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NOTES ON WRITING AND DRAWING


The shape of days

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

i had a rough day

Kurt Vonnegut thought every story has a shape that can be graphed —  each has a beginning and an end (plotted on the x-axis) and every character goes through “good fortune” and “ill fortune” (plotted on the y-axis). I put a bunch of them together for this chart in Show Your Work!:

kurt vonnegut's story graphs

I think our days have shapes, too — each has a beginning and an end, and we go through good and ill fortune as it progresses. (more…)

Is the year half empty or half full?

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

is the year half empty or half full

July 2nd is the middle of the year. Half of the year is gone, half of the year is still to be.

One of the reasons I like keeping a logbook is that it makes time tangible. Turn the pages, and you can feel the days pass.

Sometimes you flip back through the pages and they feel wasted. But flip forward, and you still have plenty of blank pages to fill.

Onwards!

A brief history of my newspaper blackout poems

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Every morning I try to pick up a newspaper and a Sharpie marker, and I make one of my newspaper blackout poems:

This is what one looks like after I scan it into Photoshop and play with the levels a bit:

in texas there is nothing but texas

(It’s sort of like if the CIA did haiku.)

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Interview with A Total Disruption

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

A Total Disruption

Filmmaker Ondi Timoner came out to the house last September to interview me for her series, A Total Disruption, right around the time I was finishing up Show Your Work! It’s a fun time capsule for me—since then, I’ve moved out to my own studio and lost about 25 pounds! (Still carrying around the same ideas, though.)

Watch it below or on YouTube→

10 Ways To Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Show Your Work cover

Show Your Work! is a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion. It’s the followup to my New York Times bestseller, Steal Like An Artistif Steal was a book about how to be more creative by stealing influence from others, Show is a book about how to influence others by letting them steal from you.

10 ways to share your creativity

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No more guilty pleasures

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

rubbish-garbage

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Show Your Work!

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.”
— Dave Grohl

About twenty years ago, a trashman in New York City named Nelson Molina started collecting little bits and pieces of art and unique objects that he found discarded along his route. His collection, The Trash Museum, is housed on the second floor of the Sanitation Department garage on East 99th Street, and it now features more than a thousand paintings, posters, photographs, musical instruments, toys, and other ephemera. There isn’t a big unifying principle to the collection, just what Molina likes. He gets submissions from some of his fellow workers, but he says what goes on the wall and what doesn’t. “I tell the guys, just bring it in and I’ll decide if I can hang it.” At some point, Molina painted a sign for the museum that reads TREASURE IN THE TRASH BY NELSON MOLINA.

“Dumpster diving” is one of the jobs of the artist—finding the treasure in other people’s trash, sifting through the debris of our culture, paying attention to the stuff that everyone else is ignoring, and taking inspiration from the stuff that people have tossed aside for whatever reasons.

More than 400 years ago, Michel de Montaigne, in his essay “On Experience,” wrote, “In my opinion, the most ordinary things, the most common and familiar, if we could see them in their true light, would turn out to be the grandest miracles . . . and the most marvelous examples.”

All it takes to uncover hidden gems is a clear eye, an open mind, and a willingness to search for inspiration in places other people aren’t willing or able to go.

We all love things that other people think are garbage. You have to have the courage to keep loving your garbage, because what makes us unique is the diversity and breadth of our influences, the unique ways in which we mix up the parts of culture others have deemed “high” and the “low.”

When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it. Don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy. Celebrate them.

When you share your taste and your influences, have the guts to own all of it. Don’t give in to the pressure to self-edit too much. Don’t be the lame guys at the record store arguing over who’s the more “authentic” punk rock band. Don’t try to be hip or cool. Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too.

Show Your Work! comes out March 6th. It is available for pre-order right now.

The Risks Worth Taking

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

risk

One of my least favorite quotes on creativity comes courtesy of ad man George Lois:

You can be Cautious or you can be Creative (but there’s no such thing as a Cautious Creative).

I hate this quote for two reasons:

  1. I think the word “Creative” should never be used as a noun

  2. I am one of the more cautious people I know

A few months ago, a reporter said to me in the middle of an interview, “It seems like you haven’t made any bad choices.” I stammered for a bit and mumbled something about how I’ve been very lucky, but then I told the truth: I’m not a big risk-taker.

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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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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.



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