10 Keys to the Creative Craft: Feed Your Monster #5

5. Genius: Feed your monster

My uncle used to say, genius comes when a normal mind thinks a lot about one thing.


He and my dad lived in Kansas when they were young and they saw a magazine picture of a hang glider from the new hang gliding industry sprouting up in California. They were intrigued, built one, tested it, learned from it, and built a new and better one. They did this over and over until they had come up with some pretty interesting designs to make their hang glider fly. But it was just because it fascinated them. When they finally took their hang glider out to California, it innovated the industry. My uncle went on to design 6 gliders that are now hanging in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in DC. All this because they pursued something because they loved it.


Whatever it is that you are passionate about, like a hungry monster in your soul, feed it enough and it will become the strongest creature of its kind.


Whatever keeps you awake at night because you are so curious or excited to develop it, develop that thing. If you let your passion be the driving force to carry you deep, you will discover more about it than anybody who just does it for work. At least that is what has worked for me. Harnessing our passion is powerful.


I started this blog with a vision I loved. I tried in my free time, with no hopes of earning money from it, to make it what I had a dream for it to be. And now it has become my main calling card! And when people have seen it, they often want me to do something similar for them . . . for money!


People don’t usually love the things I have done just for the money. The things I labored over because I loved them were the ones that most often touch other people. When my above-mentioned uncle died last summer, I wrote a book for my aunt about losing a best friend. I cried while I wrote and illustrated it. It worked as therapy to myself as I wrote about the two best-friend donkeys as one of them was taken away. Now people tell me things like their kid takes that book to school with them, or their adult sister took the book back to her PhD Psychology program to use in child therapy. The motivation for writing it was from the heart, and so maybe these things have more potential to touch hearts.


I think heaven will be like this. We will be doing what we are most passionate about and what we were built to give to the world, because we are the only ones so passionate about that one thing to go so deep.


My novel series has been my baby. My monster. I guess it’s my monster baby. But it’s not so baby any more. I have nurtured it for almost 20 years. I think it has some things of great depth and worth, but only because I have made and remade it so many times, and folded layers of meaning into it for so long, that it’s very possible it has some things in it that people haven’t seen for a while. But, I guess we’ll only find out if that’s true if I can now let go of it, like sending a kid off to college, and send my full-grown creative monster out to greet the world.


So please feed your passion so the world will be filled with the beautiful creations we were meant to make.


6. Focal Point: Give them a paper weight. You know when you open a window and the wind throws your papers everywhere? Well that’s what potentially can happen in the few minutes after you walk away from art. But if you have been given a paperweight that is heavy enough it can help hold the art pristine and powerful in your mind amidst the distractions.


This is some of the psychology behind art. Make your foremost idea strong and simple so it can be easily remembered, and so that it will carve out a pocket in their mind where the rest of your piece can land.


In design school they taught us that in visual art the focal point can give you footing and tell your eye where to start its journey.

Also this can mean, pick a compelling subject. Have you seen the photography of Vivian Maier? She definitely has some compelling subjects (lovers, beggars, and awkward old people), and they are compositionally where your eye goes to first on the page, as well.


In music, it could be the chorus that sticks in your head and cues your impulse to turn it on again. Or it could be an instrument used in a memorable way. Something so people could say, “It’s THAT song that does that one thing.” Or maybe it’s a lyric that touches particularly deeply and exemplifies the beauty in the rest of the song. Then just make sure they hear it, several times if possible.


In poetry, and speeches it could be the one word or phrase that, if you remember it, can trigger all the rest of what was said. Maybe we can think of it as the bucket that keeps the other words from spilling out of your memory. Pick a compelling bucket as your paperweight.


But also remember that sometimes adding a bunch of other half-as-compelling paper weights on the same table may distract from the original idea. It may water down the strength of your message, and therefore the memorability of it. So if there is a way to make everything in your piece be held by the one paperweight, do it. Have all the components hang from, or reinforce the first idea. Having one strong idea can help you build impact and momentum when the idea is remembered and when it is trying to be shared.


