A space for visual exploration and explorative play
Text and images by Danny Aldred
‘Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things’
My fondest memories as a child are of gluing and sticking found things into a sketchbook. I would pick up flowers, leaves, rubbish anything that took my eye, elevating it’s meaning by resetting into a book format. The once discarded or lost items now belong to my archive of the found. I would create narratives around the things I had collected, and imagine the journeys that these items had been on before I found them. Was there a deeper reasoning for their selection or is this just a chance encounter? Either way I enjoyed the process of collecting.
As adults we tend to categorize everything that’s new to us, as children we are open to new possibilities and new meanings. It’s this openness that is the beginning of explorative play and it’s this play that is important to creativity. Play also comes about when we feel safe and secure within our environment. As adults we fear the judgment of our peers, these fears make us conservative with our thinking and hold us back from taking creative risks. It’s important to take creative risks as artists or designers, to push the boundaries and become innovators within our field.
Brian Eno talks of his memories of fossil hunting on the beach as a child and describes this as ‘beyond thinking’. I can relate to this statement and for me it’s when I am creating sketchbooks, switching to this inner zone that transcends words, creatively exploring the visual with clarity, guided by the subconscious and informed by the place of creation. Playfulness breathes enthusiasm and commitment.
Over the past ten years I created sketchbooks to escape the pragmatic ways I worked as a commercial graphic designer. I use them to connect things and create new visual experiences. I enjoy this process of making with the destination unknown. The important factor for me is the process becomes more important than a final outcome. Some of the books I have produced represent a kind of pamplicest as I sometimes reuse existing books and overlay text and imagery creating something new. Filling 1-2 sketchbook every few months I find having restrictions on time and materials pushes the limits of creativity.
Another important factor when creating work through the use of a sketchbook is the editing process. Editing is not censoring, it is selecting and offering the possibility of presenting the otherwise unseen. Editing happens instinctively when I select items and again on a secondary level when work is cut or pasted down. A final third editing stage happens when / if the piece is selected ‘out’ of the sketchbook to be used for another project. This transformation and endless reuse of the work is exciting. I once made a moving image piece called Polydistortion from a sketchbook I created on a trip to Iceland. I also made a flipbook based on collaged photographs. This connection and triggering other ideas is all part of the creative process. Hockney once said that it all starts with the sketchbook, I think this is true with how I work and most others. However I also believe that things can be concluded within the sketchbook and view them as completed pieces in their own right. I curated an exhibition called Hidden Spaces in London last year that celebrated this very fact. The show included sketchbooks from artists, designers, illustrators and I even managed to persuade Grayson Perry to lend me one of his beloved old sketchbooks.
For most artists, sketchbooks have been spaces in which to rehearse and experiment without the pressure of the outside world. This removal of audience creates a non- judgmental, safe environment, which stimulates explorative play, which in turn feeds the creative process. In an age of web based sketchbooks, blogging and tweeting, our playground for collecting is pixel based and instantly ‘publishable’ to the outside world. With this we become aware of how our peers may receive this and how we might be judged, as a result we could be less likely to take creative risks. We can obviously collect through these digital portals and create work that feeds into different projects in interesting ways and it’s important to use all the tools we have at our disposal to create lively and playful work. But what’s most important is that we enjoy the process of making, to quote Bruce Mau ‘Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day’.
Danny Aldred is a visual artist and tutor at Winchester School of Art.