Time to Purge

“In purging ourselves of diseases we create, we become magnificent people.”  - Judith Light

“All set?” called George, as he shut the back of his dad’s pickup. “Just this!” I said, climbing into the passenger’s seat with a bag of clothes in my lap. Boxes and furniture tied down, we were heading to my new apartment in the city. At 18 years old, I was moving out on my own for the first time. 

I didn’t take all my belongings from my parent’s house. I took what I needed and some that I wanted. Bed, dresser, bookshelf, tv, cookware, record player. After moving everything in the new place, I was surprised at how much I’d simplified my life.

Sketchbook burning, July 2017

Soon, I was hired as a Summer RA at my college’s first dorm which came with a free room. It was small, but came with a bed, dresser, desk, and closet, so I sold my old furniture and threw my old trinkety gizmodgery away, again liberating me from stuff.

Eventually, after a few more moves, purging stuff each time, I got married and had kids, which brought new furniture, beds, plastic toys, yard stuff, cooking appliances, laundry machines, etc. So much for being free of stuff.

After we we split, we got rid of the house and moved to new places. I had a big yard sale, selling most of what I owned, so again – I was free! 

Now, I continue this tradition of purging and keeping needs to a minimum. While I still hold onto some nostalgic items, my sketchbooks are something I never purged away. They are a vital, pictorial record of my entire history and land, in tact, wherever I do. 

Until now…

Recently, while looking for extra space to store books, I realized I had over three dozen sketchbooks dating back to 1987, all stored in boxes. I needed to do something with them as they were taking up space and I rarely looked through them.

I decided I would consolidate them down into just one or two reference books. This meant going through every sketchbook and reviewing each drawing to see which pictures I’d keep and which could go away. 

The one-night project turned into a nighttime job that lasted over a week. It was a consuming process of cutting out pictures, sorting them by size, and trimming them down to fit into a new sketchbook.

Then, something happened that I didn’t expect. My little purge project became much bigger, for me – an intimate, detailed review of 30 years of drawing. I could see the development of my style from 18 year old to present. The total freedom in younger drawings, with expressive, wistful lines and unrestrained vibrant colors, to the hyper-controlled, precision of my drawings now. 

Lately, I’ve been question my style, not feeling a uniqueness or how to approach it. This experience, however, allowed me invaluable insight to my own abilities, rare for most artists. I’d been taking for granted the fun and attention to detail of my youthful work.

I remembered two of my professors telling me the only things I really learned in art school: Lila Chalpin, my writing teacher, now deceased, said, “Show me – don’t tell me!” In other words, don’t just tell me there’s a scene, illustrate the scene with cascading, vibrant details. Paul Celli, my drawing teacher, said, “You can clearly draw, that’s not in question; But, you need to unlearn everything you’ve learned up until now, and approach drawing like a child, again. Then, you’ll find fun and freedom!” 

They were the most precious acorns of advice I ever received about my work, which I’ve passed on to my own students, over the years, as well as my children. 

Decades later, I reflect upon those teachers words, again. I finished consolidating all my sketchbooks and rediscovered a style I’d developed after hearing their quotes. It was unmistakably familiar, yet felt completely new to me.

After I finished assembling the new reference book, using only the clipped images I’d pulled from the sketchbook purge, I set fire to all the unwanted books and pages, setting the old creative spirit free from my past and returning it back to Nature in its elemental forms. 

That’s led me to right now and the idea of purging my current style – both as a designer and illustrator, and the things I thought I knew. At my age, it’s vital to have something to strive for, a fresh, unique perspective in my work, to let go the lions of astringent complacency and clear the den for a new breed of wild animal to rule the plain. 

With that, I encourage every artist to review your own work, your brushes, pens, and your instruments of creativity, and to purge the unwanted, unused, and unvalued elements to reveal the basic necessities of what will force you closer to your art, the artist you are, and the artist you aspire to be.

I hope this month’s entry holds meaning for you. As always, thank you checking it out.