“A lot of our creative flow comes from a place of curiosity and exploration. It often feels like we’re excavating and asking questions and not just giving answers but really just exploring.” – Adrianne Lenker
In part 1 of this series we talked about what makes you YOU, what makes you tick, what’s your story. To help you get started with exploring your own story, I shared a list of questions to ask yourself. I also gave a (rather short, I admit) explanation why I try to focus on art voice in stead of art style. (If you want to read more on that, I can highly recommend the book “Find Your Artistic Voice” by Lisa Congdon.)
This time we are going to look into exploration.
First we’re going to have a look at why exploring is important and what I mean by exploration. And then I share a list of suggestions for things you could do. If you want to skip the explanation and go directly to the list, then feel free to scroll to the end of this post.
It can really help to look beyond your typical daily life. To expand your horizon by exploring the world around you. I find that works wonders for me when I’m in a creative rut. I feel excited and inspired again and full of new ideas. But what do I mean by exploration exactly?
Let’s first have a quick look at the definition of exploration.
Keywords here are action, unfamiliar, learn, and examination. (And searching.)
Action (and searching)
It sounds obvious, but finding your art voice means taking action. We might think we are very busy developing our style / voice / portfolio and being productive and working towards our goals. But are we really?
I confess, I love watching Youtube videos. I do learn and find inspiration there. But time can slip away if I’m not carefull. Maybe for you it’s not Youtube but Instagram or TikTok. I watched (on YT yes) some videos about the pros and cons of social media. Some artists find it helpful to even completely quit social media (for a while or all together). Like Julia Bausenhardt talks about on her Youtube channel.
Maybe we don’t have to be this drastic. But it can be helpful when we choose to use these media more intentionally. You’ve probably already seen the Ted talk by Cal Newport where he talks about this. But here’s the link in case you missed it.
Action to me though does not just mean being more intentional with my use of social media. It also means getting off my butt and actively search for something to go explore.
This second keyword can mean several things. Going to places you’ve never been before, trying new things, study a topic that you know nothing about.
But it doesn’t have to mean that you need to spend a lot of money on traveling or buying stuff. There are lots of ways you can bring explore unfamiliar things in your own familiar surroundings. If you start paying attention.
True fact: I love learning more than I love making things. Learning to work with new materials, learning new skills, learning about new to me topics. I could easily do this for a living. BUT. Obviously (and unfortunately) it won’t help to just learn and never put what you learned into action.
On the other hand, trying out new things can be very intimidating as well. But I love this quote that is often said to be from Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” So sometimes we just have to get over ourselves and out of our comfort zones, if we want to see a change happening in our lives.
Examination (and searching plus paying attention)
This last one of the keywords is one that I think is crucial (besides taking action of course). Examination can mean several things. For example diving deeper into a topic and really study it in depth. Doing research. Or just simply paying more attention to your surroundings and the people that walk through it.
Actually, one of my favourite drawings is of a man on a bike with a broom in his hand. I spotted him in our neighbourhood and quickly took note:
Put away that screen for a minute and look around you (I’m talking to myself here as much as I’m talking to you!). Notice the way the light falls, zoom in on small details. A bird that’s singing on a nearby branch, the colour of the sky today, the neighbour being dragged along by their dog.
Do you usually notice these kind of things? Or do you pass by it, your head burried in daily sorrows, inner ramblings, and noisy screens?
Back to you, time for action! Go outside and explore!
But be specific.
But Wen, where to start? There is so much to choose from!
The thing I find most helpful is to get very specific in what I’m going to explore. When you go to the forest, maybe think about what you would like to study in that forest. Is it the shape of the trees? The little flowers and plants in the undergrowth? The way the light filters through the leaves? The textures and shapes of the leafs themselves?
It helps to have a clear object of study in mind, otherwise you might just cluelessly wander around (which totally can be a good thing too, very relaxing). You probably heared about SMART goals. It’s the same here: making your exploration goal for that day very specific, helps eliminating distraction and gives you focus and clarity.
LIST OF THINGS TO DO
Here are some things you could do. Grab your camera and a notepad or sketchbook and go explore. Take a picture, jot down a note, and/or sketch what you see.
Let’s start with the free stuff, preferably in your own neighbourhood and choosing only one thing at a time:
- Look for textures, patterns or colour palettes.
- Look for interesting details on the buildings.
- See if you can spot people who could be characters to draw or write about.
- Write down bits of conversation you pick up.
- Visit the local library and take a book from a shelf you would normally pass by. (You don’t have to be a member of the library to be able to sit there for a while and enjoy the book.)
- Visit the local public park but research the history of that place before you go.
- Look at the plants and trees in your neighbourhood and see if you can find interesting shapes.
- Visit the local market. Are you going to study the produce? Or the stalls?
- Look at the shop windows. Are there interesting displays? Or patterns on products? Colours?
- Study the people who are also visiting those places I listed above (the window shoppers, the family having a picnic, the old man in the bus).
- Go on a scavenger hunt or beach combing adventure and draw your findings.
- Go to the highest place you can find in your hometown that you are allowed to visit and see how it looks from above.
- Research one specific (part of a) topic thoroughly, read about it, watch documentaries. For example an animal, a plant, the history of the clothes of your culture, a recent scientific discovery, a person you admire.
- Look at your answers to the questions of part one of this series and see if there’s something in it that you would like to delve deeper into.
Things with a (small or larger) price tag:
And here are some things to do if you don’t mind spending money:
- Sit in a café and watch the people (and draw them).
- Visit a local museum, especially one that tells the story of your area or where a local artist has an exhibition.
- In the local public library there might be an interesting exhibition going on as well.
- Visit musea with a specific theme, like history or science and focus on a particular part of that theme that intrigues you. Perhaps read or watch a documentary about the theme or topic beforehand or after visiting.
- Go to the zoo, study one animal species. Sketch them, read about them (beforehand or take a book from your local library with you), look at how they behave, interact, move. Note their colours, their shapes, their texture. Can you simplify their shapes in your drawing?
- Go to a flea market or thrift store and see if you can find a tiny treasure for a low price. Draw it, see if you can find information about it (for example the factory where that pottery was made).
- Visit the local library and borrow that book from that shelf you normally pass by.
- Visit an art museum with the intention to research the work of one particular painter or period, sketch interesting details of their work, note textures/colours/patterns/stories etc.
- Again, study the people who are also visiting those places mentioned above.
- The highest point in your town maybe is a church tower or other building that you have to pay an entry fee for? It might be worth it for the view.
- If there’s a river running through your town and there are boat trips available, go on it to see your town from another angle.
- Visit another city or village and do one or all of the things mentioned above.
Enough rabbit trails to follow here. Enjoy!
“And as I reinvent myself and I’m constantly curious about everything, I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner in newfound art and entertainment and exploration.” – Pam Grier