When it comes to inspiration, I believe in discipline.
Don’t misunderstand me. Like many of you, I often stumble across something inspirational when I’m least expecting it. Sometimes my muse is obvious: a beautiful garden or an eye-catching plant. At other times it may not be related to design at all, yet somehow helps me make the leap to a whole new way of viewing a garden. But these moments come when they come, and frankly, I need a steady diet of new ideas to feed my creativity.
For that reason, I’m a fan of charettes and other exercises designed to stretch the way I approach the task of garden design. I’m particularly fond of those with a time limit. As anyone who’s watched a competition like Project Runway knows, most of the designers do their best work with a crazy assignment, limited budget and a ticking clock. Conversely, when set free to create whatever they want, they freeze and produce some of the dullest pieces.
I’ve taken part in numerous exercises like these over the years, but one of my favorites was a homework assignment for a class on pathway design. Our instructions were to choose a piece of music, and while we listened to it, free our minds and draw or color whatever the music made us feel. Jagged lines, shapes, blobs; wherever the music took us was fine. My song was Antonio Carlos Jobim's The Girl from Ipanema. For me, the mental picture this song conjures is of a beautiful woman, neither young nor old, hips swaying as she strolls down the colorful streets of a tropical town on her way to the ocean. Reveling in her own beauty and the beauty of the day, she is uncaring of the admiring glances sent her way, too busy savoring a unique moment in time.
What I wound up with on my oversized piece of newsprint was much less specific: a sinuous line snaking through riotous clouds of rich color. Unfortunately, I no longer have what I drew, but the idea of careless, feminine beauty interpreted through color, curves and texture stayed with me. And that idea became the inspiration for this garden design:
Like most of you, I’m a busy professional and find it difficult to make time for activities that don’t have a clear reward. But this past month I realized I needed to recreate the discipline for myself that various classes and workshops have provided, and so signed up for the Sketchbook Project. If you haven’t heard of it, thousands of artists all over the country have been sent a moleskin sketchbook, with instructions to fill it with images inspired by one of several themes. My theme is “a record year for rainfall” but how I interpret that idea and what materials I use is entirely up to me.
My sketchbook arrived yesterday and I have until January 15th to fill it, at which point it will be added to a traveling show with museum stops all over the country, including my own backyard, San Francisco. Crazy assignment, limited budget and a ticking clock – a steady helping of discipline that will hopefully lead to a frenzy of inspiration.
If you’d like to see where other Garden Designers Roundtable members find inspiration, visit these posts:
Andrew Keys, Garden Smackdown, Topsfield, MA
Carolyn Choi, Sweet Home and Garden Chicago
Jocelyn Chilvers, The Art Garden, Denver, CO
Lesley Hegarty and Robert Webber, Hegerty Webber Partnership Bristol, Avon, UK
Pam Penick, Digging, Austin TX
Rochelle Greayer, Studio g, Boston, MA
Susan Cohan, Miss Rumphius' Rules, Chatham, NJ
Ivette Soler, The Germinatrix, Los Angeles, CA