Category Archives: Themes

Finding the right time to create

Owl cover stamp

Are you a night owl or a morning person? When do you become most energized? When are you the most productive? When are you the most reflective? Your creativity will be enhanced if you can find the best time for you to do each kind of work.

Sometimes life gets in the way. Some time ago by following my daughter in her unusual sleep schedule, I discovered that very early mornings were wonderful for me to do deep creative thinking and processing. I found myself especially productive when I was writing in the predawn hours. What is interesting to me, is that just after I wake up is not the same as super early morning for that kind of productive work. I guess it is something to do with the diurnal rhythm and the sun coming up.

Predawn, I find myself in the flow – that wonderful, timeless state where the words pour out and decided me it’s morning and other people start to need me.

Unfortunately ordinary life can get in the way of choosing when I can work. It would be wonderful to get up at 4 AM every day and get in four hours of productive work even before anyone else is about. Sometimes my body lets me down, and I just need more sleep.

But sometimes it is the allure of the night that prevents me from sleeping. I have always been a night owl from my theater days, and I find the dark seems to energize my thinking.

What is not helpful for me at night, is trying to complete project work – handwork or tasks that require a lot of visual acuity. There have been many times in my life when a deadline has forced me to pull an all-nighter. But the work from these sessions was never as good, and now I substitute planning instead of urgency.

When you are trying to determine when your most creative time of day is, consider that there are many different types of activity. There is the learning and planning stage. There is the producing of artworks or expressive pieces. Then there is the critiquing and evaluating of the work that you have done, the editing. There is also the need for mental exercises and creativity work not connected to specific projects (like reading this blog). The seeking of inspiration, time just noodling, and time practicing skills might need different times of day from the knuckle-down-and-work time.

Think about which activities energize you. Those will be one that are good to do early in the day – that will keep you awake and alert. Finishing a task early gives a sense of accomplishment and inspiration.

Then consider which activities relax you, or give you a sense of release. Those are the ones that are great to do towards the end of your day, when you can look back and feel satisfied.

Either way, the important thing is to know your self and to schedule your most productive work at the time that works for you.

 

Aesthetic Preference – Steampunk/Clockpunk

This is one of my personal favorite Aesthetic Preferences. Steampunk and the visual offshoot Clockpunk have both become very popular and accessible, especially in the form of jewelry and home décor. You know an aesthetic has entered the mainstream when there are a bunch of scrapbooking and papercrafting lines devoted to it!

Steampunk began as a literary sub-genre within science fiction. The original idea was an alternative history where steam power, as it began in the Industrial Revolution, is the basis of technology and industry. For example rather than an internal combustion engine, vehicles would continue to be steam powered. Part of the assumption is that air travel would have developed along the lines of dirigibles rather than fixed wing planes. The early steam ships would have become bigger and more luxurious, instead of diesel engines taking over. Imagine Leonardo da Vinci with the addition of steam engines. Iron is needed for the engines, so it is not wasted on body work – instead there would be a great deal of wood, ahead of aluminum. The first solution to any problem would be mechanical rather electrical devices. The writers started in the Victorian era and moved on from there.

Leonardo da Vinci Spring Device

Leonardo da Vinci – Spring Device

The aesthetic springs from that idea and includes pipes, pulleys, wheel mechanisms, valves, tubes, steamy mists and late Victoriana. The preferred metallics are brass, stainless steel, copper and galvanized iron, or iron with rust. Motifs spring from steam engines including pistons, turbines, and of course clockwork, including keys and all sorts of cogs. On clothing the garments of the Victorian and Edwardian era are embellished with buckles, turnbuckles, grommets and belts. Look for small machines and vials, leather either new and glossy or distressed and worn.

Here’s my current Etsy Treasury of a small selection of the myriad of cool steampunk themed items around. It includes some of the accessory staples, goggles – based on a combination of old driving glasses from nascent automobiles and safety goggles.

Timelady by WolkenschiffRebecca

Movies whose plots are founded on steam powered technology include The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Wild Wild West (1999), City of Ember  (2008) and the recent Sherlock Holmes (2009) and sequel. For some nice clock work see Hugo (2011). The presence of steampunk technology in the design was a point of contention in The Three Musketeers (2011).

