Creativity Corner The Creative Process

The Creative Process – Meet Mollie Katzen

February 17, 2014

I’m delighted to feature the first Creative Process post of 2014.

For new readers: Much has been written about The Creative Process, which in its purest form is simply a way of solving a problem. That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Creativity and its process, contrary to popular belief, is not just reserved for artists and designers. I believe that everyone can benefit from learning and understanding the numerous ways of the creative process. I will invite people to share their own personal creative processes with us and hope this will help you with identifying your own.

Today I’ve got someone close to my heart for you. Mollie Katzen, an award-winning illustrator and designer with over six million books in print, is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time.

I came across Mollie in the early 90’s, when I first started being interested in cooking, food and health. The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest were amongst the very first cookbooks I bought! So can you imagine how I felt when Mollie agreed to join the CP Express? I had to wait until the publication and whirlwind book tour of her latest bestseller: The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation (lavishly illustrated with her own watercolors, photos, and collages) was all done and dusted, but hey ho, Mollie is now firmly here! I was ecstatic she offered to open up her amazing collection of sketchbooks for us. What a treat….

The Creative Process – Mollie Katzen

I like to avoid the words “creative” and “art,” as they lead to categorization neither real nor measurable. They also lead to the illusion of some special club for the “talented” for which many await an externally-generated invitation that never arrives. Here’s the rub: that club does not exist.  The big tent of ideas is internal and unofficial, and by that definition, it does not have a sign out front.  But each one of us carries such a space within us-—a space to which access is open and always granted.

I would love for people to put aside the concept of “creative,” and simply listen, look, and take some quiet space to think and note or in some way record.  Perhaps these jottings-down will lead to ideas that become things a bit later, a bit further down the road.  But perhaps not.  It is highly possible that they are simply nourishment and a kind of fodder that is unknowably yet embracingly golden. For any present moment, any record-keeping of the soul and the unconscious form is a gift to the self that serves to navigate the mystery of our separateness, and to notate the possibility of our connectedness.

So I don’t think “creative process” per se. I just keep track of things. I do so in journals that are bound, hard-cover notebooks filled with blank white paper.  I began keeping these books at age 19 and now, at 63, I continue.  The selection of images presented here spans that entire era.  I flip through from time to time—although the paper has become rather delicate, and I need to turn pages increasingly gently—and with each re-visit comes some new insight or realization. Sometimes it informs my work as a cookbook author and illustrator. And sometimes it just informs me.  All useful, and all good.

It’s a form of embracing and remembering. It’s not official – more like notes-to-self. Sometimes it comes out in words, more often in pictures. Sometimes those pictures are portraits of actual things, persons, animals, or places. Sometimes they are the unconscious conversation between inner mind and hand, marginal and doodle-y. What all of this has in common is that it begins in a private place, with the simple purpose of staying centered as a human.  Is this “creative?” Fine if semantically so. Regardless of definition, I want to encourage others to understand that “creative” is not about grooming a project in hopes that the world will find it (or you) clever. It’s more truly about the need for each of us to renew our way forward, daily, into the unknown. It’s about gathering resources and bolstering our beings to withstand separateness and create a reservoir of impressions, ideas, and memories as fuel for the journey.

Writing down what I cook or dream about or see—or drawing portraits of ideas or actual beings/places/things—is all very personal. I don’t call it “creative” or “art.” I don’t assign a purpose, most of the time. It’s something other than this.

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Mollie’s Studio

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Brush Still Life | Bundle of Scraps

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Cabin Tree Sketch

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Crazy Animals | Mug Butter Still

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Lecture | Red Keys

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Mushrooms | Pom Porcini Collage

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Portrait | Rag Doll

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Leaf Pot | Judy

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Blue Oil Abstract

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Red Blue Acryl Abstract

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
SF Wilds | Single Edible Leaf

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Tara | Tree Sketch

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Unnamed Tools | Vigilante

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Various Veg

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
Veg Sketch | Bread Comix

The Creative Process - Mollie Katzen
EBF Soups | EBF Beets

Mollie, a million thanks for sharing your gorgeous sketchbooks and enriching us all with your wisdom. I hope we get to meet one day soon.

The Creative Process will resume in a few weeks time.

