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When I'm sketching ideas on those graph paper pages, I feel more creative, and the ideas just flow!

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Steak, Soup, or Casserole, We All Have an Approach to Life
 


 

We're moving, and I am therefore packing. This involves many boxes of books, which I move a few at a time. I stopped counting at fifty boxes, sat down and took a hard look at my approach to life.

I like to draw sketchily, using my pencil to make a few lines at a time in search of the one right line. (I admire artists whose one flowing line captures a profile with deft precision, like this sketch of Marvin done by his mother when he was three.) I like to write in a series of rough drafts, approximating ever more closely what I mean. I like to cook casseroles, preferring to assemble a pan of lasagna than broil a steak. With a long list of ingredients no one ingredient, no one decision, can sink the ship.


 


Marvin, age 3, drawn by his artist-mom, Victoria Runge.
This is a style I really admire.

I can get myself to do almost anything by approaching it bit by bit. It's come to be my style, characterizing everything from reading to decorating. I approach life by spreading myself over a few areas, figuring that if one goes south, I've always got something to fall back on. It's a casserole approach. But as I pack up my books--spread out over thirteen bookcases--I realize that the sum total of many decisions to buy a book has a cumulative effect that brings its own day of reckoning.

I tell students their style, as an artist, is simply the sum total of how they make decisions. And when they've developed a style that is theirs alone, and not the product of trying to look like someone else, their work will be recognizable across a crowded room. Think of Dr. Seuss--at every decision point, he veers toward flowing line and maximum silliness; he has ways of drawing he defaults to consistently; it adds up to a life's work.

I have a friend whose style is Patience: she takes on a project she deems worthwhile and does not count the cost of time, money or effort. I watched once as she made soup--which was perfect, when it was finished, two hours late because getting it right demanded a two-hour round-trip to the store for an exact ingredient. Me, the casserole cook, would've thrown in a substitute and run with it. I seldom get perfect results.

We all have an approach, a way we handle Life. Some of us barrel into a project head-on, and wrap it up in one fell swoop. I approach it sideways, doing little bits of work around the edges of the main project, then step into it once I've gotten my toes wet. I mounted an art show by doing the drawings bit by bit after collecting thrift store frames bit by bit over the course of a year. I tricked myself into thinking the project was No Big Deal because I approached it incrementally. I was happy with the result, but it could easily have gone astray for lack of a unifying theme.

Some put things off until the approach of the Very Last Minute gets the creative juices flowing, and then are up all night in a burst of creative fervor. The Very Last Minute kills my creativity. Its only effect is to cause me to spend the night before the due date crafting my apology for the missed deadline. I start weeks in advance, doing little bits and never exactly diving in. Any style has its benefits and drawbacks. Mine lacks splash and drama, but is strong in detail, because when a task is approached bit by bit, the bits assume added importance and repay attention.

This could easily devolve into a comparison of styles, an argument against perfectionism or a railing against sloppy approximations. That's not the point I want to make. Each of us will do better if we are aware that we have an approach to life, and whatever that approach, it has its strengths and weaknesses. When I face a situation that's gonna demand a steak, I take a deep breath and step out of my usual haphazard way of doing things. I know my habitual approach is not the best approach for some tasks, but the awareness is enough to help me step back and choose a different albeit less comfortable approach when I need to. As long as I don't confuse My Style with The Way Things Must Be Done, I can approach each task with mindfulness and flexibility.

Check out my website: Marycoonsdesigns.com for some of the ingredients of my casserole.


 


 

 

 

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