The Cross House

Dr. Seuss & the Cross House

Years ago I watched a documentary on Dr. Seuss.

One part, in particular, fascinated me.

Seuss labored over every word he wrote. He could spend a week on a single sentence. He could agonize over a comma. He would put in a word, ponder it for hours, and then remove it. He would stare and stare and stare at another word and wonder: is this the perfect word? And then, after at last deciding a sentence was right and good and perfect, he would then think: OK! Now…can I remove some words?


To me, this sums up the creative process.

Creativity is not linear. It is chaos. It can often be agonizing.

Millions of children (and adults) have delighted in the words and drawings of Dr. Seuss. His words, which seem so simple, so perfect, were however only achieved through chaos.

Why am I writing this?

Because this week I have done several posts about my agonies in making sure that the exterior coloring of the Cross House is the best it can be. But this effort seems to upset, even alarm, some readers.

I am not however being obsessive or crazed. I am just trying. And this effort is creative.

Much of the work on the house is linear. Wiring is not creative. Nor is plumbing, plastering, refinishing wood, or putting paint on stuff. But decorating the parlor was intensely creative. And it proved so not linear. It jerked forward in fits and starts. I had to backtrack several times, wasting valuable time. Money was also wasted. At times, it felt as if I were close to the cliff edge of chaos.

Yet, in a blog post I did a year before decorating the parlor, I detailed my plans. And the finished parlor was much like I had planned. I used the same sofa, ordered the same center table, used the same side chairs, went ahead with the same wall color, the same wall stencil, and used the same curtains. In short, about 80% of what I had planned to do, happened, and effortlessly.

The remaining 20%? Chaos, baby. Total chaos.

But I am thrilled with the results.  And I was also thrilled during the whole process. It was like a roller-coaster ride. Exciting and terrifying.

However, had I not been comfortable with chaos, that 20% would have been squashed and I would not be thrilled with the resulting room. There would always be a lingering sense of: Could I have done better?


Now, I have embarked on another creative venture: Trying to subtly enhance the exterior coloring of the house.

I am almost finished with the Great North Wall, and only now can I stand on the corner of the sidewalk and see two imposing facades, the west and north. And this large canvas has revealed something. Something uncomfortable.

I have been too conservative in my approach.

In pouring over the 1895 image of the house, I now realize that the house was not simply a wall color and a trim color. It appears that there were also accent colors. And these would have given the house a liveliness which was lacking in my scheme.

To rectify this, I have been making subtle adjustments. Well, I should say that we have been making subtle adjustments because my friends Patricia and Eric have contributed, and many readers have contributed ideas and photoshopped renderings which have proved enormously helpful.

What a crazy lot we are!

The eye on the huge north gable has been repainted. It is better but not yet brilliant.

The lower scrolled band on the tower has been repainted. I am thrilled with the results.

The garlands on the upper tower have been picked out in green, something I was 100% opposed to until Alex photoshopped the idea…and I was won over.

And guess what? Some liveliness had appeared on the scene!

Then I had the insane idea to treat the low/wide gable over the front steps like a framed picture. The picture itself would be, ah, different, and not matching anything else, color-wise. Eric then came up with outlier colors and I went ahead.

The results thrilled me.

And the liveliness factor increased!

Zac then appeared, offering unsolicited photo-shopped ideas. I was stunned. Fabulously so.

In short order, the capitals and bases on the porch columns were recolored in Zac’s brand new accent color, which I call color #5.

Liveliness increased! Whoee!

Zac also suggested painting the rectangles on the upper tower in #5. I was dead-set against this but Zac photo-shopped me into acceptance (I am eager to start this work).

There has been debate on the columns. Should they stay green? Or be lighter as shown in the 1895 image? Two days ago I painted two in a deep gold. I wasn’t thrilled with the results but sensed I was onto something. Chaos, baby! Chaos!

Then the color of the porch ceiling came into question. I have never painted it. Well, this question has engendered all sorts of ideas! Chaos!

So, what will the finished results looks like?

I have no idea.

Doe this concern me?

Not a whit.

Why not?

