Saturday, June 25, 2005

My Sketch Kit

When I sketch, I’m usually on a hike somewhere or walking around looking at sights as a tourist, so I like to keep my sketch kit very small, light, and portable. I like to draw and add color to the drawing and my drawings are loose and gestural, so the contents of my sketch kit reflect that. Here they are:

1 pencil with very fat lead. It’s a mechanical pencil that I got from Levenger’s.
1 eraser. My preference is a soft white eraser in a mechanical holder that’s long and narrow like a pencil. You can find them at most office supply stores.
1 watercolor box. There are several on the market to choose from, but I chose Daler-Rowney’s based on size and availability and I got it at Meininger’s. I stuck with the colors that come standard in the set, but you can easily customize the choices by buying individual Daler-Rowney half pans. Please be aware that when you choose your watercolor box you need to see if replacement half pans are available in that brand. Each brand is slightly different in size. I also recommend buying the artist grade rather than the student grade because you will be much happier with your results. Student grade paints have a lot of fillers that water down the intensity of the color.
2 portable, synthetic watercolor brushes. A #6 round and a #0 round. They are both Raphael Impressions by KaĆ«rell. The brush handle becomes the lid for the brush when you aren’t using them. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are available anymore, but other companies have their own versions of portable brushes. If necessary, you can cut the excess length off the brush handle and save the plastic tubes that come on the brush to protect the bristles.
1 small piece of natural sponge. It’s handy for absorbing excess water or making texture with the paint.
1 small water bottle. It’s a small, plastic bottle for carrying liquid that you can find at backpacking supply stores. I got mine at REI.
1 water holder with a lid. It’s a large, plastic, “pill” bottle that can also be found at backpacking supply stores. I also got it at REI. The lid was attached when I bought it, but I found it inconvenient to use that way, so I cut off the attachment.
1 water based pencil. It’s a General’s Sketch & Wash #588 and draws like a pencil, but you can use water and a brush to activate the lead and create washes. I also got this at Meininger’s.
1 small Moleskine unlined notebook. These are available at Barnes and Noble or Meininger’s. I’ve chosen the unlined notebook over the sketchbook, because it has more pages, and the paper doesn’t have the coating on it that the sketchbook does. I also write in it, so the unlined notebook just makes more sense for me. I prefer a Moleskine to spiral bound sketchpads because spiral binding always gets in my way. Moleskines open flat unlike other similarly bound sketchbooks and the pages are acid free. If you like to remove your sketches from your sketchbook when you’re done, than you’re going to be better off sticking with a spiral binding or a notepad binding.
1 mesh zippered bag that is about 6 inches by 9 inches to hold it all. I added a couple of end snaps onto the top two corners so that I can hook it onto my belt loops when I’m hiking.
1 set of colored pencils in a zippered pencil holder. If I’m doing sketching in very cold weather, I trade out the watercolors for the colored pencils. Watercolors tend to freeze when it gets too cold and then you lose your painting when they thaw.

On My Sketchbook and Becoming a Tourist Attraction

Interesting things happen when you sit down to sketch in a public place. It’s hard to do at first because you have to get used to shutting people out enough to focus, but not so much as to be rude if they ask you questions. Mostly they just talk amongst themselves. You become something of a tourist attraction because people sketching in public is more like something out of Masterpiece Theatre or books about explorers and pioneers.

Once when my husband and I were traveling in England, we went to a wonderful little town called Hay-on-Wye that is on the English-Welsh border. We had traveled there for the used book stores, but in the middle of town is a partially ruined castle. Since it was evening and the book stores were closed, I planted myself on a bench across the street from the castle and began to sketch it. It wasn’t long before I was the center of attention for a group of Japanese tourists. As I sat there and sketched, they chattered, pointed, and took pictures. I simply smiled at them and went on sketching. I imagine I’m in three or four Japanese vacation scrapbooks. In my mind I imagine them pulling out the pictures of their vacation and when they get to the part where they were in Hay-on-Wye, there I am, sketching the castle.

