As an urban creative, having a perfect workspace feels like a personal triumph. My laptop is charging, wifi is at full speed, Spotify is playing A Tribe Called Quest, and my desk is fitted with all the tools I need. But even in the midst of a pristine set-up, I somehow always end up with a major mind clog. I quickly find myself browsing the Internet for inspiration—grazing through pages of different websites and work, or staring at a blank piece of paper that coldly stares back at me. If you’re experiencing mind clog yourself, take a moment to entertain the idea of peeling back the four walls around you. Maybe it’s time to leave your production space, chargers and all, and take your materials outside.
Last week a couple of friends and I camped at Blue Sky Center, an extremely unique Hipcamp site unlike any place I’ve ever stayed. Blue Sky is located in the middle of the California High Desert, in a remote town named New Cuyama, and the team that created the facility is making big efforts to create a community for artists and sustainable agriculture. They custom built hut-like shelters that look like the love child of a trendy tiny house and an Oregon Trail pioneer’s wagon. Each one is made of wood and glass, fitted with beds, a deck, a desk, and a window looking out into the desert hills.
My friends Grace (singer, songwriter from Nashville) and Sarah (painter and illustrator from Fairhope) were already on the road, touring the west coast to showcase their work, so they met me at Blue Sky as I drove down from the Bay Area. Here’s the thing, when you’re kind of in the middle of nowhere with two cars stuffed with photography equipment, a guitar, canvases, camping gear, a bunch of painting supplies, and all the random accumulations of road trip life—a polished workspace isn’t going to come easy. But when you also have the deep purple desert hills and a starry night above you, the trade off is pretty magical.
That night, we made a meal of camp fire tacos together, cracked open some beers, and decided that the next morning we were going to take advantage of the simplicity that surrounded us and let it organically inspire our music, photography, and painting. So Sarah painted, Grace filled the air with the strumming of her guitar, and I sat down with them to discuss why making art outside is so valuable.
1. You come back to the basics
Grace: “It’s two parts…one is to ingest, one is to digest. Time to process is huge. To create, I have to ingest the world around me: people, landscapes, and relationships. And then I need time to step away and digest what it is I’ve taken in. I have to really process it and let it steep. And in that place I can create. In Nashville, it’s great but it’s really stimulating and often over-stimulating. Getting outside helps me recharge. I return to being thankful for basic things—the warmth of a fire, a shower, taking an hour to make breakfast. With creativity, you have to get back in touch with a really simplified version of who you are. You have to cut away distraction and the stuff that doesn’t matter.”
Grace: Doing something that’s unplanned results in something organic. And when you do it with others, people get inspired by each other. Like when Sarah pulls out her paints, I get inspired to pick up my guitar—and then we’re just playing and painting. While I definitely think that a huge part of creativity is dependent on discipline, I also think that the magic of creativity happens when things are produced spontaneously.
3. Get out of your routine
Sarah: Get out of your normal routine and be in a place where there aren’t any distractions. Be in a place that is beautiful and where you can be present and where you don’t have to worry about time.
4. Raw Inspiration
Sarah: I really love using textures to create a piece. One of the biggest ways I am inspired by the outdoors is by the textures found within nature. I love using unique materials to create the different textures that I see. Colors also play a big part in my inspiration. I’m attracted to combinations of bright colors with muted colors, like whites and grays, with strokes of hot pink or bright orange. Out here, there’s also infinite space, so I don’t feel confined to one room or one spot. I can just look around me for inspiration and paint more presently.
5. Let go of control and be dynamic
Michelle: When you’re shooting outdoors, you’re basically asking for challenges that will keep you on your toes. You’re surrounding yourself with beauty and new, interesting material…but it’s also a matter of thinking critically about how you’re going to interact with it all. Light and temperature will change regularly, and it’s not always convenient… but it pushes me. Being out there, I’m motivated to wake up before the sun does. Even if it’s freezing, I’m going to rip off my covers, grab my camera, and stumble outside to feel and capture the rising light. Then before I know it, the light is completely different again and I have to decide how I want to work with it. At a certain point, you let go of control and simply do. You roll with the punches, keep adjusting, and generate ideas. Being in a vast, natural environment reminds you that you are an observer and can simply experience to create. Maybe you’re work will be seen, maybe it won’t, but out there you have an opportunity to lay that burden down.
P.S. The Blue Sky Center sent along this photo of Michelle during her stay, and we thought it was too good not to share! Check out the Blue Sky Center on Instagram for more highlights from their camp.