Seth Godin tells an on-point story about hearing author Steven King speak. At the Q&A at the end, someone asked, “What kind of pencils do you use?” Godin aptly points out the fallacy of thinking that using the same kind of pencils as King will make a writer more creative, and also what a waste of a good question moment.
As someone who works with, not only the written word, but also the quality of the line of the letters, I have to admit that I love knowing what kinds of tools and materials other artists utilize. I don’t think for a second that if I threw caution to the wind and used lead white pigments in the studio, where I often eat, that I’d be able to paint sunsets like J.M.W. Turner. However, knowing that lead white and orpiment were part of Turner’s arsenal in his quest for glowing skies answers a great technical mystery. – It also prevents me wasting too much time fighting with the titanium white in my own palette.
There is something utterly magical about seeing another artists’ box of paints or tools. Even staged in a museum, Charles Schultz’s complete study, Jim Henson’s office, or Georgia O’Keefe’s tackle box of paints all have the power to conjure the spirit, maybe not of the actual owner, but of their inspiration, those precious few moments calling to the creator to begin. I recognize it when I look at my own box of paints or container of repousse tools and see the infinite possibilities of what may come before I actually start.
We know their work. We know the plot. We know the ending. What we glimpse is the unspoken yet palpable prequel.