Three reasons:

  • I have been doing this a looooooong time.
  • I have learned that only by going down a road of chaos will beauty be revealed.
  • I have a good sense of discernment. This really helps!


Thank you, Dr. Seuss.



11 Responses to Dr. Seuss & the Cross House

  1. I am not one given to hand out gratuitous praise. In the pictures of the unrestored sections of the house, I see interesting architecture, but it is a bit hard to see the characteristic warmth and coziness Victorian homes are famous for. I really see it when the color is right. I know you are on the right track and it is very apparent that you cannot minimize the importance of period color schemes to create the warmth in your heart when you gaze upon your treasured home. I might say when I have looked at earlier pictures, I saw a lot of business, but what a change the right colors make! And thank God you have intuition and Eric to guide you.

  2. I commend you on your passion, dedication, and determination, all the while doing it on a public forum and taking our comments as helpful and sometimes frustrating as they may be. I owe you an apology for my shortness in my comment a day or two ago, but it goes to show you how much true patience you have compared to some of us. Truly, some of us could not be doing the great work you are doing because of our lack of patience; thus, it showing up in the quality of the work. You know when to ignore and pay attention to all comments coming your way. Keep up the great work. I wouldn’t be following had it not been great and joy to see.
    Mary from Georgia

  3. This is a wonderful post Ross- you really nailed it in explaining the creative process. I am sure it is different for all but when I create art, I always have a sense of the chaos and destruction involved before I can transcend into beauty. I secretly used to think I was crazy and it bothered me…until one day I asked an artist friend how he worked and he told me that he would go through the very same process.

  4. This is so inspiring to me on so many different levels. While I have been gleefully (the perfect word for how I feel) following along on the painting posts and the chaos hasn’t bothered me, I really needed to read this for my own life. Things have been total chaos and suddenly, I just feel better. So thank you for that.

  5. I think it’s a combination of being creative, patient, and a perfectionist. Sadly, although I am a perfectionist, I am also impatient and not at all creative. I would absolutely take the time to make the perfect glazing line.
    However, it would drive me crazy to revisit things I had already done. I would constantly have this nagging feeling that I was somehow “wasting” time. (keep in mind, I get annoyed having to wait in line at the grocery store) I have never felt upset or alarmed by what you do, but because I’m not creative, I didn’t understand the process, and I did think you were kinda being obsessive. (sorry) Anyway, so keep doing what you do – it’s not only creative and perfect, but you do it all with an amazing amount of patience!

  6. My first inclination after reading this post was to ask your permission to send your explanation of the creative process to my family members. I realized that it would not forward my wish to be understood. They wouldn’t get the chaos part and would just tell me that at least Ross finishes things. I really ought to just stop wanting to be understood.

    There is a perception on the part of so many people that I never finish anything. My perception is that they never do anything. I like the idea that the infinitive of the french word “faire” is defined as to make OR to do. The reality is that I live for the ideas that I glean from each project, and once I have mentally come to the best solution of how to complete a project, the details of producing a finished product for the world at large, are of little interest. Each somewhat incomplete project reminds me of the thought processes that I went through so joyfully and adds to the knowledge base for future projects.

    On many occasions, the reason a project gets “finished” is that I had a new idea while passing it and so went down that alley.
    This is joyous for me, yet totally frustrates those around me. Many seek the answer to the eternal question, “why”. I am inclined to ask “how”.

    HOW DID THEY MAKE THAT? HOW DID THEY DO THAT? I think that figuring this out is what I am here for.

    I fully expect that I will leave many unfinished projects behind when I am gone. I finish them if I can find some incentive.

  7. (GRIN)Ross my darling, it is always this way with creative processes. I think that those who are hyper critical do not understand how unique minds work. My own thought processes run a bit parallel to yours, the difference being that I don’t tend to revisit as often as you do. Once I have the picture in my mind..that’s it. But then again, I don’t ask ANYONE for their opinion. I’m of the “If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you” school. Everyone is different, thank God! I’m delighted for the most part with your decisions. But in the end, you have to live with it, it’s your house. No one must live with your decisions but yourself, sweetie…so do so with joy and elan! (Which I must say, you do quite well!!!)

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