Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Challenge Week One: Candy

Challenge #1: What was your favorite childhood candy? By the end of the week: find, purchase and consume (or devour) your favorite childhood candy. Use all your senses. Record your experience, memories, and thoughts in your sketchbook and, if you'd like, share here on The Paper Compass.

While I have many childhood memories of summer, one of the most prevalent is of eating frozen Charleston Chews in a damp bathing suit while laying on the blazing hot Astroturf-carpeted tennis deck of the Innis Arden Country Club in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. The time spent at the country club is disproportionately recorded in my memory, but that makes sense as it involves several semi-prominent childhood experiences: my first (and only) synchronized swim performance to Pink Cadillac; the first 6 foot long sandwich I had ever seen (and eaten); and The High Dive. There were hours filled with golf and tennis lessons, many laps completed in a sloppy-but-determined manner as a member of the junior swim team, weekend family cookouts, and the highlight of the day: a single piece of candy, as allocated by my dad, and signed for using the “chit.”

Candy was kept in an industrial-sized freezer behind the white laminated counter of the pool snack bar manned by teenagers with their collars turned up. Rather than taste, logic governed the selection of the Charleston Chew: it was the biggest (read: longest) piece of candy in the freezer. Hence it was the best ROI for the single selection my brother and I were given. After standing on my toes to sign the chit with a stunted golf score card pencil, the candy was taken up to the tennis deck to be either cracked into pieces and eaten slowly, or gnawed at, the chocolate melting first, until a bite sized piece came off.

In retrospect, I marvel that I still have teeth.

Candy seems to (sadly, yet fortunately) hold less appeal as we grow older. Yet, it is a powerful vehicle for tapping into memories and into the mindset of our younger-selves as seen in the instance above.

This inspires the first Summer Challenge: Candy Treat. What was your favorite childhood candy? Where did you buy it or whom shared it with you? Did you have it all year round or was it something seasonal, like the frozen Charleston Chews?

This week make it a To Do list priority to find your favorite candy from childhood. Once you have it, take a good 15 minutes to enjoy (or take in) the experience of eating it. Record your thoughts, memories, and experience in your sketchbook—and here on the blog in the comments section!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Challenges Commence! Tapping into a Season of Creative Experiences

“She needed the sun to mellow and temper her mood to the sticking point.” – The Awakening, Kate Chopin

Summer is my favorite season for creative exploration. Fall is for thinking and working, winter for nesting and dreaming, spring for planning and awakening, and summer—summer is for relaxing and adventuring. This combination of playfulness and exploration seems to unlock something within. The veil between the current moment and memory seems thinner, more transparent, lending itself to glimpses of our childhood; our own current desire to slow down and enjoy, even if just for an afternoon; and sometimes it allows us to rediscover our inner wanderlust and desire to try new things. All of these elements come together to create a perfect season for tapping into our deep well of personal experiences for creative inspiration.

Last summer, inspired by a random childhood memory of bubble gum, I decided to revisit Big League Chew. It became a weekend mission to locate a pack of Big League Chew, which I was lucky to find down town at Walgreens. On the way back home, I opened the pouch and the scent of the powdered strings of gum, with its deep chemical purple color, transported me back to elementary school and the local 5&10 store C.W. Curry’s in Old Greenwich.

All this before I even put the gum in my mouth, which was its own time-travel experience. I was so excited by this endeavor that I enlisted my childhood partners-in-crime, my brother and sister, to do the same thing by the end of the week. This call to action, usually in the form of a text message, to hunt something down to remember it better, continued informally over the summer and was a point of much discussion of old and good memories. It also was a great source of details for stories that I was writing in my creative writing workshop that I take in the summer with Julia Thacker.

This summer, I thought that I would use the next eight weeks, the “dog days of summer” to invite all The Paper Compass readers to embark on Summer Challenges and share their experiences. I will post the challenge and then everyone can reply in the comment thread. You can speak of the memory, or the act of doing the challenge, or discuss a creative project that you may be inspired towards. Many of my memories were captured in my sketchbook or short writing assignments. I encourage you to do the same so that you can record the experience for future inspiration.

I hope that you will join us on this playful and creative exploration of the summer season.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Delay Tactics: In Search of the Perfect Sketchbook or Refreshing Your Relationship with Your Sketchbook, Part II

A few weeks ago, inspired by my desire to reclaim my sketchbook usage from the acres of business meeting notes taking over its pages, I set out on a short walk to the local art & craft store. With the treaspassing fickleness of Goldilocks, I had been through many sizes and shapes of sketchbooks in the previous months. My intention now, was to return to my visual, idea exploration roots in the soon-to-be-found, Perfect Sketchbook.

With the precision of a visual thinker and one who obsesses over paper, I had been mulling it over for weeks. I wanted a sketchbook that was at least 8.5 x 11, thin rather than thick for ease of carrying, have a hard cover, rich smooth pages possibly perforated, a pocket and an elastic closure for when I abusively stuffed things inside the cover.

Thirty minutes later, twenty of which had been spent comparing sketchbooks from the generous selection that crowded the long aisle, I was still not satisfied. The options existed but never in the right combination. I headed home, determined and stubborn and still without a sketchbook.

In the next few days, I hunted down sketchbooks during visits to book stores, paper stores, and art stores all without discovery of The One. It was beginning to turn into an exercise in over-thinking and (I began to scent) a procrastination tactic. There was a lurking left brain sense that only this Perfect Sketchbook would help me return to a sense of play and productivity. Not true, I said. It is only a vehicle, only a tool.

So I returned to my starting point in the aisle of the art & craft store that smelled satisfyingly like fresh paper and oil paints. The worn linoleum of the aisles was smooth and dusty under my soft-soled shoes. I worked my way back through the aisle, touching the textures of the sheets, the heft of the book in my hand, until I found it: a sketchbook very close to my dreamed up specifications. With its canvas cover, slim page volume and thick paper, I decided it would do just fine.

The lesson learned was not one of looking and not seeing (although that too is true) but of setting an expectation level that prevented me from quickly taking action. This idea that I needed The Perfect Sketchbook to begin my new mission, was a classic over-thinking tactic of believing in the tools more than myself.

When I came back to the aisle of the art store, I let myself experience the selection as it was, rather than projecting what I wanted onto it—which inevitably lead to nothing being the right fit. Similarly, sometimes when we are creating, it is easy to shut ourselves down based on an aspiration, rather than taking an idea from where it currently is and working through the many stages of action to make it into what you want it to be.

When I reconnected with my goal, I knew that it wasn’t about obtaining The Perfect Sketchbook, but actually reconnecting with my visual, curious, playful self on paper using the sketchbook. In stepping back to see the big picture of the goal, the elements of what would work opened up before me.

Thinking Points

This experience was a nice way to see some of my behavioral and thinking habits and inspired some questions that may be of interest to you too.

• What artist tools do you use that make you feel more creative than others? Do these empower you or limit you in anyway?
• What ideas are you not putting into action because of lofty ideals? Is there a place that you could start teasing out the idea and be comfortable experimenting?
• Are you attached to a certain style of sketchbook or type of writing or painting tool? If so, what would happen if you swapped it out with something different? How would your work or thinking process change?
• Are there any points of a project where you are stuck? If you re-address your goal on a broad level, does it help you see beyond the sticking point?

If any of the above points resonated with you, take the time to try something different or step back and gain a different perspective. Write/draw/explore the answer in your sketchbook (of course!) Also, responses and sharing to the above questions are always welcome.