Working in Multiples

I’ll admit it. I needed the hours. The financial benefits of remaining a full-time student at The University of Alabama being self-evident, I began my search for the most luxurious hole you can ever put in your own head: the extracurricular elective.

“I’ll take a language,” I thought, “I know about six French words.” I fancy my ancestors might have been French. I don’t know this; my Father tells me our family comes from Georgia. As in Coca-Cola, Young Thug, Paula Deen-Georgia, not the small soviet satellite. At any rate I scrolled through sections of French 101.

All were at eight a.m. All were every day.

“I’ve taken enough language,” I thought, “six words is enough to s’il vous plait your way pretty far in the old country.” I changed tactics. Looking down at keyboard, I searched for the answer in my spindly fingers. Surprisingly enough I found it. Creative people, don’t take it for granted when that happens. Everyone always told me I have “piano fingers”. I guess that means they’re long and thin. I take no offense or exception to this comment. It’s almost a compliment, but what a weird thing to say to someone: “You have piano fingers.”

You don’t tell people with thin wrists they have “Pringle wrists”. You don’t tell people with thick necks they’d give the guillotine a hard time. But they will tell you what instrument you should be playing. And maybe that’s good advice. I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and sign up for piano for non-majors. I sat back, satisfied with my not-too-often, not-too-early music class. That looked like the end of the story.

Once again, enter my father. A former high school band director, I thought my dad would be pleased by my choice to take up an instrument again. The next time I saw him I threw on a big stupid grin and told him all about my hard and fast life choices. He looked over his glasses and asked what experience level they expected going in. I stared blankly. I reiterated that it was a course for non-majors, and that we’d probably be tink-tunking out “row, row, row your boat”. The immovable object to my unstoppable force, he turned back with the same expression.

 “Yeah, but how much experience are you supposed to have?”

Now, the Internet is supposed to be the fastest, most efficient information tool ever created. I disagree. It takes more than just a connection. Googling something might be fast, but Googling something to prove a point is the fastest. After furiously navigating the Wild West that is a music department’s website (try it sometime), I returned the prodigal son. Experience was required and I was out of an elective again.

I’d call what happened next soul searching but comparing myself to a paragon like the prodigal son is self-centered enough. I knew I wanted to do something practical. I knew I wanted it to be creative. Doodling is a compulsion for me. I always loved copying album art from my favorite bands in high school. Loved it, that is, until I ran off the page without leaving room for the “H” in an elaborate attempt at the first Rush album cover and hung it up forever. Well I decided to unhang it up. I signed up for Drawing I, bought my $75 dollar starter kit, no idea what I was walking into.

I’ve never been happier to have flown blindly into something since I flopped out of my high school pond into this one. I could go on about how art keeps me balanced and humble, and the satisfaction of marrying technique with intuition, but what I’m most excited about is what art does for me as student of the discipline of advertising.

The first thing my art professor taught us was to work in multiples. That is, don’t get married to one rendering of your forms too early. Size your subject up, take a walk around it, draw some thumbnails, make some light, airy sketches from the hip. Drink all of this in and layer what it teaches you down over and over again into new iterations of the same thing. This, in a word, is hard. Most of us are one-off sorts of folks. We sit down, usually right before a deadline, and hammer out one adequate version of whatever we’re doing. And don’t get me wrong, adequate is just fine for some things. But creative work is like giving birth. The best ideas you come up with, the cleanest executions you deliver, they’re your babies. And who wants adequate babies? No one wants adequate things coming out of them. Your work should be something you’re proud of. “Adequate” isn’t the word any client would want describing their brand, so why would you want it in your portfolio? We have all the resources to do what’s outstanding. We have all the resources to do what’s excellent. We have all the resources to do what’s most important in this business: make people not hate us.

So invest the time to make. Switch gears. Invest the time to edit. Switch gears again—I’m learning that’s an important part of the process. A Rembrandt never got painted by overanalyzing every brush stroke in the moment. Edit after you’ve made, or the temptation to throw out anything less than stellar will leave you depressingly little to build off (no matter how good you are at what you do). After you’ve done that once, turn right around and do it over, with one more level of insight informing your process. Not all iterations of a piece will break the mold or wow you in its improvement over its predecessors. I’m also learning that’s rarer than I’d like. But over time the previous iterations will show themselves in subtle changes, in the things you’ve added to your piece, or more likely in the things that are missing.

Ultimately quantity yields quality. That’s one of the best lessons I’ve learned from this department in 2 1/2 years, and I learned it weeks ago in copywriting class. Working with The Plank Center this semester has been an exercise in working in multiples. It’s been a lesson in creating, editing and reworking. When I can come up with an idea I’m proud of, give it room to breathe, then take criticism and integrate it into a better version of what I could have done alone, I see the magic inherent in what we do. The Plank Center works every day to make this industry better too, so it comes full circle. I’m thankful to Capstone for the opportunity to walk the walk. And, while I’m walking, you can catch me in Woods Hall every week, drawing mediocre still life after mediocre still life. Which is okay. Because one day they’re going to be great, and I can’t wait. In this case, getting there is all the fun.

This blog post was written by Harrison Martin. She is in the creative department of Capstone Agency.