Water and shade

I’m getting real good at juggling a soccer ball. It’s one of three things that I do to exercise these days. The other two: shooting hoops in the driveway and spinning on the elliptical in the rec room.

Of the three, juggling’s my favorite. I played soccer in high school, and even then I had more fun juggling than I did actually playing the game. 

I get bored juggling in one place, so I’ve given myself the challenge of seeing how far I can run while juggling before the ball hits the ground. Sometimes I wonder what my neighbors think when they see me pacing back and forth across the driveway, spastically jabbing my legs out at a yellow ball to keep it from touching the concrete.

It is surprisingly entertaining. And tiring. But what I love about any sort of physical activity is that you can take just a minute to catch your breath and grab a drink of water, and then you can get back to it. I’m sometimes amazed at what a minute of standing in the shade and getting some liquid back into my system can do for the next round of juggling.

My juggling habit came to mind today while I was working on some curriculum development. I wondered why mental activity wasn’t more like physical exercise. I wished that I could take a short break, get a drink of water (or the mental equivalent), and then return to the activity re-energized.

As I pondered that comparison I realized something important - that I rarely give myself a break while doing mental work. Sure, I’ll go get a drink of water or maybe stand outside for a few minutes - but my mind stays on the work back in my office. That’s not a complete break. That’s like taking a break from juggling a soccer ball by walking a hundred feet away and then continuing to juggle. That’s not rest, it’s a change in scenery, which is nice but it’s not what the body needs.

What the body and the mind need is a complete break, even if just for a minute or two. I think it would serve me well to remember that throughout my work day.

The question now is this - what’s my water and shade? What’s the proper break from the mental work that I spend much of my day engaged in? It has to be something toward which I can devote all my attention so that my mind doesn’t wander back into work mode.

I like moving around, so maybe it’s something lightly physical that I can do inside, maybe even in the office or the hallway.

I think it’s time I go buy myself a hacky sack.


I spend a lot of time thinking about how I spend my time. Maybe too much.

But then again, we’ve only got this one life, only so many hours, only so much time to spend.

It was during a moment when I was thinking about how I spend my time that the idea on the post-it note above came to me - that my happiness corresponds in large part to how wisely I spend my time. I like to lay my head down at night and know that I didn’t waste a day. One of my definitions of a good life is waking up energized and going to bed satisfied. It’s what I do with the hours in between that determines how I feel at the end of a day.

Recently I even began to track my time, but just the work hours. When I’m not working (and often even when I am) I like to forget about the concept of time altogether and get lost in whatever activity I’m engaged in. 

Earlier this week I listened to a TED Radio Hour episode on the subject of happiness , which reinforced many ideas that I had heard before but that are always useful to reinforce: that mindfulness, minimalism, and gratitude are the keys to happiness.

I’m finding that paying close attention to how I spend my time (and going so far as to track many hours of my day) has the added benefit of keeping me mindful. When I start tracking a new activity, my mind switches into that mode and I find it much easier to keep it from wandering. Unless wandering is precisely what I want my mind to be doing. Gotta make room for that in my day too.

A pen and some ink


I rode the sinking ship
Down to the bottom of the sea
Where in the darkening deep
It burst into flames

And I warmed my teeth
On the impossible heat
And found my feet
Underneath me again

Then I went kicking to the surface
Just like a newborn thing
Ready to begin
What I needed to begin

I felt the cracking of the whip
And hiss of industry
And saw the men who were
Dying to live

Now there’s blood in my eyes
From all this trying to see
I am deeper in
Then when I first came

And I have traded my gold
For a pen and some ink
And I’m trying hard
To write my name

My friend Jeffrey Martin came out with a new album today. I spent the second half of my morning listening to it while sitting in the shade on the back deck.

I don’t do that often enough - just sit and listen to music. Most of the time the music I listen to is just a backdrop to work or driving or exercise. But it was worth it to just listen today.

The lyrics above are from a song titled Newborn Thing, which spoke to me more than any other song on the album, especially on second listen when I took the time to write down some of the lyrics.

Jeff and I crossed paths in graduate school, each on our way to becoming high school teachers. Though I think Jeff would do a fine job in the classroom, I’m glad to see he’s sticking with music for the time being. He’s doing with music what I hope to do with illustration and sketchnoting - discover a voice, a style, and something worth saying.

And I have traded my gold
For a pen and some ink
And I’m trying hard
To write my name

Pick up Jeff’s new album here.

Curriculum design


Gosh it feels good to be in teacher mode again.

I’m in the process of designing a set of one-on-one sketchnoting courses, and I’m in that exciting phase in which I get to map out the learning experience and build the resources to support it.

