The Blank Page
When I was a child, I loved to draw. I spent many hours every day with a sketchpad and colored pencils. It was my go-to activity during Sunday school and church – something about keeping my hands busy helped free my mind to listen (a trick that still works for me today). A good chunk of my adolescent years was spent trying to recreate scenes and objects from memory or just sketching random things lying around the house.
But there were days when I stared at that blank page, uninspired. Bored of the world around me, I wished I knew some way to turn on my imagination. It wasn’t until my first semester of college that I learned the secret – something I’d only dabbled in before – and when I did, I wished I’d known all along.
Good ‘Ol Mr. B
The first day of my 2-D Design class, I met a man who would greatly influence my way of creating. I’m sure that to this day he has no idea how far I’ve carried his ideals with me, from just those two short semesters in his classes.
His name was Stu Branston, but he insisted we call him just “Mr. B.” He was tough, but in the way that made you love him – he pushed us to give the best we had. When someone truly excelled, his praise was like gold – rare but priceless.
The classes weren’t easy for me (a surprise, since as a child I’d always been doted on for my artistic talents), but the hours I spent in them are still some of my most fond memories. Part of it was the sensation of being around kindred spirits – those like-minded artistic types – but most of it was the innovative instruction.
Adapt, Modify, Change
On one of our first assignments, Mr. B placed an array of natural objects on a table in front of the class – things like a pinecone, a twig, an apple, a dried whirlybird from a maple tree. They were all very ordinary. He had us each choose one and start drawing.
After five or ten minutes, we each had a basic realistic sketch of our object (mine, a banana), and here’s where he turned the tables on us. We had to take that first drawing and transform it somehow. There was a good-sized list of modifications: simplifying, mirroring, cropping, folding or crinkling the paper, reversing the image, adding or subtracting something, using multiples of the image, etc. But one change wasn’t enough. He had us alter the drawing repeatedly, using multiple techniques to take it as far as possible from where we’d started. The result would be our first project.
After maybe my tenth or twentieth variation of what had once been a banana, I found myself looking at something entirely different. I ended up with the image you see here (the six squares to the side show a few of the steps leading up to the final creation). My project was called “Dream in the Bubble of Unconsciousness” because it made me think of all the dreams we experience while asleep and how few of those we’re able to remember later on – only the ones that break out of their protective bubbles.
Take a Leap
I learned a very valuable lesson from this creative exercise. When you’re experiencing creative block, start with the mundane. Look around and find a diving board disguised as a boring, every day object. Then use it to leap into new waters. It doesn’t have to be a quantum leap, just a small one. Something to get you started. But don’t stop at that. Leap again and again until you find yourself in a whole new dimension.
I’d love to hear ideas from the other creatives out there. What is your starting point and what adaptations are you going to try?