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The Importance of Staring at Your Work

Robert Irwin looking at one of his "line paintings."

Robert Irwin looking at one of his “line paintings.”

Have you ever finished a design assignment at the last minute, only to realize later how bad it was? When I’m working on a design, I have tunnel vision and focus on a small area at a time. When I’m done, I’ve been staring at the design so long that I don’t see all the flaws.

I’ve been reading about the artist Robert Irwin. Irwin began as an abstract expressionist painter, then began radically simplifying his painting style into lines, dots, and color fields on discs. He eventually moved from painting to site-specific installations, always chasing a new question about art that interested him.

When Irwin was making his line paintings, he would spend most of his studio time staring at his artwork, not painting. He would make a minute adjustment to the position of a line, then go back to staring at and thinking about it. Was each line in the right place? What did the painting say about those questions he wanted to answer?

You definitely shouldn’t spend days staring at your logo design for a fake company, or at the book club poster that’s going to get torn down in a few days. But can you spare five minutes? With all the noise and visual clutter shoved at us every day, it’s helpful to slow down, set a timer, and just look at your work in silence. What aren’t you seeing? What have you missed?