These events stood out for me because they surprised me, got me questioning my assumptions, and generally fired up my creativity.
As I look at them, the single unifying element is probably that they took me out of my comfort zone, something I’m more and more aware of as being a vital component to constantly improving my work.
I know it makes a better post to have 5, not 4, items. But these were the ones that merit posting, so we’re ignoring the rule. These are not in a particular order.
1. CUT&PASTE DESIGN TOURNAMENT
While I was only a spectator, not a competitor, this event was still creatively exhilarating. Groups of contestants in three categories of design (3D, 2D, and Motion Graphics) each had a mere 15 minutes to craft their creations, drawn from a given theme. Their work was shown real-time on huge overhead TV displays, all while club music whomped, a Red Bull-infused DJ hollered, and the crowd slugged beer and cheered. The idea of creating a pretty awesome, and fully realized, design work in 15 lightning-fast minutes, in front of hundreds of your peers, seems staggering to me – and yet somehow possible. It’s that hint of possibility that made me feel more than a twinge of challenge. I might not enter this competition but I left feeling like I needed to give myself way harder and scarier things to do – more often.
2. MAKER FAIRE
My friends and I work in nothing but pixels 40+ hours a week and then some. We do it because we love it. But more and more I’m feeling the value of immersion into the analog world on occasion. It takes a little self discipline – patience, deliberation, and fussing are generally considered luxuries in our tech workplace. But it is good for the creative soul – it gives your brain a chance to return to a more natural, contemplative state and, well, breathe.
When I first heard about Maker Faire, it sounded just too quaint and geeky. Then I went to my first Maker Faire in 2011 and was blown away by the universe of fun, quirky projects and the sheer love of “making” that radiates from all the participants.
Today, our tech world is beginning to be influenced by “making” – origami is used in user experience exploration, 3D printing is bordering on mainstream, and of course we can never, ever, get enough of robots.
At the beginning of 2012 I was beginning my exit from a job that had stagnated. My boyfriend and I left for Mexico for three weeks to try and clean out the mental cobwebs and figure out where to go from here.
Mexico – at least the area we frequent – definitely requires that you learn a new level of patience and perseverance. But it also releases you from years of design dogma and assumptions.
Color, typography, and tone range from explosive and irreverent, to painstaking, calm, and spiritual. Textures and materials are unabashedly weathered and abused.
Immersing myself in this environment for nearly a month didn’t define my style, but it knocked me on the side of the head, made me stop and pay attention - and whetted my appetite for more exploration. All of those things are extremely healthy, and will inevitably blossom into ideas.
4. 826 VALENCIA
During some extended downtime this year I became actively involved in the 826 Valencia urban creative writing center project. I’d been wanting to participate in this program for years but never had the time. Kids of all ages come to 826 Valencia for programs, including the Bookmaking Field Trip, which is the program I helped with.
During a typical session, a volunteer leader helps a group of kids as they conceive, write, and illustrate their own 4 or 5 page book, on the spot. I’d typically be sitting at a computer station working on the kids’ biography photos in Photoshop, so I got to hear the ideas for main characters being tossed around.
It was when I heard one kid yell out “Balthazar, the Evil Sausage” – I’m not kidding - that I froze, jaw dropping, and turned to stare at the kids in bafflement. It was easily the most creative utterance I could remember hearing in a really long time. And the kid was like 9 years old.
The entire mission, values, and teachings of this program are driven by a love for words, a sense of humor, and a demand for thinking in unexpected ways. It is an incredibly rich creative environment and unexpectedly valuable no matter who you are or what you do, but especially for someone who creates.