“why did you photograph a 7th-grade boy’s scribbles, Julia? or wait, are they an ax murderer’s?”
that’s my writing. it says "maybe get a lot of big sheets of unlined paper for mind maps? butcher block."
they’re my notes from Mark Bradford's Scorched Earth exhibit at the Hammer a few weeks ago. (i thought "butcher block" was the name for big rolls of craft paper) i was blown away by the size of the canvases. inspired by the idea of limitless space, i wondered what it would feel like to have a large, blank page in front of me.
frankly, i can’t remember the last time i was uninhibited by 8.5 x 11 inches, and especially by the lines and margins of normal paper. sitting on a bench in the middle of the gallery, i remembered mind mapping.
i’d only done it in groups, and considered it a collective, corporate activity instead of a solo, anarchical one. but reading about it in Creative Confidence over the summer persuaded me to try the process on my own and i’d been meaning to test it. now i was curious. would more space change how i work or unleash greater creativity?
in theory i could’ve gone with A4-sized paper. it’s definitely pretentious enough but it’s hard to store and still small. i wanted the big guns, only, please and thank you.
i trekked to the Blick store in Miracle Mile, where i immediately learned i can make a 12-point turn out of their invariably packed, miniscule, subterranean parking garage.
inside, it was basically what you’d expect. people dressed as members of Louis XIV’s court sat like statues on a stage by the front windows. normal people were in chairs facing them. but i couldn’t get past the costumes. to give you an idea of the gaudiness, i thought they were part of a child’s birthday party. the cashier who rang up my roll of white paper told me it was a figure-drawing class and i was welcome to join. i declined.
back at home, i selected a mind-mapping locale—my white, CB2 go-cart and unrolled the paper. as expected, its vastness was liberating and awesome, in the original sense of the word. suddenly i had enough space to write, make lists, and plan long-term. i even taped down the edges in case things got out of hand.
at first it felt a little scary out there on the page. it was like outer space, if outer space were white instead of black. but using thick markers in unusual colors felt comfy and i soon settled in.
my first map was about actions to take for the blog. the extra room made it easier to keep moving, which is crucial. you’re essentially doing improv with your subconscious mind, “yes, and”-ing your heart out and trying to capture every thought.
guessing i might go completely John Nash, i tacked my first map above my bed. and…i hated it. i wanted nothing to do with the thing and couldn’t relax until it was down. it was an odd response. but, in retrospect, to-do lists and ideas covering the walls of my bedroom would eventually feel like i was sleeping in a cubicle.
we constantly hear how inspiration is everywhere. but we rarely believe it. instead, we get impatient and worry this time will be different. we invent explanations for why the idea reservoir is closed without realizing we are the reservoir. it can’t be off-limits, we own the business.
however, inspiration will not be rushed. it cannot be forced. you have to wait.
before i made the connection between mind mapping and using huge, unlined paper, i gawked at the paintings for several minutes. i did it steadily and alone while staying open and reflective. but i wasn't on a mission.
in that neutral and unpressured museum, the ideas combined. gigantic canvases in front of me evolved into the ransom note on the Hammer visitor guide you saw at the beginning of the post, which turned into revisiting a technique i’d nearly forgotten.
if you’re willing to put forth that calm “effort,” which is really relaxing into non-effort, you’re bound to be rewarded.
what do you think of mind mapping? i’m curious about long-term benefits or changes it creates. let me know your experiences in the comments!
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