Literary genre scholars tend to believe that the presence of steam technology in earlier times would have a ripple effect on culture and politics. There are popular forums and academic discourses devoted to it.

However there are more movies where the steam punk aesthetic is present. To find it lurking in classic movies takes some more observation but certainly includes Metropolis (1927), The Time Machine (1960), Modern Times (1936) and The Wizard of Oz (1939). It feels like some of the iterations of Gotham City show steampunk influence. Take steampunk medieval in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), and notice the visual motifs in Time Bandits (1981) and Van Helsing (2004). How about the machine in Princess Bride (1987)?

The Machine from The Princess Bride.

Steampunk characters are staples of cosplay. I think it’s because those garments so much fun. And everyone is flattered by a nice corset.

steampunk

Design Principle – Scale & Dominance

Scale and dominance are about the relationship and ratio between parts within the design. Scale can draw attention to the focal point of a design, which should be the dominant feature or motif. We hear the term focal point a lot when people talk about interior decoration. Scale naturally pairs with Shape, but acts on all the Elements.

On a web page the focal point might be the Call the Action with the words “Click Here” being in a large or bolder font. The question to ask is “where do you want your viewer’s or reader’s attention to go?”

Changes in scale can create the sense of depth. Scale works interestingly with color, where the smallest amount can be the most visible focal point. Dominance can be asserted through point of view and framing.

Scale expressing ideas

Scale expressing ideas

Scale acts on Texture to change it enormously. Texture magnified changes to shape. Scale has to do with filling space comfortably and with balance also. Think of furniture in a room. We recently changed our living room furniture because it was so large that it made the space feel crowded.

Scale is a function of distance – the distance of the viewer from the object.

People speak of the scale of a production in theater – that the set concept fits the space and the gravitas of the script. Spectacle is large scale – epic and thrilling; character drama is intimate and engaging.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Sparking Creativity by Playing With Scale

Layer and overlap shapes in different sizes for a design.

Look at fractals, where the amount of complexity stays the same regardless of how much the original is magnified.

Fractal

photo credit: SantaRosa OLD SKOOL via photopin cc

Imagine how a small piece, sculpture or painting might work if it were tripled in size. What about if it were miniaturized?

Words – change the size of individual words for emphasis as you journal or make quotation posters.

Scale in music – not musical scales – but the idea that some parts might be louder, more grand or that in an orchestra different instruments dominate the melody line at different times.

 

 

 

 

Finding Inspiration in Nature – Geology

Photopin.com

I always enjoy the episodes of shows like “Project Runway” when they send the contestants out somewhere, usually with a camera, to find extraordinary visual inspiration. Especially by using a camera, the artists are essentially forced to look at things differently and to notice details.

In past Blasts I’ve written about the idea of taking a walk to jump start creativity when stuck, and I’ve written elsewhere about getting organized and how cameras can help you see things (like clutter) that the eye passes over.

It’s easy when you live somewhere gorgeous to find inspiration in your landscape. When I studied Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, every painter was initially inspired by two things. First the overwhelming presence of the escarpment, where the cliffs met the coast covered in lush temperate rainforest, was a feature in many first works. Second the prominent industrial landscape of the Port Kembla steelworks, an overt disruption to the skyline and an endless source of new shapes and textures, influenced painters, printmakers and sculptors alike.

These are “macro” inspiration – taking motifs from the wider environment. What about looking closer and finding inspiration in the “micro” visual.

For example consider the beautiful slices of agate and similar stones in the Mineral Hall at pretty much any Natural History Museum. They can be used as inspiration for abstract paintings or textile designs. Crystalline structures form the foundation of many a science fiction story.

photopin.com

Geology is the study of minerals and the earth.

It is a huge area of study full of specialty disciplines including microscopic studies of elements through to global systems, and beyond.

Here are some useful sites.

http://geology.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geology

http://geology.gsapubs.org/

http://www.usgs.gov/

Geology entails investigating landscapes, studying stones and gems, and the formation of soils. It means considering the origin of pebbles, and the movement of tectonic plates. It encompasses paleontology, volcanology and oil drilling. Any of these investigations in the search for new insights would require the kind of creative thinking that allows people to make connections and formulate new theories.

