Friday, January 11, 2008

"How Did You Think of That?"

Or, "Where did you get that idea?" I have heard those questions often. And usually the answer is so mundane or ordinary, I am sure it is less than satisfying for those posing the question. But it is the reality.

The ideas are out there everywhere, all around us. What is important is honing your ability to notice and pay attention to the inspiration that surrounds you. Kim Cavender quotes Grant Diffendaffer in her blog.

"Making something you have never imagined will greatly increase your ability to imagine things you have never made, and then go on to make them."

Kathleen Dustin talks in her blog about being inspired by tall grasses in the wind to create a fabulous new purse design. As she says in her blog entry, she sees her job as an artist is one of paying attention.

So many times I have come upon a good idea, on the way to something else. Something unexpected catches my eye. If I had not learned to pause at this moment, the inspiration would have disappeared into the ether, gone for good most likely.
I think I have always been someone who just can get caught up in the simple act of observation. I can destract myself from the discomfort of dentistry by "analyzing" the ceiling, or some other thing within my view. I used to take a bus back and forth to school when I was in business school. I remember passing the time on the ride by doing drawings in my head. I would study the back of someone's head as if I was trying to draw it. Noticing shadows and details. The wrinkles on the neck. The hair, or shape of a head. When I was following the exercises in The Artist's Way, and writing my "pages", I would sometimes write what I saw out the window, especially the sky. I would try to describe the color and light as best I could in words. Here are a few of those excerpts;
"I can hear the birds outside this morning since the windows are open. It is such a different scene outside the window now compared to the winter. Green leaves everywhere. There are only tiny bits of sky visible between the leaves. Even the tree trunks are partially or largely obscured by the leaves. The leaves cause the sunlight coming in the window to dance."

"The sky is a hard silvery blue right now. There is a small band of peach colored sky along the northwest horizon. It is getting darker out as I sit here writing this. It looks more like evening than morning."

Do you give yourself the time to pause and reflect when something catches your eye. You may stop for half a second. But do you then think about what it is that made you stop?

What if this power of observation is not something that you have honed quite yet? If you want to work on this ability to notice, I recommend spending a few minutes every day observing one thing, the same thing, everyday, and try to put into words what you have seen. The sky is great because it is always changing. But pick the same time each day, and you will incorporate the passage of time into your observations as well. Days lengthening or shortening will change the quality of the light.

Have you ever seen those film clips on YouTube of photos that people take of themselves each day? The pictures flash by, with clothes and hair changing, but little else. Glasses seem to float on the face as they move around just a bit each day. If writing is not your thing, maybe you could do a portrait each day of a spouse, yourself or your pet. They don't have to be super refined or finished. Just the same thing, every day. If you do this for a month, you will find yourself noticing things by the end of that month that you never saw before.

Learning to pay attention takes practice. And once you are paying attention, it won't automatically translate into a new body of work. It may mean that you will start to find inspiration in the ordinary and everyday. It really is out there for all of us to access. We just have to notice.

1 comment:

Marianne S said...

Judy, thanks for another thought provoking post and great tips. that's what i'm missing these days - to be still and just observe. right now i'm mostly multitasking, while my body acts as robot cleaning-cooking-looking after kids, my mind "creates". but i miss this quiet observing and drawing inspiration straight from nature.