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The Art of The Mistake

The joys of improvising your work

· improvisation,street art,mural,collaboration,phoenix mural fest

At the height of the Phoenix Mural Festival it was 107 degrees. My paint was drying before it touched the wall. I hadn't planned for this. I hadn't planned for a lot of things during my 5 days in Arizona. 

There is a rhythm to any creative project. For me, it starts with an idea, quickly followed by attempting to "see" the idea with doodles, sketches and drawings. I don't try and draw out my ideas perfectly. The sketches are rough and incomplete, giving me just enough to start, but allowing me to improvise and change things in the moment of making.

The mural for the Phoenix Mural Festival was inspired by the wall owner's lives, combined with a burning question they wanted viewers to consider, and finally mashing those concepts with autobiographical details from my own life.The idea was truly a piece of co-creation. The first sketches looked like this

Upon arrival I met the wall owners- Amy and Cameron. The piece was going on the back of their residential addition. They were excited and probably a little nervous as they helped set me up with ladders, water, electricity- all a massive luxury for a street artist. But it got even better, they showed me the apartment that they offered for me to use during the festival- air conditioned, fridge stocked, only a few steps from where I would be painting. I was in HEAVEN!

The plan (I can hear the gods laughing already) was to use a portable projector blow up and trace some key images directly on the wall that first evening. If I could get this done then I would be right on schedule. No luck. I set up the projector, got my ladders in place, brought out my grease pencils for tracing as the sun started to set. And yes as you might guess, the projector didn't work. Or at least didn't work all the time, it would cut out after 4 minutes, so I would climb down from my ladder and start again. I quickly abandoned the plan to project images that night and decided to trouble shoot the next day so I could project the following evening.

It looked as if I would be loosing an entire day since even if I could get my projector working I couldn't do any image tracing until the sun set the next evening. Then I remembered a simple idea from my work as an improviser, EVERYTHING IS AN OFFER. On an improv stage anything that happens is seen as an opportunity. If I accidentally trip on my shoe lace coming on to the stage, my fellow players can use the stumble and endow me as the town drunk. Sure they hadn't planned for the town drunk to crash into the scene. Neither had I. But I tripped and instead of stopping the show and starting over, we launch into a story where the town drunk falls down hits his head and becomes the town genius. Improvisers use whatever shows up, They try and stay out of judgement, not labeling the 'offer" as either good or bad, but simply being present enough to notice what is happening in the moment and using it to help the story.

The broken projector was an offer. It took me a good part of the next morning to see this. I was too frustrated with the plan veering off course. Once I did see this as an potential opportunity I asked myself, "what is the offer here?" Since I couldn't work on my main figures, I decided to use the time before sunset to create a dream-like background. I hadn't planned on having a background and usually my work doesn't , but the offer of the broken projector gave me some time to kill, so I filled it with something new, unplanned, and improvised. The background started to emerge:

That evening I got the projector to work. The problem was my phone going into sleep mode (DUH!) and projected the main images now onto a new and totally unplanned background.

After 4 more days of painting (with many an air conditioned break in the apartment). I completed Amy and Camron's mural. I was excited to work off script and watch the plan change and morph because of unforeseen offers. The final piece was a fun surprise for both me and Amy and Cameron. They were thrilled with the wall. I was thrilled with the final piece too, but even more so with evolving process of getting there.

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