Usually when a client hires me to speak, they’re interested in one talk, so I either have to narrow down the scope of what I’m going to talk about, or I have to try to weave in elements from all of my work into some kind of unified theory. A client recently hired me to do something I’ve never done before: three talks over three days!
Conveniently, I have a trilogy of books that map nicely to 3 talks, but because each subsequent book after Steal grew out of the one before it, there’s a bit of crosstalk between them. (For example, the chapters “Something small, every day” from Show, “Every day is Groundhog Day” from Keep Going, and “Be Boring” from Steal all speak to the idea of daily practice and routine.) So, funny enough, I’m combining what I usually do for talks: narrowing each book down to an essential idea, and then building up each talk by weaving in material from all over…
When I wrote about Claude Debussy’s burn on overworked musical pieces, “They smell of the lamp, not of the sun,” I didn’t realize that he was quoting a very old idiom. From a 1898 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:
Smells of the lamp
Said of a literary production manifestly laboured. Plutarch attributes the phrase to Pytheas the orator, who said, “The orations of Demosthenes smell of the lamp,” alluding to the current tale that the great orator lived in an underground cave lighted by a lamp, that he might have no distraction to his severe study.
In Lives, Plutarch writes about how Demosthenes wasn’t necessarily quick on his feet with speeches — if he was asked a question in public, he wouldn’t stand up and talk about something he hadn’t thought about, but took time to go away to his study and work out arguments.
For this, many of the popular leaders used to rail at him, and Pytheas, in particular, once told him scoffingly that his arguments smelt of lamp-wicks. To him, then, Demosthenes made a sharp answer. “Indeed,” said he, “thy lamp and mine, O Pytheas, are not privy to the same pursuits.”
In another translation:
…many of the popular pleaders used to make it a jest against him; and Pytheas once, scoffing at him, said that his arguments smelt of the lamp. To which Demosthenes gave the sharp answer, “It is true, indeed, Pytheas, that your lamp and mine are not conscious of the same things.”
And another story about his lamp:
And to the thief nicknamed Brazen, who attempted to make fun of him for his late hours and his writing at night, “I know,” he said, “that I annoy you with my lighted lamp. But you, men of Athens, must not wonder at the thefts that are committed, when we have thieves of brass, but house-walls of clay.”
Now I am conflicted, as a burn that is about overworked creative efforts was originally pointed at a dude who was probably just introverted and studious and thoughtful and against bullshittery!
Here’s video of a 40-minute keynote I gave during the Scratch Conference at MIT’s Media Lab last month. It was one of the most enjoyable talks I’ve given — it’s a kind of mashup of my books, and it was received by a great room full of enthusiastic people. (Followed by a Q&A with the wonderful Karen Brennan.) If you’re interested in having me speak at your event, check out my speaking page.
My favorite part of the library is the 4th floor, which used to just be storage (hence the sign when you come out of the elevator: YOU’RE IN THE RIGHT PLACE), and is now a gigantic creative lab, with a Zine collection, 3D printers, laser cutters, a vinyl plotter, photography studio, screen printing, power tool, and all sorts of other stuff:
On the second floor, there’s even a full-blown recording studio that you can reserve for a 3-hour session with your library card:
I love doing library gigs so much, because 1) I’m a former librarian and librarians are my people 2) I get inspired by all the amazing ways libraries are adapting themselves as resource centers for their communities.
As I’ve written before in my posts about how much I love my local library, library tourism, and my summer reading assignment, I think of the public library as one of the last spaces in this country where you can go and feel like a real citizen. You’re not being sold anything. You’re welcome to be who you are, or work on becoming what you want to be. The library is there for you.
Here I am speaking with Mayor Andy Berke in the wood-paneled auditorium. (It’s a bicentennial building, built in 1976.)
Here’s a bonus photo of Josh — he teaches marketing to culinary arts students — I loved how his tie matched the post-it notes that were packed all over his copy of Show Your Work! so I asked if I could take a picture.
(You also learn something every time you visit a library: one of the women in the signing line was named Tonette — a musical instrument I’d never heard of!)
