Life is busy, we have bills to pay, kids to feed and ferry places, dogs that need walking, we are tired and in our downtime there is Instagram to look at, news to worry about, and whole series to binge on Netflix.
However most of us are lucky enough to have a vacation each year, and although the temptation can be to just lie flat, take pictures of your legs by a pool, and drink too much, perhaps we can also benefit by thinking of them in the way we used to as kids- when summer vacation was filled with dreams and projects and making stuff.
When did you last make something just because you wanted to? Or drawn a bad picture just for fun? I know personally even working as a "creative" that free expression is rare. So when the amazing Illustrator and artist Hallie Bateman gifted us her book "Brave New Work," it got me thinking: could I relearn how to use my vacation time better?
Could Hallie teach us all how to use our vacations to learn how to be creative?
Firstly Hallie, who are you? where do you live? what do you do?
I’m Hallie Bateman! I’m 28. An artist living in Los Angeles. I write, and illustrate, and make comics. I take photographs and make movies. I spend a lot of time with a cat named Clark and a boyfriend named Jack and a best friend named Alice.
Tell me about growing up?
I grew up on a mountain outside of a gold rush town in Northern California. I have two brothers close to my age, Ben and Nick. I’m in the middle. We spent loads of time outside, jumping on the trampoline, romping in the woods, and playing with our many animals. We had llamas, goats, pigs, chickens, emus, ducks, dogs, rats, and a ton of cats. My parents are journalists and met at the local newspaper. I grew up watching them do what they loved, and be creative, and I always tried to be like them.
What was your childhood bedroom like?
Messy. I shared a room with my brother, Nick, who is now my writing partner. We loved to spread our legos out on the floor and make up stories about these old lego men who ran a giant dump comprised of all the discarded lego parts from other sets.
What was your favorite way to pass the time?
I made art constantly as a kid. My desk in first grade would be so crammed full of drawings, the teacher would send them home with me in a grocery bag.
At a young age I got excited about doing what my parents did - writing stories. I wrote little fake newspaper stories and poems. In middle school, a friend and I regularly published a newspaper full of made-up stories about our pets. We brought it to school and handed it out. We were not popular. Making movies was my main passion, and one that I’m quietly, slowly trying to return to.
So break it down how can I be wild and free with a pencil again? Obviously taking your book along would be point one?
I made a book with MOMA called Brave New Work. It’s a creative journal meant to inspire the reader to become a draw-er! It’s filled with lots of prompts and fun ideas, and I’ve been filling it out myself since it came out in January. At first, it was slow going because I was working a lot illustrating other books, but once I started to travel this summer I started drawing in it all the time. It’s great for bus or plane rides, waiting in line, and being creative on the go, in little spurts.
Do you doodle while traveling? Do you have any travel doodles you'd like to share?
I do! Especially on planes. I find it calms me down.
Where is your happy place for a holiday?
Short answer: a Northern California beach.
Long answer: it depends. If I’m in the middle of a project, I don’t necessarily even want to travel. Kind of like how, if you’re overwhelmed, you don’t want to watch a new movie. You just want to put on a movie you’ve seen a million times, and sink into the comfort of it... If I do take a trip when I’m working, I like to go somewhere quiet, maybe somewhere I’ve been before. Visit a friend or family and spend quality time with friends or family. I love to go to Portland and see friends, or stay at my parents house in the mountains in Northern California.
If I’ve been creatively blocked, or have a bunch of energy, or just finished a huge project, I want an adventure. A new place, where I can get inspired and meet new people and spend entire days just walking around and noticing. Right now, I’m experiencing the latter. Earlier in the summer I finished a year-long book project, so now I’m in New York for a month, starting new projects, and I’m feeling very energized by the city.
What do you pack to make sure you keep your creative juices flowing? 5 items ideally?
I struggle with packing art supplies because I don’t know where to draw the line. I end up trying to bring my whole studio. But I’d say the basic necessities are:
A place to draw. A sketchbook, or a creative notebook like Brave New Work.
Utensils. Good pens and pencils. At the very least, your favorite pen!
A jacket or backpack with big pockets for easily carrying stuff.
A notebook, or just your iphone if you keep notes there. Some place to write.
Traveling is a wonderful opportunity to do something different with your art in a set amount of time and space. Here are some ways I’ve done that over the years:
Confront your creative fears.
Since I’m gonna be shocked out of all my other routines, I take traveling as an opportunity to shock myself out of my creative routines, too. When I started to get into illustration in college, I hated pencils. I always drew straight to ink. Sketching in pencil seemed so tedious to me. I knew it was a limitation I needed to get over, so when I went to Europe after graduation, I brought only pencils with me. I forced myself to spend time with them and practice drawing with graphite. By the end of my trip, I loved graphite. It totally helped me grow my art practice.
Remove all your tools completely.
Personally, I have trouble stopping. I’m almost constantly engaged in a project, and it’s so compulsive that it doesn’t always even feel intentional or positive. So a trip can be a way to take a total break, so when you get back to your desk, you’re inspired and excited. (I always think about how my brother, who plays guitar, would say he always plays best when he hasn’t played in a week.)
I went on a ten day silent meditation retreat a couple years ago, and we weren’t allowed to bring in even a single piece of paper. With all my tools removed, I was forced to write in my head. And then clear my head. It was a completely life changing experience, and the ideas and inspiration I got in those ten days drove my creative work for over a year afterwards. It also gave me a greater faith in my mind. I saw I could still work without tools, and develop ideas off the page.
Make it a project.
Recently, I was traveling in the Oregon and Washington with my boyfriend, Jack. Many of our days were spent wandering around and drawing as we went. I found myself making journal comics to document our days, so I committed to doing one every day. Because things were always happening to us by virtue of just existing in a new(ish) place, and we had lots of downtime, the comics flowed out of me much more easily than they might at home. Traveling is great because it gives you an automatic plot: “We went to ___, then ___, then we ate ___ !”
Make art with the environment you’re in.
I was just in upstate New York visiting a some friends at their lovely house there. My friend Melissa, an avid gardener, mentioned she wanted to get into flower arranging but had never really tried it. So the following day we plunged into the beautiful forest around their house and foraged a bunch of amazing greens and wildflowers and tree branches and grasses. We laid everything out in her kitchen and filled every vase in the house with our creations. It was awesome to try a new form of creativity and experience nature at the same time.
Be gentle with yourself.
Don’t take art you make while traveling too seriously. Make it as a way to celebrate your lived experience, to remember it better. If you take on a project, don’t let it separate you from the people you’re with and the place you’re exploring. Make art in a way that will bring you closer to them. This could mean doing a project together, or playing a drawing game, or doing a series of photos of your travel companion.
Finally what is your next adventure?
I don’t know, really! I have been a homebody for the last 5 years because I’ve been working so much, and living in cities (NY and LA) that feel so foreign and exciting that I spend most of my time (and money) exploring them. But I’m finally itching to do an international trip. I want to go to Paris and Lisbon with Alice, and Norway with Jack. We just have to save up our money!