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Cognition

Back to the Basics: Experiment and Get Real Weird

In our industry there is pressure to always be posting and sharing our work: full projects, design snippets, writing, photos, tiny thoughts, and conversations. Each of these mediums come with their own degree of expected polish.

The weight we all put on creating the polished pieces can sometimes make me forget that it’s okay to explore and make ugly things at times—just let loose. Is there something we could practice every day, just for ourselves, that can make us more relaxed, excited and refreshed with what we do?

When I was in the tenth grade, my art teacher assigned my class the task to fill one page of a small sketchbook each day. The parameters were that the pages didn’t have to be filled with anything amazing, perfect, or even necessarily drawn, but at the end of each week she would flip through seven pages to make sure we completed this exercise. The assignment was ongoing throughout the semester and separate from our other projects. We weren’t graded on quality or content, just whether or not it was complete.

For the six to seven years afterwards, I carried a small sketchbook everywhere, and it seemed like each sketchbook filled up magically every three months or so. My interpretation of a “sketch” was loose: sometimes it was a gesture drawing, sometimes jotting down an idea that seemed was “just so awesome” at the time, but usually they were doodles about things I had noticed that day or something new I’d learned. The practice ended up being a great way for me to experiment with new materials and ideas without feeling like it was a huge commitment. From an outsider’s perspective looking in on my sketchbook, it might have seemed disjointed and wacky, but that was totally okay because it was a visual log of undeveloped thoughts. At the time I was doing it, it just felt like brain spew, but looking back later on, I found it had become a great way to organize and begin to catalog my progress and refine my process.

But then I got an iPhone. Much of my spare time became consumed with checking things, which lead me to feeling distracted. My phone time replaced my sketching habit. I felt too busy—which was a bunch of hooey. Consequently, I began noticing that I didn’t have a log of my thinking outside of my professional work.

I recently decided to get a tiny sketchbook the same size as my phone. I carry it in the same pocket where my phone normally is as a reminder. I’ll pull it out when I’m waiting for the train or when I’m cooking dinner—the usual times that I would just get sucked into Twitter, Instagram, or an endless series of articles. My goal is to complete just one tiny sketch or idea a day. If more happen in one day, fantastic; if I forget, that’s okay, too. The goal is simply to capture something ephemeral to keep me connected to my inside and outside world. This connection is where I begin to notice all the details I wouldn’t normally look for.

Now that I’ve gotten back in the habit, it’s refreshing. The sketches are not being judged. I can do whatever I want in there. I can make it as useful to my job as I see fit. It’s not a sketchbook that I will allow to inevitably become filled with technical/work notes, and yet, it seems to be helping me to think a little bit clearer, which, in turn, helps me put my thoughts together better with my work.

I think there’s something to be said about going back to the basics. There’s something great about not having your perspective limited by using technical tools and the context of a screen.

I’ve found sketching is what works for me but I’m sure there are other types of daily creative exercises that work for other people. Experiment and get real weird! Just make sure it’s not something that feels like an obligation. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the pressure of doing something every day where it to starts feeling like a chore. Keep things fresh and inconsistent and something totally cool and invigorating might come out of your sketches.

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