The Sketchbook Project

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 sketchbook project - cover spread

Creativity in the New Year

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.” (

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!

new beginnings

The Brooklyn Flea and The Workroom

That’s a stretch – the title, but inspired by a great Saturday in Brooklyn on our New York trip, and by the fact that The Workroom was always in my mind while we were there.

On a chilly but sunny day, our trail boss (younger son) figured out the subway and walking routes so we could explore Brooklyn neighborhoods, then walk back across the Brooklyn Bridge – a walk crowded with people and an ongoing view of the Manhattan skyline.

The Brooklyn Flea (a “curated” flea market) is in a school parking lot with aisles of vendors offering vintage clothes, jewelry, 50s furniture, dishes, glassware, and crafts – handmade clothes and hand-printed cards.

And food! So many gourmet choices – sopas, fish tacos, delicious grilled corn on the cob, a made-in-Brooklyn product – almond or cashew milk, subtly flavored with vanilla. One vendor simply offered grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate shakes.

The sweet bride debated and debated about a dressy clutch purse with a decorative chain, put it down reluctantly, turned away, then reconsidered – but already it was gone. And at a stand full of letters from old printing presses, I bought the letters to form the words “The Workroom.”

This fall session of The Workroom is over now, but what a pleasure it was to feel the excitement, enthusiasm, and energy of the group, read about their projects, and watch progress. The participants did form a supportive community as they made individual postings on their pages, and commented thoughtfully on each other’s creative endeavors – beading and biography, writing and watercolor. Joining in from scattered geographic locations – from Alaska to Wyoming – they did meaningful work and discovered commonalities amongst themselves.

For the weeks of the class, I enjoyed offering a daily post to support them as they learned to navigate The Workroom’s blog, about list making and time management, and ways to present their work in the wider world. Each Friday I was delighted to see the completed “assignments” on their pages – read of the struggles and pleasures in doing their work – then comment on their pages full of images and writing.

In case you are curious about what the participants thought, with their permission, I’ll post some of their reactions to The Workroom on I lean toward offering a winter session in January – it was a pleasure.

And now – thanks to a day at the Brooklyn Flea – I can stamp “The Workroom” on my three-ring binder full of six weeks of posts about creativity.

The Workroom – An Invitation

The purpose of The Workroom is to help you put more creativity in your life, and be supported in making this a priority.

We will be a small group, beginning Monday the 17th, and participants have varied projects in mind. Not everyone knows exactly what they want to do – and even those who do have many decisions to make. The vision is to provide an opportunity for interaction and development. This isn’t an art class with painful critiques – we get rewarded for showing up and doing.

I will try to encourage work with frequent posts about lists, goals, time management skills, workspaces, dealing with stumbling blocks, definitions of art, and words of wisdom from artists and writers. Participants will use journals and their pages of our private blog while working on a personal project. Because I so believe in the power of creating, my goal is to help people learn more about how “making” is possible for them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.”

There are still spaces, and if you are debating, and I can answer any questions, please contact me (

Join us as we seek those memorable days!