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  • Reply Mollie Katzen February 17, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Thank you, Tina! It’s a pleasure to be part of your blog. xxxooo

    • Reply tina February 18, 2014 at 12:45 pm

      Mollie, the pleasure is all mine. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. xx

  • Reply Catherine@farmhousehome February 18, 2014 at 4:09 am

    Thank you Molly for reminding me to
    “simply listen, look, and take some quiet space to think and note or in some way record” for me this has always been a time when I feel the most centred and inspired, lately I’ve just forgotten to do it… Look forward to tracking down your new cookbook Molly. Fabulous post Tina, thank you both. xx

    • Reply tina February 18, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      Ah, with life being so busy and Technology taking over the world it’s really important to be mindful. I keep having to remind myself. As I mentioned on IG, my camera gets all the attention these days. I find there’s a mindfulness in sketching that is so precious and valuable. (note to myself).

      Thank you Catherine. I’m sure you’ll enjoy any of Mollie’s cookbooks xx

  • Reply Parisbreakfast February 18, 2014 at 7:54 am

    I’ve always loved her cookbooks.
    I had no idea she could draw beautifully too!

    • Reply tina February 18, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Ha. You and me both.

      Yes, the drawings are so precious and I was delighted Mollie offered to share her sketchbooks.

    • Reply Mollie Katzen February 23, 2014 at 6:21 pm

      Thank you! xxxxoooMollie

  • Reply Gudy Herder February 18, 2014 at 9:21 am

    She had me at the first 3 sentences when she talks about ‘creative’ and ‘art’. It makes me think about what we understand when saying someone is an artist or creative… Wonderful wonderful post, Mollie and Tina!

    • Reply tina February 18, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      I know. It’s a difficult one. I do believe everyone is creative in some ways but I have to add here that there is learning to be done as well. It’s a little like people believe because they have a Mac they can create logos or do graphic design. Wrong. The same applies to styling et cetera. My advise to those who want to be seen as ‘creative’ is to learn learn learn… I cannot simply do a weekend in Law and call myself a lawyer. There’s a definite distinction here and a LOT of misconception.

      However, being creative can mean a lot of things… the way we think, the way we solve a problem, the way we see something.

      Glad you enjoyed it Gudy x

    • Reply Mollie Katzen February 23, 2014 at 6:23 pm

      It’s so important to open things up, rather than shut them down. I’m glad we’re all doing this together: asking questions, stretching meaning, entering through the back door of sheer image. Thank you, Gudy. xxxxxMollie

  • Reply Gerard @WalnutGrey February 18, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I have to agree with Mollie when she says that words like ‘“creative” and “art,”… lead to categorization neither real nor measurable. They also lead to the illusion of some special club for the “talented”’. There are many individuals who promote themselves under the auspices of being some creative talent or force, or they are quite happy to be labelled as creative by others. To say “I am the creative type” or something to that effect is such a fanciful idiom.

    Not having a formulaic or textbook-like creative process myself, I can relate to Mollie’s ideas. I often just ‘do’ and see where it takes me. It’s how I write. I have a spark and go forward with a notion in my head.

    And I love that Mollie points out that being creative is not about being seen to be clever or better (ok that’s my interpretation of what she said). Being creative is about expression, identity, imagination et cetera. It just is what it is.

    Thanks Mollie and Tina. Looking forward to more Creative Process posts 🙂 x

    • Reply tina February 18, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Hmmm, as I just mentioned in my response to Gudy, I also believe that everyone is creative and I agree with … “They also lead to the illusion of some special club for the “talented”… However, as a writer you would know that all Bloggers, for example, write and yet, we HAVE to make a distinction between a true writer, that would be you, and (for these purposes) someone like me, who just (let’s be honest about it) is not great at writing.

      I have always had a complex about my lack of writing skills and yes, since blogging, they have maybe slightly improved (i’ve been blogging consistently for 2 years) BUT I’m not a writer. What I am is good at talking TO my readers, instead of AT them and I have a friendly way. So, I know that some people would think my writing skills are great and the same goes for my photography, by the way. Am I a photographer? No, not at all. It takes a lifetime of constantly photographing and learning to be called a great photographer. What I’m good at is composition, the selection of what I photograph and a bit of technical knowledge. Again, to a lot of people I’m a good photographer.

      So, here’s the distinction for me. I’m good at all these things because I do them regularly enough, because I’m a trained designer (over 30 years experience) and because I’m an eternal student. I apply myself to everything I do… yes, I AM a creative but am not a photographer, stylist or writer….I am a creative thinker and problem solver, so all round creative in the way I see things, live my life, et cetera.

