September 26, 2010

Titillate the Tedium

Even in the most exciting jobs (Cosmonaut, Test Pilot, Dragon Wrangler), there are moments of unadulterated drudgery. We all do them: mow the lawn, input payroll, return emails, stock shelves, vacuum carpets; each one of us has a certain job requirement that we feel could be accomplished, with better overall company efficiency, by a trained monkey or shiny new robots. This week, we are going to capture the greyest of these moments and give them a little colour.

Nobody likes collating.
Photo by Dani Lurie under Creative Commons License
You’ll need a camera with a timer. Film is fine (and kudos for maintaining your photographic integrity), but digital cameras are now ubiquitous, and will make the playing/editing process much simpler.

Before you begin your mindless task, set up your camera on a stable platform. A table, a desk, or a truck bed will do. Face the camera toward where you will be working. Find the longest self-timer setting on your camera, set it, and press the shutter release button. Now, dutifully return to work.

As you’re working, don’t count seconds, and don’t pose. Forget about the camera for a while. Allow the camera to capture you at your most diligent, most honest, and most bland. When it occurs to you, reset the timer on the camera and repeat. Do this no more than three times a day; you do have a job to do. When you’re finished with this exercise, put the camera away without looking at the pictures.

At the end of the week, find 30 minutes, upload your photos onto your computer and open them with whatever free photo-manipulation software that your computer has or your camera came with. If you don’t have one, try finding one free online. I have found Seashore for Mac to be quite extensive, and Irfanview for PC to be very user friendly.

If you’ve done this exercise daily, and at the maximum recommended dosage, you should have no more than 15 photos to play with. Choose your favourite 3 out of the batch, and stash the rest. We will play with some of the various photo-manipulative tools your software has to offer, and edit/enhance/enliven your chosen 3.

Most programs will have similar tools, and the ability to adjust colour is probably the most prevalent. Try turning your photos black-and-white. Sepia. Adjust the saturation, the hue, and the contrast. Fine-tune the colours to bring out the essence, the hidden life, within that uninspired moment of your day. If you like what you see, save it!

From left: original photo; black & white; adjusted saturation and brightness.
Some photo programs come with the ability to add various textures, or artistic effects, to your photograph. If you are fortunate enough to own one, now is the perfect time to use it. Brush up your photo with a painted effect. Give it a feel of being hand-drawn, airbrushed, or set in stained glass. Play with these effects for a while. If you don’t like the result, you can always hit “undo.”

From left: stained-glass effect; photocopy effect; sepia filter
If the pictures you took look fantastic as they are, then feel free to keep them as such. Don’t be ashamed of being a naturally terrific photographer. If you were able to brighten them up with the photo software, however, then save them now.

Open up your new photos on the screen, one at a time. Take a deep look at each one. Do you notice anything that you never have while engaged in your work? Take this time to notice yourself, your posture. What was going through your mind at the time? Does it show? Notice the other people, if any, in the photograph. Save them. By which I mean the photos, if they already haven’t been.

This exercise required very little time throughout the week, though at the end you now have 3 fantastic photos of yourself. This is not at all narcissistic; these are photos of a Moment of which you were a part. Take your one most-liked photo, print it out, and try to hang it in the same place that it was taken. Post the other two as your “profile pic” on whichever social networking site you subscribe to. Remember, these Moments do not belong to you; they belong to the world. Give them back. Hopefully, by adding a touch of colour or flair to your photos, you’ve created a Moment through which you can see that within all the monotony, your life at these times truly holds something special that cannot be crushed by numbingly repetitive work.

And of course to be fair, here’s mine:


September 19, 2010

Don’t Think; Just Do

This will be our last “warm-up” week, where we will finally move outside of the office, and into a more natural, less fluorescent, working environment. Moment Art need not be confined to a white-collar atmosphere, so skilled tradesmen, landscapers, construction labourers and such, I’m looking at you. In fact, you may be overlooking how creative you already are on any given day. So after you’ve installed that sheet metal slip onto the dozenth eight-foot insulated air vent you’ve fabricated and hung, take five from the home you are helping to create, and build a little something more personal.

First, go out back and take a look at your scrap pile. What do you see, cardboard? Grab it. Screws? Nab a few. Adhesive, Styrofoam, stain? Score. I found a nail and some paint.