Special thanks to Corinne Hill, Mary Jane Spehar, Andy Berke, and the Friends of the Chattanooga Library and the Chattanooga Airport for having me out. (If you’d like me to speak at your library, drop me a line!)
A few weeks ago I gave a new talk at Bond in San Francisco. It’s a list of 10 things that have helped me stay creative in such chaotic times:
- Every day is Groundhog Day
- Build a bliss station
- Forget the noun, do the verb
- Make gifts
- The ordinary + extra attention = the extraordinary
- Art is for life (not the other way around)
- You are allowed to change your mind
- When in doubt, tidy up
- The demons hate fresh air
- Spend time on something that will outlast them
I really loved giving this talk. (And, as I’ve hinted, it is a preview of my next book.) If you’ve been struggling too, hopefully you’ll find something helpful in it. Please share it with anybody you think could use it. The full video is below.
UPDATE: I’ve adapted “How To Keep Going” into a book!
I’ve been working on a new talk for Bond next month. (Tickets still available!) I had these 10 points on index cards, but I was trying to figure out a flow for them, and it just wasn’t working. So I did what you do: I quit for the day, ate dinner, drank wine, and watched several hours of Frasier.
The next day I looked at how oddly I had them laid out on the table in two rows of five. Instead of trying to re-shuffle the order of the cards again, I started just changing the layout of the cards, and the minute I hit on the last shape in my diary doodle above, everything clicked for me, and I had my talk.
That’s the thing about visual thinking and laying it all out where you can look at it: the tiniest tweaks can lead to significant insights….
Very pleased (and no, not at all terrified, not me!) to announce that I’ll be giving the opening keynote at SXSW Interactive 2014. I’ve been drawing and organizing panels at the conference since 2008, but this is quite the step up, and I’m honored that the SXSW crew asked me.
I gave my last keynote back in June at HOW Design Live in San Francisco. It was a huge room with a couple thousand people — definitely the biggest room I’d done up until that point, and probably the best talk I’ve given, ever. Alas, due to a miscommunication on my part, we didn’t get any video, but some lovely people on Instagram captured bits and pieces, which you can see below.
Maybe my favorite part of speaking, other than Q&A (yes, I actually love Q&A, because it’s unrehearsed and time I get to think on my feet), is signing books afterwards and getting to talk to people who were in the audience. The line at HOW was at least a hundred people long and it took me 2 hours to get through, but, as should be expected from a design conference, there were some creative moments along the way, such as when Genevieve asked me to sign with a silver Sharpie (why had I never thought of that!?)…
…and when Allan (maybe frustrated from the line length), did a blackout on the last page of Steal:
I’m not doing a lot of speaking for the second half of 2013, but I’ll be hitting the road again next spring for the release of Show Your Work! If you’re interesting in having me talk at your event, drop me a line.
Here’s video of “Steal Like A Writer,” a talk I gave back in June at Cleveland’s Weapons of Mass Creation festival. It’s sort of a remix of the ideas in Steal Like An Artist geared towards designers, musicians, and anybody who wants to get better at writing. Here’s the original description:
No matter what your discipline, it’s hard to get any good work done without clear, straightforward communication. Simply put, being a good writer makes you better at your job. Using a few school supplies, a little visual thinking, and a whole lot of creative theft, this talk will help get you started on the way towards becoming a wordsmith.
Here’s the remixed list of ten:
And here are the slides:
And here are the links to the recommended reading:
- Anne Lamott, BIRD BY BIRD
- Lynda Barry, WHAT IT IS
- Scott McCloud, UNDERSTANDING COMICS
- @shamblanderson’s sentence of the day
It was a fun talk to give and a really nice audience — thanks to Joseph Hughes and the folks at WMCFest for having me.
Can’t see the video? Watch it here?
I was so thrilled that my friends and favorite bloggers Maria Popova, Maris Kreizman, and Maud Newton agreed to be part of this panel last week in NYC. It was really really fun, McNally Jackson was packed, and best of all, someone was there filming and has posted a video of the conversation online for your viewing pleasure.
Also, dig these hand-drawn notes by @mosteverybody: