A few weeks ago I went out to the west coast to attend a strange and memorable ceremony. There were foreign dance performances with blaring drummers and hundreds of energetic young women and men in costume. The crowd cheered as each of them skipped to their own theme music across the scene to receive... their diplomas.
It was a graduation ceremony held at a small art school in Southern California, and my older brother Josh was one of the young men in costume. (If you've ever been to an art school, you'll understand that this type of craziness is not a rare occurrence.) Not only did Josh walk across the stage to receive his Masters Degree, but he also helped design the stage itself.
It was the furthest thing from a normal stage. There were angled metal truss beams with hanging wire sculptures and asymmetrical designs all over. It looked like a chaotic futuristic jungle gym! Needless to say, it was unlike any other ceremony I had attended, and that day I was reminded of the importance of play in our creative lives.
Remember when we used to play?
Play is defined as anything we do simply for the joy of doing.
Growing up, we engage often in playful activities that exercise our imagination. We build blanket forts, take on new roles (cops, robbers), or even dream up entirely new worlds to inhabit. There's no questioning that kids are great at these types of activities. But as we get older, something happens...
"We are introduced to the idea that play is trivial. Play is a waste of time. Play is unnecessary. Play is childish."
author of Essentialism
Young kids are supposed to play, and conversely, teenagers are to spend their time studying for standardized tests and working. Why? Because that's what society tells us to do.
I believe something is lost during that transition – something very important – and for us creative people, we must find a way to get it back.
Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement.
Many people would claim that they stimulate their imagination by watching movies & tv, or reading fictional books. Yes these are stimulating to the mind, but they are all consumption activities. When I say we lost something, I'm referring to simply creating out of curiosity.
Think about it — Virtually every major discovery in history was a result of playful experimentation. The most famous example out there is Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment. No one asked him to go out in a thunderstorm and fly a kite with a metal key attached. Out of his own will, he was exploring the possibilities to see what might happen.
I don't mean to say that we should be playing around all the time. My point is: as designers, we can't expect to stay inspired and creative if we are so focused on the end goal all the time. We must set aside time to be silly and create things that don't really make sense because that is where inventive ideas come from.
How are you playing these days?
For me, the play has come in the form of sketching whatever comes to my mind. I have a pocket sketchbook that is specifically assigned to for this. This stream-of-conciousness activity is the antithesis of overthinking, (something I often struggle with).
The more I do it, the more I learn about myself, how I think and what I want to share with the world. This is what I mean by "authentic ideas".
Action step: Create a safe space for play.
- Get a "slop sketchbook" that is specifically for bad, unrefined ideas that you don't have to share.
- Set aside a time to make things just for the fun of it – not to impress anyone at all.
- Think about what you did as a child that gave you a sense of play. How can you recreate that today?
There's still plenty of time to participate on Summer of Sketching.
If you are feeling excited about this, you can join in simply by posting your own original drawings to Instagram with the hashtag #summerofsketching. While you're at it, check out what other people have been sharing. It's inspiring to see other artists around the world making the time in their schedule for what they care about. I hope you will too.