Back in the Autumn, I was having a vague winge to a friend about having no time to develop ideas. Inspiration mostly seems to come without problem, only to get clogged up in the brain, and then lost in the swirl of projects and emails and deadlines that are already on the table.
Can you relate?
The ideas had no place to go and certainly no landing strip. It was a little like Heathrow Airport with heavy snowfall, hence severe blockage on the runway! A situation I’ve come to call Heathrow Airport Syndrome. (When idea planes are circling the runway unable to land)
So, I took drastic steps and booked myself out to a cottage in Cornwall. My only specifications for my cottage search were thus:
1. Open Fire and/or Woodburning stove… ‘cos it’s the end of January.
2. Falmouth area (my old stomping ground as a foolish student)
3. Good friends to save me from the dreaded cabin fever and to talk rubbish to.
4. NO WIFI for concentration reasons.
A couple of days into my ideas week, I drove out to the ever-glorious St Ives, and settled into a lunchtime special of Fish and Chips with a harbour view. The idea today was to go someplace different. Walk around, take it in. I pondered over what in the world a ‘crab shack’ is? and Why there was a massive piece of seaweed in the middle of the road, Why did I nearly boil-in-the-bag in the Jumper shop? and other stella questions of life, the universe, and everything.
St Ives, I had forgotten is an artist town. Almost every other shop is a gallery. Some with actual real-life artists, in the actual flesh, actually working before our actual eyes! So much passion for their craft. There were hundreds of portraits, a million seascapes, six-trillion St Ives-scapes and maybe the odd quirky seagull on the canvases.
Dodging a hail storm, I stumbled into a particular gallery that only represented Cornish artists. My eye went straight to some gorgeous etchings on a table mid way through the shop. There were by Bernard Leach. Primarily a sculptor, but he had an ongoing love of drawing which was so evident. He once wrote that his life had been guided by two main principles, ‘a persistent love for drawing’ and ‘the search for truth’.
It’s amazing what a little bit of space, a different place can do to create a landing strip for ideas. After St Ives, I drove home, my mind just quietly percolating. Come Thursday after many cups of tea, I knuckled down in my make-shift studio (the living room of the cottage) got the fire going, and started to draw. By the end of the week I had storyboarded a picture/novelty book (very roughly) and designed my main characters, inked and colour and ready for presenting. I have no doubt there will be more polishing tweaking throughout the process- but what a useful time! If you have an idea, no matter what it is, but are suffering from the dreaded Heathrow Airport Syndrome with no room to land the idea plane. I can’t recommend enough just pushing aside all the day-to-day stuff, and squirrelling yourself away in a cottage on a hill for a week.
Sarah’s tips for creating an ‘Ideas Landing Strip’ :
1. Let Go. Just trust what you’ve got, and watch it unfold. Might be good, might not be. Be willing to experiment and play.
2. Talk. Grab a mate and talk about all those micro and macro things- you never know where a brilliant conversation can take you.
3. Step over the clammer. Get quiet, I mean really quiet.
4. Rebel! Go your usual way, then do the exact polar opposite. For example if you always draw in pen and ink, draw with a paintbrush. You’ll amazed how much it feeds back into your day-to-day artwork.
5. Ask questions What is a Crab Shack? etc create a funny back story, use it as a springboard to more.
I have a wonderful book at home it’s about art and the Christian faith entitled Scribbling In The Sand written by Michard Card. At the back there are letters to the artists. One letter I return to time and time again is Harold Best’s letter to the artist.
Here’s a extract that I find particularly challenging and inspiring:
“Furthermore, even though you have decided to explore as many kinds of art as possible, this is still not enough. Be interested in as many things outside of the arts as possible. Fill your day and your mind and your surroundings with curiosity. Find out how a steam engine works; find out why some buildings fall and others stand; find out why airplanes fly and Kierkegaard was able to write in the way he did; find out how a plow works and how the same law allows an airplane to fly and a boat to sail into the wind; find out why chaos theory is so theologically elegant; find out what Chomsky meant when he said that children are born bringing the sentence with them; we just give them the words.
Love a horse and talk to plumbers. Ask questions of everybody, don’t hide your ignorance, for ignorance is simply the unlit side of curiosity and the outside of the door to wisdom and knowledge.
Be a limitless person to others and maybe you will stretch them more than your art does. Let’s hope.”
~ Harold Best, letters to the artist. Scribbling in the Sand