Richard Diebenkorn "Interior with Book"
Richard Diebenkorn “Interior with Book”

Found among painter Richard Diebenkorn’s papers after he died in 1993: ‘Notes to myself on beginning a painting’ (with the original punctuation).

We find many to be just right for beginning just about ANY creative pursuit or project (some are mysterious). Like Chuck Close’s Notes to Self, they prove to be good advice for living:

attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued — except as a stimulus for further moves.

Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.

Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

Dont “discover” a subject — of any kind.

Somehow don’t be bored — but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.

Keep thinking about Polyanna.

Tolerate chaos.

Be careful only in a perverse way.


‘Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for’ is a principle we deeply believe in. It echoes the nugget we found recently in Rebecca Solnit’s great A Field Guide to Getting Lost:

‘That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost.’


Via Susan Dworski via Brainpickings, where they’ve been made into a cool sign as well as a 2005 ArtsJournal (years ago and forgotten)


Related posts: ribbon bookmark + a field guide to getting lost
john mcphee on ‘getting going’ and ‘finishing things’
evolution of a matisse in 13 drawings
sister corita kent’s enduring rules for making + her art
chuck close’s ‘note to self’ (eight perfect rules for living)

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4 replies on “10 rules for beginning a creative project

  1. What a timely list for me! I’m at the start/middle of a creative project myself. I find it to be exhilarating, mind boggling and overwhelming at different moments and sometimes at once. This list is helpful in honing the overall goals and the creative process. =)
    Unfortunately the link to “Chuck Close’s Notes to Self” is showing an “error not found”
    I would very much love to see this if possible. Let us know if there is another link? Thank you!

  2. I’m so glad the lists came at ‘just the right time’. And I apologize for the broken link. It’s fixed now, and Chuck Close’s words are well worth reading.
    Good luck on your new venture!

  3. I have a lot of ideas for children’s stories to write and illustrate but don’t know how to implement them into reality. I am bogged down by technical method of implementation.

  4. As you’ve discovered, having a great idea is one thing; actually brining them into the world is another. Being both writer and illustrator of a children’s book is a tall order.
    You might consider hiring an editor/editorial consultant or writing coach to look at what you’ve done, and then advise a path of action. OR, find someone with whom you collaborate with well, who has the strengths you may be weak on (and who in turn, may be weak where you are strong). Good luck!

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