Detail from Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone
In this week’s creativity challenge we look up to the night sky, a source of inspiration and mystery. In light of a week filled with the news around the landing on Mars of the appropriately named rover, Curiosity, and the Perseid meteor showers peaking in the morning’s early hours, I thought that this was the perfect week for this challenge. The night sky gives us the chance to bring our attention to the immense scale of the universe, which then allows us to see the magic in the details of the everyday. The night sky offers us the gift of perspective, an important trait for creativity, as we need to be able to see both the big picture and the fine details when creating our idea, concept or craft.
My first true taste of the augustness of the night sky took place on a hillside in Vermont during the summer vacations of my childhood. Usually at some point in the late summer, my parents would pack us all into my dad’s grey Volkswagen Vanagon. We would head north from Connecticut to The Highland Lodge in Vermont in what felt like an interminable car ride that no amount of car trip BINGO or travel Connect Four could shorten. Gradually, the landscape changed from highway to narrow roads banked by fields of cows that undulated over rows of steep hills, letting us know that we were finally close to our destination.
Rising behind the white farm house that was the main building of The Highland Lodge was a ridge dotted with a row of white cabins. It was on this steep hill, on a plaid wool blankets taken from the ends of the beds that all of the kids at the inn (my newest friends made that week) lay lined up like sticks, the sky our only concern, while the adults peppered the activities with flashlights, snacks and bug spray. This is how I watched my first meteor shower, the sky rich with dashes of light.
Years later in Florida, I would read sci-fi books, watch the white-bright-burn of the shuttle launches, and look up to the dark heavens from the driveway. On some nights, the sky was so populated with stars that I could see beyond the usual constellations all the way to other galaxies such as Andromeda and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. Other galaxies, I would say to myself, somehow hoping to memorize that fleeting feeling of, for one moment, grasping the scale of the universe.
Now, as it was then, the night sky is still a source of wonder—and also a source of wishing. Despite the lights of the city illuminating the immediate horizon, I can often look up and see the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, and find my favorite constellation, Orion, by his bright belt. When I turn my gaze to the sky, I find myself still wishing on stars. This is because when I look at the night sky it reminds me that there are still many mysteries out there to be explored and charted, and some things to that will always remain unknown, a sentiment—poetic perhaps—which speaks to me as the navigator of my own tiny life in this immense universe.
All of this is inspiration for the sixth Summer Creativity Challenge: The Night Sky. This challenge is open to your imagining and interpretation. You could take the time this week to stand in your driveway each night and look up, or download an app such as The Night Sky and learn the constellations. Or this could be the effulgent spark of a creative endeavor such as writing a piece of flash fiction where someone wishes on a star. If you paint, this could be a chance to work inspired by the night sky or moonlight. You can also remember your own memories of stargazing, or nights under the stars.
With this as your touchpoint, plan an artist date, step outside, write or paint with the inspiration of exploring and remembering your backyard. Record impressions, inspirations, ideas, and memories in your sketchbook and share here on The Paper Compass.