Photo by Phil Mansfield for The New York Times
“If you don’t know the answer, fill up the space joyfully anyhow.”
I have long been a fan of the art and words of Sandra Boynton. The simplicity in her line work and drawings communicates in an amazing way to a great many people. How many? We’re talking about a woman who has sold over 19 million books and over half a billion greeting cards. And here’s the key. For her it was never about the numbers, the money, the fame, the accolades, or in her case, the chocolate. OK, maybe a little about the chocolate. But what It was, and still is, is all about the art of self expression without compromise, without concessions.
Boynton says in a recent article in the New York times “I don’t do things differently to be different; I do what works for me,” she says. “To me, the commodity that we consistently overvalue is money, and what we undervalue is our precious and irreplaceable time. “
Time. As I grow older I’m more aware of the clock ticking on the time I have left on this planet. I’ve lost enough loved ones in the last few years to know that time is precious. It’s one of the reasons I’m relishing this season of creative reinvention. I want to make the most of it. For 26 years I’ve been a sports cartoonist. But I have always wanted to do more with these gifts and talents. Something more than a cartoon about some recent sports story. Something that impacts people in a very real and authentic way. I want to create something, as Hugh MacLeod best explains it, that doesn’t require someone else’s money, or someone else’s approval.
“The Sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will. Your idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours alone.”
Hugh Macleod from his bestselling book “Ignore Everybody”
Read that quote again. Let it sink in for a moment.
Boynton’s career started with selling her own line of Greeting cards while still and English major at Yale. She hit a trade show in New York city with her designs, signed on with a company called Recycled Paper Greetings, did the cards her way and the rest is history. Billions of greeting cards, books and CD’s later she still has no agent, no super fancy business set up, no one else calling the shots. When she started merchandising her work with things like stuffed animals, mugs, jewelry, sheets or towels, she maintained control over the finished product so it didn’t stray from her vision. What she has is, in a nutshell, is freedom. I think that is what all creative people crave.
Boynton didn’t stop at cards and books. Her first love was always music and she set out to create songs for her children’s books that didn’t make parents go crazy having to listen to it. Her book and CD packages are not only great but they fill a niche that is still somewhat untapped.
Here’s a great peek into that musical direction and creative process she is following.
And now a few creative insights that we can learn from Sandra Boynton:
- Write for yourself. Strive to stay in touch with your own childhood. That is where the voice of authenticity speaks loudest.
- Read and look at other creatives who inspire you most. Think Sponge Bob here. Soak it up but don’t fixate on it. That way you can find your own voice in the mix of the inspiration.
- Work at it. Though it may look that way Boynton was not an overnight success. She worked at her craft hard. Hard work is a common thread in creative work. Good stuff doesn’t come without some long hours and focused effort.
- Stay true to yourself. Do your art or writing for yourself first and foremost. One thing I love about Boynton is the underlying personal passions she shares in her cards and stories, hence the love of Chocolate. It’s what make her stuff real and authentic.
- Do what comes naturally. Boynton has never professed to be the greatest artist of all time. She played to her strengths, which in her case happened to be adorable Hippos with a lust for chocolate.
- Creative in a good environment. For her it’s an old barn next to her home, filled with old jukeboxes and stuff that sparks her to create. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But like your art, make that space yours.
- Innovate, innovate. Sandra didn’t stop at greeting cards. She went to books, After books she went to her music and book compilations. Next. She’s talking about Broadway.
- Don’t sell yourself or your talent short. Respect your creative talent enough to fight for it and stand up for it. If you don’t, no one else will.
- Strive for freedom and sovereignty over your own creative work.
“Sandy Boynton is someone who understands the profound importance of nonsense and silly beans.” – Meryl Streep