Nicola Winstanley talks about her passion for being creative on the move - and how you could do it, too.

Finding what I was looking for

"My passion for creative walking began after a whirlwind career as a public artist, in which I had spent four intense years thinking about people’s relationships with public space and each other. I was preoccupied with how the permanent artworks I co-created with the public could act as points of connection for shared hopes, ideas and stories, but I was often disappointed. After the pomp and ceremony of an artwork’s unveiling, the pieces naturally became another part of the urban landscape - expected, ignored, then forgotten. 

What I discovered in the simple act of walking with creative intention was the connection I’d been seeking - to the land under my feet, the colours, smells, textures and sensations of being alive in the present moment. There were also connections to people and new ideas and stories that sparked my imagination. By the way, my definition of walking is inclusive of all kinds of bodies and includes wheelchairs, mobility scooters, walking aids or other technologies to help Disabled people and anyone with mobility issues to move around.

Walking with creative intention is undoubtedly the most therapeutic practice I’ve worked with - it stimulates the mind and body, it's meditative, it challenges you to slow down and look, and feel. There is very little pressure to perform, very little or no cost involved, and it is something virtually everyone can do and enjoy."

How to get started

"For me, walking with creative intention began as a solo pursuit. I followed in the footsteps of the Situationist International (a French Art Theory group from the 1960s) and devised simple walking instructions for navigating a familiar urban space - at the time for me this was Manchester City Centre. For example: ‘Turn left, Turn right, Turn right, Turn left' or 'Follow the colour red’.

I found that the instructions led me on routes I’d never been on before, down streets I'd never taken. With no intended destination and no other intention but to walk, my pace grew slower, my eyes darted around to take in the new perspectives - my mind and body were free to ogle every little thing that I found interesting, or beautiful, or sad. In a place where I was usually eyes down, frantically trying to get from A to B, I was suddenly a tourist, an explorer, a surveyor of the land, a witness. 

The official name for a walk like this is a ‘Dérive’- coined by the Situationist International. You can download the Dérive app here, which will give you instructions for a walk, and also offers the opportunity to find groups near you."

So how does creativity come into it? 

"Walking, with the intention to be creative, is like a whole-body attunement to your senses - you get ‘out of your head’ and into your world. As a unique individual, you will be inspired in unique ways and you will have unique responses. The trick is to keep an open mind and go with it.

Something you see, hear or feel might inspire you to take photographs, draw, collect found objects, make or write something - these could be about something you witness or about anything at all that the experience brings up for you. There are no rules. 

Some people are inspired to make an intervention in public spaces, such as artist Anna Berry, who developed an art practice from the starting point of installing rolls of paper in a Milton Keynes underpass she passed through regularly, simply because she felt inspired to. She describes this as a subversive act, and she’s right - that’s another exciting aspect of being creative in the public realm- you’re going against the grain of expectation of how you ‘should’ act in public, and it feels a bit taboo, but also a bit liberating." 

Collective walking with others

"If solo explorations sound daunting, you’ll be pleased to know there’s no better way to experience creative walking than with other people. In a group, you feel braver to stop and photograph that leaf on the pavement or make an audio recording on that busy ring road. You also get the joy of spending quality time with others, talking about what you’re experiencing and exchanging notes on your unique perspectives, thoughts and feelings.

It’s also a gentle way to bond with new people. I had such an experience when I met and joined The Dawdlers, a walking-reading, walking-writing group based at Keele University. Walking with a group of creative people who were purposefully attuning themselves to the landscape was comforting and electrifying in equal measure. The conversations we had were so interesting, and our creative responses taught us all a little bit about each other - who we were deep down."

Go for it!

"So if you’re feeling uninspired, run-down or in need of connection, just pick up a notebook and pencil, and whatever creative materials you have to hand, and take yourself for a walk. Why not invite your neighbours or friends? Or seek out an existing group near you. You never know, it might be just what you need."

Useful links to walking resources:

Walking Publics/Walking Artists: https://walkcreate.gla.ac.uk/

Walking Artist Network: https://www.walkingartistsnetwork.org/

Walking with Common Cause (Creative Lives): https://www.creative-lives.org/walking-with-common-cause-in-dumfries

[Photo credit: Jenny Harper Photography]