Commutes have a terrible reputation for being a waste of time. A little, happy secret: they don’t have to be! If commuting is a fact of your life, it is possible to embrace that time and make it a wonderful element in your day. My current commute is average/short for the New York City area - an hour each way via commuter rail. Long Island Railroad takes me from my home into the bustling Penn Station, and then back again at night. Here are some of the ways I rock my commute, and I generally mix up all these tactics so nothing gets too run-of-the-mill.
· Carry a sketchbook. Having a sketchbook and a sharpie or pencils on the train is a great way to indulge in some deep focus. If it feels awkward sketching those around you (as it does for me – the proximity is just too close), the magic of Instagram gives bountiful subject matter to practice your drawing skills. For a once-in-a-while special treat on my homeward bound commute, I love to indulge in a cup of train wine (i.e. canned wine that is drank on a train), while I draw from photos of pigeons. (@pigemone is one of my favorite accounts to sketch from!).
· Meditate. Practice focusing on your breath. Pop in your headphones, put on some ambient music from Spotify, and pay attention to your breath for ten minutes. The Calm app (@calm) even has a commuting meditation perfect for when you are stuck standing/grabbing a bar and thinking “how can I possibly meditate in this position?”
· Take an online class. The choices here are endless. You can take painting and drawing classes and watch the lectures on the train. Learn art history (or Roman history, or astronomy!). These are also great for a driving commute – listen and learn while you get where you need to go. Some of my favorite resources are Bluprint, Skillshare, and The Great Courses.
· Read! I am a ridiculously avid fiction reader, but there’s a bunch of art books on my list as well. (Among them, Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art Spirit by Robert Henri, and Daybook by Anne Truitt). Browsing these art books while I’m on the train provides a nice source of inspiration to make art when I get home.
· Podcasts! Oh there are just so many wonderful ones out there. You just need to find what’s right for you. These days I’m positively obsessed with My Favorite Murder. And I find SO MUCH inspiration and information from Antrese Wood’s Savvy Painter Podcast. No matter what your bag is, you’ll find a podcast to dive into and obsess over.
· Take a photograph of the painting you are working on, and then while you are riding the train or bus, open up that photo and look at it with fresh eyes. See where you want to improve on it. You can even use the edit/mark-up feature on your phone to add areas of dark or light, or new colors, and see how that affects the feel of the composition. You can also take this moment to just simply sketch your painting. This often will open up secrets of the image that you hadn’t noticed in the studio.
· Sometimes, I just simply don’t feel like doing anything other than soaking up my surroundings. Just to notice and feel how beautiful it all is. For me, trains (and stations and train yards and the scenery whizzing by) has provided a wealth of inspiration for my paintings. Think about how you might make a painting (or a story? A poem?) out of what you see. Or not! Just enjoy it. Even the subway tunnels in NYC are brimming with interesting colors, shapes and characters. Check it out.