Tea bag + index card + ink
Austin Kleon, a writer/artist based in Austin, TX, uses tea to create sketches that jump- start his creative juices.
“Tea is for when I want to smoothly sail through the day,” he said (e-mail, July 14, 2009). “Coffee is for when I want to hack through the jungle.”
On the mornings that Kleon opts for tea, he waits until his cup of tea has brewed, and then drops the tea bag on an index card, which produces an unexpected variety of blobs, blurs, and smears. He then hunts for images in the tea stains and creates sketches using a black Sharpie® felt pen. He got the idea from a fellow writer/artist, who got the idea from Dave Gray, the founder of the consulting and design firm XPLANE.
“I really love the color, honestly,” said Kleon. “And it lends a kind of earthy, organic feel to line drawings.”
Many of Kleon’s tea sketches end up depicting light-hearted scenes, such as a “fat kid dancing,” or another with people floating away in hot air balloons. Sometimes he will incorporate a process he learned from another artist’s blog, which involves dividing the piece of paper or note card into a grid of panels, which he then uses to creative cartoon narratives.
“Not-knowing what image will show up is part of the game,” said Kleon. “You get to let your subconscious take over. It’s like a Rorschach inkblot test. You could show the tea stain to 100 different people, and they’d see 100 different images.”
Here’s the drill:
- Drop a tea bag randomly onto an index card and let it dry
- Draw a grid of panels over the stain
- Shop for images in the panels, and riff off those with some doodles and captions to make a mini-narrative
Like I said before: nothing serious, just a fun way to pass a couple minutes and find some ideas.
This last card I used to take notes on an article about how language shapes the way we think:
Leonardo da Vinci used to suggest that art students “look at any walls spotted with various stains,” so as to “arouse the mind to various inventions.” Sandro Botticelli liked to throw a sponge wet with colored paints against a wall, then search out new landscapes in the resulting splatter.—Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World
I switched from coffee to tea at work, so every morning I take an index card and set my tea bag down on it, letting the card soak up the tea. Then, I shop for images on the card, and riff off those with some doodles and captions.
Nothing serious, just fun way to pass a couple minutes and find some ideas. You could probably do it with coffee rings, too. They’d be like little ensos.