Stop avoiding problems: creativity tip

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An artist friend of mine was complaining about another artist.

The other artist’s work didn’t seem that bad to me. Then, my friend pointed out that the other artist’s style was built entirely around his inability to draw faces. He always organized all the figures in the art so that they faced away from the viewer or wore heavy hoods or masks. Never once, in all the art that came up with you googled his name, was there a full face.

If you only looked at one drawing, you wouldn’t notice. But, once you looked at all his work, it was impossible not to see.

Is your style based not on your strengths, but on your limitations?

What if instead of avoiding what you can’t do, you worked on it. You focused on being ok with what you currently can’t do at all. It’s not that you’ll ever be the best at it, but that you’ll be able to stop avoiding it altogether.

Obviously, you want to use what you’re exceptional at to your best advantage, but merely avoiding your challenges sticks out like a sore thumb.

Make sure your work reflects choices on your part, not fear of your limitations. Avoiding what you’re afraid of is not a style choice, it’s just refusing to expose your soft underbelly to the world.

(The art above is by Fletcher Hanks, not the artist in question.)

“There is only make.” The art department rules of Sister Corita Kent

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These “Art Department Rules” by Sister Corita Kent are as true as they are charming. You can support art’s education by purchasing a poster of them. I might make myself a t-shirt that says “There is only make.”

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

There should be new rules next week.

While you’re on the Corita Art Center site, check out the gallery of her artwork for even more inspiration.


Turning your commute into art

My buddy Gibson, designer of the Avenging Narwhal, has a history of interesting projects. Last Friday he sprang another one on us. I’ve talked before about the power of changing your commute, but Gibson managed to make his commute a creative act. He walked the 16 miles from his house to the office instead of driving. How does that change the experience of a commute? What details do you notice. Below is the email he sent me last Friday immediately after completing the event.

In My Day

Performance Art Project by Gibson Holub

Today I walked to work. 16 miles.

I left at 3:45 AM from my house in Seattle and headed up Hwy 99.

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The sky was clear. The moon was half empty. I was armed with pepper spray.

There aren’t many people out at 3:45 AM on a Friday, just a lot of cops and cabs.

I saw the first glow begin on the horizon at 4:30.

My feet started hurting at about 5.

I arrived at Accoutrements in Mukilteo at 8:42 AM.

So door to door, it took me 4 hours & 57 minutes.

That makes my walking speed 3.23 mph.

I went through 41 stop lights (or somewhere close to that, as I was a bit groggy).

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I wore a pedometer. When I arrived it read 32,308 steps.

I recorded the event with some photos. I took a picture of myself every 15 minutes or so.

I’m currently experiencing some serious discomfort in my legs.

I think I’ll pull the shoelaces out of my shoes and frame them.

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Artist’s Statement: The Search For Meaning

Why did I do it?

I did it because it was absurd. I did it because it was liberating. I did it because I knew it would be challenging.

I did it because I’m inspired by the unexpected, the unannounced and the completely unnecessary.

Is it art? Who knows, but I walked 16 miles to work today for no reason and it made me feel alive.

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More pictures here and here.

How to feel miserable as an artist

Keri Smith has a great blog. She also has a page that collects her “how to” and inspirational pieces which are indispensable. The one that has stuck with me the most is her list of ways to feel miserable as an artist.


My favorite is  “base your success on one project.” It reminds of me of a guy I knew in a creative writing program that had one “professional level” short story and wasn’t going to write another until the first one sold. I had three courses with him and he just kept brining the same story. He rewrote it over and over again.

Another important thing to remember is doing only work that will please your family. This is an impossible task. Your work will be used as a mirror by your family and whatever you produce they’ll compare to their own image and decide what you’re trying to say about them. Good luck with that!

Collaborative street art


picture by liquidnight

The Owl Tree started as just a painted tree pasted on a wall, but a great number of the street artists in Seattle have contributed to it now. There are stickers, installations and stencils all placed carefully together to form one piece. Unlike most graffiti that just gets changed by anyone who happens by, this piece was planned and advertised. Its location is secret.

I wish there could be more collaborative art like this. Imagine a gallery where you could add your own painting or modify someone else’s.

You can see more pictures and get details here.

Adapt a Classical Style: Creativity Tip

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I just visited the Toledo (Ohio) Art Museum and they had a wonderful painting by Kehinde Wiley. Instead of rejecting the past and trying to do something completely new, he has made himself a clear descendant of classical portrait artists.

Looking at his paintings, you can see all the symbols and elements of classics portraits, but they are in slightly different contexts. Sometimes, just putting someone in a classic pose with modern clothes on creates an amazing new piece.

It got me thinking about how much potential there is in completely owning the past and clearly showing the lineage of what you do. When you are trying to create something new, don’t throw everything out. Keep what works and make it better and different.

One more note about Wiley’s paintings, in person, the skill level and craft is tremendous. In the tiny versions on the web some of them appear tossed off. In person, they are huge, amazingly crafted pieces with great detail.

Idea source: police blotters

Looking for a plot twist or a dramatic moment? Police blotters may be the answer. They are a perfect cure for writer’s block. Blotters don’t supply all the information you need to understand a situation, just what happened. The emotions and motivations are completely left to the imagination.

