Sparking creativity: Post #Lockdown2020 reflections

Drawing books completed March – May 2020: Pen, ink & pencil

Within the space of 48 hours, all New Zealand education and childcare facilities closed their doors along with most businesses and municipal facilities. The morning of March 26 signalled a period of home-bound quiet for those workers not deemed essential to keeping the country running. There was uncertainty around how much foothold the virus had already gained and how rapidly it would spread. It was certain, however, that NZ would be very, very quiet – for at least a month. For me, that meant no exhilarating, manic travel. Board meeting to Napier cancelled. June conferences in Kerikeri and Wellington ditto. Distance relationship on hold.

An idea surfaced: draw something, every day. If there was ever a time to kick-start latent creativity, this was it. The lockdown had at least, presented me with some time and much needed psychological space.

Constructing parameters.

This wasn’t the first time I had set myself creative tasks. Years of travel are well-documented through pen, ink and watercolour. One-off or limited-edition handmade books mark various milestones. But the regular exercise of daily drawing ceased about a decade ago. Now that the 2-month critical lockdown period has relaxed, it’s time to reflect on the creative process, and what resulted.

Charcoal drawings completed between 1am and 3am every day for a month while at art school in…1993

Writing vs art.

Formal writing (for me at least) is often headache-inducing. Reports, papers, funding proposals… the whole generally needs to be considered first, before content is broken down into logical, manageable chunks. There is much re-writing and re-formatting before some sort of result sits on the page. It’s a process fraught with considered decision-making and endless cutting and pasting. With drawing, the process is often reversed – therein lies some relief. Sure, a vague idea of a whole might briefly appear, but it starts with a line on a page, with more and more added. A different motif altogether might flower from the original idea – there’s an edge of randomness.

Drawing as meditation.

Three media only: roller ball pen, dipping pen and ink, and graphite. A blank paged never-used travel diary (a dozen blog posts produced instead). When each page was filled, another book was constructed from remnant cardboard, hemp cord and semi-translucent paper purchased over 2 decades ago.

A dipping pen is a simple, old fashioned tool – a metal nib (attached to shaft) and dipped into ink. Few strokes are achieved before refuelling is needed. It’s a slow process. Worthwhile, is the subtly changing wire-like quality of line when a good black India ink is used. But even a standard pen can be used slowly, and each line imbued with purpose. I found a few mechanical pencils and became absorbed by the scritch-scritch of graphite blooming across the page. A good rubber was found to rework some of the images.

Exploring motifs with pen, ink and pencil. Plain and semi-transparent papers.


Starting with one line, and then another and another, a motif might grow. Thematically, the territory was largely familiar. Repeated network diagrams and branching structures – dendrograms, just about covers the 80-odd drawings. The occasional hill/mountain and cloud are suggested. There are a lot of tree forms, an ongoing fascination given their repetition in nature: from the branching of lung tissues to river outwashes, to fibrous plant root patterns.

Partially completed peat bog illustration for the second edition of Te Reo O Te Repo – The Voice of the Wetland. Dipping pen and India ink, May 2020.

Illustrations: bringing the art and the science together.

By random chance, the opportunity arose to complete a series of illustrations for a new version of Te Reo O Te Repo a culturally-focussed wetland restoration handbook. Dipping pen and ink show cross-sections of wetland types, a few key species highlighted. These too are slow drawings – reeds and rushes are exercises in drawing controlled parallel lines.

Further posts on art and creativity

See here for a walk-through of several decades of creative practice presented at the Science Communicators Assn of NZ conference in 2016. Placing works in a chronological context can spark a few insights about the nature of creativity in a way that purposeful text cannot. Here’s a short post from 2014 musing on the journey from art school to starting a PhD in the sciences. Other occasional posts can be viewed under the tag: Art & creativity. Happy reading.

While volunteering in Borneo as an Expedition Artist for Raleigh International, I had a chance meeting with a scientist studying tree architecture. Same area of fascination, but different paradigms. My own explorations manifested as a limited edition artist’s book.

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