Do you ever miss sidewalk chalk? You and your friends drawing a spaceship or a castle on the ground outside your house? Do you ever think of how much fun you had creating together?
If so, then you have to meet Aaron Tovi, a graphic designer, occasional poet, and the force behind a new project called Chalk Party. Chalk Party is a proposed website for people from all over the world to join together to create the coolest online sidewalk ever.
Read our most recent interview to meet Aaron, hear more about Chalk Party, and learn why he advocates for keeping things on the back burner.
Q: What is your favorite space to create?
Aaron Tovi: I don't have a ton of options; I usually spend my time in front of a computer, since that's what I use for almost everything. So getting into a new environment—any new environment—can bring on a flood of fresh thoughts to fuel my computer-facing time. I don't have a working radio in my car, so driving time is often thinking time.
Q: What is your favorite snack to eat while creating?
AT: I usually forget to eat if I'm really into something. Then, eventually, I'll grab whatever is quick and will keep me alive. Costco sells these seedy, grainy, granola bars that are real food, just smaller.
Q: How do you handle artist’s block (times when it is hard to create)?
AT: It seems that a mental block is best solved in a round-about way (unless you're in a hurry). I try to stay continually fascinated by almost everything, and the connections between these things fuel creativity. For example, last night my current project, Chalk Party, got 200 Likes. So I posted a clip from the movie Bicentennial Man, which I found out was written by Isaac Asimov, who I knew was a guy worth knowing about. So I read all about him and the plot summaries of his better-known stories, as well as his theories of artificial intelligence. I was reading the summary of The Last Question when there was a flash of connection between that story and Ray Kurzweil's “singularity” concept, which I only know about because he was on the cover of a Time magazine in CVS and the headline was enough to make me read about him on Wikipedia recently. That connection is the step from knowledge to understanding, which at some point will influence something I will do and make it more “creative” than it would have otherwise been. In reality, I'm just regurgitating the unique way that I mix un-original ideas.
Q: How do you stay motivated and disciplined as an artist in our distracting society?
AT: I think it's good to not see everything simply as a distraction. We have access to more information, more art, more opinion than any other generation in the history of the world. That's insane. And it can make us feel insane. But it's also a completely unique opportunity for one individual to synthesize readily-available information from countless people who have taken lifetimes to build up their expertise. I can instantly have an expert teach me how to do anything, and control that instruction however I like. This means that I need to be open-minded when an idea seems “out of my area.” This openness can unleash a lot of ideas and, I think, purpose. Then, it's time to filter through ideas, pick something worth doing, and put everything else on the back burner until that task is complete.
Q: What is the best advice someone has given you?
AT: That aforementioned back burner is an actual thing for me. I have a document by that name where I write down ideas so that I can stop thinking about them and focus on what's in front of me. That's worth highlighting: when you write an idea down, you can stop thinking about it, and trust that it will be there later. My friend Chris sent me down that path when he told me to start writing down every idea. That was really good advice. It usually takes longer to execute a concept than to develop one, so I don't think I'll run out of stuff to do any time soon.
Q: Who/what has inspired you lately and/or locally (i.e. other artists, exhibits, shows, bands, designers, etc)?
AT: Recently, Ze Frank's videos, specifically the one entitled “Brain Crack,” have really pushed me to execute instead of planning indefinitely. Ze is this bizarre internet phenom who seems to just make stuff constantly. In a little over a minute, he disassembles our excuses for not executing, shows our real motivation behind procrastination, and makes a logical case for putting your ideas out into the world even if they're not quite “ready.” Watch “Brain Crack” once a week, and see if you don't start getting things done. There's a version with a little song at the end. Don't watch that version with kids around.
Q: Have you worked in your medium in some sort of community lately, be it collaboration, brainstorming, etc? How has that environment affected the work?
AT: Yes and no. I've been working on Chalk Party mostly by myself. Ze Frank is indirectly responsible for that. But I've been laser-focused on Kickstarter, which is a crowd-funding platform. And that, in a very real way, is a community. I've had Chalk Party on there for about a week, and it's been exciting and challenging to see how the public react to it, and to get feedback from strangers before the project even exists. The Kickstarter community has pushed me to be a better communicator, and constantly think about the project from a fresh perspective. I hope to put several more projects on Kickstarter, whether this one gets funded or not.
Q: What is your connection to the Divine when you create? Does it resonate with you spiritually when you come up with new work?
AT: I used to be an active songwriter, and that spiritual dynamic was something that I understood: I usually wrote in order to communicate to God, or to motivate myself to change. But there's something about my current project, and the few that have been like it, that is much heavier and much more cryptic than writing songs. It's really more of a struggle and a test. In engaging the public for support I give up almost all control of outcomes. In doing something “out of my area” I rely on other people's skills to make the project possible. There are so many ways in which it could simply not happen at all, and yet I feel compelled to continue pouring hours into it. So there's a lot of questioning, a lot of back-and-forth expectations, and a lot of practice at holding even my pet projects with a very loose grip, while still being willing to work like it's a certainty. It's a growing and abiding experience.
Q: Describe your process behind the featured piece.
AT: Ok, now I can tie it together. I collected a lot of ideas, which melted together into a project in my Backburner document entitled, “Graffiti Wall,” which was just a surface where people could draw together in real time, online. Then, in an effort to execute instead of just plan, I reached out to people who had the skills I lacked, and got an initial, “yeah, that'd work.” Over the next months, with input from Chris, I grew and refined the concept, convinced teachers to let me work on it as class work, and kept planning it until Ze Frank showed me that I was stalling and needed to put it “out there.” I found out how much money it would cost to make it real, made a video, and put Chalk Party “out there” on Kickstarter, where its fate is being determined by some intractably mysterious cooperation between public engagement and divine sovereignty. This has all taken, say, 14 months. In the meantime I've refrained completely from working on other projects, except my job as a graphic designer. Well, not completely. There have been a couple little things added to the Backburner.
[Blog's note: Learn more about Chalk Party in Aaron's video for Kickstarter:]
[Blog's note: Learn more about Chalk Party in Aaron's video for Kickstarter:]