28 Jun 2015

Inspiration's Den of Iniquity

In December 2012, I came across an article in Brain Pickings about The Daily Routines of Great Writers, and their creative space and process. This got me thinking about my own daily routine (or lack thereof) as a (yet-to-be-published) writer. I remember commenting on BP's Facebook page on the subject, sharing what a 'typical' day was for me as a writer:
"My personal routine as a writer is simply not to have any... I write in a state of distraction and urgency, not to say chaos, in noisy places, on random bits of tatty paper, guided by the guises, quirks and fancies of inspiration, driven by both emotion and rationale. You will never find me locked away in solitary confinement, sat at a desk in a neat and tidy room, writing calligraphic-style on the beautiful pages of a beautiful notebook, within a set timeframe like this is the day job. I may be a writer but never aspire to look like one either."

Brett Easton Ellis' The Typewriter Campaign with Persol

All in all, I couldn't help but be a little taken aback by the lack of creative process in some of those daily lives I was reading about. There was a rigor, a rigidity, a structure, an orderliness, and a predictability resulting from repetitive acts, that fashioned what a typical writer's day was supposed to look like. If anything, it verged on the superstitious, the mechanical and the obsessive, which I found at odds with creativity and untransferrable to a less disciplined character like myself. There is method in my madness though, yet I find that I would be counter-productive if I were subjected to some rigid routine pattern.

For me, imagination, curiosity, observation and inspiration - the intermingled fuels that feed creativity - work hand in hand with the act of creating, a.k.a. the art form. It is a unison work in progress, a symbiosis that accompanies the artist beyond the projects they are working on. It is a way of life. Creativity is very messy and undisciplined - and that is the beauty of it! Inspiration hits you anywhere and at any time, whether the moment is appropriate or not, whether you are in the mood to transcribe it there and then - or not. It is up to you to seize the day as it turns out to become, capture the spark in its blessing, as it twinkles at you for you to translate into creative genius - or just let it peter out, often never to be able to rekindle it again, at least in its very same form.

Christian Dell Table Lamp, circa 1929-1930 (pict source)

Back to the Brain Pickings article, Ray Bradbury was on that same wavelength:
"My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this." - Ray Bradbury
The creative urge is what defines artistic life as a holistic experience. It shatters to smithereens any preconceived idea around the 'typical' working day. It happens and you deal with it - or you don't. Multi-talented chanteuse Lady Gaga goes even further, lending some mystical connotation to the experience:
“The most important thing about creativity is that you honor your creativity and you don’t ever ignore it or go against what that creative image is telling you… Last night I was lying in bed and I had an idea for an outfit and I just made myself get up and sketch it real fast then went back to sleep. I think it’s when you say “I’m too tired I have to go to bed” is when creativity stops coming. If God calls you, pick up the damn phone.” - Lady Gaga
Cyphus germari by Michaël Cailloux, via Les Pépins

I have answered that phone in those most incongruous of moments. In the middle of the night, waking up from a dream, or while on the move, in my travels, sometimes hardly prepared for it, stopping my car by the roadside, scribbling away those words on random bits of paper I find in my handbag (if that notebook I have left home), or even texting myself the words. If no paper and no phone, then trying to remember those words and sentences (or just scale down to some trigger words that help me remember the text or poem I have just created 'out of the blue'), and recite them parrot fashion on my way home or to a place where I can scribble them down.

In this spontaneous interchange between inspiration and the receiver (the artist), I fail to find any room for the showroom office, the tidy desk, the neatly-aligned books, comforting grigris and perfectly-sharpened pens, under the solemn time-ticking auspices of the alarm clock structuring your working day. A writer's working day is hardly a 9am-5pm office job. My better half, Roby, who is a published American author, says that his office is only tidy when he is not working. Let us not forget though that no matter how messy and untidy creativity may appear at source, it comes out disciplined and structured once channelled onto paper. Therefore the apparent untidiness of the artist should not define them or their craft.

Bret Easton Ellis For Persol Typewriter Edition from Persol.

Creativity is an on-going process. It doesn't start, it doesn't end. Now you are welcome to that obligatory 20-minute morning walk ritual before you start your artistic endeavours, supported in your task by your favourite songtrack and your loyal artefacts as they tune you in - should you be of the belief that these externals will help trigger your genius onto paper afterwards. For my part, I will not have my creative life regimented to that effect. I do not have a typical day. The only routine I have is imposed upon me because I currently live at my parents' house, and the set meals and other family obligations structure some sort of routine into my day, but this will change soon, when I move out.

