Drawing, or ‘doodling’ as Sunni Brown describes, is a crucial tool to help solve complicated business problems, thinking creatively, and aid recall.
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We all have daily rituals.
They may be structured by a calendar, or by rules. You may follow a set schedule, or you may just believe something like, ‘everything in moderation, including moderation.’
Here is a contrast of five daily rituals practiced by some famous creatives:
THE ONE WHO LOVED CLOCKWORK RIGIDITY.
CS Lewis. Writer and thinker CS Lewis had a very clear schedule of his day, with activities such as work, walking, meals, tea, and socializing down to the very hour they should be done. He even describes when beer should be enjoyed (not at 11:00 for fear of running over the allotted 10 minutes for the break).
Alexander Dumas. Whether or not he had heard the adage about keeping the doctor away, the writer of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, Dumas started each day eating an apple under the Arc de Triomphe.
Franz Kafka. Kafka started his day at his job at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute from 8:30 to 2:30. Afterward he would lunch until 3:30, then sleep until 7:30. Upon waking, he would do exercises and have dinner with his family. He began writing at 11:00 in the evening, usually working until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning–sometimes later.
DRIVEN BY A MUSE.
Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway described his writing ritual as starting just as the sun began rising, then working straight through until whatever he had to say was said. He likens completing his morning of writing to making love to someone you love–being both empty and fulfilled at the same time. Upon completing that morning’s work, he would wait until the next morning to begin again, going over his ideas in his head and holding on to the anticipation of starting again the next day.
ONE WHO NEEDED TO TAKE HIMSELF SERIOUSLY, AND THEN NOT.
John Cheever. American writer John Cheever wore his only suit of clothing each morning as he rode the elevator down to a basement room where he worked. Upon arriving there, he would undress to his underwear, hang up his suit, and get to work. He would dress to go back upstairs for lunch and again at the end of his day when he would ride the elevator back home.
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What a small world.
I stumbled upon an article about ‘Drawing how the internet works,’ an assignment given by a former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student I met in Troy, NY who is now teaching an online class, “Web 200: Anatomy of a Request.”
He asked the global, virtual students to ‘draw how the internet works.’ They created simple models of this complex series of relationships to help think through the ‘problem’ and share what they learned with others in the class. This is Drawing Down the Vision.
How the internet works may not be your forte or interest… but you can apply this technique in your day to day life and work. The intersection of text and visuals helps you think through a problem in new ways, what we call diversity of thought.
Checkout our practice articles for help getting started.
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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.
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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.
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Checkout this fantastic sampling of Freshman Sketchbooks at RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design.
Each first year student is mailed a blank sketchbook the summer before they start classes to capture examples of whatever they find meaningful. This explorative eye on the world sets the stage for their time at the school and helps instill RISD’s best-in-class approach to teaching design… observing and creating.
Also, for more info about how RISD builds a successful and relevant creative culture… see our recent post on John Maeda and how he believes, ‘Art and design can help solve problems in any industry.‘
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John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design and author of The Laws of Simplicity, has always been an advocate of applying art and design in nontraditional settings. In the quick video below, John explains how a creative background can help individuals succeed in tackling problems other skillsets may struggle with. This is Diversity of Thought in action, a key tenet of Drawing Down the Vision.
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At Drawing Down the Vision, we know the only way to get people on board with your wild dreams and aspirations is to make them digestible, to serve them up in byte-size chunks. If you start simple, and build from the core, you can slowly bring to life what previously seemed impossible.
However, we often have difficulty understanding what exactly is the core, and prioritizing which chunks to serve first. This is what makes successful people stand out… the ability to distill complex information to its essence, and communicate it effectively.
A few months back, we wrote an article about practicing to be concise. Today, we’ll revisit that theme with a series of Picasso’s sketches currently showcased at the MOMA, Museum of Modern Art in New York in the Paul J. Sachs Prints and Illustrated Books Gallery. This series showcases how Picasso started with a powerful vision, and dwindled it down to its core essence.
First off, here is a bull. Picasso started with an elaborate rendition of his vision, this bull. It manages to seem both emaciated and all-powerful at the same time. He spared no charcoal to develop all the textures and details fully.
A week later we see, another bull. This one certainly lacks the life-like textures and details of the previous, however Picasso maintains the jaunt-like skeletal structure and rough edges that personify this brick-like creature.
Later that day, Picasso varies on his morning sketch, and this time removes the noise surrounding the bull, focusing on just the powerful, woven frame.
Two weeks after the original sketch, Picasso focused on less of the frame innards, and more on the outline. Slowly he decides to maintain the core body, but remove the lattice-like network that creates an inner girth.
One month and 18 sketches later, Picasso has come to a conclusion. The frame, four legs, two horns, a simple tail, and one more minor detail comprise the essence of a bull. Those elements could be drawn in another perspective to seem like a horse or an elephant, but the key is that Picasso understood the relationships and ratios of the lines between these core elements. Drawing is all about seeing relationships.
This sketch became so powerful to Picasso, it is the only one he felt comfortable gracing with title of ‘The Bull,’ rather than just ‘Bull.’
Those of you interested in the data visualization scene may equate this experiment of Picasso’s to the data-ink ratio of modern-day data shaman Edward Tufte (published in Tufte’s elegant masterpiece, The Visual Display of Qualitative Information).
Essentially, Tufte stated that a diagram should only include the non-erasable ink which communicates the content. If that ink were erased, the message would be lost. In Picasso’s example, the lack of horns, tail, legs, and the ink used to create the space between them would limit your understanding of this massive mammal, the bull.
So, in your future work… you may sketch out your thoughts and have far too many details to make them digestible for others, or even yourself. That’s ok, it’s a start. Give your thinking some time, and then revisit the sketches. Try to cut 10, 20, or 50 percent. Slowly you’ll learn what are the most important elements of your work, and you will be better able to communicate them to others. This will allow you to make what previously seemed impossible… a reality.
Go draw your bull.
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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.
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