I interviewed Michael Carnuccio about his daily creativity project. Michael undertook a really interesting creativity project last year, where he set out to do a drawing a day, or create a picture a day, for the whole year. I’m really pleased to have interviewed him about his project and what he learnt from it.
I’ve shared some highlights in text form below, or you can listen to the whole interview while checking out his images on this video: here.
NOTE: We discuss the postcard sized images in no particular order, based on what jumped out at us during the interview, and related to what story Michael was telling. Images of the postcards are dotted through the text at the point we refer to them. You can see all these images and more in the short video. Please note that there are some four letter words used in the writing below and the video, but our intent is not to offend.
You can also listen to the interview on podcast here if you prefer just sound.
Michael started his project on 8th January 2014 on flimsy blank index cards – regular index cards that are used as stationary. He chose to use tiny little index cards using basically whatever drawing materials he had to hand. This idea was seeded in conversations he and I had had about the Daisy Yellow project ‘Index Card a Day’, which I had heard about through Gretchen Miller’s 6 Degrees of Creativity online art group. He extended the idea and decided to try using the small, portable and ‘low pressure’ format of index cards to see if he could produce artwork everyday.
I was aiming for the whole year. So it was a bit overwhelming right at the start. I went out and bought the cards, and I guess my initial idea was just to not think it through too much when I was approaching each one…whatever came out, came out.
I pretty much didn’t go out and buy anything, so I used whatever I had at hand. A lot of the pen work is just using felt-tip that I had lying around.
The first few were almost autobiographical, such as ‘Heating Wars’ – about having arguments with flatmates about when the central heating should go on. So I thought I would put it down on paper as a way of somehow processing that.
And I guess if there was a theme across the whole year it was processing what I was going through. And the big thing I was processing that year was deciding if I should stay in London or if I should move back to Sydney.
So there are a lot of postcards around that theme. Some very literal, like this one of the River Thames with the pros and cons of being in London on either side.
So I was trying to use this process as a challenge; but also as a way of working through whatever was going on in the my mind. It wasn’t always about the move, sometimes it was about having a very shitty day. Or sometimes it was about doing something totally random.
And then later on, as I got more into it, I started to experiment. So, for example, some of them are quite collage-like and I also experimented a lot with using low-tack tape to mask out different areas.
Michael reflects on the different ways he approached making – sometimes quickly, sometimes processing a feeling or observing a landmark.
This one I did really quickly, and I can remember doing it on a trip to Manchester for a work conference. I was in the hotel the night before and I was feeling really anxious. So I drew a picture of a frightened mouse, and it was really quickly done with biro.for this scribble drawing of Big Ben tower, I took a bit of time. But even then part of me was thinking “Oh, I’ve missed out on all the detail of the tower.” But then in some respects I quite like it. It’s a bit wonky, but you know, it sort of captures something. So I did a few like this of the landmarks of London as a way of remembering my time living there.
There were times when I would have a theme – whether it would be a style or a subject matter, or some sort of medium that I would use. And I would run with that for a few days and have a big burst of ideas. And at other times I would really struggle for a few days and think: “I have absolutely no idea what I am going to draw!”
It would often be before I went to bed that I would do them, when I tended to be quite tired and so I would have to really force myself. But I would always at least make a start on one. Even if I didn’t finish always finish it in that session I would always start.
I did this postcard when I was in transit on the way back to Sydney. I was inspired by the carpet in the terminal because it was this crazily busy mosaic of different things.
Some of the postcards are quite poignant. Like the ones I did in my last few days in London. And even when I’ve been going through them, almost a year later, they bring back those memories and feelings I was feeling at the time, so vividly. Such as this postcard from my very last day in London – I think I was actually in the terminal waiting to board the aeroplane.
Did you find that inner critic voice softening a little as the year went on? Or did you feel more playful in your use of materials? Was there any ‘loosening up’ that you noticed through doing it?
I think it was more of an experimentation that I noticed increasingly. I noticed more freedom in how I used materials. But I think if anything I was more deliberate in how I approached the composition and that sort of thing. If you compare them to the very first one I did, which was almost a doodle, the later postcards tended to be more detailed and thought through.
I want to ask about this bus. Tell me about the bus. Is that the same day or two days?
They were two days apart. The neat one was first and I don’t know why I decided to redo it a second time. Maybe I felt like experimenting with that familiar form and trying to subvert it. Or perhaps I started to do it and it just didn’t turn out so I ‘decided’ to make it more abstract.
I guess it was about giving myself permission to just go for it.These postcards may never see the light of day and I guess it’s when you give yourself that freedom that you do end up with a product that you actually become quite fond of.
Obviously now you’re sharing them – in this format you have chosen some to share. What was the feeling around that? Was there any anxiety around sharing them or did that feel pleasurable?
Yeah, there was. I think with anything I share there’s always that inner critic that says: “This is rubbish. People are going to laugh at them.” Some of them were quite personal as well and you don’t know how people will react. People might not even know that side of you. I think on one of them I doodled some naked guy, and so a part of me worried about someone seeing it. One of the postcards, I remember doing when I was drunk. It was a bit of a messy one. I got liquid paper and just scrawled ‘fuckin’ drunk!’ over it, because that’s the mood I was in when I did it.
And so, obviously there are some that I’m a little reluctant to show to someone. But I felt quite excited about it as well, because it’s quite a big accomplishment, I think, doing it every single day for a year.
