Above: page spread from an 8-inch square journal I made with light blue Magnani Pescia—a printmaking paper that is lovely to sketch on with pen or pencil. (The above sketches are in pencil, specifically Palmino Pencils. I was saving this page spread for another project which didn't happen but it fits here nicely. I will review Palamino Pencils on another day.) These sketches were made in a crowded nursing home hallway, in front of an aviary.
I define a truly effective person as one who is able to work in all conditions, whether he or she feels so inclined, isn't "inspired," is tired, is stressed, whatever.
If you are new to my blog you might want to go and read one of my posts from 2008: Productivity: J. M. W. Turner.
Because I believe so strongly that one needs to be able to work through interruptions and chaos I started the Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out (five years ago) with the Avidors. Actually I started it because a couple years before that the Avidors and I were sketching at the Fair and Ken said, "We always sketch at the Fair we should get more people to sketch at the Fair." But I think sketching at the Fair just also happens to be one of the best ways to jump into the deep end of the pool and sketch in "less than ideal" conditions, so I like to use it as an example. And I like to encourage people who want to sketch in public to come to the Minnesota State Fair Sketch Out!
You can of course sketch out anywhere in public and meet with difficulties that will make you initially crazy and then crazy calm (if you're drawing). So for purposes of today's task you need to know the following, AND you also need to know that this will take longer that an evening or even a weekend.
•Don't wait for inspiration—just draw. Wherever you are. Just do it (as Nike likes to say).
•Don't make excuses. Excuses are boring (as Roz likes to say). By the time you make an excuse as to why you "can't" draw right now (the now being whatever moment and situation you find yourself in), you could actually already be finished with your drawing. What would you rather have: memory of all the lame excuses you made, or filled pages in your journal? If you selected the former please continue reading someone else's blog.
•Always be practicing.
•Baby steps are fine. Don't overload your system and shut yourself down.
•If you are timid or wary or confused, find a friend to sketch with, but as soon as you can, make this a solo practice. This is about you standing on your own, creating on the spur of the moment.That's hard to do if you're dependent on having a friend handy because sometimes they are just not available.
•Don't talk with the friend you're sketching with when you're sketching. He's there only as a security blanket. This isn't a coffee-klatsch. DRAW.
Now, if you really want to be one of those people who can draw in any set of circumstances, regardless of how he might be feeling at a particular time this is what you do…
•Select a location where you can draw in public, when you know there will be noise, smells, confusion, probably a lot of kids (running about), and little space.
•Pack a bag of only your essential supplies—journal, pencil/pen, small watercolor palette and Niji Waterbrush (if your location is somewhere watercolor will be allowed, which is pretty much anywhere except some museums). If you work with colored pencils take only 6 (a couple reds, a couple blues, a yellow, and a white perhaps). The idea is to pack as little as possible. You want to have a very small footprint initially.
•Limit your time initially. Go and draw for an hour, not five hours. Expect to come back with NOTHING. That way you'll be happy if you actually come back with a decent sketch.
•Remember to BREATHE.
•The universe isn't against you. The universe doesn't even know you if you aren't regularly making an effort to show up creatively. It couldn't care one way or the other if you are sketching, it has too much other stuff to do. DON'T TAKE INTERRUPTIONS PERSONALLY.
•Keep your wits about you. If you're in a public space are you standing or siting where it is safe to do so? Are you out of the line of traffic (vehicles or pedestrian)? If it is noisy don't zone out with music on an iPod or block sound with ear plugs. Stay alert to your surroundings. If you rely on a device that contains your own sound track or ear plugs which shield you from real life, you'll never develop the ability to work without those aids.
•Don't ask for permission—just sketch and add color if you desire. If someone stops you. STOP. If they tell you not to continue, don't argure, simply stop, pack up, and move on. This is one of the hazards or interruptions of working in public. This is fantastic practice for working with interruptions. You can either work from memory later in a new location or you can abandon the sketch having learned to let go. (Not everything in life, or art, is within your control.)
•After your outing debrief yourself: What worked, what didn't, what should I have brought, who should I have ignored, what could I have said in that situation when that rude man jostled me? (And in answer to that last, you aren't looking for witty repartee, sometimes the best response to someone who pushes you is to APOLOGIZE. That may not be fair, but remember we aren't out on a mission to bring justice or to argue the fine points of space allotment on a park bench. You are supposed to be drawing. The sooner you apologize and get that klutz out of your face the sooner you can go back to doing what you are meant to be doing—drawing, dealing with interruptions and still being creative, still being productive.)
