I have an early shift following a close tonight so my time has run out, but everyone should go check out Anna King’s fabulous landscape and building studies. They’re haunting and beautiful, deftly rendered but also gloriously abstracted. Confident strokes and color, all the way.
Today was for looking up. The light is growing more scarce, the nights longer. To avoid the onset of seasonal depression, or at least to mitigate it, I’ve been trying to add brightness. It’s like turning up the filter on life a bit. There’s only so much that can be done before it washes out, but every little bit probably helps.
And the story lover in me is forever intrigued by walking around city streets. What’s going on in all those glowing little squares? what triumphs and drama and everyday existence is playing out in ten thousand parallel narratives?
Life is always happening. We capture and reinterpret it with sparkle or sharp focus. The light around and within it is always there, but we have to decide what to do with it.
I get annoyed at the Captcha grid often, but I’m also trying to figure out how exacting to be picking squares with the tiniest wedge of crosswalk or traffic light. Does it make me more likely human to the algorithm to err on the exacting side or the casually sloppy side? No idea. I don’t know if I’m training the AI or failing its quiz. Either way, it’s slightly embarrassing.
I have wished for robot like qualities at times. Being more disciplined, remembering specific sequences of line, pressure, stroke, not to mention exact amounts of color to mix paint. I try to remember the human sloppiness and forgetfulness, as well as our ability—tendency?—to wing it is apart of who we are. Trying to express more of myself is expressing more humanness. Probably the bots should have to be proving themselves merely code to us.
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.
The short answer—the general, universal answer—is that things come from all over. I saw the above plate on the inside of a streetcar tram in my city. It was strange to see, but I was more disappointed I hadn’t noticed it right away. It took several trips, even sitting close to the front wall, before I read the plate. Stuff arrives near you from everywhere and anywhere. That isn’t the point, though.
The point is that we don’t often care or even notice where things come from, but beginning to pay attention, whenever possible, is another way of opening up to noticing the things we often overlook. And noticing more is key to growing as an artist. We need to see clearly, and find details in ordinary things. That’s a puzzle piece that completes a big section in the overall creative jigsaw.
Just a quick observation: staying still is not an option for very long. We’re headed for old age, if nothing else (and if we’re fortunate). We can pretend we’re standing still, but the world moves.
And it’s okay to sit there, sometimes, and watch for a while. Looking around every once in a while helps you not to miss life, as a formidable fiction once said.
But don’t make it the only thing you do. Here endeth the platitude part of the lesson.
We’ll be moving in some way, of course. I think it’s better to try to move ahead making art, deliberately and thoughtfully. We’re defined by what we do, not what we don’t do.
What do we do with all these things we’re noticing? If we start paying attention to both sides of things, we’re seeing details we overlook. We’re noticing how they fit into a larger context: the big picture. What’s after getting these new thoughts and images?
The things we take for granted, things we think are routine and familiar are full of life and fractalised components of being. But you don’t have to consciously apply the stuff you perceive to any creative thing you’re working on.
This act of trying to see deeply applies itself.
I would argue—and I do argue—that there’s a magic connection to your work, if you’re doing both things together. “Magic” not in a mystical sense, but in an ineffable I-don’t-know-how-this-works-but-it-happens sense. Making and creating is enhanced and enriched by your changing the way you move through familiar environments. And the fact that you’re working on art of some kind enlivens your mundane perceptions.
You don’t have to try. We can overthink the work very easily. I think a better way to improve and hone the thing you do is to carry the feelings and careful way of seeing (or listening) outside the place you make that thing.
Consider not boxing in your work. See if you can open the sense of flow throughout the rest of your day.
One of the things about being an artist that separates you is the quality of noticing things others overlook. Seeing unusual things or ordinary things in unusual ways is a key principle in most creativity. So how do you start?
First attempts: slow and steady. Any regular route you take-to work, regular errands, family houses—tends to blur into sameness over time. We get used to the sights and sounds and stop looking, seeing what’s there.
So start with your regular route somewhere. Start expanding what you notice. Small things. Out-of-the-way things. Write them down, somewhere.
I thought—actually said—this evening, “I have no idea what I’m doing” with these things I’ve been digitally painting. It’s a common feeling—and saying—among artists. It’s okay. The feeling is part frustration and part bemusement. But certainty doesn’t necessarily lead to breakthrough or even satisfaction. A little mystery is helpful.
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.