"Before you can think
out of the box,
you have to start with a
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
Wandering a bookstore recently I picked up What Do You Do with an Idea by Kobi Yamada. It's a beautifully illustrated (by Mae Besom) children's book with an adult story. And since January has always been my month of introspection and direction adjustment, I was intrigued by the notion that we could teach youngsters how to handle "ideas."
And (stay with me here) that led me to think about all the ways adults deal with "ideas" and could I freshen up my methods. Most of us have zillions of thoughts pass through our brains daily. But precisely because there are a zillion, most don't take up residence. I have heard many a peer claim "well, I had a brilliant idea but I forgot it."
I keep a file of inspiration photos in my studio. When I began they were systematically ordered into folders labeled "mtn landscapes, still life flowers, animals, water" and so on. Then I could pull the folder and be ready to paint. Last week I had a student who needed a reference photo to work from. I pulled out the files and discovered, horrors, that any sense of order had long ago given over to a random stash and dash method. I was so embarrassed....why?
As I vowed to set aside a day to bring the folders back to order I began coming across additional information that talked about our need to harness and store "ideas." Call them hunches, projects, titles, shapes, questions, topics, or the recently coined "sparks".... each of us needs a method that keeps a check on all those wacky thoughts that pass through the brain as possible "to-do's." Here is some of what I captured:
ORDER: maybe that's good for some folks, but, apparently it is not the best method for all. In one of his blogs Austin Kleon talks about "finding what you didn't know you were looking for." A- Ha moment: "I am trying to find a waterfall but o-my-gosh here is that killer photo of a sunset over the ocean I meant to paint and its perfect for the next....." I love those moments. Takes me no time to do a 180 and run in a new direction.
RECORD: I knew a man who always had 3 x 5 cards in his front pocket. He might whip one out, jot something down and never miss a beat in a conversation. Even after computers and cell phones he carried those cards. Artists claim they have sketch books but are they tiny enough to fit into a pocket? Austin Kleon (can you tell he inspires me) swears by a pocket sized moleskin and a G-2 pilot pen.
In her wonderful book, The Creative Habit, Learn it and use it for life, Twyla Tharp explains in chapter 5 that each of her dances or projects starts with a box from Staples. She labels it and tosses in all manner of memorabilia possibly related to her idea....thoughts, newspaper clippings, photos, anything goes! This becomes her tangible spark file and resource guide.
RETAIN: My lack of order seems to be applied to my numerous sketchbooks, not just my photo files! my habit is to have them handy (like kleenex on every table) so I don't waste time hunting for one (ideas don't stay as long as they used to). The other day I was gathering them up to see if any blank pages remained and I became engrossed in reviewing them. Wow....in one I might have jotted down an idea dated 2011 and the next entry is a line drawing done in 2014. Then I glued in a beer label. Next entry was 2015, pages and pages for a blog. But it was all there! I now could cherry pick what spoke to me and flesh it out. Even fleeting, wacky notions had been retained and, upon having marinated, might prove worthy! Where do you keep your box, your 3 x 5's, your moleskins or your sketchbooks?
REFLECT: Silence is the most under-valued element in our lives today. It's been proven that multi-tasking is debilitating to all tasks and that our brain really needs some down time. My best thoughts (and apparently I am one of many) have come a) in the shower or b) alone in the car without a radio on. Why? Because then we give freedom to our thoughts to play together, mix up, cross pollinate and associate. We are able to remix old ideas. The point is, ideas come from other ideas as Leo Babuta explains, whether they are business ideas, fundraising ideas, hobby ideas.....
So. What's in your Spark File? Better yet: WHERE IS your spark file?
I've decided my personal methods are just fine. What I need to vow to do is to REVIEW these files more often. Maybe before a long drive (or a long shower) I need to read back over whatever sketchbook is nearest, sift through the mixed up inspiration photos or clear off the pile of bits and pieces of stuff on my desk. There might be an unpolished diamond in the mix.
Now. What is your method? Teachers, professionals, mothers, artists, cooks and musicians....all of us need to harness our creative thoughts. Do share.
Sparking color fully,
p.s. I chuckled at the times I found my grocery lists or follow up reminders in my books! But according to the experts this is super fine. Who knows when "fresh tomatoes, farmers market and dry cleaning" might all blend for the perfect theme of a painting series?