Metamorphosis

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One of the key concepts in geology is the “rock cycle”. The cycle shows the constant flow between different kinds of rock. The processes of erosion, deposits, pressure and heat continually change rocks to sediment to magma to rock. Soil erosion and catastrophes like mud slides or volcanic eruptions happen quickly and visibly. Other changes happen on a grandiose time scale. It takes eons to compress sediments and silts to become sedimentary rock.

In human terms, inspiration or insights may happen in sudden jumps, perhaps impelled by changes in our circumstances. However it takes time and practice for our mindful creativity to grow, spurred by our intentions and desires.

Change, transformation, metamorphosis and cycles – these are the bases of narratives and poetry.

Rock and earth metaphors in language

Metaphors taken from the language of geology abound. The very name we gave our planet is from geology.

Consider “between a rock and a hard place” means stuck between two equally unpleasant alternatives.

Rock and roll may have started considering movement, but geology had to get into the act with the idea of “hard rock”.

People may be “grounded” when they seem sensible or phlegmatic. A person with a short temper may be said to “erupt”.

To “travel a rocky path” speaks to having difficulties in life; to “move mountains” is to achieve that which seems impossible (yet the earth itself moves mountains constantly).

Another movement metaphor: avoid building on “shifting sands” can mean more than just a literal construction but to create a solid “foundation” before moving forward in life – of faith for some; of concept or knowledge in business situations.

We call someone we like “a gem”. A reliable person is “solid as a rock”. Someone inflexible may “stonewall” the discussion.

Irrelevant issues “muddy the waters”. Small instances of poor behavior cumulatively “erode trust”. An overwhelming majority is a “landslide”. A dangerous precedent can lead to a “slippery slope”.

Someone old fashioned may be laughingly a “fossil”, while their attitudes may be “petrified”.

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photo credit: coco+kelley via photopin cc

Expressing Creativity – Exploring Materials

Modernism, the historical art era encompassing the late 19th Century through the first half of the 20th, is characterized by an emphasis on materials, media and form rather than metaphorical content. They also wanted to remind people that art, even that of the great masters, was just paint on surfaces.

Artists were exploring the tactile quality of paint itself or the properties of stone or metal – essentially examining the Elements of Design (Shape, Line, Color, Texture, and so on) in their pure forms without seeking to tell stories or express meaning. One might say that the Modernists were fighting a losing battle against human nature, since we are biologically programmed to seek meaning and notice relationships – create stories – and will do so even when none exist. Humans seek to make sense from information, while one big part of Modernism wants to depict nonsense for its own sake. (Eg Dada and Theater of the Absurd).

Writing included the stream-of-consciousness novel and poetry that was more about the sound of words than their meanings. In music atonal or 12 tone music rose, with all its unresolved glory along with the famous John Cage conceptual composition 4’33” – one of several silent pieces. The Wikipedia entry on Modernism has a positive cornucopia of links to the theoretical thinkers, writers and artists of the era. They wanted to explore the stylistic conventions of various kinds of art work, but from a distance, without getting drawn in to the stories.

Rothko Chapel

Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was a Modernist painter whose large scale mono or duo chrome works are the epitome of Modernist non-subjective art. The Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX is a non-denominational meditation chapel, and is open and free to the public. Inside the Rotunda, lit entirely by natural light, are fourteen large scale monochrome oil paintings by Rothko. The light constantly changes so the texture of each painting also changes.

Rothko Chapel

Interior Rothko Chapel

When I visited there in the mid-1980’s I felt like there were figures buried inside the darkness. I persisted in trying to see what was hidden. The paintings seem to have a lot of depth. It was very serene and relaxing, but I still wanted to find a subject in the non-subjective artworks. But then again, I also like finding shapes in the texture of popcorn ceilings.

What does this mean for a creativity practice today?

Modernist practice gives us permission to play with materials and media, to enjoy the process without worrying about the outcome or product. We can smoosh paint, or roll it, combine blocks of color or repeat simple shapes over and over. We can stack wood, metal and stone pieces in pleasing combinations.

Some of the best ideas for Modernist experiments come from ideas for children’s sensory play crafts. Throw pigments, pour, spray and embrace randomness. But also combine surfaces and textures. Use one color of different media for a shadow box or other display – paint, inks, pencils, crayons, collage, fabric, found objects

Simple Art Project Ideas.

