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In 2016 I returned to the idea of walking as creative practice, walking as art, and cultivating a wilderness mindset—I put it on hold during 2017 so I could devote all of my energy to The 50 Card Project—and now am returning to it again.

Wilderness Mindset is about being present to the unpredictability of life, the knowledge that while we think we are on a safe path walking in the New England forest, a black bear could appear out of nowhere. Or your trust in your reality can be jolted when a person decked out in 17th century finery emerges from around a corner during Carnevale in Venice. Consider how your whole being changes when you travel, engage with something new, mountain bike, or emerge yourself in another full focus activity. The senses stand at attention, pulling your entire being into the present moment. The truth is this—we never know what is going to happen, we are always in the wilderness. To open fully to the unknown with acceptance, joy, and curiosity, this is cultivating a wilderness mindset.

Currently on view and officially opening tonight at the Berkshire Art Museum in North Adams, MA is some of the Wilderness Mindset work that I first began making as part of my MFA thesis with tree rubbings, and now as I combine the tree rubbings with pathways and patterns. I want to continue to explore this concept, but I feel stuck. What’s an artist to do?

While preparing to teach a recent workshop, I rediscovered some idea cards that I made during my MFA years. The stack of 100 idea cards began with eight categories: the five senses (taste, touch, smell, sight and sound) plus motion, abstract concepts, and miscellanea. From there I brainstormed 12-20 words or phrases that fit into each category. I did this first in a word document to allow myself to curate out repeats and less inspired ideas before inscribing them onto small cards. As I thumbed through the cards I was impressed with their sustained relevancy and imagined that this would be a great way to proceed with expanding my Wilderness Mindset idea.

I turned to three of my favorite Idea Card Decks to get me thinking about possible other categories.

The Oblique Strategies: The Oblique Strategies were a deck of cards (mostly consisting of statements and questions) developed by producer and musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt in the 1970s to help them find ways of working beyond the obvious, for those times when one quickly forgot that there were others ways of working that were more interesting than the direct head-on approach. The Oblique Strategies serve as a series of prompts which said, “Don’t forget that you could adopt *this* attitude,” or “Don’t forget you could adopt *that* attitude.”

Ideation Deck: Created by Barbara Tetenbaum and Julie Chen, The Ideation Card set was designed as an aid to the book artist, to jump start a new project or inform one in progress. There are two decks in the set: Category Cards containing approximately 8 cards in each of the 7 categories (text – image – structure – paper – layout – technique – color) and 54 Adjective Cards of which 3 are ‘wild cards’. Choosing a card randomly from each of the seven categories and five cards from the adjectives offers an unexpected recipe for a project.

Creative Whack Pack: Created by Roger von Oech this illustrated deck of 64 creative thinking strategies give you a question, the question in action, and a prompt for you as you move forward in your own creative thinking. The narrative on each cards is much greater than the previous two, providing a more metaphorical and conceptual push to the creative process.

I highly recommend all three of these decks to help get the ideas flowing and to inspire the creation of one’s own deck. I introduced this to a group of students at Snow Farm recently. Together we came up with the following possible categories:

  • Questions
  • Attributes
  • Emotions
  • Actions-fun actions-permissions
  • The senses-taste smell hearing touch sight
  • Adjectives
  • Motions
  • Abstract
  • Technique
  • Color
  • Virtues
  • Phrases-poetry, lyrics, lojongs, aphorisms, etc.
  • People-authors

I decided to use the categories of my original deck (the senses, motion, abstract, anything) and began my brainstorm related to the Wilderness Mindset. Maybe this is the jumpstart I need to help me take the next step in this project. I aimed for 120+ words, knowing that I would have repeats and ones that could be combined. Around 60 I needed to take a walk as the ideas were slowing down. For the remaining words, I kept my notebook opened while I worked on some drawings and other things. Percolation over a number of days helped stretch my list. Next step, narrowing the list to the chosen 100 and carefully writing them out. Some people color code them by category through pen choice or paper choice.

So now what? Once you have a deck there are number of ways to proceed.

  • Begin by drawing 1-3 cards (or more) and combine them into a poem, drawing, collage, etc. or expand upon them using mind-maps, diagrams, etc.
  • Lay all the cards out and group them into new categories. Name those new categories, see where that leads.
  • Thumb through them. Go for a walk, free write or draw when you come back, see what happens next.
  • Share them with a friend, colleague, accountability partner, or mentor and have a conversation.
  • Other ideas? Please share them with me!

Let me know if you decide to try making your own cards. I’d love to hear your results.



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