The delightfully simple world of Winnie the Pooh

Written in 1926, what is it about this small bear and friends that keeps it relevant and interesting today? With two recent films based on author A. A. Milne and his creation Winnie the Pooh, (‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ in 2017 and ‘Christopher Robin in 2018) the stories of a bear and his friends continue to be told. Perhaps because the stories are so delightfully simple, focusing on the small things to be grateful for, it reminds us to stay grounded. Because the message of being humble and kind to others is what’s most important and this can have a calming effect on us.

Reading these stories as a child is magical, but so is revisiting them as an adult. Being reminded of the simple joy a bear has with his honey pots, you too can reconnect with your own simple joys. This makes everything else seem much less complex as most things aren’t nearly as important as we make them out to be. What is important is remembering to connect to your simple joys and Pooh Bear shows us how.

“Tigger is all right, really,” said Pooh lazily.

“Of course he is,” said Christopher Robin.

“Everybody is really,” said Pooh. “That’s what I think,” said Pooh. “But I don’t suppose I’m right,” he said.

“Of course you are,” said Christopher Robin.

How to make cutout poems

Using a newspaper article, adding a layer of coloured paper with cut out spaces to reveal the words

Facing a blank piece of paper before you’ve started making art can feel very intimidating because where do you even start? An exercise to dive straight into art-making is to use an existing piece of art and edit that instead. Cutout poems are an easy way to make new art because the basic material you can find so easily – the printed text. Austin Kleon creates newspaper blackouts and encourages us that nothing is original. “Every new idea is just a remix or a mashup of one or two previous ideas.”

You will need: a magazine, newspapers, book, booklet or any printed material that contains text. A pencil/pen. Optional is a black marker or a scalpel and coloured paper.

  1. Select a small section of text and scan for the words that can connect together to form a new sentence
  2. Draw a box round the words you like and ‘cut-out’ the words you don’t need with your pen or black marker

Jeff Goins agrees that rearrangement is key for the creative mind: “There is a secret every professional artist knows that the amateurs don’t: being original is overrated. The most creative minds in the world are not especially creative; they’re just better at rearrangement.” By giving yourself constraints, you allow yourself to get more creative more easily.

The Sparkle Experiment Cutout Poem
The black marker approach to masking out unused words

A couple of variations you can try:

  • Use a layer of coloured paper and cut out the spaces to reveal the words – this is more time consuming than the pen method. Use window glass or light box as a surface to trace where the words, then finally scalpel cut out the boxes
  • Use different designs of paper as a layer or try painting paper to get a painted effect.
  • Start with a longer article and create a short story or beginning of a story, expanding on the idea of a poem
The Sparkle Experiment Cutout Poem
Different style of painted backgrounds to mask unused words

After some practice, a rhythm of making the poem emerges. It feels like you’ve cracked a code and you have a sense of satisfaction after finishing each poem. Because you are able to choose any combination of words, it feels like there’s no right or wrong result, just the one you end up with. Cutout poems are completely portable so can be created on the move and in ‘fringe’ times, all you need is some printed paper and a pen in your bag. It’s a quick, nourishing and creative form of ‘entertainment’ and fun and a welcomed alternative to checking your phone in any ‘waiting’ time.

“Transformation that is flattery – taking the things you’ve stolen and making them into your own thing… combine it with your own ideas and thoughts, transform it into something completely new, and then put it out into the world so that we can steal from you.” – Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist

Rushing your evolution

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We can be in such a hurry to be better, faster, wiser right NOW that we don’t realise the full potential of a slow evolution process. In art-making the gap between where you are and where you want to be is even more obvious because you can compare side-by-side what you just made to an artist/designer/creator’s master work in seconds. Ira Glass explains this taste comparison; “Your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you… A lot of people never get past this phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit.”

In a word of instant gratification, entertainment constantly available at a moments notice, fast food and next day delivery, we are becoming increasingly more impatient. Can my next level of improvement arrive tomorrow please? What the artists’ work you admire so much doesn’t show, is the rich, diverse and challenging journey it took to arrive at that final piece. Their journey wasn’t straightforward or linear. It was full of failure, uncertainty and making bad art. They once stood where you’re standing and didn’t have all the skills they have now. They committed to consistent practice, showing up and making work that wasn’t perfect. It was a slow evolution of development and growth through practice, but you don’t see any evidence of that when you only look at the final work.

“You can’t rush your hatching. It’s dangerous. The results can be disastrous and take a long time to overcome. So savour the simplicity of your pre-dreams-come-true time. Love the egg you’re in. Because not too long from now – and right on time, you’ll be spreading your wings and life will never be the same again.” – Danielle LaPorte

There is no overnight success or hack to get better. It about making a LOT of stuff and then one day far from now, you realising how far you’ve come. Ira Glass encourages us that the phase of not making good enough work is “totally normal.”

