The way to work

My last office was about two miles from my home.  I could walk three blocks west, hop on the subway, get off at 23rd Street, then walk the three streets and three avenues to get to my desk in about 30 minutes. I became so used to this commute, that I could read a book the whole way. Not just while sitting in the train but while walking the streets, even when crossing them, eyes down, turning the pages.

Then I began to experiment. Some times I’d take a cab. That would save me five minutes and cost me ten bucks.  When I walked, I’d add five minutes but the trip was an adventure. I would pick a slightly different path each day, because it was grassy and wanted wear, trying to never take the exact same route. I would never read a book when I walked, never wanted to. I might listen to a podcast or some music but most of the times I left my ears as open as my eyes and I just strolled. I walked year round, no matter the temperature, taking mass transportation only when it was pouring with rain.

treeMy commute went from being a drudgery to something I genuinely looked forward to. I saw so many strange and beautiful things as I walked, I connected with the seasons, with the changes in my neighborhood, with the world around me. I would get to my office refreshed and charged up.

As drawing becomes a habit, the way I draw can become habitual too. I go through periods of being in love with the same brand of pen, using the same colors in my watercolor box, reaching for the same shades of colored pencil. In some ways that’s a good thing. Working with the same approach and the same media over a long time give me more and more proficiency. I become more efficient, more adept, and able to get my tools to work just as I want them to.

But that rarely lasts. I shake things up every few weeks. In part, it’s because I get bored with the same playmates. When I grab some new media, my drawings astonish me again. They looked like someone else, someone new drew them.  I’ll study a new illustrator, a new artist, and find their influence popping up in my own work. The journey continues over new terrain.

The deep reason for my promiscuity is that I don’t want to walk through life with my nose in a book. I want adventure and I want clarity.  It’s too easy to slide into a rut and grind out more of the same. But with novelty comes a renewed awareness, another bucket of ice water over the head, the shock of the new.

Drawing is seeing is living. Keep it real. Keep it fresh.

10 thoughts on “The way to work

  1. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who goes back and forth between drawing styles! For me, it usually depends on whose books I’m reading at the time. Whether they’re yours, Vivian Swift’s, “They Draw and Cook”…I gather my inspiration from a lot of sources, and that shows up in my journals. I just filled another one up, so off to the supply store I go! Love your yellow tree, by the way. :)

  2. Just this morning I was berating myself for losing interest in things. In my business life I can’t give up on something until the project is complete… yet in my leisure life I find I am getting bored half way through something and move on to something else. Thanks to your post I see it is really just a way for me to ‘throw a bucket of ice water’ over my head and shake up my world.
    It’s OK for me to tire of something that is not holding my interest… and move on to something new and exciting that might become my new favorite thing! It’s called ‘growing’.
    Thanks for the smack upside the head!!!

  3. Reminds me of the time I had to sell my car to put a roof on my house. For several months I walked the 12 mile round trip to work every day. What a lot of interesting things there are to see, even at 5:00 am.

  4. I hadn’t thought about switching materials, palette, media, tools as “a bucket of ice water” to shake things up. I like that. It gives me more creative permission to do what comes naturally to me. Being present in the creative process is what counts. Thanks for the delightful viewpoint!

  5. My dad and uncle used to call this strategy “Mafia Avoidance Day”. Basically, if you shake up the routine and do things in a slightly unpredictable way, the mafia won’t be able to knock you off on your regular route. My dad still asks me, “so you done any mafia avoidance recently?”. It always makes me laugh and also think about doing things with a fresh eye.

  6. I do that too! That’s what being an artist is…growing, inspiring, being inspired, being a little prolific and thinking outside the sandbox. Right now I am obsessed with my Mandalas again before that it was coloring books before that my hippie postcards… I seem to change with the seasons. Whatever I am currently working on is thanks to my muse…I have learned to listen to my Muse because she’s gonna get her way anyhow and its just easier :)

  7. Big like on this post, and yeah; commutes alone offer many opportunities to artists. I used to just read the paper or fiddle away on Facebook during my train commutes. Then one day I decided to pull out my sketchbook and draw some of the people on the train. Two years later, I’ve filled up three sketchbooks on the train and refined the living hell out of my life and anatomy drawing skills, all because I one day made a decision to sketch people on the train rather than to just tune them out with a newspaper or iPhone.

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