      For me, these distinctions are important as to give true value to the ‘art’ of professions:-)

      Am really interested what others, including Mollie think!
      Thanks Gerard x

      • Reply Gerard @WalnutGrey February 20, 2014 at 12:03 pm

        Thank you for considering me to be a ‘true writer’ 😉 It’s someone I’m constantly evolving, living and learning. All part of my creative journey. I understand what you’re saying though. I’m not a photographer and even though some people think I should take pictures for my zine, it doesn’t actually interest me that much. I’m more than happy to curate and use other people’s far superior images.
        I think you are a photographer. Maybe you don’t see yourself as such, but the fact that you put so much into your photographs – for me – warrants you using that label. And of course you are still learning. I defy any great ‘creative’ – whoever they might be – to say they are not constantly learning.
        I think I touch a little on the true value regarding the ‘art’ of professions (as you say) in my latest monologue.
        Thank you xx

    • Reply Mollie Katzen February 23, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      Keep that spark, Gerard. Way to go. xxxoooMollie

  • Reply Carole Poirot February 18, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Wonderful, beautiful and very positive outlook on the creative process, art and the idea of a “club” of artists. I have so often wondered about this. Who are these artists? What makes one an artist or a creative? Who decides?

    Observing, looking around, listening and continuously learning are some of the elements that contribute to creativity. I also believe that there has to be something inside a creative person that will set them apart from others: two people might have studied fine art or interior design, both hold the same academic qualifications, yet they could be at completely different levels because one person is more instinctively driven than academically. Some technical things need to be learned the academic way (no doubt about that), but I think that intuition is as (if not more) important as technical knowledge.

    “Keeping track of things” as Mollie puts it, has resulted in some beautiful work which any creative or artist would be very proud of (not that I’m in the position to be a judge on that) and seems very much instinctively driven. I don’t think this kind of art can be learned at any university.

    What a wonderful interview and a great woman. xo

    • Reply tina February 18, 2014 at 4:21 pm

      Thank you Carole.
      You make some very valied points here. I also believe that intuition/instinct and a ‘je ne sais quoi’ can play a huge role in what we’re discussing.

      Mr Cowell would call it ‘the X-factor’ but just like with the X-factor, it cannot be JUST build on the surrounding elements (hope this makes sense). They have to be able to sing!!! Yet, singing alone doesn’t give them the X-Factor (except in cases like Leona Lewis and the latest UK winner) Their voices are so incredible, they look good and so are marketed as International Divas.

      Like with some of the the X-factor contestants, I don’t much like ‘Delusion’ so it’s important that people are realistic about what they are, that’s all!

      Apologies to anyone who is offended by my analogy of the X-factor!

      Haha. I think you’re fine to judge the beauty of Mollie’s Sketchbooks. I wish I could sketch like that, or let me rephrase it, take the time to sketch like that. Mollie has kept sketchbooks ‘forever’ and it so shows!!!!

      Thank you lovely x

      • Reply Mollie Katzen February 23, 2014 at 6:30 pm

        Tina, I think your X-Factor comparison is apt. Sometimes, that kind of singing (or related endeavor) is all volume and forced “intensity” with neither the true chops (I worry about their tender throats 3 years from now!) nor the soul/message. Not that those earnest performers don’t possess or bring these things – more that the pressure to stand out and “win” forces them to push themselves quantitatively. And what links us here, on your blog, is that we strive for what lies beneath. Good to gently encourage others to do the same. xxxxooooooMollie

    • Reply Mollie Katzen February 23, 2014 at 6:25 pm

      You are kind, Carole – thank you. And you are also wise. Who decides? – indeed.
      Hugs, Mollie

  • Reply Doris February 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    What a special treat for us to be able to see Mollies sketchbook. I love that she views her sketching as a form of embracing and remembering. I also agree with you that it’s all about practice, anyone can sketch, draw, take photo’s or write, it’s just a matter of taking the time to do it to get good at it. Those that are “professional creatives” have spent a lifetime honing their “talents” and it would be incredibly inappropriate to measure someone who has just started against them. Another great post, I think this has got to be my favourite series out of all of your already excellent ones. xD

    • Reply tina February 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Isn’t it just? I’m always fascinated by sketchbooks. They’re like a window into someone’s soul! so I was extra chuffed when Mollie suggested it..

      Did you mention on another comment you’re sketching for 10 minutes every morning and that it makes you happy? I think that’s magic and such a good routine. It reminds me of ‘The Artist’s Way’ and keeping journals.

