People Watching

Twice this week I’ve passed the same large man  curled up asleep in the same tiny chair, oblivious to the noisy students around him. A black bag and a set of crutches lean against the wall nearby.

As powerful as my imagination is, that isn’t an image I would have come up with with on my own. When I want to enhance my stories and artwork, I find it best to use details that I notice when people watching.

For instance:

A man wearing glasses has placed his laptop near the middle of the study table, so he had to lean forward to type. Under the table, his socks are striped, blue and red and white. He’s kicked his shoes off.

A young woman with a pale braid and a laptop not much larger than her two hands eats Greek  yogurt in the library. It’s against the rules.

There’s a coat slung over one chair that’s half inside out. Its outside is a no-nonsense matte black, which matches the owner’s crew cut and button-down shirt in a sort of well-dressed practicality. The inner lining is a reflective silver that drops me back into high school, learning disco songs for choir.

Someone wearing a brightly patterned scarf looks at their phone as they walk. They look up, turn around. They’ve passed whatever they’re looking for.

A young mother holds her baby while looking at a map of the building. Her toddler crawls over the map, sitting on a computer lab.

A woman looks at a menu while wearing a navy cloak with brass buttons at the collar. With it she wears skinny jeans. Obviously.

Three youthful men wearing handwritten name tags pass by. They’re speaking Arabic, but it’s too quick for me to understand. I haven’t been practicing much (Sorry, Dad).

A man with long legs and an Air Force ROTC uniform  walks a lot faster than I can. On his backpack is a camouflage-patterned Rebel Alliance symbol. I want to be his friend.

I might use variations on these real-life characters in my art or my stories-especially the woman with the cloak–but even if I don’t, I’ve still got more new images and ideas in my head to play with.

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Testing Limitations

“Make an installation.”

That was my assignment, one for which I had two weeks and no budget. I’m an artist most comfortable with two-dimensional and digital arts. I barely ever even make sculptures, and installations have to be aware of their space in ways that are different from sculptures.

“Make an installation.”

Okay.

My last day of high school, I glued Starburst wrappers to the cover of my yearbook. It was fun, and so since then I tend to save any candy wrappers and other conveniently collage-able materials I come across. I had quite a collection.

The university newspaper is free every week. I love using it for collage, since there’s something delightfully evil feeling about chopping apart something called “The Universe.”

I had a few cardboard boxes and some sidewalk chalk. Family members helped me get more boxes. I grabbed some glitter while looking for school supplies.

The rest–bells, a flashlight, a beanie–were already in my possession.

The result was a miniature city, plastered with the side effects of a college student’s life. Viewers could go round to the backdrop and sit against the wings,  sweep the flashlight over everything and run across a cactus drawn in glitter on the side of one “building.”

The title was “Destroying the Universe to Build a City of Stars.” I made it to represent my perception of the noise and complexity of university and city life, when I’m unused to both.

It doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a handful of photos on my phone, a number in a grade book. Boxes in the recycling bin. Memory. I don’t even know if I did all that well. There were dozens of little ways I would have changed it, rearranged the setup, altered the collage work, now that I’ve done it once.

But the point of the class I did it for isn’t specifically to make a good installation. It’s to test my limitations as an artist, all the ways that I can use concept and theory. It’s to learn.

I think life could use more experiences like that.