Since my wife is away in the US right now, I decided to spend some of the my afternoon at the British Museum. I’m working on a design project for The Elders at the moment and, as part of that work, I needed to do some visual research into Tribal costume and pattern.
It was a fascinating experience for because it’s been such a long time since I visited a museum or gallery for the explicit purpose of researching a design project. I tend to live in my imagination too much or draw from existing brand assets.
So it was deeply pleasurable experience to simply wander around exploring with my eyes. I was reminded of all the many happy afternoons I spent while I was a design student in London, ambling slowly around the empty halls at the back of the V&A or inhaling the musty atmosphere of some of the more unloved rooms in the bowels of the Science Museum.
It’s a wonderful opportunity just to look and see where your gaze takes you. There’s a constant, gentle absorption of new knowledge, understanding and connections between cultures and periods of history that happens during these times. You mustn’t feel too rushed or get distracted too much by the outside world. That’s why I tend to prefer the emptier galleries where there aren’t as many members of the public, taking selfies next to the big attractions (you can tell which ones they are because they’re on a plinth, generally right inside the door from the main hall).
Once you can get far from madding crowds (perhaps the “maddening” crowds is more appropriate) a reverential hush descends over the pieces and, if you can find a great room, you can lose yourself for hours, sketching, learning with you eyes and connecting somehow with the people who originally made the item you’re gazing at.
I will definitely be looking hard for ways to bring this method of working back into all my professional practise from now on because it can lead to some genuinely delightful surprise discoveries and revelations.
Few other places than museums are so filled with possibilities for unexpected connections to be made.