Curriculum design, they call it. I enjoyed that aspect of being a high school teacher just as much as (and sometimes more than) the actual teaching.

In this case I’ve got the benefit of knowing that I’ll be working with students one-on-one. If you’ve never stood in front of a classroom of thirty kids you have no idea how much of a luxury that is.

I’m digging how it’s all coming together, and I’m getting more and more excited about putting these courses to good use.


I realized recently that I’ve become bored with solid color.

All of the illustrations and digitized sketchnotes that I’ve created to date are either black and white or contain a bit of color, but all solid color. I’m ready to experiment with something new.

What I want is some texture, and that’s what I went after today.

I grabbed a stick of graphite that I picked up at an art supply store months ago and used it for the first time. The textures that resulted did not arise from any plan or technique. I simply played as I made marks on the page. It was the first time in a long time that making anything felt like play.


As I created these textures I realized that the reason that I had become bored with the solid color of my digital sketches is that rarely in nature do you see solid color. Any time you see color in nature it is embedded into the texture of the object that you’re looking at. The brown bark of a tree, the green of its leaves, the gray of a rock.

I’ve already scanned these textures, and I’m looking forward to using them on upcoming illustration and hand-lettering projects. I’m hoping that by incorporating more texture into my work I’ll get closer to that natural feel that my previous work lacks.

Daily guiding questions

I spent some time this weekend getting back into the world of hand-lettering, a world that has interested me ever since taking a course from Sean McCabe and going to a book launch party/workshop hosted by Mary Kate McDevitt.

The new illustrations I’m working on stem from some guiding questions that have helped me get my days started lately. Those two questions:

How can I help others today?

What can I be grateful for today?

The first question helps to guide me in the work that I do. I’ve been self-employed for about a year now (crazy!), but financial stability still eludes me. As I refine that business and plan for the future, it’s useful to keep my overall goal in mind: to help others.

The second question helps me to keep everything in perspective, particularly when things aren’t going so well. As I’ve learned lately, showing gratitude makes you happier, so I’m trying to develop that habit, even on days when I don’t wake up in a good mood.


The interesting thing is that even on those days when I don’t wake up overly motivated, often all it takes is a bit of creating something to brighten up my day.


That’s what I found today at least, while I was working on the hand-lettering of the first question. Got through stage one - the physical sketching. Next step is to scan it in, do a bit of digital editing, and fit it to and 8x10 inch print.


If I like it, I’ll be doing the second question in the same style. Already got the wall space picked out where I want them to hang.

Oregon country road

I was looking back at some of the pictures I took during a drive out in the farm country of central Oregon last weekend, and this one stood out:


We were driving on the road perpendicular to the one in the photo, going about 60 miles per hour. I sat in the passenger seat with my phone pointed out the window. I knew that this was the shot that I wanted, but I also knew there was a bit of a delay between my tapping of the screen and the actual snapping of the photo. So rather than asking my brother to stop the car, I just tried to time it right by guessing how much in advance I had to tap that button on the screen. I wanted the road to be exactly in the center, and it turned out pretty darn close to that.

It might be silly to take that experience and connect it to bigger and broader experiences in life, but lots of time I think that’s what it boils down to - a bit of preparedness and a bit of luck result in something kinda nice.

I also like that this photo captures the scene exactly 90 degrees from the direction we were traveling. Despite the beauty of the road we were on, I still wanted to make the turn and travel the road pictured above. I think there’s a lesson to be learned there as well.


I’m at the early stages of a new project. It just got its very own envelope. Here’s what I’m filling that envelope with.


A while back I heard Seth Godin talk about The Ship It Journal, which I decided to work through for this project. As you can see, at first I was going to use the little pamphlet to think through an introductory course on sketchnoting that I’ve had in the back of my mind for quite some time.

But I don’t think I’m ready to develop that course yet. I’ve got ideas about what a course like that would look like, but I want to test out those ideas before I formalize them.


So I’ve decided to beef up the one-on-one instruction that I’ve been offering for the past month. I want to help more folks on an individual level before I create ONE thing designed to help a whole bunch of people.

That last card is there to remind myself of what this is all about. I stole the idea from Twyla Tharp.


This project, then, involves formalizing what that one-on-one instruction looks like. I started by sketching out exactly what I plan on offering. As always, I start with pen and paper sketches:


Then digitize those sketches and pretty them up, one for each offering:





These images will serve as the road map for the work to come - the development of the workbooks that will accompany each of the one-on-one packages.

As I keep working, I’ll try to keep in mind the words that mark the end of The Ship It Journal: