I’m sitting next to the pool at my parents’ house, enjoying the first brief moment of relaxation after a busy week. Reading a magazine on my iPad, I am soon disturbed by the unmistakable laugh of the kookaburra.
Since I moved back to Australia, I’ve noticed the abundance of colourful birdlife here. In California, we’d hear the deafening squawk of the crow, or the rhythmic tap, tap, tap of the woodpecker.
But here, there are flashes of green, orange, red, and blue as the lorikeets fly by. There’s musical chirping from somewhere in the gum trees. The pink and grey galahs pick at seeds on the ground by the side of the road. And the cockatoo raises his majestic sulphur crest in inquisition.
The kookaburra, with its strong beak and riotous laugh, is not seen as frequently around here. But when it sits on the back fence near the pool, it’s holding so still that I wonder if it’s merely a fancy ornament.
On a whim, I open my iPad’s Procreate app and choose the first brush I see, the watercolour, to start sketching. The choice of brush is opportunistic, but I know I want to start bold, with colour and form, rather than waste time drafting with pencil first. The bird could fly away at any second, and I want to make sure that I capture its form and colour before it does.
I’m frustrated with the likeness–out of practice with sketching, I’m not confident with my lines. As I sketch, I’m trying to remember the basics of proportion and shape.
My hand is moving fast, and I’m desperate to capture the bird’s essence without getting hung up on perfection. I curse myself for never developing a good pen grip, causing my hand to cramp up easily.
But I try to focus on the subject. And for a moment, the creature and I are communing. Watching and sketching forces me to focus, to notice, to deliberate.
My breath becomes erratic, and I will the bird not to move, not to leave. Turning its head, it changes the pose I needed to capture. I send a silent plea to turn back and eventually, it does.
The bird flies away then, and I realise I’ve been holding my breath. I sigh and enjoy the feeling of oxygen in my lungs.
Looking down at my iPad, I take in the whole image I’ve created.
I feel frustrated at the outcome. Something doesn’t feel right. The shape of the head is off. It needs more detail to be recognisable.
After a beat, though, I encourage myself not to focus on the final product, and instead to be grateful for the moment of focus, flow, and mindfulness I just experienced.
This is what creativity is all about. Connecting with some kind of innate need within, some kind of channel that makes the intangible, tangible. The process can be enough, even if the kookaburra is a bit wonky.