Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Idea Catchers

Have you seen a Native American dream catcher?? It's a wrapped hoop with a woven "web" at its center, decorated with streamers, beads and feathers. The story goes that if you have one hanging where you sleep it will "catch" all the bad dreams in its web and only allow the pleasant ones to pass through.

I learned a while back that ideas need "catching" as well. Creative people seem to get periods where ideas flow faster than streams during a spring thaw -- and other times when the stream quiets down to a soft trickle. Hopefully you have a way to catch these treasures when your own inspirational stream starts flowing. I keep a variety of journals and sketchbooks -- yes simultaneously, although I didn't plan for it to happen that way. They allow me to get ideas down on paper as they arrive, whether en mass or just one at a time.

I started my creative life as a writer, so I kept composition notebooks at my side for journaling and wrote morning pages in them daily for over ten years. When I started learning visual art, some of the ideas I'd describe in words would make no sense to me when I returned to them later, so I bought a spiral bound sketchbook and started to draw out my ideas with some added notes. However, I was still too emotionally attached to my composition notebooks to give them up, so I kept writing and eventually drawing in them while also drawing and writing in my sketchbooks. The two seem to go with me everywhere in my tote -- I don't feel right if they aren't wherever I happen to be, so I carry them to and from my studio, my home office and sewing room. When I go on vacation anywhere, they go too.

However, neither the composition notebook nor spiral bound sketch book fit neatly into my purse for times when I didn't want to carry a tote bag. A three pack of thin moleskin sketchbooks at Borders were precisely the right size and weight to tuck into my purse.

If you're keeping count, that's now three places where I store ideas, but it doesn't stop there.
To create a log and practice journal for my language marks, I found a wonderful spiral bound drawing pad with a hard, black cover. Several times a week (although my good intentions were to do this daily), I experiment with letter forms and tools and record the marks. I want to create a whole library of marks as this idea of my own personal "language" develops. But this doesn't mean that I don't also record language marks in both my spiral bound notebook and sketchbooks.

Since I also collect inspiration from other artists and do research on the Internet, I have a big three ring binder and numerous file folders with magazine clippings, downloaded and printed articles and art references. Some of these get stapled or glued into a sketchbook, some just get placed in folders. And just for fun I keep another larger spiral sketchbook where I periodically clip and paste art works that trigger ideas in me for color combinations, texture, pattern or design ideas. This one has been ignored lately, but it's great fun to rip apart magazines and it entertains me when I don't feel like going to my studio and working!

It seems that I am curiously and very strongly emotionally attached to this eclectic assemblage of idea-capturing materials. Part of me longs for long rows of neatly organized sketch books, journals and reference materials on shelves that will precisely detail the progression of my work and development as an artist. In reality, I scribble and scrawl rather than draw or write attractively and jump around between the journal and sketchbooks. I will favor one for a while, then suddenly be drawn to record most of my ideas in another one for a bit -- hither and yon, in no particular linear order. What seems to be important is that they stay NEAR me -- I get almost frantic when I am separated from them for any length of time.

Now that I'm confessing, I also must confess that each time I go back through the pages of my sketchbooks or journals, I am AMAZED at the quantity of ideas, quotes, drawings, records that these small volumes contain -- most of which would make little to no sense to anyone but me. They are personal and sometimes totally unrelated. Sometimes they include notes from lectures I've attended, books I want to check out, website addresses-- sometimes I write appointments or phone numbers or personal affirmations in them as well. It's an amazing time capsule of my creative life and I find it fascinating to go back through them -- they've captured so many details that I would have totally forgotten if I hadn't taken the time to record them. Even if I don't keep ideas in just one place, the subjects and themes are so constant that moving back and forth between them isn't difficonfusing. Quite the opposite, it helps me see how all these bits and pieces intersect or connect.

When I reach the last page of one sketchbook or journal, I feel a little twinge of sadness, like reading the final page of a great book, but that turns into excitement again when I open a brand new one. It has the same tantalizing sensation of new beginnings that I feel every New Year's Eve.

As you may be well aware of by now, I am an advocate for EVERY creative person having some sort of system to record and store ideas. I'd love to hear what tools and methods work for you and whether you manage to have some sort of organization for this part of your artistic process.

1 comment:

  1. I started with the three ring binder where I stored patterns and ideas from magazines. Then when I started doing more arty than traditional quilts, I started filing ideas in manila folders - again mostly things torn out of magazines but this time from all different sources. Like you, many of these were pulled for color ideas. Eventually I bought a thick journal size sketchbook because sketching was being touted as a valuable tool. I did find it helpful, but I've never been very consistent about it.

    I soon found this big sketchbook rather cumbersome, and since it wasn't spiral bound, hard to use. I spotted a much smaller spiral bound one with a sueded cover that could easily be packed when I traveled and hoped that would increase my sketching. Not a lot, but I still love that book because of its size, ease of use and that deliciously textured cover.

    I recently read a suggestion to paste pics you're pulling from magazines for whatever reference right in your sketch book, so I am considering doing this to help fill up that big hard to use one. One painting I want to include is a western scene. I chuckle that anyone running across it might wonder what about that scene of cowboy and horse in the prairie would be of interest to me, but it isn't anything about the painting at all; it's the colors used that caught my eye. I think it would be very helpful to me at this stage to pair such a painting reference with actual fabric swatches to match the colors I'm noticing as possible working color palettes for my own designs.

    Yes, these sketchbooks are fascinating to revisit. I surprise myself at what I have drawn in them. I didn't know I had it in me!