Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pops into my head

Most days, creativity plays hard to get.

Its reputation, let me tell you, is undeserved.

Most days I try to lure it out with the scratching of my pencil on sketchbook paper, or fitful tapping on my keyboard. Or I ignore creativity, walking the dog, washing the dishes, trying on hats, until I can grab it napping by its twitching ringed tail.

Hard work, getting creative, is what I'm saying.

Then not so very often, like yesterday, creativity wraps about my neck like a scarf and purrs. (That "ka-thunk" was the sound of an analogy having been taken a step too far.)

I was rolling yesterday. It began as it does with many illustration jobs where, after bursts of wrestling ideas into image, come long aftermaths of preparing the art for reproduction; with digital art, I find it often requires tedious regrouping, renaming and reshaping a myriad little objects so a printer can use the file.

After getting the last few parts and pieces in place for one job, a fellow "Did you swim today?" swimmer, Dan Simonelli down in La Jolla, described on facebook®™ a 10-mile ocean swim he had just completed, but groused about having forgotten a camera to document it.

He posted it, as all of us DYST? swimmers do on our own facebook©™ page, swimmers from around the world, whether pool or river or ocean or lake or catfish pond. It's our daily fix.

Offhandedly, Dan asked if I'd sketch his trek based on his description.

I draw for pay. That's food on my table, to be blunt. But I draw for fun ultimately, and sometimes I can't help myself. And all day long I'd been goofing with some particular technique in Adobe™®© Illustrator. This goofy technique just seemed to suit his request.

In a flash I envisioned exactly how to map his swim, which he said included Kevin, his kayaker and logistical and nutrition support … dolphins playing nearby … a water skier racing close by at 70 mph … choppy water that smoothed out … and a view of the coast.

I added a whale, not uncommon on swims where Dan holds forth, and this is the time of year to see grays; and a tentacle, maybe of an octopus, maybe a kraken. A guy can dream.

I dismembered Dan and placed his parts and pieces throughout the sea-green swirl, to suggest the arc of his extremely long swim. I'm just guessing he wears a GPS wristwatch, so I put one on a disembodied arm.

It was pure play. I had no one to please but myself, but in pleasing myself I wanted to make Dan laugh. I was laughing hard on the inside while moving my mouse, making and cutting and moving myriad shapes.

Somehow this reminds me of long ago in elementary school, the first time an idea came to me whole and without hesitation. Our teacher was having us make puppets using old panty hose and wire coat hangers we brought from home. I don't remember what for, maybe to kill an afternoon.


The puppets were to look like this (left), with construction-paper facial features and maybe yarn for hair. Hangers were bent into diamonds, and a section of hose stretched over the frame and tied off.

I do remember a contest was made of it —a Snickers®™ bar. Did someone say "contest?"

This was the time I was learning to draw by copying my favorite comic strips — T.K. Ryan's heavily stylized "Tumbleweeds," Gus Arriola's loose and calligraphic "Gordo," Russell Myers' loose and loony "Broom Hilda."

Good cartooning entranced me. I was getting stronger in my drawing skills, and when this puppet contest took place, the solution suddenly popped complete into my head: Why does it have to look like the teacher's example? Can't it look like something else?

Something like this? I bent the coat hanger diamond along the horizontal axis and turned that bend into a mouth. I drew eyes that I saw on a T-shirt I liked very much, fastened them with thickly glued pieces of paper so they'd flop upright, then added fangs that hung down and long forked tongue that lolled out. Roundish shapes of construction paper suggested scales.

I won. A big Snickers©™ bar. And I used the story for a speech in college.

And I use it still today, a story of hope for days yet ahead, when creativity may be caught napping.

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