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My Grandpa On Creativity

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An Artist’s Perspective

Mel Sweet

By MEL SWEET

I have been thinking about writing this piece for about a year. 

Last year, I finished up my degree while freelancing and raising a tiny human. What was my next move on my chosen creative path? 

I published a few posts on my portfolio website last year, but when I started to work on this particular one- I got stuck and never added another post to that website. It is still in dire need of updating. 

I attempted to write a creative and inspirational article based on a conversation I started with my ninety-year old grandfather, Don Larsen of Livermore, California.  He recently turned ninety-one, so I thought I should take another run at it.

I know that I am extremely blessed to have grown up around an artist like my Grandfather.  As I pushed myself to dream about living a more creative life, Grandpa Larsen was my go-to guy. It’s always fun to ask him what he’s working on. 

As a kid, I played on the floor of his art studio as he painted- mixing his colors on the palette, misting water on the paper and using an old blue hair dryer he used to dry the page. 

I am hoping some of that artist’s life rubbed off on me. 

My primary objective is to figure out how to get over the fear I feel about starting a creative business and putting my work (and myself) out there in the world. I know a lot of creatives experience fear and anxiety about their work- it comes with the territory. I had a lot of questions so I emailed him some things to think about before we spoke.  

Throughout his diverse life he has been an educator, artist, entrepreneur, and a writer. He seemed to have a creative energy that pushed him to accomplish anything he set out to do. He was brilliant at personal and professional branding before that was even a thing.  If you’re from Livermore, California, you may have known of him. He could have been your teacher or principal- he was our early principal at Jackson Avenue School. Or your grandparents may have had a Don Larsen painting in their home. You may have seen the Larsen House Inspection trucks around. 

Like a lot of creatives, he is a great example of a multi-passionate person with a diverse interests and never short on ideas. 

When he was ready for our conversation, he called me while I was in my car- so I frantically found a pen and something to write on. I listened as he spoke and took some notes. 

I would describe Grandpa as a lifelong learner and artist. While he admits his mind is failing him, he still pushes forward with imaginative, creative thinking and storytelling. He still sits at his computer and writes. I hope this brainstorming on the topic of creativity was a great exercise for him- as it was me.  

Perfect or not on my end, I got some good stuff from Gramps here. 

It's All About Perspective

“An artist needs to really pay attention to perception. Perception needs to be developed as a skill.”  

 At an outdoor painting session at the local nursery, a young artist who followed his work once asked him how he made the Livermore hills look just so. Grandpa told him it’s all about perspective. 

“The grass under your feet is a completely different color than the grass hills out there across the valley. Just as the blue sky above you looks different than the sky above the horizon.” 
 
As a young artist, Grandpa entered a painting in a New York show and won second place. He described the “Downtown” painting to me as if he was painting in his mind all over again. It was a city scene with cars getting smaller in the distance and skyscrapers leaning in. It was a terrific example of perspective in design. 

Since this was the early fifties, I can only imagine a midcentury modern city scene. The painting is probably long lost- but not lost in his imagination. Grandpa started to describe a follow up painting that he could create and his imagination kicked in. He would call it “Uptown” and described to me in detail what it would look like, a completely different perspective of the same city he had imagined sixty some years before. 
 
I am amazed and inspired by his creative thinking. Always full of ideas, even when he hasn’t painted anything in years. 

“You don’t have to invent something new to put yourself into the creative process. You can imitate a style until your own style shines through.”   

Grandpa Larsen's Creative Tips

Based on a lifelong pursuit of the arts and all things creative, here are Grandpa’s tips on creativity: 

Develop perception as a skill.

Creation and imagination are meant to be enjoyed.

Have a strong determination to explore your creative world. 

Be alone with yourself, learn to listen to yourself. 

Sit and listen to others. 

Beginners need to try new approaches and keep on trying to find what works for them.

Its ok to imitate and use artificial aides. 

Creativity can be nurtured, mothered. 

It’s never too late to start! 

I have been implementing a great piece of Grandpa advice into my own life since our talk. When he had trouble with an idea for a painting, he would think about the task ahead and would go to bed to just let his mind wander. In the morning when he woke, he may not have the picture in his head, but he was ready to start. His creative process would flow much easier if he let his subconscious do some of the heavy lifting. We can all put some sort of creative or meditation practice to work in our creative lives to help us with inspiration. 

One thing Grandpa wanted to stress: It is never too late to start being creative.

He loves watching that British baking show and how they can take an old idea and put a new spin on it. You don’t have to invent something new to put yourself into the creative process. You can imitate a style until your own style shines through. 

In Conclusion

Grandpa talked about giving up writing. It takes him longer to figure things out grammatically for his stories and even longer to keep things straight on the computer. He gets distracted easily.  I suggested that he keep writing and to write how he thinks and speaks now- just to keep his mind and his imagination going. 

He says it’s never too late to start. I say it’s always too early to stop. 

Thank you, Grandpa, for the amazing life advice and for being who you are. This was a fun and insightful collaboration- very inspirational and special to me.  I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to it! 

Love you,

Mel

My Grandpa on Creativity: An Artist’s Perspective

My Grandpa on Creativity: An Artist’s Perspective

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