I’ve heard the guy speak who started the EndIt movement. You know, the red “X” people put on the back of their hands to symbolize their intent to end modern day slavery? It’s definitely a complicated subject but he gave people a paperweight which helped them hold the whole complicated subject on the back of their hands, as well as easily transfer the idea. He tells a story of a bunch of kindergarteners going to one of those trampoline gyms (I hope I remember the details right) and some of the parents of these kids had been doing the red “X” so the kids wanted to as well. But now, as the kids passed through the turnstile the attendant of the trampoline place noticed all the red “X’s” on the kids’ hands. She asked them what it was and they held up their hands and said, “EndIt! It’s to end slavery.” When the kids left, the attendant had added a red “X” to her hand as well. The point he, and I are trying to make is that if you give them something strong that they can easily hold onto, it sticks, AND it spreads easily enough that a kindergartener can remember and convey it. And all the complexity of the topic can be packaged in the mind space behind it.


Now, a lot of art is made better by subtlety. And that takes even more finesse and skill. But essentially they are doing the same thing. They are hitting home a message, a feeling, an idea in a strong way, but this time they are doing it in a way the audience isn’t even aware. This method is supremely good for the right mediums, for the right skeptical audiences, and for those who have the skill to craft it.


But the easier way is to make your paperweight obvious. You usually don’t want to make them sift through chaos to find a meaning. Our job as creators is often to deliver the message in a beautiful, powerful, and compelling way. Sometimes that means the best way of delivering the message is to walk the viewer through the process of finding it themselves, but try not to just throw everything randomly at the wall and expect them to figure it out. We want to put it on the wall in a way to make the meaning clearer, even if it is a complicated subject. Bring order to the chaos everyone else is trying to sift through. Unless your message is a message of chaos; then do chaos well. Have you read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian? That book exhibited evil and chaos in a way that disgusted me. And I’m guessing that was what he was trying to do.


Make a strong, memorable statement. Engineer that statement thoroughly because that is the face of your work- the idea people will pass around. Make it simple on the surface and bite-sized. Because this is what people will say when they want to spread the word. “It’s a play about. . . the death of the last unicorn.”  Or, “It’s the art show that . . . hung everything upside down, you know? Have you heard about it?” Make it strong and front and center.


What do you think about Jackson Polluck’s paintings. His random paint splattered on canvas is an example of something that, on the surface, lacks a focal point. But ironically that IS his focal point. He was the guy known for having no focal point.


7. Patterns and Variations: If life is a series of roads, give me some windows to look in.

If we’re going to take a walk, we need a series of roads to lead us. But the journey becomes boring and pointless if each road doesn’t offer something new. We want people to know how to travel our art but don’t want it to be a boring, pointless journey.


The pattern is the vehicle and the variation reveals new interesting meanings.

There is psychology in this rule just like in the one about focal points. When we were born our brain started making categories and putting things into them. For example a toddler might identify these categories for an object from patterns he sees: 1) It is 3-dimensional. 2) It’s square-ish. 3) It’s red with white edges. And he concludes it is just one of his many cardboard bricks that he likes to throw around. But when he realizes this specific cardboard brick is different it gives new meaning and interest. For example, he sees a black spot that’s not on the other bricks, realizes it’s a spider and now he knows this is the block he needs to throw on his sister.

In music, without patterns we would have no chorus or motifs. Variation on those patterns shows us what statement is being made about that motif and keeps things interesting. And there is suspense to know what variation the composer will do next to this motif

In literature we learn a character by his patterns. So when something comes along that is outside of those patterns we know he is challenged and that’s what we like to see.  Also in literature we need to establish the setting which is done by setting up patterns in the situation so we know what is expected. This is called the stasis. Then we break the pattern just enough by making something out of the ordinary happen and this is called the trigger. It puts something out of place, kicks off the tension, and starts the ball rolling. Make the character feel suddenly out of place and we find meaning in how he tries to find his place again. Sometimes it is a glimpse of the extra-ordinary that motivates a character to leave the patterns he’s used to. This is story, making the character want something new and then watching the ways he tries to get it. If we didn’t have the stasis we’d be lost, and if we didn’t have a trigger we’d be bored.

