Most of the time when I sit on the couch and read books to my kids, I'm focused on speaking the words out loud in a way that flows and keeps them engaged. Every now and then, I pause to enjoy the artwork.
The other day I was reading a book to my youngest son (he's five right now). On the way to the first page of the actual story, we came upon the dedication page which read:
"For my sister Christa"
And just like that, the creative process of that book became very real to me. This book was written by a real person, for real people. It was dedicated to a real sister, by a real brother.
I had a sudden sense of what the author must have felt as he made his story come alive. Painting the paper and cutting it and arranging it just so. Playing with the words until there was nothing else left to change.
So much work. So much play. All those little pieces of paper. All those pages.
And then it was finished. At some point he just knew the book was done. In the moment when I read the opening pages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I thought about how much joy Eric Carle must have felt when he honored his sister by dedicating his newest book to her.
Looking at each picture, I can't help but feel what it must have been like in those moments when he could see a page coming together, bit by bit, right before his eyes.
That's the feeling I'm after when I create. That feeling is why I make art, even when it isn't always fun and easy. I crave the sensation I get in the moment when the vision hits me.
Sometimes the feeling shows up when I see the vision in my mind's eye before the project is ever started. Sometimes it happens right at the end when I'm putting on the finishing touches.
Occasionally, the feeling hits me when life has come full circle and I suddenly see the meaning my subconcious mind put into the work, months or years later.
However it comes about, there is nothing quite like that beautiful moment of revelation when the connection is made and something new and exhilerating is brought into the world and recognized for the treasure it is.
Paging back through the book, I thought about just how much work went into its creation. Not just in the days when Eric Carle was working on it, but also in the many years leading up, the thousands of hours he must have spent developing his techniques and his craft.
In those times of experimentation and practice, I don't think he had the faintest idea that one day he would create a children's book which would be translated into over sixty languages and sell over forty million copies. As he developed his taste and style through exploration and play, he was simply exercising the working out of his DNA, with no clue about where it all would take him.
I recently watched an interview of Mr. Carle. He talked about ideas, about how one day a new idea seems like the greatest thing, and the next day it feels like the worst idea ever. Back and forth, until one day it is just right. He explained that "just right is a feeling. There's nothing scientific about it."
In all the thinking and writing I've been up to lately, I keep coming back to that same idea. Art is about chasing that feeling, working up to something until it feels just right. Nobody else can tell you when it will happen or what you have to do to get there. You simply feel your way through the process, experimenting with ideas and practicing the skills which seem most likely to get you where you want to go.
When you're in the work, there are no thoughts of grand importance. You were born to create, to do what for you is the equivilant of painting and cutting little pieces of paper and gluing them, one page at a time, steadily throughout your life, doing what brings a smile of surprise to your face.
That's the secret formula, to constantly put yourself into the kind of work that leads back to that feeling of just right, that feeling of surprise and joy. Some days are dry and discouraging, but those days are worth it in pursuit of the moment when the thing you've been puzzling over suddenly appears in front of you. And it is all yours. And you get to share it.
Because if you experience that feeling and are able to put it out there, chances are someone else will experience it as well. A connection will be made, a recognition transcending space and time.
We were made to create. We were made to bring new things into the world.
And enjoy them.
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