These Are Things I Made Because I Like To Make Things

I think we’re all born with the inherent desire to make things. Some parents would say messes might be the first true urge we have to make, but I think that’s a different sort of creation that follows us into adulthood for very different reasons. When I say make things I’m referring to the creative process; drawing pictures, coloring in coloring books, constructing objects out of Legos, and building model cars, planes, and the like. The act of creation is something that lies within us all. It’s the building block of our civilization. If we didn’t have the urge to create we’d probably still be living in caves foraging the forest for our Big Macs and driving vehicles with square wheels.

I guess what I’m saying is that we start out as tiny Rembrandts, Dylans, and Frank Lloyd Wrights. It’s up to our upbringing and fortitude to not let the world crush our child-like wonder and need to create as to whether that creativity follows us into adulthood.

I was happiest as a kid when I was making stuff. I remember Christmas 1980 I was in the first grade. One of the gifts under the tree was this massive art set. It was in a big, flat case with a handle for easy transport to each room in the house. It was a case you could set on the floor, open up, and then pull whatever supplies you needed out. It came with watercolors, finger paints, markers, crayons, a dry erase board, a set of blank drawing paper, and colored clay. I had a blast making my version of Mr. Bill with the colored clay, but I remember absolutely loving the finger paints. It was messy, but there was something very visceral and tactile about the feeling of those thick blues and greens and reds on my fingertips that I never got enough of. My work wasn’t all that impressive, but man I had so much fun with that set.

I think even an elaborate imagination counts as creativity. I would use the ottoman in our living room as a desk and pretend I was the pharmacist at Hook’s Pharmacy. I’d dole out prescriptions to the imagined mom and her sickly son. If you couldn’t guess I was sick a lot as a kid, and Hook’s was a semi-regular stop for my mom and I. I was always amazed at how high up the pharmacist was behind the pharmacy desk. I imagined all pharmacists to be 7 to 8 feet tall, as opposed to just the pharmacy was higher in the building. Regardless, that place made it’s mark on me.

In my early teens my creativity came out in weird drawings of guitars that I would do in my notebooks. This was before I even started playing guitar when I was almost 13. Splatter-shaped guitars, axe-shaped guitars, flame-shaped guitars, my made up luthier skills knew no boundaries of physics, woodworking, or taste. But besides some weird big-headed characters I’d draw in high school with one of my friends, playing guitar was it for me for a very long time in terms of creative outlets.

After getting to a certain skill level with the instrument, the next step in creativity was to start writing songs. That was the ultimate creative outlet when it came to music. Any guy could practice 8 hours a day and become some technical guitar guru, but it took more than hammer-ons and speed picking to write a great song. It took me a long time to find my way to a truly great song(or maybe just a pretty good one), but once I did I never wanted to look back. That feeling you get when you’re strumming the guitar and a melody appears, as if a gift from the ether, there’s nothing like it. Or when words just arrive out of your mouth that meld perfectly with a chord change or lock into a beautiful rhythm together it’s like opening a door that leads into a passageway you never knew existed.

From the time I bought my first 4-track cassette recorder in the early 90s to sometime in the 2010’s I was a songwriter. A pretty solid 20 years of my life. My creative process was building songs and releasing them into the wild. In all honesty the building of the songs and the process up to releasing them was my favorite part. There was a certain bit of sadness I’d get at the end; when the CDs were burnt, album art created and put into jewel case form, and songs loaded up to Bandcamp and become “live”. It was done. That last six months to a year of writing in the basement, tinkering on the machine, recording on those Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee…that cycle had finished and for all intents and purposes it was time to move on. The only way to sort of ease that malaise? Start all over again, which I did.