Here’s an entry from a San Francisco blotter:

Officer Amoroso and Officer Sugitan were sent to O’Farrell St. and Larkin St. to meet with a victim of a stabbing.  The victim reported that he was walking in the area when three men offered to sell him drugs.  Instead of walking away, ignoring the men, or saying, “no,” the man said he wanted to buy hashish.  The men asked how much and the victim said, “Just kidding, I have no money.” The sellers became irate and pushed the victim away.  Again, tempting fate, the victim pushed one of the dealers.  The incensed dealers then struck the victim with a cane, stabbed him with a knife and started to pummel him with fists.  The victim, now fearing for his life, was able to extract himself, despite repeated attempts to stab him again.  The victim fled and called the police.  The victim was not able to identify his attackers, despite the fact that the officers detained two men who fit the description provided.  The incident is under investigation.

What kind of a day was the victim having that caused him to act that way? What happened to him immediately before this incident? He joked with dangerous people and then pushed one. He could be having a bad day. Or maybe he just got out of his therapist’s office after being told that he should use his sense of humor to make more friends.

There are so many questions to be answered it’s a perfect short story.

Here’s another from Dartmouth College

Dartmouth Safety and Security reported to Hanover Police that a man had repeatedly feigned drowning to entice lifeguards, usually female Dartmouth students, to swim out to him and discover that he was not wearing any clothing. After detaining 28-year-old Luis Hurtado of Miami, Fla., Hanover Police learned that Hurtado had overstayed his welcome in the United States and turned him in to Border Patrol.

Imagine having a character bio like that for a minor character in a novel.

Just type “police blotter” in google and you’ll have inspiration galore.

How Not To Display Your Art On The Web

Lines and Colors has a great article on displaying your art on the web. Not only is it full of great advice, it also takes the form of an angry sarcastic rant. (So, it’s funny and useful!) Here’s a bit that points out one of my pet peeves about art sites:

Use tiny, square thumbnails with a nondescript crop from some obscure corner of the artwork. You wouldn’t want someone to miss the fun of playing “Concentration” when trying to remember where a particular image is; and if the thumbnails clearly described the images, visitors might actually go to one they like in the eleven seconds they have to look at your site.

Even better, why bother with thumbnails or preview images when clever little dots, squares or enigmatic shapes are so much more artsy? Everybody already knows how cool your stuff is, they’ll certainly take the trouble to click through all the shapes to find an image. Plus if they come back looking for a particular image, they have the fun of discovering all over again!

Also covered are the benefits of having a long complicated domain name and putting everything in frames. This was written by someone who has looked at a lot of art sites and knows their business.

How Not To Display Your Art On The Web

It’s Not Fair. If The Art Can Touch You…

It's not fair, if the art can touch you...

Seattle has the only outdoor sculpture park in America where you are forbidden to touch the sculptures. Which is odd, because some of them are designed to be touched.

If a sculpture is designed to rust and degrade over time, isn’t it possible that letting people touch it might actually improve it? Isn’t art that reacts to its environment supposed to be in that environment?

I thought the sign in the picture was very telling.

Best books for learning to draw

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People often say wistfully that they wish they could draw, as if the ability to draw were some kind of inherited trait that you’re either born with or you’re not. On the contrary, drawing is a skill that you can learn, like learning to read or learning a new language.

Assuming you want to teach yourself to draw, where should you start? Some books on creativity make the mistake of assuming that the reader’s main problem is being creatively blocked or unmotivated. These kinds of books give out advice to do things like make an “artist’s date” with yourself to visit a favorite gallery or treat yourself to new art supplies in order to get inspired.

I think a more common problem for most people is frustration with one’s skill level. If you buy a brand new sketchbook, and you hate the drawings you produce, you’re going to lose the motivation to keep drawing.

So, if you’re looking for a good art instruction book, I suggest finding one that offers concrete advice and drawing exercises, not just encouragement.

Here are the three best books on learning to draw that I’ve come across:

1. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

This book is considered a classic, and is used in many introductory art classes. Edwards emphasizes drawing what you see, not the symbols for various objects that you learn as a child.

sample exercise: Develop your awareness of negative space by drawing a face vase.

2. Keys to Drawing with Imagination by Bert Dodson

Let’s say you can draw things in front of you; you can draw your friends, a chair, your shoes…

But what if you want to draw something out of your imagination? Dodson’s book shows you how to take your doodles and old sketches and transform them into imaginative scenes. His book emphasizes drawing as a process of transforming things.

sample exercise: Variations on a theme. Redo a drawing several times playing around with the point of view, scale, and framing, or use role reversals. For example, Dodson started out with a sketch of a man being attacked by birds. In one version, he switched the perspective to a giant bird being attacked by miniature flying men. In another version, the man is pursued by bird shaped clouds rather than real birds.

3. Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis

The vast majority of art instruction books assume you want to draw like an old master, but what if you’d rather draw like Matisse or Modigliani?

By providing exercises for learning both traditional and experimental approaches to drawing, this book encourages you to develop your own style of drawing.

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