When asked how I approach the blank page, I liken the process to the way I approach an empty room when allowed to fill it to my personal taste. Similarly, when faced with an empty room, my take on designing and decorating the space resembles my daily process as a writer.
When given a creative task, where do you begin? Are you inspired by a mood, a color, a book, a remark? Are you spontaneous in your approach – impulsive even – and carried away by whimsy? Are you more likely to be a planner? Are you driven by needs?
And what about those pesky limitations we all deal with? Do constraints overshadow your initial desires — time, money, skill sets necessitating compromise — or do you transform any obstacle to your advantage? Do the answers to these questions result in a resounding “it depends?”
Designing From an Empty Page… Sort Of
To some degree, when I sit to write, here or elsewhere, I confront the same possibilities as a designer given carte blanche, who is busy sizing up four walls, a ceiling, a floor, lighting… and wondering where to begin.
Naturally, a professional designer navigates by a professional process. (Likewise, a writer.) The designer also has a mission that involves satisfying the client who will have ideas about the use of the space, established taste (though that may be an assumption), objects to be incorporated, along with budget and time constraints. There is a larger context of course, with some of us more attentive to it than others — adjoining interiors, exteriors, and the integrity of materials, property and neighborhood.
Might we also say that the “audience” for the designer is wider than her client, just as the audience for a piece of writing may be broader than one imagines? Few may “live” it, but many will see it. And don’t both designer and writer have reputations to honor as well?
As for the client, she may enjoy following trends (and have the resources to make changes frequently to keep up). She may rely heavily on the opinions of family and friends (a desire to please or at least, not offend). She may have distinct tastes and preferences of her own.
Can we say the same of the writer? Even if she works in isolation, at some point, doesn’t she wish for the appreciation and acknowledgment of others? Perhaps this is an extensive circle; perhaps her most critical feedback comes from an audience of one.
My Style? Books and Art… Then Everything Else!
To me, no space feels right without books and art. Anywhere I’ve ever lived and at any age, both have been present – from my bedroom as a child to my dorm room in college; from my first apartment to the house I lived in when married — and certainly this is true of the cozy space I call home today.
If I had to cop to a “trend?” That would be it. Books and art!
There were plenty of raised eyebrows when people would enter my home — my taste in art is not for everyone — yet I always displayed what was interesting to me, which entailed images and objects I considered to be soothing, inspiring, provocative, energizing and always new.
While I don’t miss cleaning my former home, I certainly do miss the ample wall space I had for drawings, prints, and other works. Fortunately, I’m very comfortable hanging art salon style, which is common in Europe and useful in a challenging space.
As for the artwork, some was by friends, others by much-loved printmakers and painters, and of course, by my children. There were little nooks and crannies where I could stack my books or line them up on shelves, and much as I have been known to dress myself starting from the shoes (’tis true), I would often start “doing” a room from a single work of art, from which everything else flowed.
In fact, I would repaint walls for a work of art, rearrange furniture for a work of art, and frequently move the art around simply for the delight in seeing it from a different view.
And why not? Shouldn’t we decorate starting from what we love?
I will add that all of this was to the amusement of my children. As for my spouse at the time, he didn’t seem to notice, and I took that as a plus.
Madly in Love With Red!
My favorite colors – for myself?
- Red with black, grey, other neutrals
- Jewel-tone blues
- Occasional jolts of fuchsia or orange
When I’m really in the mood for a change, I accomplish it inexpensively through switching out pillows and linens.
Ah, Designing (Daily?) From the Empty Page
The blank page can be far more cruel than the empty wall, the unfinished floor, and the array of objects that have yet to find a comfortable resting place.
When confronted with where to begin when it is time to write, I am led to consider my sources of inspiration, and these include:
- recent conversations
- passages in newspapers or articles
- my favorite poetry
- my mood
- a phrase that pops into mind (seemingly out of nowhere)
- my constraints: time, competing priorities
- functionality: how I plan to use / reference an article in other sources (not unlike considering the uses of a room)
Our Many Styles
I have an evolving style in both fashion and interiors. Don’t we all?
I have multiple (evolving) styles when it comes to writing. For those who earn our keep through creative skills, isn’t this a necessity?
I have favorite colors that recur (in clothing and décor), just as I have favorite constructions and words — and difficulty (like all writers?) when it comes to “killing my darlings.”
I have space constraints in my current (tiny) home, and those constraints encourage greater degrees of creativity, resourcefulness, and editing — all excellent skills to hone.
My writing styles reflect their objectives, their constraints, and applicable context. For example, when I write for a business client, what I produce differs dramatically from a lifestyle column, or an essay for an art catalog. In the decorating example, when redoing rooms for my boys at a certain stage, it was essential that the process involve them and the results suit their usage, their taste, and their enjoyment. In all instances, I remain true to myself, which is a matter of striving for quality results, work process, and if possible — taking pleasure in both.
The Importance of Honoring Environment
I consider it important to honor the integrity of architecture, the integrity of a street or neighborhood, and likewise, a community as a whole. I suspect that these notions are increasingly ignored, if not slowly being lost.
I believe that a neighborhood of cozy bungalows is poorly served by developers who snatch up a few, raze them to the ground, and replace them with costly, soulless McMansions.
Were I to decorate a home in the South of France, I wouldn’t fill it with Chippendale chairs, any more than I would fill a glass and concrete contemporary overlooking the Pacific ocean with nothing but 18th century furnishings. I believe this is about honoring the architectural integrity of a space. Happily, I love modern, colonial, and Provençal interiors though I suspect I am most at ease when I can accommodate an eclectic mix… all the more reason I adore cities like New York and Paris.
Many moons ago, I stayed on a gorgeous Greek Island in a small cottage. The interiors were cool and spartan, a mix of white that reflected the light, almost nothing whatsoever on the walls, and touches of blue to match the Aegean. Had I attempted to bring my usual taste into an interior like that, I would have disrespected the setting, disrespected my neighbors, disrespected the culture and history of the locale, and felt entirely at odds with my surroundings.
I find that when everything “works” — be it décor or a piece of writing – my experience ceases to be about me. Rather, I am transformed by the space that is created of color, shape, texture, material, light… or the magic and meaning of impeccably architected words.
This is a free form “write” as part of the monthly BIO series courtesy of Marsha at Splenderosa. Be sure to stop by and read all the wonderful posts on the topic of approaching an empty space.
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