Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pieces of a Picture

At the start of the New Year, I suppose it’s tradition to set goals one hopes to work on or reach by year’s end. One of my ongoing quests is to break down the Big Goal into smaller parts. Few do it better than Maira Kalman, and perhaps the best example is her book Looking at Lincoln.

As I mentioned in the review, the seeds of the book began with a blog that Kalman did for the New York Times. She started with her love of Abraham Lincoln, which led her to the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. On her blog, she shares pages from her notebooks, which brim with drawings and phrases and doodles in the margins culled from her research about the 16th president, as well as photo reproductions that she shares with readers.

It’s such a great example of how our interests can lead us down deep and winding paths. And as we wind our way down these paths, unexpected connections can occur. Kalman also shows us—if we compare the notebook doodles on her blog to the images in her picture book—how she selected the facts and images that made the greatest impact and refined them for her book. We see the amount of thought and discipline that went into her choices of what to include and what to leave out, and how those pieces of the picture add up to a three-dimensional portrait of a great leader and extraordinary human being. She captures Lincoln’s humor and sorrow, his joy and his pain.

And most of all, Kalman models the way she starts small, with details that interest her, and builds to the larger integrated whole. What a great way to approach any goal, whether it’s writing a book or building a house or running a marathon. We have to begin a little at a time, word by word, brick by brick, step by step.

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