      When I look back at some of the photos I took when I first started blogging, I want to crinch! I’ve really improved in the 2 years and although I did get comments of how good my photography is.. that was measured by people, who maybe NEVER took photographs and so, to their eye, mine were amazing. Thank God, I know my strength and weaknesses and just focused on continuing to improve, for me, for my high standards and for the respect to photographers! I bet I’ll feel the same in another 2 years and my photos now might make me cringe:-)

      Thanks Doris, glad you enjoy the series xx

      • Reply Mollie Katzen February 23, 2014 at 6:32 pm

        Ah – the important element of joy. And then growth/progress.
        Thanks for this, Tina. So important

    • Reply Mollie Katzen February 23, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      Thank you, Doris! xxxxoxoxoMollie

  • Reply Alison Sye February 18, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    Wonderful post Tina, and once again another introduction for which I am grateful. I just popped over to Mollie’s website, where I took a look at her new book. Not only do the recipes look delicious, it’s a very beautiful tome, too. I can’t resist a beautiful book, I will be searching it out.

    • Reply tina February 21, 2014 at 2:15 pm

      Thank you Alison. Glad you got to ‘meet’ Mollie…
      I’m sure you will enjoy it tremendously! x

    • Reply Mollie Katzen February 23, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      Thank you, Alison! I’m glad you took a look at the book. I hope it serves you well when you find it. xxxoooMollie

  • Reply Louise - 30s Magazine February 18, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    wow you captured the essence already in the first paragraph. You are so right that people (and I) tend to define creatives and creativity as a specimen and a higher science. But as you point out, we all have it in us, if we would just listen to our inner conversations.

    I totally recognize what you are saying. When busy with external demands and going with life’s flow, I am indeed less creative because there is less room for my inner thoughts and I can’t hear my inner creative voice.
    Thanks for articulating this and sharing your insights.

    • Reply tina February 21, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Louise x

    • Reply Mollie Katzen February 23, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Dear Louise, Life’s flow can hold interstitial spaces for formulating and storing crazy ideas (the good kind) between the cracks (and there are always cracks). Even with your external demands, I hope that you can carry a pencil and small notepad – or something electronic – to write down even just a word or two ( or a little sketch). Hugs to you, Mollie

  • Reply Matthew Pike February 20, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    I enjoy looking at people’s sketchbook, it’s such a personal and individual thing.

    Buckets & Spades

    • Reply tina February 21, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      Hi Matthew,

      Me too. I’ve got a little obsession about it! I call it the ‘insight to the soul’.. thanks for stopping by!

  • Reply leah of sang the bird February 21, 2014 at 12:36 am

    I knew that I had read the name Mollie Katzen somewhere before. And that would be on my bookshelf. The Moosewood Cookbook was one of the first recipe books that graced my bookshelf.
    I often wonder when (some) people have called me ‘a creative’…. how can they say that. I have no formal study or training. I am not an ‘artist’, but I do love seeing things in a creative way.
    Your opening paragraph speaks volumes to me.

    Much love xx

  • Reply tina February 21, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Ha. It’s always so interesting to me when I know that some of us (although we’ve never met) have read the same stuff, been to the same places or met the same people at a time when Social Media was not yet invented….

    Darling, you are oh sooo creative… some people, just have it in them. Formal training is never necessary but it can enhance what’s already there.
    Thanks Leah x

  • Reply Holly March 9, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Wow, this creative process post is very … intimate. Thank you Mollie for sharing your thoughts and opening your sketchbooks to us. Tina, your readers are so lucky that we get to ingest such amazing stuff over here.

    I try so hard to keep notebooks and diaries. I’m just horrible at it. But I know that leafing through the past offers a valuable perspective and possibilities for the now and the future. I will keep trying 🙂


    • Reply tina March 17, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      Nice choice of words….

      We’re all so good at telling ourselves that we are ‘crap’. But if we look closely, our marks can have such great meanings. Coz whatever comes out of
      your head/heart onto the page is pearls. (I’m btw talking to myself as well here:-))
      Thanks Holly xx

  • Reply Mollie Katzen March 17, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Dear Holly,
    I’m hoping you will decide to laugh off your “horrible at it” and fall in love with your own musings. Whatever they are – and whatever form they take – is all good, and it all belongs to you. You are actually wonderful at it, no quote marks around that. I hope great possibilities become clear to you, and I wish you a ton of joy.
    with love,

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