Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Creative Process: Finding Your Happy Place

OK, so you might remember me mentioning that I paint landscapes. But I don't think I mentioned that I taught advanced drawing for about eight or nine years at the local college. It was great fun and, as they say, I learned more than my students did.

After the drawing students got the basics pretty much under their belts, it was on to find their creative voice, their bliss, their happy place. The same steps hold for any of life's pursuits: you learn the basics, practice and build skills, then finally stop to inquire how you can identify the aspect of the craft that will suit you best. What kind of attorney will you be, or what specialty will you choose as a  physician?

Am thinking that the same could be true for genealogy. Unless you're goal is to be a professional and go where's the client's wish takes you, we dabblers are completely free to do as much or as little as we please and have that focus be aimed any where at all. What's your happy place as far as genealogy goes? After a while I finally figured out what mine is: the stories.

In teaching my Drawing 2 class, I used a simple exercise with students that helped them figure out what to draw, what concepts and ideas they wanted to make art about. That is part of the maturation process for an artist: figuring out who you are as an artist, selecting a subject and concept, then picking media.

When I told students at the beginning of Drawing 2 that they could make art about anything they wished, usually a cheer would go out. Whoop! We can draw anything! Freedom. Then a day or a week later, they all pretty much freaked out. With freedom comes responsibility, and the responsibility to choose wisely fell like a shroud on the next class session. Then they all got down to work and produced really excellent stuff. A couple got into some of the very best art schools in the nation.

I noticed as this exercise developed over the years that students would only commit mentally and throw the full force of their efforts into the work at hand if they were self-directed in choosing what they were going to draw, setting out their own projects and acquiring the skills needed to complete the work. The work took on new heights of achievement only when it was the student's idea and concept, not mine.

So I'm just getting started on this genealogy thing here and after maybe two years of fiddling around with it, I've recently come to the conclusion that I'm a very different genealogist than Mom who is trying to build out the biggest and craziest tree you ever saw! She loves nothing better than adding a dozen or so people a day on a way-out branch . Not me: I'm all about the stories.

So how about you? If you don't know yet where you fall and what your happy place is in genealogy then maybe you'd like to do my exercise...? If so here it is.

Step 1: Papers and magazines.
Gather a sheet of paper and some genealogy magazines. Tear up the paper into little scraps making about 10 or so. You can make more if you need them.
Next, look through the magazines and every time you find something that interests you, write it on a scrap of paper. Keep going until you feel that you are done with this part. Make all the scraps you want!
When you have a bunch, and there's no fixed number here, put the magazines away and lay out the scraps on a flat surface.
Step 2: Playing with Scraps.
Separate the scraps into two groups: Really Like and Like, but not as much. Set the Like, but not as much, scraps aside.
From the Really Like group, take out five that you Super Like. Spread them out in an array. Now look at them and think if any overlap or duplicate each other in some way and pair them up. Is there any one you can live without, and if so take it away.
Step 3: The Final Three.
How many do you have? If it is more than three, remove those that you are less fond of right at the moment.
Look at the Final Three. What do you see? That, my friend is what you really, really like in the world of genealogy! See how they connect, and if they don't just yet, give it some time to grow and for the connections to develop.

I've found that if you choose to put your focus on your happy place subject you'll be the happiest person at your personal genealogy party and the work won't seem like work at all but just fun, all day every day. And - at least this was true in art, and probably life - that you'll get really, scary, unbelievably good at doing that special-to-you thing. Funny about that.

And... knowing where your happy place is helps put things on your to do list and pass by others. After all, even though we feel we should, we can't do everything:)

Photo of the Day from the Archive:

Mom's cousin Jean Knowles, year unknown. Frostburg, Maryland
Jean was the daughter of Grace Whetstone Knowles (1893 - 1959)
and was Mom's Mother's sister. 
Jean was born and died in Akron, Ohio but we don't have dates for her.
Hey, maybe she's still living? That would be nice:)
And speaking of nice, whatta dress! Prom?

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  1. I really appreciate your take on things. I'll admit I started out as a 'name-collector' which sound a bit like your mom. Now, it's all about filling in the context of my ancestors lives.

    There will always be certain lines or individuals that interest me more than others. My client work also takes me unexcpected places. Still, I think I'll try your exercise. I've always found it challenging to explain to folks why I like genealogy so much. This might help me clarify *why* in my own mind.

  2. Hi Rorey:) Talked to Mom just this morning and she's still busy placing a lot of Trimbles on the tree... it's her absolute favorite thing! Like you, I love the context and how the stories build out of that. Am always asking Why, what did they do that. Can't get enough!! Let me know how the exercise goes. This is the first time I've considered using it for genealogy. Diane