“What should I draw?”
Friends, we say this far too often, and it certainly is a bit demoralizing to hear this phrase spill out of your own mouth. To make this seemingly innocent inquiry is to confess a dry reservoir of creativity, an inability to think up original, satisfying ideas. Aren’t artists supposed to be “the creative ones”? The innovators who need no inspiration or prompt?
Well, yes and no. Creativity certainly does involve original thought and innovation, but a good chunk of it comes from observing and studying the world around you. Here’s a challenge to demonstrate this idea: next time you sit down with your sketchbook – whether you’re at the office, in a classroom or on the train home – resist the urge to ask your neighbor for creative advice. Instead, stop and take a look around you. Notice the patterns and details. Separate the shades of colors. Break down what you see into geometric shapes and layers. Now, you may draw.
Drawing your surroundings forces you to see things that you never would have noticed otherwise. Urban Sketchers, a worldwide network of social artists, exists for this exact principle. The aim of this non-profit collaboration is to take creative dabblers and professionals alike into their own city to draw the buildings, parks and people they see – and overlook – on a regular basis. Marc Holmes, the co-founder of Urban Sketchers, notes that drawing what you see not only stirs your creative juices, but is “great training for an artist: you learn perspective first-hand, memorize light and specific detail [and] see things you wouldn’t make up.”
On one warm evening this week, I took Urban Sketcher’s advice; I found a comfy spot, plopped down and started drawing what I saw. Not only did I realize that my drawing skills were a bit rusty, but I re-discovered a little slice of a world that is so familiar to me. I discovered the little colored buds peeking through scaly tree branches, the uneven sidewalks worn down by tens of thousands of sneakers, and the peaceful quiet of a college campus at sunset. My introspective soul was in heaven for an hour.
So take a moment to look around. Take in all the details, the curiosities and the familiarities of your surroundings. And I’m sure you’ll find yourself asking that question a little less often.
Still at a loss for inspiration? 1. Take a look at this quote by writer Rainer Maria Rilke: “When you express yourself, use the things around you, the images from your dreams and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself. Admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches, because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place.” 2. Check out this endless stream on Flickr of subway sketches drawn by artists on their daily commute.
Here are few of my own attempts at capturing bits of the world in the pages of my notebook.