Pen, paper, on my mark

There is nothing more terrifying, yet also exhilarating, than the blank page.

For designers, this is a conflict we live every day. A blank page is life and death to the us, as it is life and death to the writer. A cruel taunting adversary and a whispering siren promise of the sublime.

My every design starts with a sketch. Each new project gets a new leaf in my jotter. There is a moment, when my pen hovers above the crisp, white, french paper, before any mark is made or cypher has been constructed, before wires or frames, when the entirety of the design hangs in the balance.

I'm a rugby fan, so please indulge me a sporting analogy.

Have you ever watched an out-half in a game of rugby tap both toes on the grass before stepping up to kick? These are meaningless taps. No flight of a ball has ever been affected by them. They play little or no part in the concerto of human form and physics that sends an inflated oval soaring between two uprights. But what they are is ritual and to that out-half they mean everything.

Those first marks I make on that pristine leaf are my meaningless taps. They are everything and nothing. They are a mental commitment, a reset, a firing of engines and a tentative first step all rolled into one. To date, they have yet to produce an instantaneous and original masterpiece, but everything I design flows from them. Most of then have ended up in the trash.


F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is released in cinemas again this week — the 5th attempt at filming that un-filmable book. In an essay in this month's Esquire, Andrew O'Hagan quotes one of Fitzgerald's letters, written while he was wrangling with Gatsby.

In it Fitzgerald captures the acute mental agony of those first scrapes of nib across paper, but also their infinite promise to be better than all that has gone before:

I feel I have an enormous power in me now, more than I've ever had in a way but it works so fitfully and with so many bogeys… in my new novel I'm thrown directly on purely creative work — not trashy imaginings as in my stories but the sustained imagination of a sincere and yet advent world. So I tread slowly and carefully and at times in considerable distress.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Let's follow in Fitzgerald's footsteps: tread slowly, carefully and endure the distress. Wonder awaits beyond those first marks.