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Synthesis and ‘Right Work’

05 Sep

SYNTHESIS (noun) \ˈsin(t)-thə-səs\ the combining of often diverse conceptions into a coherent whole

I have been able to distill from my many experiments and projects the ones that may actually ‘stick’ in the long run. I’m not blindly grinding away at the ‘wrong work.’

It’s been a wild summer ride around here at Drawing Down the Vision.  Adam and Amy have seen a rapid rate of change both professionally and personally in recent months and as we head into the more pensive autumn season, we are sifting through our experiences and new opportunities to see how it all fleshes out.

While Adam was busy moving to a new geographical location for work, I, Amy, took a few months off from blogging, teaching and art-making to go on what can only be described as a rather radical sabbatical.  Professional and personal travels took me to the desert of the southwest, the windswept coast of New England, across The Pond to Ireland, and many, many wonderful spots in between.  All the while, I had my trusty sketchbook close at hand to collect my seemingly random thoughts, drawings and experiences.

It’s important to get out of the usual routine that ties us to the day to day.  Sometimes we are only afforded the odd ten minutes to hit the reset button. Occasionally, we get the opportunity for more. Stefan Sagmeister’s year off dramatically changed how he approached his design business and my summer sabbatical has been the same for me.  Stepping back from the workaday treadmill can bring into full relief what is and what isn’t working in the studio.

I have been able to distill from my many experiments and projects the ones that may actually ‘stick’ in the long run. I’m not blindly grinding away at the ‘wrong work.’ I have been thinking a lot about where to put my limited time and energy to avoid feeling so scattered, which I did before this summer’s travels.

Author/ blogger Michael Knobbs writes about this phenomenon in his blog Sustainably Creative.  While I am not limited by any chronic conditions, I do have a full plate between familial commitments, hourly work (which pays routinely), art work (which pays only sporadically) and a whole host of personal, feed-the-soul kind of stuff.  What to trim and what to keep are more identifiable now.

Another important thing I re-learned over this summer’s travels was the importance of alone-time.  It is so easy to get trapped into responding to every last vie for my attention. Then, suddenly, I realize I haven’t spent time in my own company for days or even weeks!  Jacqueline Smith at Smart Solitude has some wonderful blog entries with gentle reminders as to how important time alone can be, especially for those following a creative path.

Synthesizing these lessons from time spent out of my element has created a bit of a sea change for me in life and work. We are interested in hearing about others’ adventures and how they affect one’s overall approach to the day to day.  Look forward to some guest posts!!!

Popularity: 40% [?]

 

Before I die.

13 May

Before I Die Art Installation

One of the most powerful exercises we use in our Drawing Down the Vision workshops is the “life list” exercise.

The ‘life list’ is what most people refer to as “the bucket list”, or “what I’d like to accomplish before I die.”   What we do differently is ask workshop participants to put drawn images to these goals and aspirations.  This iconographic approach to life goals makes them that much more tangible and therefore, that much more attainable.  A visceral image is one step closer to actuality than a word.

In our hurried world, not enough time is spent analyzing our chronic goals, until, often, it’s too late.  But a New Orleans artist, Candy Chang, is changing this with her interactive installation “Before I die…” on an abandoned building.

I encourage you to read the article and consider what your life’s important work is.  Even better, find images that represent these goals.  Whether they are drawn or found images, collect them and consider them often.

After all, we only get this life once.  Make the most of it.

Popularity: 46% [?]

 

Grab your sketch book and go!

18 Feb

This weekend sees the Drawing Down the Vision team heading to Kansas City to attend and present to the 2nd annual Arts Enterprise Summit.  Adam and Amy will both be participating in a number of discussion panels on the nature of creativity as a focal point in the future of many disciplines in business and the arts.  We will also be presenting a special version of the Drawing Down the Vision workshop to summit attendees who will have the opportunity to participate in some of the exercises we use and to hear about our latest research in the relationship between drawing and how we think.  We are looking very forward to meeting others interested in the nature and future of creative thinking.  If you are anywhere near the Kansas City area, it’s not too late to attend the summit.  We’d love to see you there!!

Popularity: 45% [?]

 

A day with some future leaders.

02 Feb

Recently, the Drawing Down the Vision team led a pro-bono workshop for 24 volunteer teenagers in the American Red Cross ‘Leadership Development Center‘ in Cincinnati. The young people had been involved with the program in years past and are now responsible for developing the overnight leadership conference for their new incoming peers.

