April 14, 2015 David Yakos

Picking Up A Paintbrush

As a product designer, my DNA is a strange double helix of engineering principles and artistic expression. I perpetually teeter for a good balance between the logical and the lovely. This past year, I came across a wonderful short book written by Winston Churchill called Painting as a Pastime.  For those seeking a little bit of inspiration, it is a quick must-read. Churchill picked up a paintbrush for the first time at the age of 40, and remarked,

“Painting a picture is like trying to fight a battle”. 

 This world-leader’s comment was a reflection of the world he knew all too well. He went on to describe painting technique almost as if the battle lines were drawn when the paint was squeezed out of the tube onto the palette.  Prime Minister Churchill – a man who basically ruled the free world for a time – went on to say how painting helped expand his thought processes by exercising parts of his brain that didn’t normally get a workout. I figure, if this practice made such a notable difference for a Nobel Prize-winning leader, surely it would make some kind of transformation in a product designer… Churchill’s curious explanations prompted me to pick up a paintbrush, reflect on the world around me, and commit to painting something new every month.

In taking up this new structured hobby, I have discovered a lot of things for myself. I highly suggest that anyone and everyone give it a try at some point in their life… hopefully sooner, rather than later.  For those in “non-creative fields”, let your creative self out to play. We all have one – some of us simply tried to leave those sides behind as we grew older, thinking it was child’s play.  For those in creative fields, let your artistic expression loose in this non-vocational exercise, giving you the freedom to create without a client waiting on the other end.

Whether you consider yourself artistic or not, you will soon discover there are major benefits that can be developed through painting. Following, are some of the biggest take-aways that emerged for me in this practice.

Paintings by David Yakos

5 personal benefits of painting:

  1. Peace of Mind: I have found that sitting down in front of a blank canvas and covering it with paint has become a retreat for my brain.  There is a freedom in simply creating a picture, and watching it take shape as paint is layered and pushed around a canvas.  Because of this benefit, many groups have employed art for the sake of mental health.
  2. New Eyes: Painting helps me notice fine details that I ignored in the past. It makes me look at faces – not as features with two eyes, a nose and mouth – but as countless facets with resting shades of light.  I now look at water not as a field of blue, but as an oscillating reflection of the world above.  Churchill said of this phenomenon, “A heightened sense of the observation of nature is one of the chief delights that have come to me through trying to paint.”
  3. Appreciation: I find myself watching online videos about the masters like Da Vinci and Rembrandt. I stop and look at art more, and even if I do not love the piece, I consider the amount of effort it must have taken, and ask questions like, “what were they trying to say with this piece?”.  One starts to notice the shifts in time and culture in pondering art.  I’ve tried painting some things I find really difficult, which has given me an even greater appreciation for the Masters.
  4. Growth: The practice of painting is making me a better designer and artist.  As I learn to place color, I dream up products with a deeper understanding of how light will rest on a fresh shape.  My hand-eye dexterity and artistic ability are slowly improving as I come closer and closer to being able to put what I imagine in my minds’ eye down on paper or canvas.
  5. Enjoyment: I find painting to be really, really, really fun! I have been able to make some new friends through the process by painting with others and sharing tips and discoveries with fellow artists.  Painting allows the imagination to run free in a 2D world of color. When all the color is placed where it’s intended, it is a rewarding moment. The monumental task has been accomplished, and you can proudly sign your name on the creation, step back and say, “done”.

It is important to be patient with yourself as you learn.  Have fun! Treat every new work as a learning experience for yourself, allowing for growth, fun, and discovery. If you want to be a more creative engineer, designer or _____________ (fill in the blank), I challenge you to take a moment, and put a little paint on canvas.

David Yakos is VP and Director of Creativity at Salient Technologies, Inc.

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