The other night, my wife, Nan, gave me some of the cream of chicken and wild rice soup she’d made for some friends. It was out of this world good, as seconded by Craig and Susan when Nan brought them another dish two days ago (as one of them was briefly hospitalized for pneumonia and the other – guess which? – was no doubt subsisting on ramen and popcorn). They wanted to get her recipe.
Good luck with that.
There are two types of people in this world: those who never deviate from recipes in the smallest way, and those who view recipes the way youngsters first draw; seemingly choosing crayon colors at random and not only not drawing within the lines, but happily crossing the borders of the paper and right onto the table…
(Flashback to the time we had a rental home uptown. At one point the family renting the property had a young boy, perhaps three years old, aptly named – I’m not making this up – Attila. Nan and I were new to land lording, and had waited until they’d moved out before we inspected the quality of their house cleaning. Upon arriving, we noted that Attila, obviously enamored with the work of Cy Twombly (as am I, big time, but to everything there is a purpose and a place), had liberally scrawled on every vertical surface of the two story home in marker, pen, pencil, crayon, lipstick – whatever drawing medium the undisciplined but dedicated little darling had had on hand. Makes me wonder if the little hun has grown up to be an artist or perhaps moved from scourge of our property to scourge of society, like his namesake.)
Ok, so perhaps my description of those people who, like Nan, will never cook the same scrumptious meal twice, since they didn’t record what they threw into the pot the first time, is a bit unfair.
In the kitchen, the rare times I’ll cook something notably good (let’s see… I think twice?), it’s 100% due to following someone else’s recipe. I seem to think that if I deviate from the proscribed proportions as much as a gram, the resulting unstable ingredients will explode.
What Nan plates up, however, is invariably tasty despite her lack of adherence to what her husband believes to be the Law of the Kitchen. Her talents have been honed by having fed a family of seven for decades – what comes out of the oven these days took 10,000 hours to bake. So much discipline went into her seemingly effortless culinary creativity – a cream of chicken and wild rice soup not just for the stomach, but for the soul.
I mean, it was goooood.
Creativity, whether in the kitchen or in the studio, is such an interesting topic. It’s so hard to define – so hard to grasp. Similar to how I so wanted to grab hold of Attilla, or at least his parents, who’ll soon be unleashing him on all the rest of us. I keep watching the news for the day, ready to fly to the hills:
ATTILA ATTACKS, DESECRATES DENVER, MAYOR SAYS
And like the combination of ordinary ingredients that Nan combines to create dishes that make people want, as I did for the past two nights, to briefly pause during dinner and kiss her for a while out of sheer gratitude for the flavors she’d magically concocted, creativity is a mysterious admixture of things like talent, skill, inspiration, experience, intelligence, idiosyncratic interests and temperament, the ability to problem solve, an (I begrudgingly admit) Attila-like spirit, openness, humor, and that dreaded “D” word: discipline.
The combination is different for everyone. Like Nan’s dishes, you’ll never see two people with exactly the same one. God broke the mold with all seven and a half billion of us.
Speaking of two people, a while ago I attended a Shop Talk, put on by the Colorado Springs chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, or AIGA, at the Machine Shop, in Colorado Springs. This one was a talk given by Colorado Springs-based illustrator Luke Flowers.
Earlier that day I attended an artist’s talk by the NY based artist and visiting sculpture prof. Colgate Searle at the Colorado College, just weeks before I resigned from my shop tech position there in 2016.
Two stellar design and discipline-centric talks in one day.
In Colgate’s talk, my main takeaway was that –
a confidence in one’s skill set rather than a well defined overarching game plan for one’s career is a perfectly acceptable path (assuming you enjoy going where the wind blows). Colgate’s abilities have taken him in a number of disparate directions in his creative life, and he has a confidence that all the knowledge he’s acquired will continue to open doors. Another takeaway: Colgate said he didn’t know what he’d ever do if he had a lot of money. Then quickly said he’d probably use it to buy time. (Time, I take it, to be able to create more.) All who watched his talk were surely as impressed as I was with the quality, variety, and volume of his work, as with his ability to articulate concepts. He’s a natural teacher, perhaps thanks to being the son of long time RISD professor Colgate M. Searle, Jr.
In the talk Luke gave later that day, I was again impressed with both his skill and his work ethic. Like Colgate, Luke’s been honing his craft for well over a decade, but it’s only been in recent years that he’s zeroed in on both his personal style and the kind of work he primarily wants to do; children’s books.
Following Luke’s talk, during the Q & A, I asked him to describe his typical work day, as he’d made mention of how one of the things he had to sacrifice for his career was sleep. He responded that he typically works an 8 – 5 day, at which point, I thought, “Oh – well, that doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary.”
Then he said that, after dinner, and after he and his wife have put the kids to bed and have finished watching another episode of some series, he’ll head back to his work computer and focus on his non-client illustrations from, say, 10 pm until 2 or 3 am.
Fueled, in part, by Luke’s career goals, and in part by whichever brand of coffee his wife finds on sale. Then he’ll sleep until the kids wake up. Wake up at 6, to gear up for another 8 – 5. If anyone thinks Luke’s success is solely due to talent or luck, the ambitious schedule I’ve just described ought to disavow them of such thoughts. There were a lot of other things I took from both talks, for instance, Luke’s idea of writing up an “art bucket list”; a list of dreams that one would like to achieve in one’s creative life, as well as a shorter term dream list for each year. Like Colgate, I’ve probably more of a go-where-the-wind-blows personality (drawing from the model in art school doesn’t necessarily teach one about drawing up business models), but more recently, Nan and I have, on a yearly basis, begun to think more strategically about where we want to go and what we want to be about in life.
Those were just a few of my takeaways from the recent talks from two skilled guys who’ve put in the time and devoted the discipline.
Try this at home, kids. Only, make it your home, not mine.