Sunday, April 24, 2016

Benched Week 99: a crowd-sourced story

I was on a quest. To draw a quest. By asking questions of strangers. The words of Van Gogh describe well what I was after: “For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together.” I intended to draw the start of a graphic novel by using ideas from people walking by me as I sat on a bench at our town’s Arts Festival.
I had the impulse. Now I needed the “little things.”
Packing up all I needed, I walked the mile between our house and Lewisburg’s downtown, barricaded off to traffic and filled with artisan tents.
I chose a bench in a perfect location. But I quickly realized what I had not planned on: the wind. It caught my large sheets of foam core and blew over my flimsy tripod. Two brothers nearby came over to help me pack up and move to a more secluded spot.
Tucked in between buildings (and with borrowed chairs to help stabilize the easel), I set up shop. I sloppily lettered out a sign to explain what I was doing.
Here’s what I had inked out to start with. 
I wanted enough visualized to give the story a running start. I was aware, though, that the first people to stop would set the course for the day: they’d decide what was in the box.
“They” turned out to be a group of teens. And possibly remembering an age-old joke in present giving, they decided the box would hold another box. One that was locked. And his quest would be to find the key
After them, a woman suggested that he find a clue on the box. For lack of something better, I put my personal symbol on it. (For me, it means: Watch this!)
Soon someone else thought that Josh would remember that he had seen the symbol in a painting. Another passer-by suggested it be one of his father’s paintings.
Then a large group of high schoolers stopped by. When I asked if the hero’s mom should let him into the attic, they said, emphatically, “No.” “Then how,” I followed, “will he get her to let him up?”
Apparently, the answer was, to lie to his elderly, widowed mother. I complained that Josh had sadly become a more shaded character. Maybe even shady.
The suggestions kept coming. Random visitors suggested that Josh look through the eye, lining it up with the painting and something would be revealed. A dear friend, back in town for the day, added that the quest could expand into Josh’s search for messages left for him in all his father’s paintings, discernible by the eye symbol.
But I was done. There was enough material for the whole board. I took the evening to finish the drawing, and mused on what I learned.
Had I achieved, in Van Gogh’s words, greatness? The drawing was passable. The story: convoluted and with gaping plot holes. (Why was the box in the river in the first place?) But my goal had not been to make great art. Or even a complete story. I had been after the experience of creating as a community -- blurring the line between artist and audience.
I had met and interacted with dozens of people. And better yet, heard from them stories of their own creativity: the young woman who had majored in art, the mother who had taught her kids to tell round-robin stories around the table, and the elementary school teacher fighting the good creative fight in the classroom every day.
That’s what made today special. All these strangers getting connected, frame by frame, through a common love for narratives.
And the way I picture it, that’s pretty darn great.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Crowd-Sourced Graphic Novel

If you came by my board during the Arts Festival, thanks for your input!  I really enjoyed meeting you and hearing your ideas!  Such great fun.  My experiment went even better than I had imagined it would.  I will be working on this over the next couple of days and will post it -- as my latest Benched post -- #99. 

In the meantime, if you're curious, feel free to read some of my other posts from other benches I've warmed around the country.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Benched Week 98: what the waves whispered

The surf, kicked up by a strong breeze, matched my spirit: restless, hurried, purposeful. I had, perhaps, another half hour of light. I was determined to finally sit on a beachside bench.

Since I began this blog, my life has changed. I am now primarily traveling to Florida for events. Worse things have happened, I know. It has been wonderful to catch an occasional sunrise. But the time to have a leisurely sitting has been elusive.

On top of that, I’m pressing. My goal of 100 posts is within sight. I want go out on a high note.

So, as I found my bench and sat, my internal voice chanted, “Make it work, make it work.”

But the ocean had a different thought. “Just…wait,” it whispered. “Just… wait.”

 I took a deep breath. And waited. And tried to stop looking through my framework of hurriedness.

That’s how I noticed the moon over the palms.

The flock of pelicans overhead.

The elderly woman who had joined me in taking in the beauty and the breeze.

And the joyful kids who were poised like victors on a wall they just climbed.

Most of all, I was able to take in the ocean. Scientists say that humans experience a calming effect when faced with something invariable in form, yet filled with variety in expression. That’s why we love campfires, aquariums, waterfalls, and, yes, oceans. We’re all a bunch of oxymorons. Our hearts long for the comfort of constancy mixed with the delight of difference.

Theme and variation: too much varying is exhausting. Too much theming is dull.

I’m ready, after 98 benches, to riff some variations on a different theme. What that will turn out to be is yet to be discovered. I have an experiment I’m going to run on Saturday for my penultimate post that may give me some answers. We’ll see. It may, eventually, involve social media.

But, sitting and soaking in the view of the sea, I’m comforted by the constancy of the pursuit, wherever it may take me. Call it The Call. Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free. Onward and upward.

And like the husband who reluctantly removed his shoes to follow his wife onto the beach, I may take a bit to get adjusted to each new idea that pops up. But I’m ready to get my feet wet.