Relevance and the Creative Biome

*This post was originally written on July 13, 2017 on a different blogging platform. I’ve since made the decision to move to WordPress and am bringing those early posts here for continuity.

I ended up awake around 4 am this morning, and while that isn’t all that uncommon for me, it’s not my favourite thing in the world. When I realized that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep I shuffled into my office and started playing in my sketchbook. I don’t know if this is true for anyone else, but saying that I am ‘playing’ in my sketchbook is this peculiar thing I do when I am trying to give myself permission to create without the pressure of getting something aesthetic and also when I am trying to convince others that my creative processes aren’t threats to responsible things like housework and such. Part of the ease of being in my office so early in the morning is from knowing it’s unlikely anyone needs me at those hours. 

A fairly significant part of my creative process lately involves attempting to catch up on all of the media I missed that I wanted to take in while I was working on my thesis. I had to put a moratorium on television, cinema, YouTube, novels, and interesting non-fiction for quite a while so I could focus on what I needed to get done. This means I am roughly three years behind the times. 🙂 I’ve been reading a lot of articles from Brain Pickings, watching my way through the Vlog Brothers archive, drawing portraits off the Sktchy app, that kind of thing. It’s been stimulating and it’s an odd relief to feel engaged this way again. Of particular surprise is how I am interacting in new ways with things I had encountered and dismissed initially, discovering they are more relevant now. I woke up this morning thinking of an article I read a little while ago about Tim Spector’s experiences following the traditional diet of the Hadza of Tasmania  in an effort to understand more about how diversity in diet leads to richer microbiomes in humans and the impacts that has on gut health. While I can’t say I know much of anything about Tim Spector or his aims, the article made me think of how much more productive and creative I feel when I am interacting with diverse inputs to my creative process. Cultivating a creative biome of sorts directly supports my mental and emotional health: conversations with friends, visiting new places, and eating different foods supplement what I read and what I see. When I have a varied diet of such things, I make more interesting connections and lose some of the inhibition I have around creating challenging work, moving away from the safety of making stuff that I know people around me will like. It’s important for me to strive for that diversity—to expose myself to things that I don’t necessarily like or agree with in addition to the things I do. 

In addition to the friends that have been nudging me to get on with it, I suspect that part of the credit for me beginning this new project in this specific format is due to having watched the first year of the Vlog Brothers’ archive. The original Brotherhood 2.0 project has been inspiring for me for its unique combination of humour, solemnity, education, creativity, and sheer effort toward getting out of comfort zones. It’s been astonishing to see how their enterprise started, given I know a little about how large and diverse it is now after ten years of existence. It validates the idea of starting somewhere and seeing where it goes, step by step. Often in the moment I don’t have a lot of patience for that, preferring instead to jump in headfirst and hoping things resolve quickly the way I want them to. I’m realizing that there are aspects of my creative process that work on a long term basis though, even if the times when I am making things are brief, occur at irregular intervals, or feel fragmented to me. I am starting to see my collection of completed sketchbooks as a single evolutionary process rather than an accumulated record of individual moments. It seems incredibly obvious now that I can recognize it, which makes me wonder why I couldn’t see it before. It also makes me wonder what the next ten years will look like for me. I don’t have many firm plans right now, which is both exciting and a bit alarming. Taking comfort in Gandalf on that score: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Some of the work from this morning:




It feels good to be breaking out my ‘big’ camera to take photos of my sketchbooks. I haven’t let myself pull it out for a few years, wishing that the denial would help motivate me to work on my thesis. It didn’t. However excited I am to take photos for this digital sharing project, I realize I need to learn a lot about lighting. And probably invest in a tripod. Enthusiasm cannot replace skill and I am not a photographer by any means. Bear with me, please. ^_^

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