I will not push the words either. French author and 2012 Goncourt Prize winner Jérôme Ferrari summed up his technique nicely in a recent interview to a local French newspaper: "I do not search for words, I allow them to come to me." Nothing of a high calibre will come out when creativity is forced out of you, like you are on a tight deadline, with a multitude of other parameters attached. Rules and conditions restrict creativity. They do not expand it.

'Art is a journey into the most unknown thing of all - oneself. 
Nobody knows his own frontiers… 
I don’t think I’d ever want to take a road 
if I knew where it led.' - Louis Kahan 

P.S: More from the Persol-Bret Easton Ellis Typewriter Campaign in our previous post.

16 Jun 2015

Inspire Aspire - The Waiting Game

They say that good things happen to those who wait... Well, try saying that to those two pre-Raphaelite muses. On the other hand, the composed couple standing tight at the corner of Woodside, San Francisco, might have more going for them. Stood at the crossroads of life, expectations might turn into realisations once the shrouding fog has dissipated out of their lives and a new day has borne out of night.

Fred Lyon photography

The waiting game is not a game. It's actually not even about waiting but observing, thinking, mulling over, taking stock. In our society of temporary arrangements, on-the-spot results and instant gratifications, the waiting is warped, the sense of observation is shunted to the side. How can you be able to listen to that inner voice and make sense and reconnect and grow when there are so many distractions that keep you on a flatline level of short-lived mild amusement?

'Indulge your curiosity. It's the basis of creativity.' - Fred Lyon

As the mood is atmospheric and slightly at odds with the sharpness of reality, as what seems to be is not exactly what is, as if warped out by Gemini Retrograde or other forces, as night spikes the day, reality morphs into daydream and errs like a vapour over the metaphorical Styx of the mind, Orphée (Orpheus) springs to mind, and a Joy Division soundtrack laced to it is almost de rigueur for that added tinge of melancholia. With artistic form taking on as much a major role as the actual storyline, American film critic Roger Ebert revealed in 2000 that Orphée is "about how art can seduce the artist away from ordinary human concerns". Such is the mirage of life when it becomes entangled in multi-layered realities, via the conduit of the silver screen, and better still, via our own devices, understand our own unbridled imagination.

'Light Rails' light art installation by Bill FitzGibbons, Birmingham, AL (pict source)

Are you losing me or - more importantly - are you finding you? You will find that curiosity feeds on imagination and vice-versa. Both unleash creativity, and the transcription of imagination fuelled by the creative impetus will engender Art. Maybe you should have a go, if you haven't already done so.

'Hollywood', photography by Marcus Doyle
Orpheus : A Film by Bret Easton Ellis from Persol.

Credits: I discovered the great San Francisco photographic legend Fred Lyon via a tribute blogpost in Paris Hotel Boutique. There is also a noteworthy interview by PetaPixel.

P.S: More from the Persol-Bret Easton Ellis Typewriter Campaign in our next post.

12 Jun 2015

Sailing Hermione and Sunken Utopia

I have been following with pride an ambitious and audacious shipyard project brought to fruition by the passion and determination of author Erik Orsenna and a handful of ordinary French fellow citizens who managed to get together a team of expert craftsmen who over the last 17 years painstakingly built a perfect replica of Frigate L'Hermione, in Rochefort-sur-Mer. The beautiful and graceful tall ship was then seen off on April 18th, 2014 to sail across the Atlantic Ocean with a costumed équipage to meet its destiny, like the original frigate had back in 1780 with the illustrious Marquis de Lafayette on board. Our French emissary was to take a decisive part in the independence of that faraway land full of New World promise, and where everything seemed therefore possible and feasible.

USS Mitscher welcomes L'Hermione.  
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Sandberg/ Released

L'Hermione II has sailed like a bird on her month-and-a-half maiden journey from the old continent to the shores of the founding fathers of America - Yorktown, Mount Vernon and Alexandria - and her awe-inspiring journey along the East Coast is only just commencing. This is not only a historically-charged moment, but also a highly-symbolic one as a delightful and tasteful homage from France to the US in the form of a kind and thoughful yet acutely tangible reminder of our esteemed friendship and diplomatic alliance, despite specks of tarnish over the last 60 years.

As we sail forth to rekindle the past and salute the prowess of the skilled craftsmen in their labour of love and 84 crew members in their dedication, and to experience the expansive cultural outreach while our flags proudly duet to the sea breeze and gracefully waltz together into an embrace, I join in to celebrate our Franco-American friendship.

