Between the Lines

Kathy Steffen

New year, new hope, new challenges and most important … fresh approaches to creativity. So where can you go to dream and create without judgment of others (or yourself!)? Join designers, artists, writers, inventors; people like Billy Collins, Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Dylan Thomas or even Leonardo da Vinci. Begin a notebook that blends words and images. Intimidated by the thought of images? No problem. Think doodles. The most important step is to begin a visual dialogue with yourself. A drawing that fills an entire page or a patchwork of words and images. Anything goes — it’s a communication from you to yourself.

Choose a notebook. Not too fancy, so you will explore and experiment. I prefer a loose ring binding so I can open it completely flat, large enough for several sketches or jots of poems, but small enough that I can take it with me in a book bag. Lined? Grid paper? Blank sheet? Storyboard sketchbook with panels for sketching and lines beneath to write? Your choice.

Start with the date. Include where you are, notes about what you are drawing, even sounds you hear, or how you feel in the environment. Include everything happening around you. Your journal/sketchbook can serve as memory as well as a place to experiment and allow your creativity to breathe.

Copy down a favorite poem. Fool around with how you present it to the page — are some words larger than others? Do you use color in some letters? Doodle around the poem and through it, interpreting your reaction to the poem through visuals. Ready for the next step? Write a poem. Draw around your own creation. Words and images to convey … what? It’s up to you. No limitations here.

Write about who you are. Lists, paragraph, short phrases — it doesn’t matter. Whatever comes out. Next, create a series of drawings to accompany your words. After who you are, try what kind of artist you are. Who do you want to be? What kind of writer are you? Don’t stop there: What kind of friend are you? Write and illustrate yourself.

Write about the world around you. Your town. What about the state you live in? What about your country? The world? For each, give details — what kind of people are there? What do you love about it? What would you like to change? Remember, write (again, whatever format — list, paragraph, phrases, poem) and then draw. 

Be prepared. I keep a book bag with my notebooks (a small and large) and an array of pens I use to write, and pencils and pens to sketch. Everything I need in one place — so no excuses. Grab and go create anywhere!

Still stuck? Find some books on illustrators for inspiration. Who are your favorites? Why? Explain their style, what draws you to them. Draw something mimicking their style. Through copying what you like, your own style and visual language will emerge. You will find your voice as an artist. Don’t judge if it’s good or not, that is not what this exercise (or your notebook) is about. Jump in and do it!