There are too many books on my bedside table, so I rarely make progress in reading any of them. And that could be the beginning and the end of this conversation, because my point is made right there in what began as an afterthought.
Except that it’s even more poignant because one of the books in that pile on my nightstand is Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and perhaps I ought to cease all other reading and activity and focus on finishing that book right away. And then begin all things again.
I have been trying lately to dedicate a bit of time each day to a sketchbook practice. I feel best when my creative juices are flowing; there are piles of ideas floating in my brain, too much to be sorted out at the easel. Thoughts that need capturing and lines that need making, shapes and forms and possibilities that don’t relate to the things I’m painting with a capital P during my studio time, so I’ve been trying to spend a few minutes each day sitting at my dining room table with my sketchbook. But I’ve noticed that it’s not entirely easy for me to get started.
I have a little set of watercolor paints set that I use for this practice. It’s the same set that I travel with, and it’s grown over time so that it’s not so little anymore. There’s a little tray of watercolor pans with bright colors that I love and a little Winsor Newton field set that was my father’s. It’s got two sets of brush pens - one Sakura and one Sai. A few brushes. A little cup for water. (Ok, two cups for water.) Three brushes that fill themselves with water which I think is magic. A bit of charcoal, a sea sponge, some pens. A small box of woodless colored pencils. Can you see where this is going? It’s too much, and growing all the time (the colored pencils weren’t in the kit four days ago) - because I love all of the supplies. And all of the ideas. And I want to use them all, all at once right this very minute. It’s overwhelming at best, an obstacle at worst.
I already know I do well with parameters - I prefer to eat the same breakfast every morning and you’ll almost always find me in some variation of jeans and red clogs - perhaps part of my restlessness about the sketchbook set is the unending possibility. Like the pile of books on my nightstand, perhaps the options are too vast.
Early in McKeown’s book he makes the point that choice is a verb, an action, and not choosing is an action too. By not choosing - not editing the options or offering myself a set of parameters - I am choosing the overwhelm, choosing the obstacle. Choice is constant, unrelenting, and sometimes it’s hard.
I can’t do everything. I can’t do everything. I can not do everything. And pretending that I can leads to doing nothing, or to doing nothing well.
Suddenly it’s so clear that it’s blinding: choice is an essential part of my work - in painting, in life.