Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pick Up the Pencil

When I was drawing, I had a regular studio schedule.  Home from work by 6, feed my son and myself, get the dishes done, and be at the drawing table by 8 PM, where I'd draw for two hours, stop at 10 PM and be in bed by 10:30. At least one night a week I'd teach an adult ed drawing class from 7 to 10 PM. Friday nights I'd do my grocery shopping, and on Saturday I'd get up and head right into the studio and draw for a couple of hours while my son slept late.  Sometimes I'd get back in the studio later in the day and draw for about an hour and a half.  Sundays I would draw for about two hours. My limit over two days was six hours. In this way I got about 10 - 12 hours of drawing a week.  Remember, I was a single parent of a school age child, and I worked at least one (usually two) nights a week. The housework generally went straight to hell.

My drawings took hundreds of hours, and I rarely completed two a year. When the drawing was going well, wild horses couldn't pull me away, but if it went badly, I'd have a hard time getting into the studio to work.  If I didn't draw regularly, if I had an issue with a drawing, had a problem I was having a hard time resolving, I'd stop my routine, avoid the work, and stay out of the studio.

The longer I stayed out of the studio - and it could sometimes stretch into weeks - it became harder and harder to get back in there and "pick up the pencil."  It wasn't just the problem in the drawing, it was the idea of getting back in there that was hard.  I would imagine the pencil getting bigger and bigger -- the size of a baseball bat, the size of a bedpost, finally, the size of a telephone pole -- that eventually it was impossible to get in there and get back to work.  It would haunt me.  All I had to do was to get in there and pick up the pencil.


The solution, of course, was to simply get in there and pick up the "the f****ing pencil." I knew I was fine when I would wander into the studio, lean over the drafting chair, pick up a pencil and start noodling around in an insignificant area of the drawing. When my back would hurt from bending over, I'd straighten myself up, pull out the chair, sit down and continue working.

There was never any magic to it. The solution was always to get in there and pick up the f***ing pencil.  And yes, that's just the way I thought of it. The F-bomb pencil.  Pick up the damn pencil. Get to work.

There are a lot of folks who wait for inspiration to strike, and then they get started.  The artist Chuck Close famously dismissed those when he said,

"Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work..."  

I think he's dead on right.  (There's more to the quote, of course. Taken out of context it sounds nasty, but really isn't. Go here to read the whole quote.) You generate more ideas when you are working than when you aren't.

Which is why sometimes a clean studio is sometimes more intimidating than a messy one. After all, if it's already messy it can't usually get much worse, so you have less to "lose."

So although I do have a couple of things I really SHOULD be sewing, if none of them motivates me (and right now, none of them do), I find something to "noodle" around with, something that sparks my interest, but doesn't demand a lot of concentration. Once my conscious brain turns off by doing something that can appear mindless, my UN-conscious brain goes straight into creative mode and ideas start bubbling up and the next thing I know I'm in the happy zone of wrestling with a creative idea, of getting it out of my head and into fabric and up on the design wall.

Which brings me to what I have been playing with - I was browsing through the second collaboration book between Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran and I found "Red Sticks." 

I love Red. It's my favorite color.  So when I was at Quilted Threads last Saturday, I bought seven yards of the most glorious RED's! I'm taking a detour folks, the Quilt-along is gonna have to wait. I've picked up the pencil. I've picked up the Red Sticks.


Quiltdivajulie said...

Fantastic post ~ and I can't wait to see your REDs . . .

Anonymous said...

I love your thoughts on drawing and all. I was the same way about my art. I got in there every day and worked on it, even when I had no clue what I wanted to do. Can't wait to see your "reds".

Yvonne said...

Just what I needed to hear.....can't wait to see your new project. :)

Bridget said...

You are right. If we wait to be inspired, we will be sitting at the bus stop for a long long time. On another note, thanks for reminding me of the pickup sticks quilt. I want to do a yellow one and have one block done: The demo block Freddy Moran made when we were at an Empty Spools seminar a couple years ago. I've been collecting yellows for quite a while yet....Hmm...now where is that block?

Terri said...

I loved your post! It really speaks to me. I have the trouble of having to pass by the computer room on the way to the sewing room... The detour is very, very strong, hard to resist coming in here to see the latest, enjoy the camaraderie. So the sewing is put off for later....
I have a pamphlet from Close's show in Portland OR as Inspiration in my studio... I think it's too daunting. His work is amazing, and looks like a quilt to me, but I'd be crazy to try anything like it at this stage of my quilting experience. I need more practice, I think. His philosophy, sort of like Niki - Just do it... is how I make quilts at all. I started making them, and mistakenly showed them to my Mom. She's a perfectionist. Bad idea. I stopped making quilts for a while. Then I read the Editor's Letter in QNL while Bonnie Leamman was still in charge. She said that nobody makes something perfectly the first time. Just do it, and learn from it, and continue on learning. I started again, and have loved it soooo much, but I don't show any of them to my Mom.

I think a messy studio is inspiration... Look at that green laying next to that red and blue - WOW... and don't get me started about the reds. I love the idea and the color of the "Red Sticks" - saw a version over on Bumble Beans, I think. Look in the right hand column. Yummy.

I think inspiration is what accounts for the large numbers of UFO's still unfinished. If you were still that enthused about a project and had no new inspiration you would still be working on it to the finish. I say, if you feel pulled to make something new that you are inspired to make - go for it. We all do it. We learn from the project, and then if another comes along, well, it's a learning process.

I'd love to start one of these 'sticks' with you!!!! But then I wanted to start the letters quilt with you, too. I'm just going to have to make my days longer, or bypass this room.


Megan said...

Yaaaay for you Lynne. 7yds of reds sounds like a sensational indulgence. I see now why Millie was complaining - it wasn't that you'd gone to the quilt shop. It was that you'd brought back something that was more interesting to you than she was (at least for while!) LOL Looking forward to seeing how your quilt develops.

Sydney, Australia

Clare said...

Brilliant post and I so love that quilt.

jmb_craftypickle said...

I feel like part of the "YES!" club... your post today, SPOT ON! I have been thinking a lot lately about less thinking, more doing and your quote is just it!!! Thank you for today!

molly said...

Not sure how I got here, but here I am, and this is just what I needed to read---the hell with inspiration, whether for quilting, knitting or writing. The secret is to just "pick up the pencil!" Thanks for the kick in the pants!

Mary K said...

You are awesome. I agree that you just need to pick up a pencil. I have a notbook that is graph paper and a pencil by my chair. I will pick it up when ever . Usually when I am watching TV and doodle block or what ever.

Love the quote. I pick up another one from him,

“Far more interesting than problem solving is problem creation.”
― Chuck Close

That is so me.

Thanks again.

Mary K. Newberg,Oregon

Michelle C said...

Preach it, Sister! I am currently taking a detour of inspiration from the TWO huge top-of-the-page quilts in my studio....to follow a Bunny Trail. I sincerely hope it looks as good on fabric as it does in my head.