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.