How we open doors. The power of repetition. A mountain of sketches.
“We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal. Instead of struggling against the force of confusion, we could meet it and relax.”
I recently listened to an interview with Salman Rushdie on the New Yorker Radio Hour. (The corresponding magazine article, “The Defiance of Salman Rushdie,” is a condensed transcript.) At one point, Rushie talks about how long it took his new novel Victory City to germinate—fifteen years! Even then, “it was very hard to find the voice for it. That’s often the way with me, even when I know what the story is—to find the right door [into] the story.”
The open ends of a rough script and storyboard in hand, I myself have been trying a door. Opening it of course hasn’t been straightforward.
A lot has happened in the past few months and I’m not surprised that work hasn’t exactly felt easy, or even predictable.
My sister gave me a book when things started falling apart last year, and it’s literally called When Things Fall Apart. I tend to be leery of “spiritual” anything, much less self-help. But one thing I got out of reading it was a realization, that it’s hard for me to suspend judgment about my work.
I often talk about embracing process over outcomes, but the spectre of where is this leading? is ever present. I think once I can get beyond that, to be truly undiverted from curiosity, to relax, is when I’ll be able to make the best things.
Before I continue, a warm welcome to the hundreds (!) of new folks since last time.
Every few weeks, I send you a very visual update on what I’m working on. Each issue contains a review of process, provocations for your own creative practice, metaphors for life if you’ll indulge me, and tools or lessons I think you might find useful. I’m experimenting with a paywall every other issue-ish.
Mainly it’s a peek over an artist’s shoulder; a letter from a friend about her work.
Thanks for hanging out with me in my humble Harlem studio, where I make more art than eat, or sleep.
If you’re finding this on the web, sign up to get TLB directly in your inbox.
It’s unclear what will ultimately unstick a process, or to open a door.
What works is different every time, too; there’s no consistent formula. Sometimes I make vignettes (standalone animated looops that are low-commitment but conceptually related to the larger idea). I might get up and take a walk. Other times I make myself just go through the motions.
The past few weeks, looking for a stylistic spark to galvanize the work, I repeated.
I repeated with watercolors on plain paper, watercolors on hot press paper:
I repeated with a dip pen:
I repeated by layering things on top of each other:
I repeated on index cards:
Repetition is a good way to generate looseness of stroke when drawing or painting, but it also relaxes the mind. Not only that, but the more you draw or paint the same thing over and over again, the line evolves, and variations begin to emerge.
And that’s how sparks are sometimes made.
Until next time.