It’s the beginning of a new year and I thought this would be an appropriate time to provide a short list of to-do items that might help you become a better artist/designer. It’s not a list of exercises for building skills. Instead it’s a list of things that will enhance the way you think about being an artist/designer and help you improve the way you approach your creative projects. It’s sage advice from one generation to another. It’s also a short list – only five items long. Here it is…
1. Make something visual every day. It always amazes me how easy it is to lose touch with the creative process and the ability to think like an art maker. Making a visual statement is radically different than adding a column of numbers or following a recipe or even having a conversation. It requires a different mind set. Good artists are not only comfortable with that way of thinking, they also develop a sophisticated “touch” for working in that arena. But your creative thinking and all the nuances that go with it can fade if they’re not used on a regular basis. So…make something visual every day.
2. Keep a notebook/journal/sketchbook. This is where your initial ideas and impressions first land when you introduce them to the material world. It’s where you work out the bugs and figure out the logistics for how to make something work. It’s a private place without censorship or judgement. Journals and sketchbooks are also perfect places to record everything from inspirational quotes and angry rants to shopping lists. When you first start keeping a journal/sketchbook it may seem awkward and even insignificant. Soon, however, that book will become an important part of your creative process. Fragments of ideas that would normally have been discarded and forgotten are still there for you to use in another project. You will soon see threads and trends that run through all your work. A journal/sketchbook is like a confessor/therapist/best friend that will be with you through good times and bad, and will teach you a thing or two about your own artwork.
3. Read (fiction). Good literature is filled with ideas that will inspire you. It will transport your imagination to points well beyond where you would probably take it on your own. I’m not referring just to the classics here. There are many high-quality and award winning contemporary writers who write about the world we live in today. Reading their work can give you an appreciation for carefully developed characters, relationships and ideas. As a reader you have a front row seat while the writer builds a completely believable imaginary world. All of this is relevant to what you do as a visual artist. Reading a well-written piece of fiction also slows you down, turns your attention inward and creates a contemplative frame of mind – and that’s a great place to be when you want to think about your own art.
4. Hang out in an antique store, foreign market or serious hardware store. The point of this is to surround yourself with interesting things that challenge your imagination. Spending time in one of these establishments is almost like traveling to another country. You will find some objects that are designed to do familiar things but they don’t look like the tools you’re used to using. You will also find strange devices that are designed to do totally unfamiliar things. Examining items from another time or another world lets you see tasks and tools from a brand new point of view. Seeing those items in a crowded store – filled with lots of unfamiliar objects – tells you that your everyday way of looking at the world is merely one of many ways. While you’re in the shop, purchase a small item and bring it back to your studio to remind you that the world is full of alternative ways of seeing and thinking.
5. Start building a collection. A collection is a thoughtfully selected group of items that all share something in common. The things you collect can be big or small, functional or decorative, exotic or commonplace. As your collection grows, chances are you will become more discerning – you might even become picky. The second and third objects you add to your collection will probably be slightly more interesting and sophisticated than the original item. Each additional object will bring something new to the mix and will raise your expectations a bit more. Whenever you build a collection you also develop a new level of respect for the things in it. You begin to see what makes some items more or less interesting and what gives each item its own personality. Discerning taste, raised expectations and the ability to see beyond the obvious qualities of objects…those are valuable traits for an artist to have.
So welcome to the new year. It’s an exciting time to be an artist/designer. Consider this list and I would love to hear back from those of you who incorporate one, two, or even all five items into your routine. Use the comments section here at the blog to give us your feedback. You can also post on our Facebook page.