Can things get much simpler than a napkin? It’s a dining accessory we often take for granted. We use it to wipe our mouths and clean up spills, yet don’t give it a moment’s thought. But it might be the most overlooked creative tool in the artist’s arsenal. How many people have written great ideas on restaurant napkins when paper wasn’t available?
For artists, the napkin is all about making use of what you have in the moment. When a great idea strikes or the right opportunity comes along, artists don’t wait for circumstances to be perfect. They use whatever is available and get to work.
If you don’t think you have enough resources, you’re not alone. Everybody knows there will never be enough time or money to do everything you want. But you can’t let that keep you from starting. You have to begin with what you have and build from there. Don’t let your lack of resources become an excuse for not pursuing your dreams.
John Wooden, the famed UCLA basketball coach, describes the challenges he faced in building a championship team:
When I came out to UCLA from Indiana State Teacher’s College in 1948, I had been led to believe we’d soon have an adequate place to practice and play our games. However, that did not occur for almost seventeen years. During that time, I conducted UCLA basketball practice in a crowded, poorly lit, and badly ventilated gym on the third floor of the Men’s Gymnasium building. Much of the time there was wrestling practice at one end, a trampoline on the side with athletes bouncing up and down, and gymnastics practice on the other side. The gym was known as the “B.O. Barn” because of the odor when it was busy.
. . . For sixteen years, I helped our managers sweep and mop the floor every day before practice because of the dust stirred up from the other activities. These were hardship conditions, not only for the basketball team, but for the wrestling and gymnastics team members and coaches as well. You could have written a long list of excuses why UCLA shouldn’t have been able to develop a good basketball team there.
Nevertheless, the B.O. Barn was where we built teams that won national championships in 1964 and 1965. You must take what is available and make the very most of it.[i]
It’s tempting to focus on the reasons you can’t make great art. Instead, focus on the resources you do have and get busy building from there.
The great hymn writer Fanny Crosby didn’t let her limitations stop her. Although an incompetent doctor blinded her as a young child, she fell in love with poetry and wrote her first stanzas at age eight. She was a zealous learner and could quote large sections of the Bible by heart, including the Pentateuch, the Gospels, and Proverbs. Crosby wrote over 9,000 hymns in her lifetime and personally knew many Presidents.[ii]
Don’t let excuses hold you back. Take a look around. If you want to build something great, you have exactly what you need to get started.
Even if it’s just a napkin.
Questions for Reflection
1. Do you feel you don’t have the right resources to do the creative work you need? Why or why not?
2. Make a list of three things you think you need. (It could be time, money, connections, training, or something else.) Which one is most important right now? What can you do in the next seven days to get more of that resource?
3. If you discovered you had one year to live, how would that change your sense of urgency and your perception of the lack of resources?
[i] John Wooden, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1997), 84-85.
[ii] “Fanny Crosby,” Christianity Today, accessed April 24, 2015, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/poets/crosby.html.