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How to Become a Better Artist (While You Wait)

I’d bet most of us would choose to stay buried in our art around the clock – endlessly brainstorming, building, sketching, sculpting, pouring, firing, drawing, painting, matting, framing – only to emerge from the studio for the occasional emergency snack.

Unfortunately, we can’t get away with sequestering ourselves in our studios forever. We have to eventually emerge since we can’t completely wriggle out of the routine, mundane tasks that are part of life. Sometimes we just have to stand there and wait as we take care of chores like gassing up the car, camping out at the DMV, visiting the dentist, sitting behind a school bus, or hanging around for an oil change. So how can we put all of that idle time to good use?

An Experiment in Observation

I decided I’d go to battle with the deeply entrenched neural pathways that typically send me rooting around in my purse for my iPhone in scenarios like these. Instead, I figured I’d take a cue from my mentor and artist friends (who happen to be skillful observers) and spend some time sharpening my observational skills so I can become a better artist while I wait.

I reminded myself that the opportunities are endless for what we can observe while we’re waiting. We can really tune in, sharpen our senses, and begin to focus on concepts like value, line, shape, color, form, texture, space, balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, and unity. I imagine many of us do this subconsciously anyhow, but it’s fun to make a conscious game of it. I did, and here’s a glimpse at what I found:

Looking for Line at the Optometrist

As I sat waiting for my appointment, I was struck by how linear (and beautiful) the waiting room at the optometrist’s office was. The rectangular skylights, right-angle recessed ceiling, square floor and ceiling tiles, long, linear sofas, and tall, opaque glass office walls are evidence of the designer’s appreciation for line. There was even a nod to line in the decor, with vertically striped chairs, a horizontally striped rug, and mirrored square wall hanging. As I waited…and waited…I began to consider questions like: How would I sketch this? Where would all these lines converge? Which lines would I emphasize in a painting? It typically never occurs to me to think this way at an eye appointment, but it made the waiting enjoyable.

Recognizing Repetition at the Repair Shop

The next time I found myself waiting was at my auto repair shop for an oil change and tire rotation. A long row of burnt orange chairs with curvy armrests caught my eye. Ah, look at that repetition in the curves, the repeated forms of the tiny sodas, neatly organized in the mini fridge, and the stack of coffee cups and tiny shelves stacked with teas! I was starting to see my surroundings differently. Was it possible I was growing to actually appreciate waiting areas for their artistic lessons? I think so! Next stop, jury duty. I wonder what I can find there.

What Will You Discover?

The next time you find yourself standing with your shoes, belt, and clear Ziplock baggie in hand, waiting out airport security amid a vast sea of travelers, see how many different values you can find in that TSA agent’s cobalt blue uniform. Try it. It’ll be fun!

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