Solving the Blank Canvas

January 25, 2021


Last week, Amanda Gorman’s recitation at President Biden’s inauguration touched my heart. Her words reinvigorated me and many on the power of hope. I was gobsmacked by her performance. She took me off guard, this young citizen, to have so much wisdom, and to impart it with such grace and poise.

Her later interview with Anderson Cooper offered fascinating perspective on the creative process:

One part stood out: she does not work in pictures, she works in words. As a poet she creates and forms, even from the start, with words.

This got me thinking about creating, and about starting. The start is a scary place. The blank page. The empty canvas. I used to believe that the mark I made when thoughts first become real needed to leap out of my brain fully formed, perfect. Anything less would be an embarrassment. I still work to overcome this fallacy.

I had good teachers that helped me understand the creative process. I learned to avoid the trap of expectation of initial perfection through the concept of ‘brushstrokes’. Peter H. Reynolds gave me this gift early in my career: “Articulate an idea with a series of brushstrokes.” All that matters about the first stroke is that you make it, that it exists. Then go back, over and over, as needed and as you desire.

Peter’s brushstrokes concept is reflected in nature. Like a fractal you can see the natural world using ‘brushstrokes’ in the blossom of a cherry tree, the building of a sandbar, or evolution itself.

Gorman’s answer to Cooper on ‘working in words’ made me think, how do I dream? How do I envision, and create? In my line of work I find myself matching my articulation to the need of the team. I use written words in the form of a functional spec. Sometimes a sketch in notebook, or a very basic wireframe in tool like Figma. Photoshop even, when more fidelity is needed. I’m not particularly skilled in any one of these practices. But none of these is my craft. My work is to make dreams real through collaboration. I apply this (mostly) to apps and technology related business efforts.

Together with so many partners and clients, with brushstrokes ever improving, we build. We create.