Comic books are made up of stacks of pages, each with a series of sequential boxes we read from left to right, top down. This gives us a flow but once the artist starts drawing outside the edges of those boxes or making the boxes have something like ragged or diagonal edges, it shows the author wants to demonstrate something new and probably more deep and dynamic.

I suppose this blog series is an example of patterns and variations. Each one is like a little street and each has a different set of windows to look in. If the pattern doesn’t work, you won’t look into the windows. But if the windows don’t contain anything new of value, you’ll think the whole road system is lame.

(Check out these other rules:

7. Patterns and Variations: If life is a series of roads, give me some windows to look in.

If we’re going to take a walk, we need a series of roads to lead us. But the journey becomes boring and pointless if each road doesn’t offer something new. We want people to know how to travel our art but don’t want it to be a boring, pointless journey.


The pattern is the vehicle and the variation reveals new interesting meanings.


There is psychology in this rule just like in the one about focal points. When we were born our brain started making categories and putting things into them. For example a toddler might identify these categories for an object from patterns he sees: 1) It is 3-dimensional. 2) It’s square-ish. 3) It’s red with white edges. And he concludes it is just one of his many cardboard bricks that he likes to throw around. But when he realizes this specific cardboard brick is different it gives new meaning and interest. For example, he sees a black spot that’s not on the other bricks, realizes it’s a spider and now he knows this is the block he needs to throw on his sister.


In music, without patterns we would have no chorus or motifs. Variation on those patterns shows us what statement is being made about that motif and keeps things interesting. And there is suspense to know what variation the composer will do next to this motif

In literature we learn a character by his patterns. So when something comes along that is outside of those patterns we know he is challenged and that’s what we like to see.  Also in literature we need to establish the setting which is done by setting up patterns in the situation so we know what is expected. This is called the stasis. Then we break the pattern just enough by making something out of the ordinary happen and this is called the trigger. It puts something out of place, kicks off the tension, and starts the ball rolling. Make the character feel suddenly out of place and we find meaning in how he tries to find his place again. Sometimes it is a glimpse of the extra-ordinary that motivates a character to leave the patterns he’s used to. This is story, making the character want something new and then watching the ways he tries to get it. If we didn’t have the stasis we’d be lost, and if we didn’t have a trigger we’d be bored.


Comic books are made up of stacks of pages, each with a series of sequential boxes we read from left to right, top down. This gives us a flow but once the artist starts drawing outside the edges of those boxes or making the boxes have something like ragged or diagonal edges, it shows the author wants to demonstrate something new and probably more deep and dynamic.


I suppose this blog series is an example of patterns and variations. Each one is like a little street and each has a different set of windows to look in. If the pattern doesn’t work, you won’t look into the windows. But if the windows don’t contain anything new of value, you’ll think the whole road system is lame.


8. Storytelling: Give all art the guts of a joke.

Here are the basics of a good joke: First, set up an interesting combination of familiar things. Next ask a question. Like this: “Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl when he uses your bathroom?” (I know bathrooms, and I know dinosaurs, but I’d never thought about why the beast would be silent while using the bathroom.) Then give us an answer to it that we hadn’t thought of but was there all along: “You can’t hear a Pterodactyl because the pee is silent!”


That answer was there making sense all along, waiting to be discovered. But now I know it and I’m better for the knowing. Well, a little better.


For jokes it is often the absurdity of this new connection that triggers humor, but this method is a great tool to help deliver your message in your art when it’s not so absurd. This is a way to deliver the gems I talked about finding and unburying in rule #1.


I think the best endings to novels and movies are the ones we never expected but all the pieces were there waiting to fall into place. The question we ask is, what is the character going to do, and the answer should be something unexpected from him and yet still make perfect sense with who he is and how we know he needs to grow. Have you seen the movie “Whiplash” yet? It’s awesome. The young drummer’s goal is excellence and he gives up everything to pursue it. But in the end, when we think he has been defeated by the ruthless antics of a teacher, he rises above in ways we never imagined, but that he totally earned, and in doing so, masters the teacher.


This adds to rule #7, which said art is better when you make patterns and then make variations on those patterns. But today’s rule is saying, your variation is better if it just fits, pulling everything together, like the last part of a puzzle.


