2: Newtrifaction

Mushroom top

Fungi live on the line between old and new, directly transmuting death into new life. We makers can learn from this process of “newtrifaction” to birth new works from what is dead and gone.

Maker turned mushroom

As we see, experience, or make the same things over time it’s easy for them to become invisible or taken for granted. This sort of repetition can lead into a rut where all efforts feel dead, hollow, and devoid of vitality. Few can live in such ruts for long before it gets to them. So how can one find a path to new life from a world of well-trod, dead forms?

One approach is what I call “newtrifaction” - a process of making new by feeding the imagination. The idea is simple: continue working with the well-trodden forms and methods, but add a novel supplement to your creative diet and “digest” the two together.

“Digestion” in this context means free and open reflection. The mind has a natural tendency to synthesize experiences near to each other in time, drawing out the natural connections and relations between them. The “supplement” may be anything that grabs your curiosity or imagination - a book, a place, a song, a conversation, etc. The key is that whatever it is lies outside the frame of whatever’s become dead. Other than that, no rules.

For my part, I like to read essays and philosophical works I’ve not read before in parallel with my (more structured) drawing studies. For example, while working through Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing I picked up Aristotle’s Physics (Glen Coughlin’s translation, in particular). This led me to see parallels between the drawing process and the process of knowing the natural world - more on this in a later post.

How it works

Newtrifaction works because any work, form, or method has within it some defining elements and characteristics that we come to take for granted over time. Our lazy minds tend to fall into the trap of “Oh, I know this thing already, I’ve seen it a million times”, or such like. This quiet assumption can render our work invisible to us, closing off the way to new creation.

However, deep down we still have a grasp of the essential elements of the forms that have become dead to us. What our waking mind forgets, the imagination retains in silence. By introducing new food to the imagination, its tacit wisdom will make connections and reveal possibilities we could not have devised ourselves.

In this way, the elements of what’s become dead to us are combined with new ideas to form previously unseen possibilities. Best of all, we don’t need to labor to generate new ideas this way, but instead let the imagination do the heavy lifting. We simply need to feed it and, of course, implement what comes out.

In sum, newtrifaction is a tool for subtly bypassing our know-it-all attitude to compel new connections and possibilities invisible to our waking mind. Applying this technique can help us find new life in old works and forms, get us out of creative ruts, or enhance works in progress.