Clearing the decks in the first week of January, I found the envelope I’d received from “The Sketchbook Project,” a project encouraging people from around the world – some 22,000 so far – to register, pay a fee, and receive a sketchbook. When filled and returned, the sketchbook will be archived at the Brooklyn Art Library. (They also organize exhibitions to travel across the continent.)
The little brown envelope contained a tan, stiff-covered, five-by-seven-inch, stapled booklet with 32 pages of white paper. It had a January 15 deadline for return.
This blank book in the emptyness of early January presented all the dilemmas of a bigger project – what to do, how to start, media, rules, motivation. It brought to mind a quote from the poet May Sarton about “keeping gear in order for that never-ending journey.” I found the whole quote and it seemed to fit: “If there is motivation here, it is always self-ordering, self-exploratory, a perpetual keeping gear in order for that never-ending journey.”
I think of that journey as work, creative work, and that’s what sketchbooks are good for, like writer’s notebooks – a place to practice, to gather ideas, to keep the hand in. And in this case to think about my own workroom. Because I hope to make a little book with the ideas and encouragements from The Workroom for participants, it’s good to focus.
A set of rules for The Sketchbook Project proclaims: “…dive in – there’s no better feeling than tackling that first blank page.”
Not. In spite of my short timeline, I dithered (doing dance steps of avoidance and distraction), and finally let the little book become my space for working all that out. I allowed just one page at the beginning to fill in later, stamped the cover with The Workroom – and started.
For the next bit I’ll post the pages of “The Workroom: A Sketchbook Project” – though the book itself is gone to Brooklyn – it did its job and got me going, Maybe, if you are not already well-begun, it will help you start your 2013 creative project!
A Sunday or so ago, I read an article by Hugo Lindgren, the editor of the New York Times Magazine, lamenting (but not really) his failure to produce the “Masterwork of Spectacular Brilliance.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/magazine/be-wrong-as-fast-as-you-can.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
He talks in the piece about the stage when a creative project can sink into the “muck of mediocrity,” as it “takes those first vulnerable steps from luxurious abstraction to unforgiving reality” – an always helpful restatement of how hard it is to go from nothing to something.
To my stashed words of wisdom, I recently added ones by John Cleese. He lists familiar factors for making life more creative: space, time, confidence, and humor, and says, “This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If you just keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.”
Over the holiday I read “Creative Thursday: Everyday Inspiration to Grow Your Creative Practice,” by the artist Marisa Anne Cummings. (She has a website by the same name.) The book is full of her charming illustrations, making her words memorable – evidence that she “keeps ‘agoing.” (A good phrase for the back of one’s mind.)
Hugo Lindgreen has another riff, this one on ideas. “Ideas, in a sense, are overrated. Of course you need good ones, but at this point in our supersaturated culture, precious few are so novel that nobody has ever thought of them before. It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution.”
Designer Dana Tanamachi’s New Year resolution, ”to aid in the flourishing of others,” resonated with me when I read it, because next to Lady Baby and the sweet wedding, the great joy of 2012 was designing The Workroom. I loved watching the participants, each in her own way, engage with chosen tasks and experience the stages of creative work.
It’s helpful to read and to take note of quotes like the ones above, but it really encourages to encounter people practicing creativity. The Workroom offers the support of a group, kindred souls, waiting for and expecting solutions to the “problems and puzzles” of creative work.
It’s exciting to think about another group of participants for a spring session of The Workroom (March 4 to April 12). I hope you will consider it!
It’s January, it’s pitch dark at 5 p.m., and we have succumbed (thanks to our gift Roku bringing the wonders of streaming to our house on the bluff) to one enjoyable TV series after an other – those drawn out, beautifully lit cliff hangers, ranging from Texas football to 50s New York ad men – that Charles Dickens would recognize.
But the young writer who edits other people’s words for a living quietly recommended a little movie. She said I’d like “The Jane Austen Book Club,” and she was right. It was fun to settle into a real movie and watch a complexity of Jane Austen permutations and reactions.
It helps to know Austen, makes it even more pleasurable, but you don’t have to – it’s California, there are women and a book club but also men, great clothes, and much, much Austen as the plot mimics, and the book club discusses, her six novels.
“Persuasion” has always been my favorite, but maybe it’s time for a reread of all of them. In the meantime, you can watch the movie and be reminded of the stories, the characters, and the long-lasting pleasures of Jane Austen’s world.