Creativity

How One Artist’s Running Routine Helps Her Think More Creatively

Courtesy of Lori Richmond.

Courtesy of Lori Richmond.

Brooklyn-based artist Lori Richmond remembers being a “spaz” as a kid when it came to athletics. “I failed the physical fitness test in sixth grade and they actually took me out of gym and put me in the weight room,” she recalled with a laugh. “I never had a good relationship with athletics as a child, but I was always really good in art.”
She would go on to develop a career in creative direction before switching gears three years ago to pursue writing and illustrating picture books full-time. Around the same time, as she was approaching her 40th birthday, she decided to become a runner, too, starting with a “couch-to-5K” app and working her way up to the New York City Marathon this past November.
One evening last year, while training for her fourth half-marathon, she was running across the Manhattan Bridge when she witnessed a particularly striking sunset behind the city skyline. “It was one of those Frank Sinatra ‘I Love New York’ moments, and I just stopped in my tracks,” she recalled. She took a picture before continuing on, and decided she would later paint a watercolor of the sunset. But then another idea took shape.
“As I kept going, and I was looking at my watch, I just had one of those inspiration moments,” she explained. “I thought, if I paint that sunset as a landscape, then it’s just a plain landscape, but if I try to paint it in the same amount of time that I’m doing this run, it’ll connect those two things. And that became very interesting to me.”
Then and there, Richmond decided to start a side project, #ViewFromMyRun. For each run she goes on, she takes pictures with her phone along the route; later at home, she selects one to depict as a drawing or painting, and challenges herself to make it in the same length of time as the run. Then, she posts it on Instagram, no matter how it turns out.
Since that first sunset watercolor (completed in 34 minutes and 17 seconds), she’s deftly documented everything from brownstones and ornate architectural details to street vendors and farmer’s market shoppers. She has also created illustrated journal pages that playfully reflect on the realities of running. “Eventually, it essentially became a visual training journal of the runs that I was doing,” Richmond reflected.
At this point, she’s amassed a collection of well over 100 pieces. In the beginning, she documented every run, but has since focused on the more manageable ones (given the intensity and time-consuming nature of marathon training); the longest runs she’s made art for were a little under three hours. And the length of time plays a big role in how she’ll approach each piece. For longer runs, she’ll often create intricate line drawings with black pen, adding fine details and shading; for short runs—say less than 30 minutes—she’ll use loose, brushy pens and watercolor, to make the work feel more finished. She’s found that these pieces give her space for experimentation (which contributes to her picture-book work), and now even leads workshops to show others how to capture and illustrate views from their own runs.
Long before she began #ViewFromMyRun, though, Richmond had experienced how running could fuel her art practice. Science backs this up. Research has shown that exercise can improve both divergent thinking (the ability to come up with original ideas) and convergent thinking (the ability to come up with solutions to a problem)—both of which are essential to creativity.
Courtesy of Lori Richmond.

Courtesy of Lori Richmond.

“As I was out there, running in the neighborhood, I was kind of seeing my surroundings in a new way,” she explained. “I would think a lot, and I found that I was doing a lot of creative problem-solving while I was out running.” As early as her first month, she found that the exercise helped her work out solutions to issues she was facing in her picture books, such as a layout or colors that weren’t quite right.
Richmond is now taking a break from running, but her latest pieces document her experience of the New York City Marathon. I didn’t want to do just one piece, because New York City is not just one thing,” she reflected. “We ran through five boroughs, [and] there’s so many different neighborhoods and textures that cultures and environments on the route, I almost felt like I wouldn’t be doing it justice to just do one piece.” Somewhere around mile 17, on First Avenue, she decided she’d divide her finish time in five and do one piece per borough.
Richmond recalls the day fondly, asserting that she’ll do it again next year, and that she can’t imagine running a marathon anywhere else. The finished pieces show detailed views of the Verrazano, Pulaski, Queensboro, and Willis Avenue bridges, as well as First Avenue and 75th Street in Manhattan. “I always say I hope my love for New York, how I feel just such gratitude for being here, shines through in the pieces that I create,” she reflected.
Casey Lesser is Artsy’s Lead Editor, Contemporary Art and Creativity.