How artist’s get there is just as important as where they arrive. This is the creative process rather than the creative product.
People have always been unusually curious about how I make my work. In part, this is because I work with new technologies and the many creative possibilities they open. And in part, this is because I work with many media simultaneously; photography, drawing, sculpture, writing, music. Why do I do so many things? Curiosity. And, each medium brings something new to light. When I use different tools I experience the world and myself differently.
I started drawing before I could talk – and I’ve never stopped. It was my primary medium until digital photography enabled me to render images in my mind’s eye in even greater detail. While the drawing is rarely the final product for me now, I often make many drawings to get to finished works. I draw to find and record ideas. It’s true some pictures are worth a thousand words, sometimes more. I draw to find and refine compositions. I draw to create and refine sequences of images. I even draw after the final composition is made to better understand it, stripping it back down to its essentials. When you draw you come to know something by hand. Drawing offers a physical understanding that is both tactile and gestural. Above all, drawing’s ability to make ideas visible fascinates me most.
The best thing about photography is that it renders so much detail and the worst thing about photography is that it renders so much detail. The challenge with it is to present significant detail. Photography is wonderfully specific. It can show you more detail than you can see or remember. It can show you what you can’t see with the naked eye. It can draw things that are far away close or look deeply into the tiny worlds that surround us and even create images with heat, x-rays, and electro-magnetism. It can freeze or extend time. Photography extends our perception. And yet, so often, with it, we find ourselves at the mercy of our own experience, which is so much more than visual.
Sculpture offers unique possibilities to make and know things by touch. Sculptures beg you to interact with them physically. As you walk around and sometimes through a sculpture one object can present many different but interconnected experiences. These are qualities I often try to transfer into my flat two-dimensional images of deep spaces. I consider my work to be a form of earth art in virtual space. I shy away from shaping the land, preferring to leave it as it is, so that others can have their own experiences with it and make their own interpretations from it. Recently, I’ve begun making objects that bring the outside inside. But I guess all of my work brings the outside in and the inside out.
Words can be so helpful in so many ways. I write to find ideas. Words are wonderful for brainstorming. I write to find feelings. Words can be powerful tools for expressing emotions, their nature, causes, and consequences. I write to find connections. Words align the heart and the gut with the mind unlocking a unique synergy. I write to find clarify. Good writing distills and organizes thought; it’s often the most direct path to meaning. I write to find purpose. I make lots of plans … and continually revise them. I write to communicate with others about what I’ve done. When I write about my work I try to do so in a way that expands and opens rather than limits or closes perception and possibilities. The challenge with words is that they tempt the mind to think that they can figure it all out and then creative searching stops. If something is deep there’s always more to be discovered – with more words … and many other tools. Sometimes, I don’t finish my sentences. Sometimes all I need is one word – the right word. But more often than not, I need to write a lot of other words before I find it. And sometimes, to get their full benefit, words need to be spoken rather than written.
I play music – privately. Music hasn’t made its way into my finished works. One of the reasons I value music so highly is because with it I can be an amateur – someone who does something simply for the love of doing it. Music informs my understanding of the creative process and of myself. When I play music I can quickly tell whether I’m in a state of flow or not and connect with pure unfiltered emotions. I use music to tune in, to play, to be more spontaneous, to be less concerned with and take my time getting to finished results. Time spent exploring and savoring is time well spent.
I find each tool creates a very specific window into the world. When I change the tool, I change the way I interact with the world. When I use different tools, I am different.
Knowing how an artist works offers new ways of looking at their works – and the world. Hopefully, it inspires others to try new things themselves – or at the very least imagine doing so. I hope you’ve been inspired by my process. I hope my creative process energizes your creative process.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to travel this wonderful world and see so many inspiring things. There have been many magic moments along the way. These are unforgettable moments that change the way I think and feel about our world as I become aware of possibilities I hadn’t dreamed of – and now they’re in my dreams constantly. Here are a few of the highlights.
In 2013, I travelled to Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. Ringed by clouds, the spring rains had covered parts of it in a thin sheet of water that when the winds died down became a glassy mirror of perfect reflections, as far as the eye could see. Walking on it was disorienting; at times I felt dizzy. It felt like I was walking in the sky. And then the color began to bloom. Later there was lightning and a rainbow in the distance. It felt like heaven had come to earth.
In 2007, at Plenneau Bay, Antarctica (a place many people call “The Iceberg Graveyard”) we drifted through a floating sculpture garden made of ice with a stunning array of forms; sea creatures, Viking ships, castles, pyramids, and so much more. We gasped when we rounded a corner and saw an iceberg that looked so much like Greek architecture we had a hard time believing it was a naturally occurring form and not man-made. We had a powerful feeling that what we were seeing may never have been seen before and would never be seen again, at least not quite like this.
In 2010, I found myself in one of the most beautiful places in one of the oldest deserts in the world, Sossussvlei, Namibia. All week long, the air had been filled with dust from far off sandstorms that scattered the light of the sun, permeating the sky with a white gold, and filling the air with countless rays. And we were flying like a bird among them at 3000 feet, twice the height of the coral dunes below us. The helicopter doors were off and the winds danced around us as we pivoted, banked, and soared in sheer delight. Everything felt like it was breathing – my body, the land, the light. I’ve never seen it like that again, but every time I return the place takes my breath away with its sheer beauty.
In 2011, when I visited Seljalandsfoss, Iceland – a magnificent waterfall that you can circle in front of, around, behind and back again – I knew the conditions were right. I’d been there many times before when they weren’t. This time, well before sunset, I walked behind the waterfall, and sat without interruption for the better part of two hours. I listened to the thundering sound of the cascading water and felt its vibrations in my body; it was both one of the loudest and one of the quietest moments of my life. I never took my eyes off the water, seeing endless patterns continually appearing, disappearing, and reappearing; I was enthralled, enchanted, transported. I watched the water slowly change color from white, to cream, to gold, to pink, to coral, to mauve, to lavender, to gray, to black. When this magical light show was over, I left, feeling clean on the inside as well as on the outside.
Every morning and every evening I’m deeply impressed by the wave of light that cascades over the land, slowly breathing light and life into it, one layer at a time. This was never more powerfully demonstrated to me than in 1999 when I stood perched on a hill at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, California. The predawn light was cool and quiet but grew warmer as the sun approached. Its light struck the far mountains with fire, slowly igniting the valley floor, the nearby hills, and finally the ground at my feet, long before it broke the crests of the peaks behind me. Constantly moving, the light, and the shadows, felt like living things.
These are moments that are truly worth living for; these are moments when I truly feel alive. Their impact grows as each one builds upon the other. These moments of grace fill me with reverence for the miracle world we live in and a deep abiding, gratitude to be a part of it all.