Monday, October 24, 2016

Tim Needles: I Begin Each Page With An Open Mind

I’ve lived most of my life attached to a sketchbook.  As an artist and writer I’ve found my creative process has evolved over the years but it nearly always begins in the book.  I have a closet full of sketchbooks from the last 20 years.  I’ve digitized a few pages from a selection of books and posted a few on my website but for the most part these pages are for me and are generally only seen by my art students, a few select friends and acquaintances.  As an artist I feel that these books may represent the most pure artistic creations I’ve made and are some of my greatest successes as an artist.  The irony is that these books are rarely seen and have no audience.

I like thicker, heavy paper so I use Canson sketchbooks and keep a few pieces of scrap paper underneath a page as I work on it for notes and to prevent bleeding.  I also use smaller Moleskin watercolor sketchbooks for when I travel or when I’m temporarily between books.  I often complete the 108 pages in under a month but in general I use a book between 1-3 months.  I also will film my creative process in creating work with short videos and share it via social media.

I write, draw, take notes, and paint in my book daily and I’ve been working in them so long my process itself has become something of a meditation.  I’ll write down and sketch out ideas, paint over it, glue, layer, collage, and see what happens.  I use words and images but the two often meld together and I let the work choose it’s own direction.  I often begin without any set idea or intention by putting a pen or brush to the page.  I’ve become confident in this practice that once may have caused doubt or fear.

I work each page until I feel satisfied, whether it’s complete or not.  The more I work the less I try to control the process.  I begin each page with an open mind and no idea of what I’m going to do.  Over the years I’ve noticed certain trends and I understand that my work has some fluidity but I try to push it further and innovate.Most of all I create for myself. As an artist I try to be authentic, in the moment, and enjoy the process of making art.

I also participated in the sketchbook project last year and that book which was focused on creating portraits each day throughout the month of October is available to view online.  The video below shows the process of creating one of the pages.  The project asks artist and writers to create a sketchbook with a theme that can be shared online and housed in their headquarters at the Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg, NY.  You can learn more about it here at The Sketchbook Project.

My philosophy is that every day is another opportunity to be creative.  I began drawing and writing for myself and that is what I try to do each day.  I think creating art in any form is a wonderful thing.  As an educator I encourage everyone to create and find what gives you a sense of meaning and let it be a beacon in your work.  Don’t worry about your audience, create first for yourself.  The most important advice I give to my students is simply to work, regularly and diligently- each day if possible, it is the only universal secret to success.

Creative Challenge: Use this image from my sketchbook as a writing or art prompt. If you want to share it via social media add the hashtag #terpart which I use for my annual month of creative challenges.  This is an ongoing challenge, so you may share at any time.

Tim Needles is an artist, writer, performer, and educator from Port Jefferson, NY.  He has been teaching art and media at Smithtown School District in NY for 17 years as well as working as an Adobe Education Leader, a PBS digital innovator, an educational consultant for The Japan Society, and as an adjunct college professor.  His work has been featured on NPR as well as in The New York Times, the Columbus Museum of Art, SVA Gallery, the Talks With Teachers podcast, and LitReactor.  He is also the recipient of the National Art Educators Association AET Outstanding Teaching award and the Robert Rauschenberg Power of Art award at the National Gallery of Art.  He is active on social media guest hosting education chats and sharing his thoughts on arts and education-you can find him at TimNeedlesArt on Facebook or @timneedles on Twitter and Instagram. You can view a few pages and covers of some of Tim's sketchbooks at his website, Tim Needles.

Sharing Our Notebooks is offering a giveaway of a book Tim recommends - SHOW YOUR WORK! by Austin Kleon - for a reader of this post.  Please leave a comment by Sunday, November 20 to be entered into this random drawing.  Please be sure to leave a way to contact you in your comment as well.

Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share their process.  At the present time, I am accepting all notebook entries and am especially hoping to receive some entries from boys and men who keep any kind of notebooks.  If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.

Please share a comment below if you wish.


  1. What a fascinating post, Tim! I love your energy and admire your dedication. What interesting art! I have an artist friend who would enjoy the giveaway book. I'll cross my fingers for both of us.

  2. This was a great post! I love the work and feel very inspired and look forward to incorporating more art in my own journals- Thanks for sharing Tim!

  3. I was going to say that I look forward to a time in my life when I will have more time to be more creative in my notebooks...but perhaps this is a MAKE time situation and not a HAVE time situation? (I already own Austin Kleon's book(s), so give my chance to someone else!)

  4. Tim, your philosophy statement "that every day is another opportunity to be creative," is filled with positivity. Being creative is an act of fun and passion. I love the glimpse into your creative process.


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