Amy and Adam introduced the teens to many of the exercises used in Drawing Down the Vision.  It was tremendously exciting to guide them through the process of thinking differently with a sketchbook, defining short and long term goals, and embarking on a new form of self-exploration.  By exploring some of their broad personal goals in their new sketchbooks, students began to open up to what aspirations they might have for their work with the Red Cross.  Many of the students enjoyed some of the exercises so much they plan to utilize them as ice-breakers at this summer’s conference.

Diana Wood, director of the LDC program has this to say: “I am sure  that I have not yet seen the end of ways that the workshop impacted these students… the ways in which they will think about and approach the many tasks that are before them.”

This is the beauty of embarking on a journal-based thinking process.  The ways in which disparate information percolates in a sketchbook can provide new connections that lead to exciting new ideas.  Congratulations to the future leaders at the American Red Cross.  It was a pleasure to work with them!

Popularity: 44% [?]

 

Picture this.

12 Nov

Lynda Barry is a cartoonist, writer and teacher who was featured on NPR’s Talk of the Nation yesterday.  Her new book, Picture This is a wonderful workbook for anyone wanting to inject the drawn line into their daily life. Her drawings create a fun and safe place to experiment with developing your own visual language, and we all have one if we simply put pen to paper and explore it.

Barry’s NPR interview brought to light much of her thinking on the power of drawing to tap into that often unreachable part of our brains; the area we want to reach into for innovative ideas or creative solutions in life and work.  Lynda Barry knows the drawn line is key. One caller to Barry’s interview said drawing in her sketchbook had enabled her to deal with debilitating anxiety without medication.  The relationship between brain chemistry and the simple act of drawing has been documented as a way to focus the attention of people in meetings.

Coming up in December, Adam and I will be working with 24 teen volunteers at the Cincinnati Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.  These are bright and forward thinking students who have been chosen for this program for their potential for leadership in their communities.  We are tremendously excited to meet these future leaders and introduce them to the simple, but life changing, practice of keeping an illuminated sketch journal.

Whether you are looking to change your work life, your personal approach to the world at large, or to learn how to communicate more effectively, a powerful first step is to start drawing.  When you do, let us know how it goes.

Popularity: 18% [?]

 

Warm-ups

20 Oct

Before heading into the studio to attempt any ‘serious’ art work, I often need to warm up by drawing something in my sketchbook.

These little drawings are typically unrelated to any project at hand.  Working at home, I tend to draw the nearest dog.  I find this exercise to be an amazing warm up to thinking clearly.  It’s like meditation, only without so much tedium.  But what if you work in a more traditional office environment?  This exercise can still be a valuable one, provided you have on hand some simple drawing tools and ‘objects de art’ that you find interesting.  These can take the form of found items from nature, or an interesting coffee mug or pen that you like the look of.  It can really be anything.

Place your chosen object on your desk, not too far from view and open your sketchbook.  Now spend a few minutes looking at the object.  Pick it up and find your favorite angle of it.  Can you identify simple shapes in the object that might simplify it at first glance, such as circles, triangles, rectangles, etc?  Now, without too much thought, pick up a pen or pencil and without looking too closely at your paper and keeping your eye mostly on the object, begin making a line drawing that traces these broad shapes.  Try to get a basic outline and then continue to fill in where one shape moves to another.

This may feel (and look) ridiculous at first, but it is truly the first step in learning to draw.  You can practice this simple exercise in about 5 minutes, with the same object, each day, and see how it progresses.   You will see progress in what your drawings look like.  But beyond that, you will notice a little something about how you feel as you make these little drawings.  You might find that your mind gets into a different groove and that you are thinking differently.  A little less restless.  You may even find that sometimes great ideas pop into your head as you draw.  Even a simple drawing exercise such as this one can get your mind working in a new way.  Practicing this can be a valuable tool in pushing the boundaries of your normal day to day modus operandi.

Find an object that you find interesting and give sketching it out a try.  Then try it again the following day. Let us know how it goes.

Here are a couple more fossils of mine to inspire….

Related: How changing your perspective changes your results.

Popularity: 15% [?]

 

What’s your sub-current?

08 Oct

In a recent article in the New York Times, artist Patrick Dougherty explains how he went from building a hand built cabin in the woods to becoming a world renowned sculptor:

My dream was to build a house. I didn’t realize my real dream, my sub-current, was to become a sculptor.

I really appreciate his use of the term sub-current to describe his underlying goals and vision for his personal purpose.  We as human beings are molded into our grown-up selves by countless influences throughout our lives.  Often, we forget to look inward and trust our own true path.  How do we get around these outside influences and find our own sub-current, our own chronic goals?