L'Hermione is welcomed in Yorktown, © Mladen Antonov/ AFP

In the context of the looming French Revolution (1789-1799), The French Illuminati (free-thinkers, philosophers, writers, teachers) of the time were purveyors of novel ideas (or inspired by past civilisations) to emancipate mankind and free them from the feodal system and the centralisation of power. Utopic societies were dreamt of, and America was seen as a place where utopia, a Land of the Free, could be borne. On the old continent, the French revolutionary ideas stood out from England's more conservative (evolutionary) approach. Albion, France and America's common enemy, did not sit well with the idea of change. La Fayette embarked upon L'Hermione to help Americans liberate from English rule and build a republic that would be a model for the rest of the world, an ideal. The Franco-American alliance brought victory at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

Now we may argue whether America ever had anything utopic that is found elsewhere than in the text of its constitution. For once, a Land of the Free built upon the enslavement and eradication of its indigenous populations and the robbing of their lands and destruction of their culture, is hardly a utopic gesture, but rather a dystopic one. A nation that has turned out to become an economic, political and military bully rather than an ally on the world scene, cannot be a role model, surely. At the sight of a nation that has turned into a militarised police state, the American founding fathers and the French revolutionaries will jointly disapprove, because this was never the future they had envisaged for America.

Embed from Getty Images

L'Hermione sailing down towards Bordeaux Harbour, © Getty Images

If utopia there ever was, it was dreamt up in lofty salons and calligraphed together with thoughts and ideas and concepts onto velum. It now is found lying deep off the shores of the East Coast, and there isn't more to salvage from its putrescent self than an idea for a replica. America, I love the idea of you and respect you, but you are only human, hence flawed. And that is your foible as much as it is ours. God Bless You.

Further Resources:

4 Jun 2015

Design Interlude - Candy Pink Palaces

This post is a personal design indulgence of mine and a little vanity project in progress, amongst my many areas of interest. I have a thing for good design and more than a casual appreciation for 'olde worlde' interiors, exteriors, homestyles, graphics and the likes. The last time I did a 'Design Interlude' was over 5 years ago, where I featured sublime Cheshire residential façades from my then neck of the woods (Hale, Bowdon and Altrincham). I had taken snapshots of candy-coloured façades, that looked like they had escaped the confines of a 3-tiered tea-time cake stand, and eloped in their delicious robes of custard cream, buttercream fancy, chiffon cake and marshmallow, taking me down a cottage industry journey of delicate mint cake, lemon truffle, deep caramel, old-fashioned violet and rose creams, candied ginger, strawberry truffle, butterscotch, coconut macaroon and vanilla fudge… Are we under the spell of a sugar high or are we not?

(pict source)

When Wes Anderson's critically-acclaimed film The Grand Budapest Hotel came out and its majestic façade rose upon our screens and graced the glossies in its wedding cake strawberry meringue colourings and piped lettering, I knew straight away that I was faced with an art that I loved. Anderson's quirky formula is sublime in my eye: the nostalgia-ladden cartoonesque naïve art visuals in candy pastel graphics and the surrealist art direction which both celebrate vintage to an artform are a great fit to my all-encompassing design passions. I had to extol this proud and loud in my blog, no matter how long it would take me to get round to it, which ended up being more than 12 months after the movie release (eeek how responsive is that?).

Finally the moment has come to be enjoyed, as I am looking at the façade and imagining the stories and dramas and quid pro quos that lie underneath the apparent sober tranquillity and contained gracefulness of the place. Meanwhile I invite you to go backstage and find out about Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel graphic designer, Annie Atkins, via an insightful article by Camille Styles, or how she met the visual feat challenges raised by such a high-profile project brief for a sought-after dream job!

(pict source)

Talking of candy pink palaces, how could I possibly resist other gems, especially if they are no fiction, but rather a sweet and welcome part of our reality? Hawa Mahal, otherwise known as Palace of Winds (Jaipur, India, completed 1799) springs to my mind, as immortalised herein by Studio Yuki in all its intricate beauty and timeless charm:

Hawa Mahal (pict source)

Some candy pink palaces out there in India are crumbly around the edges, like this one in Benarés. We may nonetheless appreciate its fading glory. The top storey certainly looks well kept and - since we are in a sweet-focused mood - I would say that its ornate décor reminds me of some girlie birthday cake decoration piping. If sweetness is bringing you sickness, we'll steer the façade analogy clear of sugar and steer it towards bejewelling instead.

Benarés, India (pict source)

Anyway if nostalgia tastes like a cream cake from childhood baked with tender loving care, I wonder what a whiff of nostalgia would smell like? I shall dispense with a spray of pure musk from L'Air de Panache, found lingering on a bedside cabinet at The Grand Budapest Hotel. Maybe I'll go for a drop of Guerlain instead.

L'Air de Panache (pict source)