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.
10 of the streetcars in Portland were made in the Czech Republic
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.
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.
I remember the last time I was sick. I can’t remember the last time I was this sick.
Most years I get one or two bouts of cold, the lingering, low-level kind. You know, the scratchy throat, the runny nose, the going to bed okay and waking up worse again, for lit’rally weeks.
But I can usually function, get around, go to work. That’s impossible with this thing. It’s a full-on flu, with attendant tight, phlegmy breathing and aches that have me staggering around like an eighty-year-old with a touch o’ the rheumatis’.
Something extra weird, though, that comes along with epic flu: the world seems surreal, dreamlike. It’s bizarre to have the universe wash over me like this, while I sort of watch in a stupor. It’s like being caught underneath a massive, transparent water balloon, things seem extra bright, but also muffled, sometimes a bit wavery.
I’m trying to understand how I feel, through the brain fog. I’d rather this wasn’t such a surprise next time.
Something positive to takeaway, gotta find something apropos to make a lesson out of, right? Um, maybe that everything doesn’t have to be a lesson. Sometimes observation is helpful and good.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.