Anonymous hotline encourages student creativity

Kelly Pyzik, Editor-in-Chief

Mysterious black posters and stickers bearing messages like “Do 3 year olds art more than you?” and “YOU CAN ART” appeared on the loggia walls a few weeks ago. The posters include the phone number for an art advice hotline at the bottom—641-243-1787. Last Sunday, Dec. 6, The S&B contacted this hotline asking for an interview and the anonymous art adviser revealed himself to be Fintan Mason ’17. During an interview, Mason explained his inspiration to create the hotline and his visions for its future.

In the Grinnell community, Mason sees a large population of creative and talented individuals that don’t feel confident enough to follow through on the art-making that intrigues them or to share the art that they make alone, on their own time. Mason often has heart-to-hearts about these struggles with friends, but he thought of the hotline as a way to try to encourage anyone to create and share what they are afraid to.

Mason recommended that Pyzik watch tutorial videos to inspire her watercolors. Contributed photo

Mason recommended that Pyzik watch tutorial videos to inspire her watercolors. Contributed photo

“There’s a lot of [fear] expressed toward making art and putting yourself out there, like, ‘Oh, I can’t draw, I can’t make music.’ It’s like, well, if you just do it, you get better!” Mason said. “I often forget that this person is a really good singer or this person does a lot of drawing because they don’t really share it.”

Mason’s biggest focus is filmmaking—he was the creator of the Concerned Black Students documentary that was recently released—but he also played piano and drew for many years and has dabbled in painting.

The advice he offers is not usually technical, but rather words of encouragement for experimenting with new modes of creation and suggestions on how to make your creative process work better for you as an individual, especially someone who is busy as a full-time student at Grinnell.

“People here aren’t encouraged enough, is what it seems like. Even just with classwork, we often forget to acknowledge each other about how much hard work we’re doing,” Mason said. “For me, [art] is, like, the only thing that keeps me going here. I do it because it’s therapeutic, it opens my mind, it’s a way for me to turn the stuff I’m learning in classes into something that’s my own, rather than just stuff I’m repeating.”

People have been significantly more receptive to the hotline than Mason expected and he has received a number of messages, all asking for different kinds of art advice.

“I had one person give me a really heartfelt message about how he was sort of stuck in a rut for a long time and was working on this one song and was wondering whether or not he should share it with other people to get their feedback. It was cool that he would trust me like that,” Mason said.

Mason will be abroad this spring semester and the hotline will take a hiatus, but when he returns, he believes the hotline will be back, stronger than before.

“I want to turn it into something bigger, I want to get more people involved. I have no idea what that will look like, but I have plenty of time to think about it,” he said.

Ultimately, what began as a stealthy postering spree at 3 a.m. one night became the hopeful bud of project Mason hopes to grow during the rest of his time here.

“I think the coolest part of this project was that a couple people wanted a sticker in exchange for artwork, so to keep it anonymous … I hid it under a sign in the JRC and when I came back there was an envelope with artwork in it,” Mason said. “I don’t know whose it is or where it came from, but just seeing this artwork that someone wanted to share with me was so cool.”

At the end of our interview, I consulted with free art advisor Fintan Mason and asked for advice or a prompt for working in watercolor paint, for the sake of journalism. He advised me to watch a number of different YouTube videos of watercolor painters, take some of their techniques and imitate them while also making them my own. He also advised me not to spend too long on any one painting and just keep churning them out because he believed they would get better and better. Here are the first two results

Pyzik asked Mason for art advice of her own and used it to create watercolor paintings. Contributed photo

Pyzik asked Mason for art advice of her own and used it to create watercolor paintings. Contributed photo