I want to ask you about the ‘Index Card a Day Challenge 2014, because I know that you joined in during the month of June and July 2014. What was that like?
I think what I really noticed was becoming increasingly preoccupied by what somebody else might think of my work as I would post each day to the Facebook group. And so knowing it was definitely going to be seen I did notice myself putting a lot more thought into the outcome, or being extra critical about the outcome. Or if one day I did something really good that I was proud of (like this elephant), and the next day not so good – or having that pressure that I had to live up to it – I guess that created more anxieties.
What I found really helpful about that process was there was a theme or a prompt every day, really helped with deciding what I was going to create that day.Sometimes it was a challenge because you could think about multiple ways of doing it, or it was like: “err, how am I going to draw that, or how am I going to do that?” But at least it would sort of solve the question that I would sometimes have: “I have no idea what I am going to do!” And having just this blank page in front of you, even though it was only a postcard size, it was like: “I’m tired and I have to put something on this! Do it now so I can go to bed!”
One other thing I was interested in was the fact that in sharing on that Facebook forum people are going to see and actually respond to the work. So was that a relatively new experience? What did that feel like, and what kind of comments did you get?
Apart from the odd class I’ve done here and there, I’ve not had much feedback from people. So that was great, because I got a lot of good feedback. And also what I found useful was seeing how other people approached the prompts, and the huge variety of interpretations was amazing.
So getting that positive feedback was awfully reaffirming and, I think, gave me more confidence. But then the flip side to that is the days you didn’t get any feedback or you didn’t get as many likes….[laughs] …or you saw someone else, “Oh, they’ve got ten times more likes than I have!” Again, the inner critic: “Well, yours must be shit by comparison!”
Obviously it wasn’t the process itself that created that critique, it was already inside me. But that daily practice made it more visible to me, I guess, which is a helpful aspect of going through that process and trying to see what your feelings are about yourself, because it is all reflected back at me whenever I look at these postcards.
And so what did you learn about yourself, do you think, through doing this process? Did any of the images show you something that you were surprised to see, or did you see any symbols coming over and over again?
There was a lot. I guess it’s because also, as I said, I was thinking through a big life change at the time. So a lot of it was being introspective about who I am and where I was going. There’s this one postcard I did when I was feeling particularly confused about who I was; and so I drew an arrow trying to get to a defined point representing clarity. I guess it was more of an aspiration.
Or I would focus on really random questions and abstract ideas about identity. And I think it was me trying to search for answers. For example this one literally depicts not quite knowing what’s around the corner.
And also I never really found that I had one distinct style either. I don’t know if that’s necessary a bad thing. It was, you know, an opportunity to experiment. But I guess I didn’t really feel like: “Ooh yes, that’s my style! I found it!” through this process.
But trying to overcome that inner critic was possibly the biggest challenge of the whole process – that voice that kept saying: ”This is rubbish! This is no good!” And trying to work through that and …explore where that was coming from. So it was a good prompt and a good tool and medium to use to assist with that.
Talking about that voice of the inner critic, I’m wondering did you learn or develop any tricks or methods of shooshing it for a minute, working around it, side-stepping it, or making friends with that kind of voice? Any particular techniques to lessen the volume?
I think persistence really helped. Knowing that I had to do it for 365 days, if you let that critique get to you it’s going to make that process very difficult. And also telling myself, it was just an exercise, it’s not going to be exhibited at a gallery, it doesn’t matter if it’s shit – it’s an opportunity to just be creative and use a different part of my brain. And yeah, I guess I did come to accept that I will have good days and I will have bad days and that’s OK. I guess the bad days in a way lead to the good ones, because you learn from what goes wrong, or what goes right.
And you talked about that sense of accomplishment at coming to the end of the project. I’m wondering has doing this shifted the way you see yourself at all?
I think I see myself now as a creative person…And I guess, accepting that more than I perhaps did before…Dare I say, even as an artist.That’s been quite good.
And also being proud that I actually managed to do it… Just having kept it up for so long, you know, I’m proud of myself, and that’s something nice to think about.
And also to know that’s a year of my life in this collection.
I think it also helped me work in my day job, because you have the opportunity to think differently and process things. And the next day you find you’ve got all these ideas! I don’t know if the two are related, but I’d like to think that they were.
So yeah, I think I would definitely recommend it to anyone. They don’t necessarily have to do it for a whole year…or even consider themselves artistic. Just spending that time to think a little differently, and think visually, and putting that onto paper – whatever comes out, comes out.
About the interviewee:
Michael is an urban planner and public policy specialist currently working in the government sector. The visual arts, crafts and design has been a life-long passion for Michael, who’s creative skills are largely self taught. From drawing as a boy to doodling in meetings as an adult, Michael relishes opportunities to imbue his daily life with creativity, exploration and visual expression, drawing on his experiences both a home and abroad. He is also a qualified yoga teacher and freelances as a graphic designer when the opportunity strikes.
About the interviewer:
Jade is a transpersonal art therapist and coach who also has her own active arts practice. She draws on over 15 years experience working in teams within diverse organisations as a sustainability professional, researcher and facilitator. Jade integrates the principles of client centered counseling and group facilitation with art therapy processes, Barbara Sher Life Coaching methods and her own experience of creative practice. She runs art therapy and coaching workshops within organisations and for the general public; and works with individual clients face to face and by Skype.