Even the non-moving arts on canvas are made better by this. Put colors, shapes and characters together in ways that are new but also just makes sense that others haven’t made of them before. And it can be done on so many levels! Do it with colors, then do it with cultural icons, then do it with geometry. And make us think, why didn’t I think of that! Brilliant!


What do you think of M.C. Escher pictures? He took shapes and manipulated perspective and patterns to find a way to repeat the original idea in a new way that was unexpected but unified. Here’s “Day and Night” by Escher.

📷

This rule also has elements to rule #4, which said coming up with the most simple solution isn’t always the most simple process. It’s hard to make something unexpected just fit because if it were easy, then the connection would have been made before.


So now as I close this blog post, I need to try to take some things that I referenced above, and put them down here in a way that pulls everything together and that you didn’t see coming . . . hmmm.


So, why was the Pterodactyl in a human bathroom?


Because her species had the appropriate name to be used as a bystander of a careless joke maker.

But why was this joke maker put into my blog? His joke was the appropriate type to be used as a bystander of a careless blogger.


Okay, so I should have stated that if it is done as poorly as that, it’s probably better to stay away from the punch line all together.


9. Details: dress your art to the T, even if it’s skateboarding clothes Details dictates excellence. When every element of a painting, every line, every color, every note, every cinematic shot is accurate to its purpose, the piece smells of excellence.


And if there is a part that is done without excellence it very often degrades the whole piece to that level. When we find a novel with a typo, we are bound to question the quality of the company that produced it. Or when one actor feels like he’s acting, the whole movie seems staged. To put it to memorable imagery, if you step in poop and go to a party your dapper pocket square won’t even matter because everyone will just remember that you brought the poop.


So strive to do every piece of your work with excellence.


To reference the first rule, this is how the Gem is polished and what makes others consider it.

You know why sometimes you look at some simple drawings and they look like a four year old drew them, and others look like a master? It is because one of them knows the exact proportions of a face, or the shape of the paw of an animal. Straight lines take skill and are easily recognizable when they’re off. Colors have natural partners they are happy with and it’s not just random. Shapes and rhythms can have mathematical patterns in them, and our mind recognizes that. And the more excellence with which we wield these things, the more it polishes the gems.


Here are a couple simple line drawings of faces I found on Google images. The 1st has many elements done with excellence, and the 2nd by the illustrator’s own admission was done before they learned a lot about drawing.

📷 📷

The 1st is done with excellence on every level. Every line is the right shape, the face is perfectly proportioned, the stance is natural and says a lot, and even the line work is minimal and calligraphic. In the second the shape of everything is questionable, the proportions are of, the stance is soul less, the line work is sketchy and inaccurate. Even the scan is amateur. They are both simple pictures of a face. In the first all of the details are done with excellence, not a single one done poorly. In the second all of the details are just a little off.


So as you master your craft pay attention and master every one of these categories, and the others that you find.


Now, hear this, not only does everything you wear have to be expertly tidy, what you choose to wear must be appropriate to the party your showing up at. If you wear a pocket square to the skate park, you better think about making it a bandana like it was always meant to be it. And do it with excellence.


Now, I want to advise you to be careful in this whole excellence thing as well. If you are waiting until something is perfect before you release it to the world, the world may never get to see it. Especially in this world where social media and keeping track of an artist is almost as fun as keeping track of their art, there are some benefits to showing pieces of things to the world before they are complete. Drop a work in progress onto Facebook, but make sure you tell them it is just a work in progress.


10. Brand: The singer has to be as cool as the song I mentioned in rule #9 that these days it is almost as fun to track an artist as it is to track his or her art. But social media beside, the story of the artist very often gives the art more value because art with an interesting character and story can get us more interested and intrigued.


You know when some famous singer covers an obscure song, somehow it changes everything? That’s the power of brand.


Think of your favorite art. Do you know the artist’s story? And what does their story do to your impression of their art?


For example what do we think of when we say Van Gogh? Post-impressionism and cutting his ear off. We’re at least a little bit curious about someone who struggled internally deeply enough to cut off his ear.


Prince? Effeminate eclectic with radical creative explorations. It is probably worth seeing what someone who is so creative and bold makes as art. Also, I think people with fearless self-expression are intriguing because we get to live vicariously through them.


Lady Gaga? Even if we don’t love her music we’re curious what she’s wearing. I think, in her case, her personality may precede her music. Not that that has to be the nature of our brand. But being bold and intriguing can work in our favor.


Stories of the artist deepen our interest and I think when we find out about them, it flavors how we see the art they make. And think about when we are telling someone about certain art we like. Don’t we often talk about the artist and his or her story? It can totally help the word spread.


One of my favorite bands is called Seryn (@serynsounds), and when I watched this video of them singing, the passion, personality and synergy I saw in them made the music more than just music. The dark and tall front man sings with his head back and eyes closed, mouth wide with passion shining from his face. All this while the serene latin beauty deftly harmonizes, the denim-clad asian man slices in with mysteriously erie violin strokes, and a band of real good bluesy guitar spindlers pull it all together. The music is heavenly, and after seeing these folks, deeper meaning and humanity built itself into their music for me.


If you’re worried that you’re not that cool, or you don’t have a story, you still might be in business, because you can “art” that too. We get to spin our story. We get to develop our brand. That becomes an art in itself that we can work on. Not that we manipulate, we just find the parts of us worth featuring. That’s what any artist does. Picks out and pulls together the parts of life others hadn’t yet recognized as beautiful.


Think about what is the main thing you want people to know your work by? Or ask what is your message and how does your platform back that up. If you’re not photogenic, then get creative like the Gorrillaz, who marketed themselves by cartoon characters and that became their thing. That gives one more thing about them worth talking about.


My real name is Ross Boone, but I went with the pen name Raw Spoon, because when you say it fast it sounds like my name, and it added story. People might tell their friend about me, leading with the reason for the pen name. Then I started wearing the same fedora-style hat and similar gingham shirts to all my public engagements and photoshoots. I printed my little monster on my cards, which were actually stickers. I titled my blog, “Monster in Theology” and emblazoned across my site: “Imagination rescuing my faith.” That’s the singular brand I have tried to focus my work around. Imagination and Faith, the monster and the Fedora. I think it’s important for every artist to be aware of the world’s impression of them. We don’t want them to think of us as different than we are (we want to be honest) but instead to focus their impression of us into a memorable one that gives them a reason to listen to us.


That’s the power of brand.


But there is another reason I think this is so important. In a lot of crafts, “finding your voice” is of great importance because if your speaker has a strong sense of personality that people like, they will listen to what she says. And if your narrator is other than yourself this is best accomplished in subtle ways. If you’re trying too hard people will sense that but if in your novel, your character says “trousers,” then he’s cooler than if he says pants, because in our mind he has suddenly become old and British. And to us Americans, that’s almost always cooler.


That’s the power of voice, which is just another way to say what I mean by ‘brand.’


(Someone else who understands ‘brand’ deeply is Donald Miller. Subscribe to his brand emails to get his free tips, or take his courses.)


11. (bonus rule) There are too many rules to know, but try.

If we follow all of these rules to the T, I’m afraid to say, we’re still not sure to become famous. You will make better art, I believe, but there are so many factors in what gets recognized as great art that is an art to be mastered in itself.


There are factors that mess with it all, like timing, trends, the wrong people are the only ones seeing your work, SEO searches acting weird, or maybe you’re just ahead of your time. And who knows what else has made residence in people’s minds before your art came knocking. You just can’t determine some things.


But the best we can do is keep learning the ever increasing complexity within our craft, to deliver those polished gems with the utmost excellence and mastery by answering interesting patterns with new and perfect answers, and presenting it with a compelling voice, so it will gleam and catch the eyes of people so they can see the beauty in the world and in the deepest places in their hearts in ways they never had before.


My encouragement to my younger self would be that I should be a student of the system, and of my heart and of my style, and then to strive always to do every part well.


Raw Spoon



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Ross.Boone@RawSpoon.com  |  (303) 359-4232

"I can't tell you how moved I was with what you did. Your demeanor, skill, the videos, everything from the slight movements, and the cadence. It was so amazing."

         -Jeff Vanderlaan, board of the Association of College Ministries

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"Ross's work helped resolve some of my biggest questions of faith."
-Paul W., Wichita, Kansas