An interesting thing happens when we teach a group of people some rudimentary drawing skills to begin using their sketchbooks; students begin to immediately see their own individual voice from a visual perspective.  Working in a sketchbook with words and images, even more so than writing in a journal alone, is a crucial way to finding and staying in touch with your own chronic goals in life, our sub-current.

So what is your sub-current?  What are your chronic goals that lie just beneath the surface of your daily life?  Take a little time to explore them and they just might be sooner achieved.

Popularity: 8% [?]

 

The Ten-Minute Sabbatical

07 Oct

This fall I am fortunate to be the 2011 Artist in Residence at Mammoth Cave National Park.

Residency programs are the sabbaticals of the art world. They can range from a month to a year and are a chance for an artist to step away from the trappings of daily life and focus on work. I don’t mean necessary day-job work, but real vocation, which most artists will say their art work represents.

I arrived at Mammoth Cave just a couple of days ago and am already starting to settle in… thinking about things differently. I am using my time here to research and to write, read, sketch as much as I can. Although this is what I do at home, there is a different mind set to this time here. Sure, a month is not a year, but it’s a month. A powerful paradigm shift can occur in a month.

What would happen if I took some time every week, say an hour, to consciously change my mind set? To think and write about broader goals in life and work, to sketch in my sketchbook. What about even 10 minutes? What if everyone did this? I like to think of this as a ten minute sabbatical.

No matter what job you do, whether artist or salesperson, scientist, teacher, or IT specialist – a small sabbatical of sorts can be just the thing to keep your life and goals on track. You may not have a year like Stefan Sagmeister, or a month like me, but you might just have ten minutes.

Related:

Popularity: 16% [?]

 

Field Notes

10 Aug

It’s been a busy summer of traveling for the Drawing Down the Vision team. Some of it work, some of it play… we are always looking for new ideas and ways that basic sketching skills can be used to get the job done.

While my family and I (Amy) were on vacation in Montana, we had the great privilege to visit a team of paleontologists working at a dinosaur dig site. These scientists take copious field notes about where things are found at a site and how they are arranged throughout the extraction process so the fossilized dinosaur bones can be best preserved.

While on route to the dinosaur dig we drove through prime Lewis and Clark territory.

What would their journey have been with out all of their now famous journals depicting everything they encountered and the landscape through which they traveled? It is the quality of their drawings and sketches that really made the journals valuable for future explorers following in their path.

In today’s day and age, we are certainly not limited to the tools Lewis and Clark. We have photography to help us document our travels in the world. But drawing a place, or a found feather, stone or bone really places you there in the moment. Recording your view or your find in a way no one else can.

Try taking some “field notes” while on your summer travels. You may find it enhances your experience. And the drawings you bring home in your sketchbook will forever remind you of exactly where you were, what you were seeing and how that all felt.

There’s tremendous value in that.

Popularity: 13% [?]

 

Monkey Mind. Drawing in meetings.

01 Jul

Al Franken sketches Jeff Sessions during Elena Kagan hearings

No matter which side of the political spectrum you may land on, one has to admire our politicians for simply sitting through the seemingly endless, though important, hours of meetings and hearings that keep our country in sync.  A few days ago, a friend sent me an article about one such politician who was seen/caught sketching during a hearing.

Al Franken, Senator from Minnesota and a member of the judiciary committee, was sitting through the confirmation hearing of potential Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan.  During the long and arduous process, Franken was seen sketching the likeness of fellow judiciary committee member, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Depending on the political slant of the source, reports of this sketchy behavior ran from mildly amused to downright furious at this apparent show of boredom and lack of respect for our country’s due political process.

In Eastern traditions, there is a term called the Monkey Mind. It reflects our inability to mentally ‘sit still’.  Everyone has experienced this with the mind racing from thought to thought like a monkey jumping from tree to tree (especially during work meetings).  There are many thoughts on how to quiet the monkey mind, from yoga and meditation, to exercise and diet change.  During the research process for Drawing Down the Vision, we came across an article which states that doodling can help you pay attention.  After years of getting in trouble in school for doodling, it was refreshing to see evidence that students who draw during a lecture may actually be retaining more information and paying closer attention.

Which leads me back to Senator Franken.  Perhaps Franken was drawing in order to stay more focused on the content of the hearing.  Perhaps all of our politicians should be provided with some sketching supplies. Next time you are in a work or committee meeting where the content is important but difficult to stay excited about, try picking up a pen and paper and drawing.  You could sketch the furniture in the room, the people around you, or something from your inner landscape. Try to visually represent the information to help you see things differently. In the end, you may find you have quieted the monkey mind and are a more focused and active participant in the meeting.

Popularity: 13% [?]

 
 



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