We only have five minutes, so we’re not going to put a lot of thought into this, not let our ego guide our hands in order to sculpt a perfect fiberglass replica of Niagara Falls. Instead, we’ll do something a little more abstract. We’ll allow our subconscious to guide us. Time spent thinking is time wasted during this Moment.
Every sort of rubbish can be an incredible find for your Moments.
Photo by Paul Goyette under Creative Commons License

Take whatever you’ve found, and make a mark. For example, lay some duct/electrical/gaffer’s tape over a piece of cardboard torn from a hardware box. Lay it out in any pattern. Spray paint some colour on the box, let it dry a minute, then yank up the tape. Lay out another pattern, try another colour, and repeat. Your result will assuredly be a pleasing pattern of lines, colours, and if you choose to leave some tape on there (do it!), then texture. Nothing profound, just art.

If you can’t find any paint, then don’t panic. Find a nice piece of scrap wood or sheet metal, and then begin gluing found objects to it at random. Random is the key word here. Don’t put any thought into this at all. Simply take an object, apply some adhesive, and stick it to another object*. Repeat until your break is over.

* Ensure that the objects you are using are scrap. This is crucial. Don’t glue fresh light bulbs to the sheet of drywall that you are supposed to install after lunch. You’ll get fired.

When it’s time to get back to work, leave your Moment to dry.

At work, our productivity and the results thereof are constantly being judged. We strive to do our best, all the time, because we are in direct conflict with our coworkers (for position in company hierarchy) or competitors (for profit share). At work, we need to be blue-ribbon medalists at all times. This requires strenuous effort, and certainly a lot of thought. So much so, that at times, lying in bed while falling asleep at night, our muscles remain tense and sore, our minds scattered with worry. What did I do right/wrong? Will there still be work tomorrow? Will it be enough to cover the utility bills? What could/should I have done differently?

Photo by Arne Coomans under Creative Commons License
We’ve got so much on our minds that we need a break from it all, which is why this week it is vital that our Moments do not become another stressor. Don’t think about what you are creating. In fact, if at any time during your daily practice your Moments give you any anxiety, then take a break from this practice, or repeat this week’s exercise. Let your subconscious mind create your art this week; you have enough to worry about. Don’t think about them, just do them.

At the end of your workday, go back to your Moment. Pick it up; become immersed in it. Do you see anything in the abstraction; do you discern anything your subconscious is trying to tell you or the world? If so, then great! If not, then great!

It is not important.

Take your moment, and before you leave your jobsite, place the Moment on the front door of the home at which you are working. If your jobsite is nothing more than a structural skeleton in gestation, then leave your Moment in a prominent place, where it will attract the most attention. Remember, your Moments do not belong to you; they belong to the world and to the voices that spoke through you.

Do this daily this week. And remember: if you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong.

Now to be fair, here’s my Moment:

September 12, 2010

It Doesn't Have to be Good

While practicing your Moment Art, it is essential that you do not hire an editor. This is not the type of writing/art/composition that requires it. In fact, in order to maintain an honest approach, an editor is detrimental. Now, I’m not talking about an editor that one would hire to proofread or critique; I’m talking about that little voice inside your mind that may surface to tell you what you’re doing wrong, or that you’re not doing it good enough.

You must remember that your Moments are not going to be Pulitzer-winning photographs, so don’t try to compose them as such. You need to remember that Moments are candid snapshots, like that Polaroid of you with your mouth half open, chewing on a greasy cheeseburger, dripping ketchup on your t-shirt during that Memorial Day barbeque. They will not show your best side, and you may even be unaware that these shots are being taken. The importance of the Moment is that you are true to yourself, and that your Moments are always veracious.

Many of us, however, will still find that it is necessary to be hard on ourselves for no reason at all, and that by not utilizing our inner editor, we are just creating rubbish, not art.

Well, fine.

If you want to be hard on yourself, we will do that as this week’s practice. We will not give our Moments a hard time, so you must still keep your editor hushed, but instead we will give ourselves grief, for no other reason than because we think that we should. Get it all out this week, however, because next week we will start becoming a little more positive.

Here’s what we will do:

Grab a mailing label, Post-it, or anything else that has a sticky back to it. Take a second to visualize one thing that went wrong today, whether or not you could, or should, claim fault for it. Now, write this on your sticker. Break it into stanzas; make it poetry. It doesn’t have to be good poetry, because it isn’t going to get published anyway, I assure you. Draw a little doodle of yourself on there if you wish, because it is you that this grief is directed toward, anyway.

Now, take this sticker, walk into the bathroom, and slap it onto the mirror, unsigned. Walk away and leave it there, because it is not your Moment; it belongs to the world and to the voices that spoke through you.

And to be fair, here’s mine:

Simple creativity.

You’re right, this isn’t very much. It isn’t a masterpiece work of art, and it shouldn’t be. Of course, we are starting out simple, and this Moment should have only taken about a minute, but I promise they will get a little more involved over time. For now, however, what is important to realize is that now matter how busy you are, there is always time for a little creation in your life.

