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Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

you make everyone else everyone else

Finally, after a long hiatus, we have new prints for sale. Visit our shop.

leave the nights for me

Credit is always due.

Monday, January 27th, 2014

attribution chart

After reading Sarah Werner’s terrific takedown of sites like @HistoryInPics who post work with improper attribution, I was inspired to share these pages from Show Your Work!

* * *

If you share the work of others, it’s your duty to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit. Crediting work in our copy-and-paste age of reblogs and retweets can seem like a futile effort, but it’s worth it, and it’s the right thing to do. You should always share the work of others as if it were your own, treating it with respect and care.

When we make the case for crediting our sources, most of us concentrate on the plight of the original creator of the work. But that’s only half of the story—if you fail to properly attribute work that you share, you not only rob the person who made it, you rob all the people you’ve shared it with. Without attribution, they have no way to dig deeper into the work or find more of it.

So, what makes for great attribution? Attribution is all about providing context for what you’re sharing: what the work is, who made it, how they made it, when and where it was made, why you’re sharing it, why people should care about it, and where people can see some more work like it. Attribution is about putting little museum labels next to the stuff you share.

Another form of attribution that we often neglect is where we found the work that we’re sharing. It’s always good practice to give a shout-out to the people who’ve helped you stumble onto good work and also leave a bread-crumb trail that people you’re sharing with can follow back to the sources of your inspiration. I’ve come across so many interesting people online by following “via” and “H/T” links—I’d have been robbed of a lot of these connections if it weren’t for the generosity and meticulous attribution of many of the people I follow.

Online, the most important form of attribution is a hyperlink pointing back to the website of the creator of the work. This sends people who come across the work back to the original source. The number one rule of the Internet: People are lazy. If you don’t include a link, no one can click it. Attribution without a link online borders on useless: 99.9 percent of people are not going to bother Googling someone’s name.

All of this raises a question: What if you want to share something and you don’t know where it came from or who made it? The answer: Don’t share things you can’t properly credit. Find the right credit, or don’t share.

You can pre-order Show Your Work! now or sign up for my weekly newsletter to get notified when it drops.

A good spaceship for time travel

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

awesome old ladies in an awesome old car

“I’ll go on till I fall over.”
David Hockney

Two grannies in an ancient Mustang. I flew out to San Francisco this Thursday to be bombarded by the images made by David Hockney hanging at the de Young museum, but it’s this image, snapped on my iPhone, that sticks with me. Two ladies, advanced in years, cruising the future in a time machine from the past. (Someone asked director Paul Thomas Anderson why he shot The Master on 70mm film, and he said, “It just felt like a good spaceship for time travel.”)

Hockney has built his own spaceship for time travel out of his hands, his heart, and his eyeballs, and it’s fueled by his obsession with picture making. He’s up for any medium—watercolor, charcoal, high definition video, the Brushes app on the iPad—anything that helps him make pictures, and you can tell, regardless of the finished product, that you’re looking through those same eyeballs, moved by that same obsession.

You can’t help but be humbled in the de Young show—18,000 square feet of museum filled with the past decade or so of a 76-year-old’s output.

I’m 30. I can barely fathom working for another five years, let alone another 46 years.

The questions that have haunted me since I walked out of the museum: What is my obsession? What is my spaceship for time travel? What machine am I building now that will take me through the rest of my years?

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My reading year, 2013

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Breakthrough this year: thinking of books as potential experiences, not just objects. Matching up a book with my mood, life situation, etc…

In 2013 I had a book to write and an infant to care for, both of which gave me a lot of hell, so I read a lot of novels and Nancy comics.

That said, here are my 10 favorite books I read in 2013:

Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers

This book couldn’t have been more perfectly matched to my tastes: it’s a great story, a Western, it’s funny, it’s violent, it features a digressive narrator, it has tight, short chapters, and it’s 300 pages long. I heard from at least a half a dozen people who read this book on my recommendation and loved it.

Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

When I was writing Steal Like An Artist, I wasn’t really aware that it would eventually be shelved in the self-help section. So after finding myself there, I became increasingly interested in self-help as a form. One of my favorite things about this book is that it riffs on self-help books without totally abandoning the structure of many self-help books—in each chapter, there’s usually a story, mentions of a few studies, and a lesson, or extrapolation. (The Malcolm Gladwell-ish “story-study-lesson” formula.) It’s a slick trick, and it works. Burkeman is also a good follow online: @oliverburkeman

Ernie Bushmiller, Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945

As I mentioned before, this was not an easy year. There were many, many nights when I sighed at my Kindle, sighed at the books on my nightstand, and then picked up a Nancy book and read until I fell asleep. Go out and buy this or the second collection so that Fantagraphics will print another one!

Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Once again, a book with self-help ties: the novel’s structure “mimics that of the cheap self-help books sold at sidewalk stands all over South Asia, alongside computer manuals and test-prep textbooks. Each chapter begins with a rule—‘Work for Yourself,’ ‘Don’t Fall in Love,’ ‘Be Prepared to Use Violence’—and expertly evolves into a narrative.” The whole thing is written in second person, and none of the characters have names. It might sound gimmicky, but it doesn’t come off that way — the execution is pretty perfect, and really moving.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I started meditating last year, so I got interested in Zen Buddhism. I had this book on my shelf for years, but only read it recently. A lot of my favorite artists have Zen backgrounds, but it was really surprising to me how much of this book applies to creativity and art. (Of course, half of it makes no sense to me at all.) Contrast Suzuki’s line, “When you give up, when you no longer want something, or when you do not try to do anything special, then you do something,” with Andy Warhol: “As soon as you stop wanting something you get it.”

And then there’s my favorite line, which I quoted in Show Your Work!: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts

Another breakthrough for me this year: realizing the value of re-reading books. So I’m doing something out of the ordinary and putting a re-read book on my list. In a way, the book was a kind of dark therapy for me—as I increasingly found my inbox stuffed full of emails from desperate aspiring artists, there was Miss Lonelyhearts to suffer a breakdown so I didn’t have to. Everyone who has ever though about dishing out advice on a mass scale (is there such a species? oh dear) should have to read this first.

Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

For some time, my motto has been “something small, every day,” so what’s more delicious than a book full of the daily routines of famous artists? Some of my favorites here.

Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures

Did I underline more sentences in a book this year? Probably not. My friend Kio wrote of the first essay, “the end of each sentence leaves me gasping the way a kiss can begin in a gasp.” What a wonderful collection of lectures.

Brian Eno, A Year With Swollen Appendices

In many ways, 2013 was my Year of Eno. Listening to Another Green World while working, Music for Airports while meditating, watching his lectures, following the Oblique Strategies — Eno had such a big influence on me that I started Show Your Work! with his concept of “Scenius.” This book is really two books: 300 or so pages are the diary Eno kept in 1995, and 100 or so pages are the “swollen appendices,” little mini-essays on various topics. Sadly, it’s out-of-print, and used copies are very expensive, but it’s worth tracking down. I downloaded a PDF online and read it on my iPad in GoodReader, which was an interesting experience in itself.

Carl Hiaasen, Tourist Season

If you ever go on vacation in Florida, this is the perfect reading material.

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Chalk drawing

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

chalk-1

chalk-2

I’ve never had a journalist bring art supplies to an interview, but when Adrienne Breaux interviewed me in October for a forthcoming piece in Uppercase Magazine, she brought some chalk along and let me doodle while we talked. Hope it starts a trend.

chalk

Something small, every day

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

something small every day

It takes time to do anything worthwhile, but thankfully, we don’t need it all in one chunk. So this year, forget about the year as a whole. Forget about months and forget about weeks.

Focus on days.

The day is the only unit of time that I can really get my head around. Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm. The sun goes up; the sun goes down. I can handle that.

There’s a reason many recovering alcoholics adopt “one day at a time” as their way of being. Here’s Richard Walker in Twenty-Four Hours A Day:

Anyone can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when you and I add the battles of those two awful eternities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down. It is not the experience of today that drives us mad. It is the remorse or bitterness for something that happened yesterday or the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us therefore do our best to live but one day at a time.

Building a body of work (or a life) is all about the slow accumulation of a day’s worth of effort over time. Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a calendar method that helps him stick to his daily joke writing. He suggests that you get a wall calendar that shows you the whole year. Then, you break your work into daily chunks. Each day, when you’re finished with your work, make a big fat X in the day’s box. Every day, instead of just getting work done, your goal is to just fill a box. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

Every day, no matter what, I make a poem and post it online. Most days they’re mediocre, some days they’re great, and some days they’re awful. (Jerry Garcia: “You go diving for pearls every night but sometimes you end up with clams.”) But it doesn’t matter to me whether the day’s poem was good or not, what matters is that it got done. I did the work. I didn’t break the chain. If I have a shitty day, I go to sleep and know that tomorrow I get to take another whack at it.

do your art

The past couple of months, I haven’t worried too much about keeping a calendar, because I’ve got myself pretty well trained. But there’s always the temptation to skip a day, so when I moved into a new studio space last week, one of the first things I did was hang (a modified version) of one of these workplace safety scoreboard signs on the wall. We’ll see how long of a streak I can go on.

Anyways, if you make a New Year’s resolution, make it this: something small, every day.

Figure out what your little daily chunk of work is, and every day, no matter what, make sure it gets done.

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for the work?” And I answer, “I look for it.” You find time the same place you find spare change: in the nooks and crannies. You find it in the cracks between the big stuff—your commute, your lunch break, the few hours after your kids go to bed. You might have to miss an episode of your favorite TV show, you might have to miss an hour of sleep, but you can find the time to work if you look for it.

What I usually recommend: get up early. Get up early and work for a couple hours on the thing you really care about. When you’re done, go about your day: go to school, go to your job, make your family breakfast, whatever. Your teacher or your boss or your kids can’t take your work away from you, because you already did it. And you know you’ll get to do it tomorrow morning, as long as you make it through today.

Do the work every day. Fill the boxes on your calendar. Don’t break the chain.

And should you start to despair at your progress, always keep in mind the words of Harvey Pekar: “Every day is a new deal. Keep working and maybe something will turn up.”

Happy New Year.

This post contains adapted excerpts from my books Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work! Subscribe to my newsletter to get new writing and art every week.

My weekly newsletter

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

newsletter

Every week I send out a little email digest with new art, writing, and interesting links.

It’s the absolute best way to keep up with what I’m doing. Next year I’ll be using it to share book tour news and artwork for sale, too.

Over 5,000 people now subscribe. You should join us!

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Show Your Work! Book Trailer

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Can’t see the video? Watch it here→

Show Your Work! is a kind of sequel — if the last book was about stealing influence from others, this one is about influencing others by letting them steal from you.

So it made sense for the new book trailer to echo the last one. As I joked then, I sort of hate book trailers, so I decided to make a cute dog video disguised as a book trailer instead.

The thing I hate about most video production is that it just takes too much money and time. I made this trailer in two afternoons, using equipment I already owned, with software that came standard on my iMac — I shot the footage with my Panasonic Lumix, made the animations in Keynote, recorded the music and voiceover in Garageband with my Blue Yeti USB mic, and hacked it together using iMovie. (I do NOT recommend ever using iMovie for anything, but I knew it would work for what I had in mind.)

I thought I might show a little bit of my work, below. (See what I did there? Ha.) It ended up getting a little long, so skip to the end if you just want takeaways.

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How to get a Newspaper Blackout print for cheap

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

The holidays are coming up, which means that I’m getting a lot of email from folks who want to buy prints of my work to give as gifts.

Unfortunately, we won’t be selling prints until next year. (My wife Meg is working hard on planning the logistics—we’ll be selling signed, limited-edition screenprints of new and old poems.) Prints available now!

In the meantime, here’s how to get a cheap print:

1. Buy a copy of Newspaper Blackout and a regular ol’ 8×10 frame.

2. Razor out a poem you like.

3. Frame and enjoy!

If you’re desperate for a gift, you can also get a signed copy of Steal Like An Artist from Bookpeople here in Austin, Texas. They ship everywhere. Order one here.

If you’d like to know when prints are available, sign up for my weekly newsletter.

How much of the year is left

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

logbook

I realized last night as I finished yesterday’s logbook entry just how little time was left in the year. You can see DEC 1 on the calendar, but your brain doesn’t really register it the way the chunk and heft of the pages turned behind you does.

What to do with the rest of the calendar?

It’s tempting to call it a year and spend the rest of December in retrospection. It’s around this time every year that people start posting their “best of the year” reading lists (myself included) — as if anything you read in December doesn’t really count. This is a mistake, because  every time I post a best of the reading year list before December 31st, I read a book or two that should’ve made the list, a book that gets lost in  the cracks between my official lists. (Last year it was Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Ian Svenonius’s Supernatural Strategies for Making A Rock and Roll Band. The year before, it was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad and Howard Gossage’s The Book of Gossage.) None of these books is now on my “best of” site, even though they should be.

What else am I missing by being prematurely retrospective? (I can’t remember which artist said it—maybe Hockney?—but having a “retrospective” makes it sound like you already died.)

There’s a section in Show Your Work! called “Don’t Quit Your Show” where I tell this little anecdote:

One time my coworker John Croslin and I came back from our lunch break and our building’s parking lot was completely full. We circled the sweltering lot with a few other cars for what seemed like ages, and just when we were about to give up, a spot opened and John pulled right in. As he shut off the car he said, “You gotta play till the ninth inning, man.”

Play ’til the ninth inning. That’s exactly what I was looking for. The year is a baseball game with twelve innings and I want to play until the last out.

So this year I’m pledging to not make my year-end list before the year’s end. I’ll be posting mine on January 1st, 2014. I’m also planning not to let up just because it’s December. I’ll still be checking all my boxes: meditating, making a blackout poem, writing, and reading every day. Because we might only have 30 days left, but a lot can happen in 30 days.

What will you do with yours?

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Also: If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, I suggest buying a daily diary (here’s the one I use) and keeping a logbook.



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