Thursday, November 8, 2007

From Charles Shulz to Chuck Close

Breaking down a large task into smaller, manageable pieces is a well known productivity tool. Last week, NPR listeners were treated to two stellar examples in the practice of this principle by Peanuts creator, Charles Shulz, and the large scale portrait painter, Chuck Close.

On The Diane Rehm Show, Shulz’ biographer David Michaelis spoke of the acclaimed cartoonist's dogged (no pun intended) work ethic. Inspired by his barber father, who built his business “one haircut at a time”, Shulz realized his lifelong goal of becoming a cartoonist “one strip-a-day”, and built his syndicated empire “one newspaper at a time”.

In the rebroadcast of a 1998 interview with Chuck Close by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, the internationally renowned artist acknowledged how his use of a grid helps him sustain his focus while working on very large paintings, each of which takes many months to complete. By completing one small square of the grid each day, Close is able to take pleasure in a sense of accomplishment analagous to creating a single painting every day.

To me, this also underscores the importance of habits. Most often, our most satisfying achievements are simply the sum of many, many small choices.

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