When I was in New York a few weeks ago, Fast Company interviewed me about the idea of a daily dispatch. They also got some great shots of my notebook and me making a blackout poem.
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→
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.
A few weeks ago I flew up to Seattle to film an interview with photographer Chase Jarvis. We talked a lot about my books (including the new one) and art and creativity in general. We also took a lot of questions from the live and online audience. The resulting video is sort of a 90-minute primer for my work. It’s probably better than any talk I’ve given.
I’m trying to figure out what it is about the Q&A format that puts me so much more at ease when speaking to an audience, and how to bring some of that ease into my talks. Chase made a joke at one point that I’m like a machine for giving 140-character ready answers. I joked back, “I’m a writer. Putting sentences together is my job.”
But it’s something more than that—I have a terrible memory for names and events and everyday things that happen in my life (which is why I need my logbook), but when I’m faced with a question from someone, it’s like the RAM in my brain boots right up and I can immediately access this database of quotes and lines from stuff I’ve read and written. I’m reading Temple Grandin’s Thinking In Pictures, and in the first chapter, she describes being able to access a library of images in her head like a computer. When she’s faced with a design problem, she can grab these images and try them in difference combinations in order to come up with a solution.
To me, a question is a kind of problem to solve, or maybe more like a prompt. Sometimes I do feel like I’m flipping through my blog tags and tweets and book sentences in these Q&A sessions, but I’m also making up new combinations on the fly—thinking on my feet. However: I’m making the thinking up on the fly, and most of what I say I don’t even remember later! This is why I try to record all of my Q&A sessions on tour: you never know what tossed off thought is going to become a new piece of writing. For example, one of Chase’s fans transcribed this line in his blog comments:
That’s the thing you have to understand about the whole process of art (or the work that we do) – you’re only half of the equation. It’s an interaction between you and the person who’s going to experience the work. The person who’s going to experience the work is bringing just as much to it and is just as important as you are.
I don’t even remember saying that!
Anyways, thanks to Chase and his team for being such great hosts. Seattle was really beautiful, and I hope we can swing back for the next book tour. If you ever get a chance to take the Coach Starlight from Seattle to Portland — do it! So beautiful. Some photos and video from the ride below:
Due to the slow scheduling of the publishing industry, there’s usually a significant interlude between when you finish your book and when the book is released into the wild. Jonathan Lethem calls this “the gulp” — your book no longer belongs to you, but it doesn’t belong to readers yet, either. Add to that gulp the one or two months of intense publicity you have to dedicate to the book post-release, and if you’re not working on something new during that time, you’ve spent a ton of time not working.
I went through a funk after each of my books dropped, because I didn’t start anything new until a month or two after the publicity schedule from the last book wound down. Lucky for me, the questions and the byproducts from the previous book turned into the next book — Blackout‘s leftovers became Steal, and Steal‘s leftovers have turned into what I’m working on now — but each time, it was rough getting back into the swing of things.
Then I watched a documentary about Woody Allen and how he doesn’t take breaks in between movies. And thinking about that led me to make this little video…
It was hard to find a lot of good information about their relationship — most of this was gleaned from the documentary, Bob Ross: The Happy Painter (which only mentions their beginning, not the falling out), and this 1991 New York Times article, “Bob Ross, the Frugal Gourmet of Painting.”
Alexander Art has a terrific YouTube channel full of videos of Alexander painting.
There were a lot of ways you could go with the story (What happens when a gift becomes a business? Steal Like An Artist, etc.) but I was thinking mostly about what it means to be a mentor and what it means to be a protege.
Here’s a melancholy clip of Alexander that I thought was too sad in the context to use — he talks about how there’s always “new blood” coming in, and it’s okay to “make a buck” from painting, and how when he’s in heaven it will make him proud to see everyone painting:
And here’s a pic of Bill and Bob from the doc:
I like to think they reconciled before Ross’s death in 1995. (Alexander died two years later.) Maybe they’re up in heaven, painting together. Who knows.
Favorite story I had to cut for time/relevance: Bob Ross struggled so much in the early days that he got his famous perm to try save on haircuts. When his business partners made it his logo, he was stuck with it forever, and he always hated it.
Another interesting tidbit: Bob always had a reference painting off camera in the studio to copy off of — what looks like spontaneity was actually very planned. He was a terrific showman and knew how to play into his image. (I also believe he really, really loved to paint and teach.)
Speaking of showmanship, Patton Oswalt has a really funny skit parodying their different styles—Alexander with his lusty German “ZEE MIGHTY BRUSH!” and Ross’s hippy-ish “happy little trees.”
I’m having a lot of fun making these videos — trying to keep the production fast and dirt simple, using only Keynote for the animations, Garageband for recording the sound, and Quicktime Pro to cut it all together. I like the constraint of those primitive tools.
Can’t see the video? Watch it in HD here?
I’ve been messing around for the past couple of days learning how to do some really rudimentary animation in Keynote, the slideshow program for Mac. (I’ve also been watching a lot of Terry Gilliam, South Park, and Brad Neely.) The result? A little 2-minute video about Picasso, Brancusi, and how to tell if you have a vampire problem in your life.
Here’s more on the Brancusi/Picasso story→
Here’s a photo of Brancusi (left) next to a photo of my great grandfather Kleon (who was from Lupsa, Romania.)
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: