I’ve noticed that if I leave the house without my good camera I probably won’t make any faces. Maybe one will scream at me until I snap a portrait but a reluctant one-off face rarely leads to another. Like a leaky water hose, some creativity dribbles out but it’s not intentional.
If I do take my camera then almost for sure I will make a face. I’ve intentionally turned the hose on so of course I am going to water a plant. And if I’ve made one face, I am very likely going to make another. And if I make two I will probably make four and the fourth one will really jazz up my day. At that point I am loose and playful. I am on the hunt, I am hooked up to a sprinkler dousing the whole yard in creativity.
At the beginning of the pandemic, touching anything felt dangerous so sidewalk face making slowed down dramatically. At that point I was washing plastic wrapped bags of bread in the sink like dirty dishes to disinfect them from the amazon delivery. Boy was that tedious! With the feeling of an invisible threat everywhere all the time, it felt wrong to make faces so I did some with my feet, I only used plants and I went back to the archives.
Now I feel okay touching things again. I’m always wearing a mask. I have hand sanitizer and everything has been baking in the sun for hours. But all those months of reticence meant I wasn’t bothering to lug my camera around and hunt, hunt, hunt. So yeah, one would pop up here and there but was I making an effort? No. Did I feel enthusiasm? No. Was my practice thriving? No. It felt kind of far away and faded. It felt dry and dehyrated.
Recently I’ve brought my camera along and you know what, I’ve been regularly making four faces on every dog walk. The first is sort of should I or shouldn’t I? What the heck. Let’s do it. Then maybe the camera stays out, around my neck. The 2nd one is just happening. No need to question if it’s a good idea. The third is like oh hell yes. And the fourth is me wondering if I could arrange to do this all day.
I can’t color correct them as fast as I make them. The last one I made is a new all time favorite. Creativity is a conduit, a pipe, a portal, a channel. You have to do things to keep the channel clear and open. Just like exercise keeps the cardiovascular system healthy, making more leads to making more. So if you want more, make something and make it soon.
Any given artwork is made over a period of time. The gestation period is inherently uncertain, a series of conscious decisions by the artist and other contributing factors outside the artist’s intentions. A marker could be losing ink and create a more textured line than intended, the artist finds them self either annoyed and starting over or pleasantly surprised and continuing. At each moment, an outcome and a reaction, a constant stream of decisions. The more chaos in the process, the less certain the outcome. If you paint in oil, make lots of preliminary sketches and perfect a technique, you may get a painting pretty close to the one imagined before the process began. But even then happy and sad deviations will occur. We don’t have the power to make our thoughts material in an instant with no mechanical intervention.
As someone who has very few concrete ideas of what I want before I start, I don’t aim for an outcome. I am much more interested in the moment by moment reaction to each new iteration. A very fast series of yes(es) and no(s) to the most recent addition. My whole goal is to not know what I will get, to work so fast and with so much randomness that I can’t possibly guess what the result will be. It’s not magic but a very good approximation, I think, and feels exciting.
The process of making a sidewalk face ranges from 5 to 15 minutes, about the time it takes for Decaf’s whimper to start getting annoying. So the evolution of the face is fast. Occasionally, sensing I could do better or needing supplies not locatable in the immediate vicinity, I go back to a spot and do a second version, my way of sketching and perfecting.
Most faces dissipate before I encounter them again. Wind or feet knock all the elements out of alignment and the character devolves back to a gunky stain or evaporates or decomposes or whatever.
But! There is one type of Sidewalk Face that does take time to fully develop, the faces I make in living matter. Aliveness and growth are additional chaos elements. I start the ball rolling and then wait to see the result, natural biological forces take over the creative process. It’s a collab with mother nature. How can it get more fun that that?!
Want to see what happened to him after he fell off? Check it out!
Since writing a recent blog post about making Faces in Other Places, I have been reflecting on how perfect my neighborhood is for this particular activity. Before this analysis I had sort of been patting myself on the back thinking I can do this anywhere. But I must now acknowledge I am blessed to live in a locale that consistently provides the perfect ratio of man made detritus to organic detritus.
It’s very hard to create these faces without trash. How can I make an orange smoke a cigarette if I can’t find a cigarette butt? It’s also hard to make trash attractive. But combine a little crap with a little flora and bingo bango you just might have a new friend. The weather here doesn’t dip below 60 degrees, it never snows and rarely rains. The neighborhood is teeming with a diversity of plant life most of it flowering all year long. Come on! Why isn’t everyone turning roses into faces? To put another cherry on top of this environmental sundae of possibility, I live in a neighborhood full of Spanish style fourplexes from the 1930s. Why is that helpful? Because everyone is renting and no one likely to be around owns or cares about the stuff in their yard. How nice to have orange trees dropping their rotting fruit in apartment complex driveways so I can jam cigarette butts in them without feeling like I am stealing produce. And that red stuff on the end of the cigarette that hopefully makes it look lit up is the droppings of a bottle brush tree. There is so much stuff to choose from. It’s like shopping at a Walmart Supercenter that has a special junkyard section as well as a Botanical Garden in the back. I am free to pluck leaves and seeds and petals without feeling like the petty fauna thief that that I am. Would I have done this to a rose in some well tended rose garden? No! Not only embarrassing but also wrong. This rose was the single flower growing amongst weeds in front of our local post office.
The final thing that works really well here is the anonimity. Of course there are people around, I’m hardly the only dog walker in the hood. But people in Los Angeles DO NOT CARE. If I was wearing a purple flashing spiderman costume (what? why?!) nobody would pay attention. They would assume, if they even bothered assuming, that I was on my way to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to pose with tourists. I like this because when I am arranging trash in the dirt I don’t want to converse with anyone. I don’t want to explain myself and most importantly I don’t want to stop. I want to get the photo.
So all in all I am pretty darn lucky to live here. Praise Be.