Do this once every day this week and keep this in your mind: It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be.


September 7, 2010

A Note on Notebooks

While you are practicing your Daily Moment Art, it is essential that you carry a small notebook and a pen with you. This notebook does not need to be elaborate; it can be nothing more than a piece of printer paper folded to fit into your pocket. I prefer to carry a small memo pad that fits easily into any pocket, one with a durable plastic cover to protect it from wear and tear (and if you are diligent, they will get worn and torn!).

Your brain is fallible, and if you create a Moment in your mind while you are busy doing something else that has a higher priority, then you are likely to forget it. With a memo pad, you can quickly jot these thoughts down and return to them later. The ink will never forget.

If you want to use your fancy new future phone to take notes, please don't. Not only can the batteries die when you need them most, but the future phone is a primary weapon of mass distraction, and is likely the culprit that is stealing your precious moments from you.

And if you're like me, your notepad will also become filled with grocery lists, last-minute to-dos, phone numbers and emails. There's nothing wrong with that; in fact, you may find that it will help you to be a little more efficient with your time so that you have longer to create your Moments. Your brain may forget; your notepad will not.

If nothing else, when you find yourself with a brief moment and nothing to do, this notepad and pen can be your canvas and brush.

Now have fun!


September 6, 2010

Whatever you have, you can use.

This first week will be very simple. Whether you're in your office, sitting on your rolling leather chair, or you're stuck in traffic, 5:30 am (or pm), or you're vacuuming up the 124th Cheerio from the kitchen floor, I want you to relax your shoulders, roll your neck, and take a deep breath.

Hold it.

Then breathe out, slowly.

Think of the first thing that comes to mind. I don't care how ridiculous it is, I want you to jot down your thought onto a notepad.

NOTE: Go and buy a small notepad to fit into your pocket; this is essential to your practice.

Now, grab a couple of things that are close to you to use as an artistic medium. You may have a marker and a Post-it, pencil and some computer paper, or those Cheerios and some glue. For this exercise, I found an index card and a stapler.

Next, I want you to create a quick sketch, doodle, grain collage, something that will reflect whatever silliness your inner voice had told you.

Somewhere on this visual piece, jot down the thoughts that you had relating to it, and if possible, try to make it a little poetic. This does not need to take more than 5 minutes, and you can do this while your computer is booting.

When you are finished, breathe. Put it down. Admire it. Laugh at it. Laud it. Believe it is the silliest thing you've ever created. But remember: You created it.

You created it in no time at all, instead of twiddling your thumbs, instead of watching another internet video about rainbows or being on a boat.

Congratulations, you've just created your first piece of Moment Art! For the rest of this week, I want you do to this once, and only once, per day.

Now, because this Moment does not belong to you but to the world and to the voices that spoke through you, leave this work on your closest coworker's desk, unsigned.

And to be fair, here's mine:


Easy, right? Who knew!?

What is Moment Art?

Moment Art is a creative work taken as a snapshot of a moment. Whether your interest is in writing, poetry, art, music, or anything else, Moment Art is a candid, Polaroid image of a certain scene in your preferred medium.

Many of us, myself included, will often go days, week, months, even an entire year without doing anything creatively. This is often due to long hours of exhausting work, at home or in the workplace, during which every ounce of creative energy is drained from us through cooking, cleaning, fighting traffic, reading and writing sterile memos, heavy lifting, thoughts of slavery while working for a boss that doesn’t know your face let alone your name, and during every ephemeral moment of downtime, we breathe, use the bathroom, complain, text, and “insert favorite social networking site here.” These fleeting periods of downtime are the perfect moments for divining inspiration and creativity, and it is these times that we will utilize for our Moments, whatever they may be.

Through this blog, I will introduce you to the practice of Daily Moment Art. This is not a course, and you may begin where you wish. If you find an idea that interests you, seize it! If not, find another that you like, or try to create your own. There are no rules here. The most important idea is that you begin creating.

After practicing some of the examples I will be introducing every week, you will become more comfortable in your creation, and it will become more natural for you. It doesn’t take much time, anywhere between 5 minutes to 1 hour will be sufficient, depending on how much time you can spare during your day. If you can only spare 1 minute, that’s fine too, just carry a notepad around with you to do so. And don’t worry about who will see your work.

Everyone will.

That’s right, not only will you develop the ability to create, you will also master the ability to share your work without doubts of your abilities. Natalie Goldberg, in her book Writing Down the Bones, tells how Zen masters in Japan would write beautiful haiku, and then send them, in a bottle, out to sea. This degree of non-attachment is what you will strive to achieve while you practice Moment Art daily.

Finally, the most important part of Moment Art is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong.