The backpack in my closet

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I’ve got a backpack sitting in my closet gathering that most unnatural kind of dust.

I thought of that backpack because it was one of the first nouns I wrote down this afternoon in response to an essay by Ray Bradbury.

I think that big backpack came to mind for two reasons.

The first is that I recently had a conversation with a friend with whom I traveled to El Salvador a few years back. The stories of travel that came up during that conversation stand in stark contrast to my current reality (which is the second reason the pack came to mind) - the relatively broke, car-less, living-with-his-parents reality that I wake up to each day.

But what I also wake up to is a cause that I feel good about contributing to, an art form that I’m working to master, and the quiet space of a country home where I have the opportunity to do the hard work of bringing to life something of my own creation.

My backpack sits in that closet, waiting for the next adventure, which will come. But there’s another adventure to attend to first - the less glamorous but no less important task of becoming an artist.

There’s something about taking that brush…

"There’s something about taking that brush and being able to run that stroke of paint down that upright part of the letter - there’s something about that.

We’re so into technology, and with all of the stuff that we’ve experienced in the last 20 years, that all of a sudden something that’s done by hand puts us back in touch with ourselves.”

- Patrick Smith

Wonderful idea shared during an interview with KPCC - Southern California Public Radio about his work as a sign painter at Disneyland, among other places.

Interior culture

"Each morning when we wake up, a pattern of thought boots itself up in our minds. This pattern is habitual. It has evolved within us by our own acts of commission or omission. We have manufactured it deliberately or it has established itself by default.

This interior culture, more than anything else, determines if we are happy or unhappy, successful or unsuccessful, healthy or unhealthy.

What this blog is trying to do, among other things, is to explore the idea of personal culture, specifically the personal culture of the artist.

What is Resistance?

It’s the universal nemesis of every artist or entrepreneur. Laziness, jealousy, fear, anger, self-doubt, self-sabotage, self-conceit, self-satisfaction.

What weapon(s) do you and I possess to combat and overcome Resistance?

We have our interior culture.”

- Steven Pressfield

Digging my way into a business

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One of the most rewarding things about building a business, as hard as it is, is the process of digging deep into the value of the thing that you’re making, the thing that you’re going to charge other people money to get.

For the past month I’ve been doing a lot of big picture thinking about the business that I’m building, and I keep coming up against that question of why, of for what purpose.

It’s one thing to enjoy an activity yourself. That’s how I got started down this path.

It’s another thing entirely to charge people money to teach them how to do that activity that you enjoy. That’s what the photo above is all about - some rough personal sketchnotes on why learning how to sketchnote is useful (so meta, I know).

Some people get it right when they see it. They don’t need convincing. They see the value of visual literacy.

But those tend to be the folks that doodled as kids. I wasn’t one of those, and neither were a lot of the people who would benefit from developing this skill. In order to communicate to those people the idea of visual note taking I’ve had to dig, and the digging has been difficult, but incredibly rewarding.

It’s this type of digging that I wish I had the time to do back when I was teaching high school math and science. It’s the type of digging that I think most teachers want to do. You get to think hard about questions like why this thing is worth learning, what exactly is it that you’ll teach, and how you will go about teaching it. In most schools, the answers to those questions are dictated from above.

In my case, coming up with clear answers to those questions and then communicating them effectively is the only way this independent teaching gig is going to work.

It’s for that reason that I dig. And I’m thrilled to keep digging.

Death of a computer

My computer died this morning.

Its time had come. We’d been through three career paths already and were well on our way into a fourth when she winked a final goodbye and refused to wake up.

Being as dependent as I am on the computer (despite my love of pen and paper) I went straight to the Mac store and surveyed my options.

I remember doing the same thing five years ago, when I was a graduate student in physics and just becoming interested in computer programming. High school teaching was a year away. The first sloppy doodles two years after that.

The nice thing about looking for a new computer is that you get a chance to redefine how you do your work.

For me, there are three new changes at play, all of which you can see from the photo above: a desktop rather than a laptop, a bigger screen, and working from a stand-up desk.

Let’s take each in turn.

I’ve valued portability for a long time, but there is something that I like about the immobility of the iMac. It means that this corner of my room is the only place where I can do screen work. My hope is that limits my screen time in general and also keeps my mind less burdened when I’m not in this room - no laptop in my backpack making me feel like I should be doing something on it.

So it’s immobile, but where is it immobile? I’ve had a stand-up desk for a while now, and prior to today I’d move my laptop back and forth between that higher perch of that stand-up desk and the lowness of my desk that you can draw on. I love to be able to stand up when I feel my body needs it, so the new guy gets a home on the stand-up desk. Now to find a stool tall enough for me to be able to sit down when I need to.

Lastly, the big screen. I’m curious to see how this fancy new screen affects the way I use applications like Photoshop and Illustrator, which are now a consistent part of my workflow. Time will tell, for now I’m just excited - both for the screen size and also for the processing power - my laptop used to have a near heart attack each time I opened an Adobe product.

Getting a new computer is indeed exciting. But more important than the excitement of a new tool is the doing of the work with that tool. That’s what I’ll get back to tomorrow.

Yacht or surfboard?

I re-listened to an interview between Alec Baldwin and Jerry Seinfeld earlier today while I was practicing a new hand-lettering font. Here’s one of my favorite parts of the interview:

"I didn’t take that bait because I know what it is… I’ve sat in all the chairs. I’ve been in all the rooms… Most of it is not creative work and not reaching an audience.

You want to be on the water? How do you want to be on the water. You want to be on a yacht or you want to be on a surfboard?

I want to be on a surfboard. I don’t want to deal with a yacht.”

- Jerry Seinfeld

That comment came as a response to why Seinfeld didn’t create a TV series franchise or go into the movie making business after the success of his show. Instead he returned to stand-up.

There’s something about the independence, the minimalism, and the ease of quick adjustments that I like about the surfboard metaphor.

There’s also a very intentional choice there - Seinfeld moved opposite the direction that most of peers expected because he knew where that path headed and he wanted no part of it.

To hear a similar idea expressed in a different way go listen to Seth Godin talk about how it’s on you the entrepreneur to decide where to build your house. If you spend three years building one only to find that you hate living in it, then you’ve only got yourself to blame.

Right now I’d pass on the house entirely. Give me a VW Westfalia and a surfboard, and I’ll see you on the road or in the water.

Practice

Practice is something that comes naturally to me in some areas of life but not in others.

I enjoy practicing sports. It’s fun, it’s healthy, it’s challenging, and it’s relatively easy to see and feel the progress made.

Sometimes with work, I forget to practice. I try to do as much as I can - make things, write things, draw things. I try to apply my skills as often as possible.

I’m glad to be applying my skills, but when I do that applying I have a clear goal in mind: to make an illustration that someone else finds interesting; to sketch out an idea in a way that helps someone else understand it; to teach a skill in a way that helps someone else learn it.

I like practice because it makes it easier to play, to take risks, and to explore avenues that I might not otherwise explore.

The past few days I’ve been practicing my hand-lettering. I imitated a font that I like from a letterer that I admire. I payed attention to the angles, the widths, and the curves that someone else created while simultaneously developing the dexterity of hand to create those angles, widths, and curves myself.

And it wasn’t stressful because I wasn’t emotionally attached to the outcome. I was emotionally attached to the effort.

Having put in that effort, I can be satisfied with the practice of today and optimistic about the work of tomorrow.

Should I share this?

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I spend a lot of time thinking about how to share my work. This Tumblr blog is the latest in a long line of formats with which I’m still experimenting. So far I’m liking the daily(ish) sharing of some progress I’ve made or an idea I’ve learned.

The question, “Should I share this?” comes to mind frequently throughout any given day, and I like the model that Austin Kleon provides in his book Show Your Work! I read the first half of the book earlier today. Just as with Steal Like An Artist, it’s one of those books you can read in a day but spend a lifetime acting on.

Austin combines words and images together as well as anyone I’ve seen. And his most recent book is definitely worth a read for anyone doing creative work (which is now most of us).

Invention, it must by humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself… Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.

– Mary Shelley, from the Author’s Introduction to Frankenstein