1) White noise is golden
It's interesting that all the white-noise surrounding me on public transportation actually seems to end up helping my mind block out any outside interference. When I am stuck on my commute, my drawing has my full attention. The ideas seem to come through my brain and onto the paper cleaner and more "white noise-free" than they sometimes do when I am sitting quietly and have no distractions at all. I'm not sure how it works, but I know that it works.
2) The positive effects of a bumpy ride
While moving, I don't get as lost in the details of a drawing, because I can't. I'm jumbling and bumbling all over the place. Since I never know when the next bump is coming, I am forced to let go of certain aspects of my artwork that I otherwise might get caught up in. For my riding time, the idea is to get down the nucleus of a concept—the bread and butter of any good illustration. I will more than make up for it later when I flesh out my clear, unfettered idea on solid ground.
3 ) Short bursts can deliver solid results
Since I usually travel in shorter spurts and have no other distractions, it's easier for me to focus on a specific sketching goal during these times. This is the perfect time to get working on the first phases of an assignment. I have started many projects this way with much success.
4) Drawing against the clock
Somehow, being in a public yet fairly anonymous atmosphere with no interruptions and only a finite period of time can have a great auto-focus effect. I often end up in just the right head space to succeed at solving a specific creative task. There has been times that my sketching is going so well that, when I get off the train, I plant myself on a station bench to complete my work flow. It can be that effective for me. Maybe it can be for you, too.
If you want to try a similar experiment but you don't commute, do this: Next time you have an appointment or a date with a friend, leave an hour early. Hit a comfy coffee shop to get some drawing time in first. You won't feel the jumble of the train, but you can benefit from the other aspects of drawing in transit. Sometimes, an offbeat change-of-creative-pace with a time line attached can add up to some surprisingly valuable results. Happy drawing!
This essay was previously published in SCBWI Bulletin Jan/Feb 2010 "Art Tips" column.