The questions about “noticing” are great:
Rob Wittig: Most models of creativity focus on the blank-page-to-finished-project part of the process, but there is also the creative act of “noticing.” Your work demonstrates a huge range of noticing . . . wonderful, obscure visual moments you’ve flagged somehow and tucked away for later use. How do things call out to you and jump out from the visual background?
Paul Sahre: I have never thought about it in quite that way, but I guess I would agree that graphic designers need to be good noticers (i think we just made a word). While I do have a decent sized morgue (of pictures, typography, printed material, not dead people) and a pretty healthy library of seemingly useless books (like: Building With Balsa Wood, Principles of Guided Missles and Nuclear Weapons, Geology of the Great Lakes etc…) I don’t think about things I use for reference as being that important to my point of view. A designer’s history and environment are more important. Although I don’t have a particularly interesting history, I do live and work and a one of the most interesting places on earth and I do think that gets into the work one way or another. If you don’t notice things walking across 14th street, something is wrong with you….
I do know that being a good observer is something you can be consious of and work at. Whether one actually gets better at it or not I can’t say. Honestly, I think I sometimes am not the best noticer because I take on too much at once and am often preocupied. But maybe I have just worked at it and gotten better at it and now don’t have to be concious of my noticing? Come to think of it, curiousity has to be a big part of it. If you are not a curious person, can you train yourself to be? I have no idea.
Only Collect; that is to say, collect everything, indiscriminately. You’re five years old. Don’t presume too much to know what’s important and what isn’t. Photocopy journal articles, photograph archives; create bibliographies, buy books; make notes on every article or book you read, even if it’s just one line saying “Never read this again”; collect newspaper clippings and email them to yourself; collect quotes; save your ideas for future papers, future projects, future conferences, even if they seem wildly implausible now. Hoarding must become instinctual, it must be an uncontrollable, primal urge. And the higher, civilizing impulse that kicks in after the fact is organization, or librarianship. You must keep tabs on everything you collect, somehow; a system must be had, and the system must be idiot-proof. That is to say, you should be able to look back on it six months for now and not be completely stymied as to why you’ve organized things that way. (The present versions of ourselves are invariably the biggest idiots, and six months will make that clear).