As an artist and a teacher I have developed numerous ways to inspire myself and my students. I even began a book about how to keep going as an artists called, "101 Ways to Make Art." The book records ways I hit snags but kept going, because art is all about that. To be an artist you have to keep on keepin' on. In the book "Art and Fear" the authors David Bayles and Ted Orland say, "Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again - and art is all about starting again."
I knew this, but one time it failed me for so long that I wondered if I would ever work again. My disinterest and fundamental malaise was so deep, and my despair so total, that I stopped working for longer than a normal fallow period. None of my carefully crafted ideas worked.
In my search for a way out of the doldrums I read Barbara Sher's book "Wishcraft" and one phrase struck me: "Stay beneath the radar of your resistance." Making something big could make it impossible - setting up complex structures and proscribing routines could, like many abandoned New Year's resolutions, wake up the dragon of resistance. The way to avoid this was to do the smallest possible thing I could in the direction I wanted to go. It meant finding what seemed inconsequential enough that my resistance stayed asleep.
I decided I would do something to one index card a day. When we lived in the mountains we sometimes kept a drip going to keep our water lines from freezing: this was like that - a constant tiny bit that kept the stream of creation going, so small that my resistance wouldn't notice. I cut up watercolor paper into 3" x 5" index cards and began, staying as simple as possible: a brush stroke, a word, gluing on a stamp or wine label.
Pretty soon I was lying in bed in the morning thinking about what I would put on the card. Then I decided this was a journal, and I should give it to my kids, and since I have 3 kids I should make 3 cards a day. The size was small enough so I always had them with me: in my purse, my backpack, my pockets. I drew while standing in line at the bank, at bus stops, in airplanes. I began to collect ephemera from daily life and glue it on the cards. The drip became a flow.
What I discovered is that even the smallest amount of involvement can increase more readily than something that has been abandoned. When you keep alive a "chispas," a spark, you can always blow it into flame. But if you abandon your hearth entirely it takes a great act of will to get a fire going. If you like the water metaphor better, keeping the dripdripdrip going meant I could turn on the faucet anytime. If I had let the pipes freeze, it would take a huge amount of effort to get water flowing again.
I now have thousands of these cards. They are a testing ground for new ideas, a place to record thoughts, a palette of new processes, a scrapbook of ephemera, and a record of my life. I have shown pieces to prospective clients, given lectures with them as the primary visual, and amazed students with the simplicity of my traveling art card set-up. I have a plan to connect them into a huge wall of cards - on one side they will form a painting (like a photo mosaic): the other side will be random. And though I have not done them every day, in ten years I haven't had a period when I couldn't do anything: I always have the cards.