Now the NEXT time you go out…
Try going out when you feel a little tired, or when you're a little hungry (or will be out long enough to get hungry). Learning to keep working even when you're a little tired and hungry is a great way to keep working through distractions.
When you become accomplished at sketching anywhere at the drop of a hat you might want to enlarge the pack of supplies you carry so you can change media at a whim. You will also take up a greater footprint and it is more likely someone will come and interrupt you to either tell you to move on or to ask you about your materials. Welcome those interruptions.
Later when you have practiced all this many, many times you will be able to decide on the spur of the moment whether the person interrupting you is "worth" stopping to chat with. This is different from instantly recognizing security guards! What I mean is that on any given trip into the world there are people who will interrupt you. Some will be rude, some curious, some stupid. Some will be children: there's one rule, always be respectful of children and their questions because you want to foster their creativity. Remember they are the people who will grow up and create things that make this an interesting world to live in when you're older and want to be entertained. Also, if they are ill-mannered it isn't their fault, but the fault of their parents.
With any other category of "annoyance" you can decide how much attention to give it. And that's how you learn to work with interruptions and get back to work after them.
The NEXT time after that…
Vary what you take, where you go, or perhaps stay home and leave the TV on, (or turn it off if you always have it on), or sit in a very uncomfortable chair, or work when you have a cold.
Like any exercise program BUILD your tolerance for interruption and chaos by increasing the duration of exposure and the intensity of the exposure.
Great Places to Go for Practice
The Bell Museum of Natural History (where during the school year young kids run nearly amok!)
cafés—Rule of thumb, always leave a tip commensurate with the time you took up a table from a waiter, and factor in the lost tips they would have received from other patrons cycling through that spot in that time slot, so if you are sitting through a busy lunchtime, work out how many other lunches might have been eaten at your table in that time—we aren't in France where you own the café real estate in perpetuity.
art gallery openings
shopping malls (The Mall of America is especially great for a noise/crowd drawing challenge.)
If You Want To Get Really Creatively Cagey About This…
If you want to cram as much practice time into short sessions as possible you can of course create additional constraints. Set a time limit of 90 minutes for Project Friday, tell all your friends to call you during that time, and work but still deal with the interruptions. After each interruption practice getting back to work instantly.
That's something you probably already have to do at work, or it's something you have to do when you take care of your family. What is different is that you are consciously applying that approach to your CREATIVE LIFE. You are saying that your creative life is important enough to be given the same attention, focus, and space in your life.
If you want to be even more cagey, go out with a friend and take turns being in charge. When it's your turn to draw you get to pick the spot you sit or stand. But your friend can stop you at any moment of your 30-minute drawing time and take away all but one of your supplies, stand in front of you and obscure your view, or begin making a nuisance of himself by singing Gilbert and Sullivan tunes (which frankly I happen to like, but it would create a scene and cause some interruptions). He just can't take away your paper, your last drawing tool, scream in your ear, sit on you, or continually bump you.
DEAL WITH IT!
The Reality of Creativity
I was lucky. All my life my family traveled and moved from place to place. All my life I existed in noisy, crowded situations where I might have to stop writing and drawing at any moment. As an adult I have worked in a creative profession where I have to produce engaging product to a client's specifications and deadline, whether or not I feel like it. It's 8 a.m. so you better be working.
I'm grateful for these circumstances. I literally can be happy anywhere, pretty much for any length of time—I just like to know that at some point there's going to be a flush toilet on offer. But that's just me. And even that isn't essential because I "know better" than to count on such things.
It is a myth that you need a special chair, or pillow, or pair of shoes, or room with a certain view, or "fill in your own blank" in order to be creative. You are creative wherever you are, if you decide to allow that part of yourself to come out.
Here's my point: If you want to do something badly enough you will work out ways to do that something regardless of where you are and how you feel. And the best way to get to that point in your life is to practice scenarios which will allow you to develop skills to do just that. Spend time making your own creativity boot camp experience to develop the creative skills you claim you want.