Natalie Smithson MJ image keeping it simple

Keep it simple

I don’t know if you’ve discovered Magic Whiteboard, but these sheets of clear plastic stick to flat surfaces with static, and mine weighed so heavy with ideas they should have dropped to the floor.

Stabbing a marker pen across each sheet made a satisfying thud as it hit the solid wall and a squeak of excitement as I whirled it from one seed of an idea to the next.

It was easy to tease out more detail for every new reinvention of what my exhibition might become, but where I thought I was working forwards, I was only bogging myself down.

‘KEEP IT SIMPLE’ a voice boomed inside my head โ€• from installation artist Luke Jerram in this interview about his work.

With a strong desire to make my project unique to me (thinking back, what else was it going to be?), I overcomplicated the idea. I bloated it out. Suddenly, this was an exhibition nobody would want to visit. If they did, it wouldn’t make a lot of tangible sense in their own hearts and so it missed the point entirely.

What I knew at this stage was light would be a huge feature, the exhibition had to be accessible to everyone and open to children, and should have some areas for quiet reflection plus a space for everyone to rejoice together. How would I make that simple?

The answer has little to do with the exhibition itself.

Fight or flight

It’s easy as a creative to push yourself harder when you’re stuck, but sometimes, I’ve discovered the best thing to do is absolutely nothing.

My brain wanted me to decide I couldn’t simplify my idea, that I’d never figure it out and the best thing to do would be to kick back on the sofa, eat some crisps, and forget about the whole thing.

Go back to safety, Nat. Pack up your marker pens and your static sheets and pack them away with your ideas โ€• nice and tidy in the box labelled CAN’T DO IT. There’s a good girl.

Instead, I went to the MAD Museum in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Watching their collection of mechanical exhibits rotate and spin and snap, and an exquisite bunch of gremlins roller paint across a portrait of Shakespeare, it started to become clear. This pure feeling of delight I get from looking at otherworldly design and curious thinking is precious. And although there was something in the gift shop I really wanted, I knew deep down what I truly wanted couldn’t be satisfied with a product.

I walked out onto the street into the fresh air and recognised my own quirks โ€• the building blocks for this project.

They’d been hidden in the memory of a tiny door at the bottom of my Nan’s stairs. And when I recognised that, I unearthed the key to simplicity and my whole heart set on fire.

Image created using Midjourney

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