Scumbled Duotone Canvases 

When used in theater sets, scumbling is a paint technique where colors are mixed together on the surface with the painting tools. In art scumbling refers to washing the darker finish with lighter colors (often with a nearly dry applicator) to mute the colors below. The tool defines the kind of edges the paint makes – roller, brush, sponge, rags.

  • Use two of your chosen tools to smoosh paint on the surface and then blend the edges together forming an ombré.
  • If you like Rothko, try pairs of rectangles with soft edges. Also consider a central circle surrounded by another color.
  • Arrange several of these finished canvases in a grouping to enhance your modern styled interiors.

Pinned Color Swatches

  • Cut many squares from paint chip samples.
  • Pin them in a geometric arrangement to a cork board with small ball pins in one color.
  • Alternatively use a hole punch to make many exact shapes quickly.

Enlarged Macro Images

  • Collect random items with only physical characteristics in common, such as shape, color or texture.
  • Take photos of them, especially macros, and print to create another art grouping.

Resources and Places

Scumbling, glazing and wash at Artists’ Network 

Suzy Kitman demonstrates Impasto This is a very cool palette knife technique shown by artist Suzy Kitman. I would argue that despite there being a subject in her work, the main value is the texture and the paint itself, which to me makes it Modernist. The image is just an excuse to use particular colors.

Pete’s Original Art – Abstract painting video showing many tools and blending techniques.

Modernist Pin Board

Modernism

 

 

5 Questions – About your Philosophy

Certain or Seeking?

Here is the next in my intermittent “5 Questions” series. How do you determine you core values, or your philosophy about life? How do you express that in your life? These questions are deliberately vague. They can be facetious or deeply serious.

Your answers can be a few words or essays. If you explore why you felt an answer, it may lead to new insights.  Even if they seem like one word answers, perhaps they aren’t.

1. Where would you rather be?

2. Who are they and what do they want?

3. Are you certain or seeking?

4. What does your work mean to you?

5. Who should take charge?

It’s great to create answers as collages, drawings, sculptures, assemblages and photo montages too.

Have fun!

 

Seeing the Familiar With New Eyes

Buddha head

This week it’s a quick and easy way to jump start creative thinking – looking at the familiar with new eyes.

Our attitudes and beliefs influence our perceptions. This is an idea that is found in different spiritual paths, and in practical psychology. Even the words we use can change our perceptions. We can call something “shabby” or we can call it “comfortable”. We can call something “worn out” when we should be calling it “recyclable”.

Refreshing Your Vision

Artists spend their lives seeing the world around in them in new ways and translating that through their imaginations to a different vision of the world. It’s a skill that can be helped with a few tricks.

Reframe

You’ve seen that cliché of a director holding up his or her two hands to plan the shot. That is a great technique. By framing out some things, you can refocus on what is in the frame.

If you feel silly holding your hands in front of you in the absence of a film crew, a digital camera does the same trick, and btw, will show you clutter more clearly than the naked eye.

Change Your Perspective

Try physically getting into a different space – crouching down, turning the camera to the side, or even looking upside down.

Upside down is especially interesting because it can help you see planes and shapes instead of objects in context.

California Poppies

Try close ups – use a magnifying glass, loupe or macro lens setting to look more closely at familiar things.

If you have only ever read a favorite book in silence, try reading it aloud, or listening to it on tape.

Close your eyes in an environment and listen. Feel textures and temperature.

Isolation

If you ever do any kind of product photography – say for your Etsy store – you probably already have a light box or cyc set up. I use a roll of paper, some clothespins and a wooden chair to create my photo background.

However any kind of place where you can put something to look at it in isolation can help to see different things about it. It’s especially fun to re-examine old things that are special – my mother’s tea set, old jewelry.

Red Cut Glass

Use the Elements and Principles of Design

…to inform your investigations.

If you usually drive one way, take a new route. If you usually drive, try taking a walk. Take a trip on the train. Look for shapes, repetition, color, proportions.

Pause…Be Still

So much of our life is about moving through spaces and being busy with activity. Sometimes what helps most in really seeing something anew is being still and quiet to let our eyes (or ears or hands) roam over what we see.

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This is all about examining things. What’s next? Sketching, drawing, rearranging, seeing connections between objects – each other and their surroundings. This is the beginning of design.