Friday, April 01, 2011

hold on

I'm not much of a keeper.

I've moved a lot through my adult life, and things get left behind, they get dropped off at a Goodwill, they get given away. I've had to say goodbye to a few treasures (my favourite beaded moccasins from Big Trout Lake come to mind), and try to console myself with the memories. But for the most part, I walk on fairly unhindered by the physical trappings some people carry. My most recent move fit pretty nicely into about half the space of a regular size cargo van.

What I do keep, however, is a lot of paper. I have a letter sent to me in my first year at university from my baby sister. I have all the journals I've ever kept. I have sketchbooks going back to middle school. I have envelopes of film negatives and boxes of tack-holed photos from past bedroom walls and bulletin boards. There are old essay notes, hastily scribbled interview transcripts, there are the rough drafts of zines and comics I've made, or never finished.

Not to mention the digital records I have scattered between Google Documents and even incomplete drafts saved on this blog.

I went to see the MOMA-curated Tim Burton exhibit at the TIFF Lightbox, and it made me feel a little better.

Burton has held onto his creative work from as far back as high school. Every film he's worked on has required oodles of doodles, including pen sketches on napkins, watercolour mood pieces and oversized polaroid works.

Some of these are clearly recognizable—Jack, the Skeleton King from Nightmare Before Christmas, changed very little from conception to screen—while ideas went through many manifestations, while still more never did come to fruition.

The exhibit made me realize what I've slowly been learning over the course of my comics class this winter: the value of rough work. The roughs are where the ideas make their first jump from the mind to paper, and where colours and shapes (even, in a less literal sense, in writing) really start to take form.

They are an expression that tries to be free from the two crippling questions Lynda Barry identifies in her book What It Is: "Does it suck?" and "Is this good?"

When acknowledging that the work is rough, there is always an opportunity for the work to improve in further incarnations. For now, it's about getting the ideas, getting the feeling. There's time for careful work in the future—at this point it's broad strokes.

While I can't say that I expect to one day have some kind of a career retrospective, I'm going to keep holding on to the rough work. There's a lot of energy contained in those old scraps of paper.

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