Recently I took a train ride in Leadville, Colorado. The train heads up the mountain toward an old mine and just before reaching it, heads back down the mountain. A little after heading back down, they stop the train at the old water tower so that people can get out and walk around to look at the train, tour the engine and caboose, and look at the water tower. I had decided when we were going up that I wanted to sketch the water tower when we stopped there while going back down. So, when the train stopped, I found a rock, sat down, and began to sketch quickly since I had less than 15 minutes. I recall that people milled about, but they were mostly interested in the train and water tower. But, my husband who gets a kick out of people’s reaction to me when I’m sketching, says that I drew a fair amount of attention. More vacation scrapbooks with me sketching, I guess.

About three years ago, we went on a trip with my family to Yellowstone. I was looking forward to that trip because I had good memories of going there when I was a very small child. One of the places I sat down to sketch was Artist’s Point, because it has a phenomenal view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. As I took my time to do a good sketch of the view and to add color with paint, I heard the voice of an older woman close, but a little behind me. “See, she’s sketching. You can do it, too,” she was saying. I turned to look and there was an older woman with a girl who looked to be about 10 or 11. Grandma and granddaughter? I smiled. The young girl, who was holding a typical 8x10 sketch pad and a pencil, was looking very nervous. Sketching in public can be unnerving and I decided to be reassuring. “It’s hard at first, but start small and don’t try to draw a masterpiece,” I said, or something along those lines. Then I commented that I found it easier to do it in a smaller sketchbook, because it was less space to fill and therefore less intimidating. Then I showed her my Moleskine sketchbook. Grandma approved and said they would have to get one like that, so I pulled the little pamphlet out of the back pocket of my Moleskine and gave it to her with suggestions on where to find them for sale. I got done with my sketch not too long after and left. I’ve always hoped that the little girl sat down and at least attempted a sketch. If she did she probably found it hard and was probably very dissatisfied with her efforts, but we all have to start somewhere.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Monday, June 06, 2005

Too Good a Quote Not to Share

This is from Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class. He is quoting Carl Rogers from his book On Becoming a Person.

It has been found that when the individual is "open" to all his experience…then his behavior will be creative, and his creativity may be trusted to be essentially constructive…In a person who is open to experience each stimulus is freely relayed…without being distorted by any process of defensiveness, whether the stimulus originates in the environment, in the impact of form, color, or sound on the sensory nerves, or whether it originates in the viscera…it is available to awareness…This last suggests another way of describing openness to experience. It means lack of rigidity and permeability of boundaries in ocncepts, beliefs, perceptions, and hypotheses. It means a tolerance for ambiguity where ambiguity exists. It means the ability to receive much conflicting infomration without forcing closure upon the situation…This complete openness of awareness to what exists at this moment is. I believe an important condition fo constructive creativity.

The Dumbing Down of America

No, I'm not referring to the three Rs although that certainly applies. I'm talking about kids and electronic devices (EDs) otherwise known as televisions, Game Boys, Nintendo, movie theaters, cell phones, iPods, PDAs, and computers.

I don't have anything against these directly. Obviously since I'm using the last one on this list as I write this. But I do object to kids who don't spend most of their time outside playing and getting into mud, dirt, trees, sweat, and anything else you hear Beaver getting reprimanded for.

So what's the big deal? EDs shut you down and zone you out. There's no creative stimulation. "Sure there is," you say. Look at the games they play. That takes interaction and problem solving. Well…not really. On the surface most EDs are great. But if you really look at them and how they affect people, you begin to realize what they really do. For instance, have you ever come home from work and sat down in front of the TV? When did you finally turn it off? Probably when it was late and past time to go to bed. Excuse for doing it? "My job burns me out and I just need to wind down." Think about it. If you spend your day in front of a computer, you're using the same part of your brain that you use at work. You're using the stressed out part to de-stress. It doesn't work. That's why, when you get up in the morning, you're still tired and your stress level is back up by the time you're in the car on your way to work. I know this from experience. I'm not pulling this out of thin air. (One comment on the side here. If you don't spend all day in front of a computer, it's still not a good excuse to "de-stress" in front of the TV. At least read a book or talk to your family.)

