With my relatively recent realizations about guardrails and the burn-out perils of not heeding them, I’ve been exploring more notions of space and where my most creative moments happen. I don’t mean simply the physical space of my studio but rather those annoyingly numbered and fast progressing ones in my calendar app.
I’ve been dreaming of what I always dream whenever I’m under a tight project deadline: days when I can wake up in the morning and wonder, “What would I like to work on today?”
You know, those rare days that non-artists believe artists have in unlimited supply.
The only device more speedily shaming than my grandfather’s Burpee Seed Clock hanging on my wall, is Fantastical, the app on my Mac…and my iPad…and my iPhone…all synced to my family’s devices…and filled in with big blocks of brightly colored deadlines and meetings that sneak up on me at all too regular intervals.
My favorite chunks of work-play time are the ones in which I let myself flit from thing to thing without regard to timers, numerical devices and apps, or even the setting sun. When I grow tired of the task at hand, or confused about where to go next with it, I let my eyes wander around my small space, notice something completely different and interesting, and then dive in until something else catches my eye.
I call this noodling, after my late friend Dot’s name for the best way to sightsee without an agenda. If noodling sounds like a dream-day in the studio, trust me; it is, and it’s all too rare!!!
While some might mistakenly view this as an airy-fairy artist’s typical workday, creativity itself is the (much needed) payoff.
Sometimes creativity comes in the big hurried rush of a looming deadline. Sometimes it comes in the day-to-day, creative problem solving of working toward a goal. More often that not, however, it comes when I’m doing something completely different the way Sherlock Holmes or Einstein would find solutions to complex problems while playing the violin.
Therein lies the magic of noodling. It is when I’m absorbed in something randomly begun that an elusive solution or completely new idea is suddenly there before me in my imagination like an actor appearing through the trap door, mysteriously revealed from the smoke of stagecraft’s dry ice.
Creative coach Jessica Abel refers to this noodling-time as “margin,” like the space around the text or image in a book. Margins are super important. Art in the margins of Medieval manuscripts is a whole topic unto itself and provides not only insight into the minds of the scribes and illuminators, but also to the readers (learn more here: Knight v Snail – Medieval manuscripts blog).
There is a tradition in Medieval Hebrew calligraphy and illumination that there must be equal white space to inked text on a page. As in all my own artwork, it is the negative space that sets off the positive design and makes the compositions cohesive.
Like pauses or “rests” in music, without space there is nothing but continuous sound or black ink.
The main content of a page might need to be all the work, even the creative work, that keeps a roof over my head. Still, I’m reluctant to accept the idea that creativity can only be the space between or around the main feature. To that end, I’ve realized that self-care and guardrails depend on blocking out chunks of time on my calendar for noodling.
It sounds silly or even counterintuitive to schedule not scheduling, but it’s the only way I’ve found to protect the time-space I depend on for creativity, sanity, and not smudging my fingers on a solidly inked page in the Book of My Life.
Eastern Repousse II: Rings & Cuff Bracelets