often the bulk of the pages are up to you as to what you fill them with.
Most working artists keep a sketchbook, too. It’s a repository for thoughts, lists, and…throwaway scraps of imagination and observation: ephemera. And they usually stay that way. The stuff we put in the sketchbook is just practice and things that occur to us in the moment, visually.
But having captured those fleeting shreds, every so often we’ll find a gem of an idea that’s actually a vein of possibility we can mine and turn into something big and meaningful. Keep an eye out, you never know where the scraps will reveal themselves to be more.
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.
There are a lot of moments in art where I have an idea for a project or series of things, but I don’t know if it’ll result in anything fully realized or not.
Creative life is full of false starts and failures. Sometimes there are successes. You need some of the former to discover the latter. I remember thinking a particular series of paintings I was working on in art school were going to be received well and progress in a predictable path. But then they ended up not going anywhere, or the execution didn’t match my vision. Sometimes, a project that became one of those little triumphs or breakthroughs wasn’t much of anything until there were two of them.
You just have to trust your instincts and your dedication, and keep moving forward, that’s all I can gather. And then you see where it’s gone when it seems like it’s finished.
Just a reminder here—because most of us need reminding, now and again—to keep looking at everything around you. Noticing things others don’t notice is part of being an artist. You have to be able to convey a vision to the world, either an internal or a translated external one (come to think of it, inner visions have to be translated themselves).
In order to fully convey your vision to us, you need to have seen and absorbed what you’re putting down for others. You can’t do that unless you’re really good at seeing stuff.
It’ll seem too simple at first. Then, as you keep noticing and looking deeper and longer, you start to see that it’s almost infinitely complex, and you could get lost in the most mundane slice of your day. But don’t stop. The idea for your next thing comes from what you see and how much and how far you see into it.
I moved to Portland without a car. One of the things I wanted to do in this new place was to try to reassess my consumption and use of resources. Giving up driving—at least for a while—seemed like a good means to that end.
And it’s mostly been eye-opening. Not only have I been able to get around on public transit, I’ve been able to spend some time just looking around me as I move.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.