“And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.” – Ira Glass

The volume of making work is key. Even a tiny 2 minutes making something every day adds up to 12 hours a year, which becomes more significant in the future (you may currently spend 2 minutes each day unlocking your phone so it’s not a big investment). If you make work every day and compare what you made on January 1st to December 31st, there will be a noticeable difference.

Make work – make a lot of bad work and don’t rush your evolution because the gold lies in your journey.

In defense of not taking action

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

What if not taking action in the form of forced decisions and ‘busy-work’ for the sake of feeling productive, is actually the best thing you could do right now? Instead of the hustle and forced striving, you went with the flow and followed your curiosities gently, with no sense of rush?

Reading, dreaming, talking about your area of interest is all focus and holds so much power. We underestimate the value in thinking more consciously about how you want to show up in the world and what you want to create. It’s enough to be present and gently focusing. When it’s time to take action, it will feel exciting and you’ll do it naturally.

What could we create is there were no limits or rules and the goal was to follow your joy and pass that message onto others?

“You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end – except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble virtue of inquisitiveness. And that should be more than enough for anyone to say that they lived a rich and splendid life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic. 

Introversion and recharging your batteries

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

In Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The power of Introversion in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she explains the differences Carl Jung defined between introversion and extroversion. “Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling… extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being along; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.”

It’s often a misconception that introverts will hide away while extroverts are the life of the party. But it’s not about how comfortable you seem socially, it’s about how your energy gets depleted and how you restore it. In an over-stimulated extroverted world where extroverted qualities are encouraged, it’s helpful to know how you get the most drained from your everyday life. The introvert restoration process is a kind of incubation from life – the desire to retreat, to go inward and spend time alone. It can be seen as unsocial but it’s from this retreating process that your energy bars become restored. As Charles Bukowski puts it, “People empty me. I have to get away to refill.”

With many artists creating work on their own, sometimes completely solitary, the skill of drawing from within yourself and making meaning of your world internally is a deep well of inspiration. Cain explains that “Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions – from the theory of evolution to Van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer – came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in two there in the world and the treasures to be found there.”

Michaela Chung in The Year of the Introvert, speaks of her introversion as being a valuable tool for success: “I see that I needed time to grown my inner toolkit so that I could handle the responsibilities and stresses that come with each new level of success.” In a western world that makes a comparison between work and ‘a rat race,’ and ‘hustling’ feels like wearing a badge of honour, slowing down and reflect is becoming evermore important. “Slow down and take your time – the finish line keeps moving until you’re dead; so, you see, there is really no need to rush.”

Not all flowers blossom where and when you want them to. Some plants can only grow under certain conditions… It is the same for introverts. Often, we simply can’t blossom in the soil where we have been planted. To truly come into our own, we need to seek out more solitude and less constant busyness; more meaning and less going through the motions. – Michaela Chung

Even Oprah Winfrey, one our most iconic modern role-models, identifies as an introvert. In her podcast interview with Amy Schumer (March 22, 2018) she shared “I’ve been at parties where I have to get up and leave. I’m just in the bathroom.” The bathroom becomees a place to recharge, a brief rest from the energy-draining experience parties can be. Schumer agrees “[I] Love to hide in the bathroom! Yeah, people are confused about, y’know but how could you get up in front of so many people? I say it’s different and I think when you’re so giving of yourself and your mind and everything, you need to take a break.”

Giving yourself the gift of recharging in whatever way works for you, will ultimately make you a more giving individual.

Picasso and everything is research

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connction

A turning point in Picasso’s career was when he started to paint more of what he felt, instead of what he saw. Or to “Learn to be clumsy again and get back to basics.” This approach to art-making feels much less restrictive, with the journey being more important than making a ‘finished piece.’ In the book Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973: Genius of the century by Ingo F. Walther Picasso said that “Enthusiasm is what we need most, we and the younger generation.” If you have enthusiasm, you’re more likely to continue to make art and reap the creative benefits.

“Paintings are nothing but research and experiment. I never paint a picture as a work of art. Everything is research. I keep researching, and in this constant inquiry there is a logical development. That is why I number and date all my paintings.”

This idea of everything you make is an experiment – and therefore ‘mistakes’ are a vital part of the process – allows you to create with much more freedom. There are no rules when it comes to making art. Picasso was in favour of the unknown: “If you know exactly what you’re going to do, what’s the good of doing it? Since you know, the exercise is pointless. It is better to do something else.” Allow yourself the gift of making ‘bad art.’ Get clumsy like Picasso and don’t worry if the image in your head isn’t matched up with what you’ve made. Repeated consistent practice is the cure for improvement but that requires you to first get comfortable with being uncomfortably ‘bad’.

“There is never a time when you can say: I have done a good job and tomorrow is Sunday. As soon as you stop, you have to start again. You can leave a canvas aside, saying you won’t touch it again. But you never come to ‘The End’.”

There is no end and everything is an experiment so create something bad. Blind drawings are a good starting exercise to help you loosened up.