15 Oct What Isn’t It?
I get a lot of my ideas by looking at things and wondering "what isn’t it," or "what didn’t I see?" For instance, the other day I was out at a friend’s studio and noticed a bunch of birds hanging out on a telephone wire, the way they tend to do… And instead, I thought "hmmm… if you could train those birds to sit where you pointed, you could make them be an abacus.
I really like the idea of an abacus of trained birds. Okay, sure, it isn’t very practical, but given that people have been able to train birds to do things like carry messages and so on, I’m sure it would be possible if you really wanted an avian abacus. And who knows, maybe you could even utilize their innate flocking and navigational skills to get them to do more complex math than people usually attempt on an abacus. Maybe it’s a whole new way to approach bio-computing. Or not.
Then I was looking at the big sign in in my friend’s yard, which says "antiques" in huge letters and "pottery" in kind of smaller letters. Because she’s a potter and runs her parents old antiques store, which also happens to have some of her work in it. And it occurred to me, because of the birds, that if she were to line up a series of her pots in uneven heights along the top of the sign it would be more interesting. And maybe people would stop in more. Well, I would anyway. And of course, it would be easy enough to use pots that had been ruined in the firing, since there always seem to be a few that go wrong. So it wouldn’t really require any sacrifice, really, other than climbing up there. That’s a more practical idea that came from the birds.
And of course, when I was a kid, I used to think they looked kind of like musical notes and wouldn’t it be cool if you could train them to arrange themselves to write out the notes they sing when they’re chirping. Maybe not so practical again.
But then, it might be cool to do a fence that spelled out the notes of a common bird song by arranging little metal birds on the rails of the fence. Back to somewhat practical. Done right, it could be really nice, maybe bringing in some plant and tree forms into the steelwork, etc.
So the upshot is, I try to misread any clichés I run across. How can I hear it wrong but better? How can I creatively misinterpret things? How can I see the things that aren’t there? And then, once you’re clearly out of step with what’s in front of you, it helps to focus and see where that mistake can lead you. It’s a fun game, even when you don’t bring anything great home from it. One of my all time favorite tag lines has been, "I see lot’s of thing that no one else does. Some of them are even really there."
One more example of paying attention to good mistakes: I accidentally typed "playwood" once when I meant to write plywood. But playwood is so much better. It describes the material and it’s uses far more accurately, to my mind. Because with a little plywood you can make just about anything, quickly, cheaply etc. I’ve been calling it playwood ever since.