I got to a point where I just got tired of it. I still loved playing guitar, but writing songs began to be a chore. Those ideas weren’t coming like they had been, and the kids were older and I was busier. I couldn’t lock myself in the basement studio and toil away at ideas after work or on the weekend. The time wasn’t there, and neither was the desire. I still loved creating, but songs weren’t what I wanted to create. I started to enjoy working more on instrumental music. It was more abstract; there didn’t need to be a specific meaning behind it. It was what it was. I could still write a melody, and my skills at building musical pieces were still there. I just didn’t have to put it in a nice tight rock song, with words. I think around that time is when I started to get into Krautrock, jazz, and electronic music. Bands like Tangerine Dream, NEU!, Boards of Canada, and artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Herbie Hancock showed me I could make(or at least attempt to make) compelling music without words. In a lot of ways, this is what led me to a new avenue of creativity: Painting.

It began in 2020. My wife bought some canvases because I’d said I wouldn’t mind trying to paint. She found some on sale, and we already had quite a few acrylic paints from a project I can’t recall. I made a mess of a few canvases and that was it for a few months. Then in November of 2020 when we all were struck down with Covid I went downstairs during our weeks-long isolation and started painting. Still not great, but it felt more like “something” than “nothing”. I was sporadic in messing with paints after that. Some here, some there, but I hadn’t made it a part of my creative life yet.

Then in March of 2022 I was scrambling for ideas for my son’s 17th birthday. I’d bought him some classic movie posters and got frames for them. I hadn’t bought a card for him yet, so after work on his birthday I found some old card stock my wife had downstairs(one of her creative outlets for years) and I proceeded to draw a wonky Trent Reznor on a card for him(yeah, he’s a NIN fan.) It turned out so well and I had so much fun doing it that I started doing drawings in a notebook. That led to the purchase of a sketchbook and so started my colored pencil doodling of 2022.

I found that I loved just sitting down and drawing something. Sometimes it looked awful, and sometimes not as awful. But I had my great friend from high school whom I used to make weird art with in high school encouraging me, as well as my wife who enjoyed making art as well. She bought watercolors and some watercolor books and we’d make stuff on Saturday afternoons listening to records. Getting closer to that “empty nester” stage of our lives finding something like painting and drawing to fill those quiet times is kind of amazing. It eases that silence, and makes it not so deafening.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been getting into these acrylic pouring paints. I’m not much into realism when it comes to making things. I’m more into abstraction and just working with colors to make something that catches your eye I guess. You see, I think this is where jazz and electronic music come into play. There’s a freedom to the sounds; improvisation and exploration with noise. That’s how I approach painting. A bit of controlled chaos, I suppose. I also love working in collage. Mixed media is like musicians collaborating. Different approaches that lead to this amazing conclusion.

I’ve seen firsthand parents that don’t encourage, and in fact discourage their kids from “playing” when it comes to art. They push them into sports at an early age and look at playing with paints and coloring books and drawing pads as silly and not going to lead anywhere. Well if you’re one of those parents reading this let me tell you that pushing your 8-year old into travel league sports isn’t going to do much for them either. You’ll just end up burning them out. Sure, it may not lead to a career as a world-renowned artist, but it’s going to lead to a more well-rounded kid and one that can do for themselves. Builds those creative muscles and gets their synapses firing in the old noggin. And hey, if your kid could care a less about paints and coloring books and building forts and imagining strange new worlds in the basement then that’s cool, too. If they’d rather spend every weekend driving 65 to 100 miles to sports complexes and kicking a ball or shooting hoops, and you’ve got the extra bread for all of that, then go for it. Though, I bet an art set or a couple sketch pads and some colored pencils are cheaper than those club fees. Just sayin’.

Point I’m trying to make here is that every kid has the itch to make things. At the very least, help ’em scratch that itch. Don’t discourage them for being silly and drawing a bunch of colored chaos on paper. That chaos may turn out to be invaluable for their emotional and mental health one day. Like, when they’re in their late 40s and need that diversion from the real world once in a while.

I’m speaking from experience.

One thought on “These Are Things I Made Because I Like To Make Things

  1. Feel this in my soul. My sons each have sketchpads for our car rides and enjoy tooling around on garageband when not building worlds on Minecraft, making Lego creations, or reading books.

    Liked by 1 person

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