Our question this week is around how we’re treating our creative tools, and what happens when we treat our tools with more care. This starts as a painting story, but turns into a music tool prompt.
So, one of my all-time favorite painters is Catherine Kehoe. I spend a lot of time admiring her work. A few weeks ago, I was looking carefully at this painting she made, trying to figure out how she gets such clean angles and sharp lines. After zooming in on her brush strokes, I could tell she was using a small flat brush to achieve a high degree of precision and detail in her marks. You can see this happening in the upper middle section of this painting where the black and light grey shapes intersect.
I’ve had an ongoing frustration with my inability to make these kinds of marks, so honing in on this technique was inspiring to me. (A great example of how tools, techniques and inspiration interact with each other to build creative practice . . . )
I went for one of my brushes to give it a spin, and noticed they were all unwashed and had been soaking in a jar of solvent for weeks.
Which meant my brushes were rough, bloated with muddy gray paint and slowly decomposing.
And then, I had a creative practice insight:
It is physically impossible for my brushes in their current condition to execute sharp corners or fine lines. I’m never going to be able to paint with precision if I keep treating my tools this way. And this is going to keep being objectively true, no matter how many hours a day I paint.
My issue here isn’t about skills or capacity. By ignoring the way I’m treating my tools, I’m giving myself a completely optional, profound, and endlessly frustrating limitation. I’m doing this one to myself.
So, I spent a few hours getting my act together. I threw out all the brushes I had damaged beyond repair (RIP) and replaced them with new ones. I got a proper brush cleaning jar, and started a new routine of cleaning my brushes after every painting session (which takes a few seconds per brush).
This simple, easy change made a big and immediate difference in my work.
Which leads us to the prompt for this week:
Take a good look at the tools you use to make music – cables, instruments, gear, computer desktop – and notice their living conditions.
Some questions you can ask yourself:
- How are you treating your tools?
- Do any of your current habits (or lack of habits) negatively impact your workflow, process or end result?
- Are there any quick, easy fixes or some thoughtful changes you could make?
- And if you already have this dialed, give yourself a solid high-5! I clearly do not, so I will be keeping my eyes open for other rehab opportunities in my tool setup.
2. Experiment with addressing any tool barriers you may be accidentally giving yourself.
3. And then, notice what happens.
- What changes?
- Does anything get easier?
- More fun?
- Do you notice any breakthroughs?
Sean’s reflections on these prompts: “I realized that my synthesis tools were in pretty good shape, but the USB situation was rather dire, so I got myself a new powered USB hub and am currently working on rewiring the smaller synth rig. I also ordered new strings and a string winder/cutter for my guitars, as I had been letting the strings get super dull!”
If you feel like it, report back and let us know what you found!
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