Solution? Use a different part of your brain to de-stress.
1. Just figuring out what to do requires some creativity on your part.
2. If you're in front of a computer all day, get out and get active. It will allow the stressed part of your mind to relax because you're using another part. You don't have to go climb a mountain or go for a run (unless you want to). You could pull weeds in the garden, read a book on the porch, find a good spot to watch the bird feeder, rearrange the furniture, go to the park and fly a kite or throw a frisbee, …you figure it out.
3. The side effects…this is the cool part…is that it improves your creativity.

Now you're saying, "Okay, I'll give you the first two, but improving my creativity? Yeah, right!" I'm serious. I'm not a scientist or a medical doctor, but what truly creative people have known for centuries is that the more diverse your interests are and the more things you do that are apparently unrelated, the more creative you become.

Think about it. Creativity is creating something new by combining things that no one else thought to put together. How can you do that if you limit yourself to EDs? Most of what is created, even in the realm of EDs, is a result of things outside of that realm. A non-ED example would be the guy who invented velcro was inspired by the burrs that stuck to his clothing when he went outside for a walk. Electricity was discovered by flying a kite. There are a lot of stories like that.

Okay, back to the kids. I digressed to adults because kids grow up to be adults and kids who spend their time focused on EDs become adults who are focused on EDs. It's scary and I can only explain the enlarging of homes and the shrinking of yards by the fact that no one is using their yards because they're all inside with their eyes glued to the TV or the computer. Am I wrong?

So, what is the solution? Limit or eliminate EDs. I know it is very hard to eliminate, but you can limit. The only catch is that all persons affected have to agree. If Dad has to have his TV and Mom wants to get rid of it, you have a problem. But, if you can agree than it can work. For myself, I will confess right now that we have 3 TVs, 3 DVD/VCRs, 2 computers, 2 PDAs, and 2 cell phones. But I lost count of the books I have a long time ago and I've read 90% of them. My front yard is slowly being transformed from lawn to garden. I've been looking at my bike everytime I go by it in the garage and it's finally getting warm enough that I need to get it out and ride it.

The Creative Class

There is this great book called The Rise of the Creative Class. I recommend it to anyone interested in the American economy and creativity or creative people. I have to say, as a person who worked in service jobs for many years, it gave me hope.

I graduated from high school in the top third of my class from a school that, at the time, was ranked as being among one of the 150 best public high schools in the country. I went off to college on a full tuition scholarship and graduated four years later with a B+ average. I didn't get more than that because I was raised to believe that it was more important to learn than to get straight As. No, the two don't automatically go together. I had a college room mate who got straight A's by memorizing things and promptly disposing of the information after it was no longer needed. But that is a whole different topic to explore another time.

Richard Florida
talks about me in his book The Rise of the Creative Class. Or rather, he talks about people like me. I am a Creative. I'm part of a generation more interested in having jobs we enjoy, find stimulating and interesting, and that pay the bills than a job which makes lots of money. We also don't like to be stuck doing things the way our parents and grandparents did them. We tend to change jobs regularly rather than staying at the same place for years at a time. I used to joke that I couldn't get a job with my resume because I had done so many jobs that seem unrelated. The immediate assumption was that I couldn't stick to a job and couldn't make up my mind what I wanted to do. That all changed when I got my first "real" job in November of 2004. Guess what. I use everything I learned from all those "unrelated" jobs where I now work. I finally found a boss who understands the value of a diverse resume.

I hate neighborhood covenants because they encourage conformity and discourage creativity. I'd rather live in a run down neighborhood than a covenanted and perfect looking neighborhood. I think it's okay if my neighbor digs up all of her lawn and plants flowers instead. Oh, by the way, she did. And she's inspired me to do some non-conformist things with my lawn. I even painted my door orange. It looks great and I didn't have to get permission from a home owner's association to do it. Yes, Richard Florida talks about that, too.

Okay, this is more about attitude than creativity, but really…if you have the same attitude I do, go get a copy of The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida and read it. By the way, he just came out with a book called The Flight of the Creative Class and I plan on getting a copy this week.