Book 2018/01 – Steal Like an Artist

Austin Kleon describes himself as “. . . a writer who draws. I make art with words and books with pictures”.

The book Steal Like an Artist is based on a talk Mr Kleon gave to some community college students in 2011 where he spoke to a list of ten things he wished he had known when he was starting out. People went nuts for his message and he expanded his work into a book, which was published in 2012.

20180130 Steal Like An ArtistI’ve had a couple of people recommend it to me recently so I decided to finally check it out. My local bookshops didn’t have any more copies when I went to get it, but the library did — and an electronic version at that, so I could download it on the weekend and read it immediately. Hooray internet!

It’s a great book for a skim through to get the ideas and let them float around in your head for a while and then to go back to in some more detail, in the spirit of stealing other people’s stuff as described in the book, to find the ideas that you want to take for yourself.

The book has ten “chapters”, or main themes, which are the ten things from the original talk.

  1. Steal like an artist.
  2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
  3. Write the book you want to read.
  4. Use your hands.
  5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
  6. The secret: do good work and share it with people.
  7. Geography is no longer our master.
  8. Be nice. (The world is a small town.)
  9. Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)
  10. Creativity is subtraction.

The book then goes on to delve into each theme and explain it further.

The main idea that I got from the book is that everyone is a mixture of what (and who) they choose to let into their lives — “You are the sum of your influences” — and that nothing is original; the idea that all creative work “builds on what came before”. So your job is to collect good ideas, things you love, from people that inspire you, which can then influence the work you produce.

Mr Kleon suggests making yourself a “swipe file” where you can record the things you steal – quotes, observations, passages from books, overheard conversations, ideas, things that speak to you – and when you need inspiration to flip through it.

Then you go ahead and make stuff.

The book suggests that we learn how to do things by copying others who already know how to do it and encourages us to do exactly that. Mr Kleon makes the point, however, to not plagarise the work of others. Rather, he encourages copying in the sense of “reverse engineering”— taking it apart to see how it works”. This is why you need to understand your influences and what makes them tick. You aren’t stealing the style, you are stealing “the thinking behind the style”, understanding where they are coming from. And as you do this, he suggests, you move from the act of copying to “breaking through into your own thing”.

He quotes Francis Ford Coppola:

“We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice.”

The final eight sections of the book provide some practical ideas on how to develop your creative practice, which are nicely summed up by their titles. There is encouragement to just get stuck in and make something, to step away from the screen – because the computer is great for editing idea but not for having them — and to build yourself a world where you are surrounded by things you love. It’s also important to connect with people who love the same things you do and to share things with them, as well as to hang out with interesting people who do different things to you — whether in real life or online.

Once you start putting your work out there, you have no control over what people think of it, so you need to keep making what you love to make and be comfortable with people misunderstanding you, misinterpreting your work and ignoring it. The solution to this is to be so busy with making your work that you don’t care.

By being boring, Mr Kleon means that taking care of yourself by staying healthy, sleeping enough and taking long walks is important if you want to make your best work. He says that you need to stick with your day job but to schedule time in to do your creative work and to do this work every day, with no exceptions. He recommends working with a calendar and a tracker to keep a record of what you’ve achieved. He recommends the Seinfeld strategy (hint: it’s a wall calendar you cross off every day you do the thing you are supposed to do).

What now?

The book says the next things to do once you’ve read it are:

  • Take a walk
  • Start your swipe file
  • Go to the library
  • Buy a notebook and use it
  • Get a calendar
  • Start your logbook
  • Give a copy of this book away
  • Start a blog
  • Take a nap

So if anyone’s looking for me I’ll be digging through my pile of unused notebooks looking for the perfect swipe file. Actually, that sounds like procrastination. Perhaps I’ll go for a walk instead.


The new year

I posted a different version of this post on instagram this morning with a non-sunrise picture of the beach. You can see a bird if you really look.


I was going to do it a couple of days ago, before the end of 2017, but I’m not good on this type of deadline and ran out of time to think everything through and write it down. Actually, I do that a lot because I always overthink things, start to write it all down and never finish it. But now I have actually finished it so I can check this one off the list.


I moved to a different suburb after almost 12 years living in the Derwent Valley. This was a huge change, but one I have no regrets about at all.

We got two new chickens and my favourite chicken, Isabelle, died.

I discovered that loss in one area can lead to positive things somewhere else in my life.

I had to let go of something I enjoyed doing very much (I wrote about this all the way back in May), which made me cry, but after thinking it all through I realised it has started to open up new opportunities to explore what I really want to do and to learn more about myself.

I have found new ways of looking at the world, discovered beauty in unexpected places and have started to sing with a group that has just started up. (It’s true. It’s on YouTube.)

I have gotten to know some passionate, inspirational people who make beautiful art.

I left a job of 12 years, which was scary, but which I needed to do because I was feeling stuck and uninspired where I was. I’m still slightly terrified and bewildered about the new job, but it’s all good.


I am grateful for everything that happened in 2017 and the experiences I had because I have learned and grown so much.

I’m grateful for the support from my little online community, whether I originally knew you IRL, or if I only know you online, or whether you’re an online friend who has become a real-life friend. Thank you all for being there. I said at the start of the year I was going to try to be okay with how I was feeling, to not squash my feelings, and to accept that not being okay is okay. I think I’ve made progress there.

Thank you for the lessons, experiences and new perspectives, 2017, and welcome 2018.

I know I say this every January, but I do want to write on the blog more regularly. I think the black & white photo challenge will help with that. I’m posting most of those photos on instagram, and when I get enough I repost them all here. I also made a separate page (here) where I’m putting my favourite black & whites so they’re all in one place.



Not actually B&W but I like to break the rules. They’re my rules and I can break them if I want to.


I didn’t find using the blog as accountability for my health habits was working particularly well because it kind of relies on people calling me out if I don’t stick to what I said I was going to do. And it wasn’t very interesting reading. So I think I’ll consign that to the bin for now.

I’m not sure if I want the blog to focus more on photos or more on writing, or if it’s capable of being about both, so my intention is to post at least three times a week with one or the other or both and see what happens. It might become obvious over time, or I might have to make a decision, but for now, I’m just going with the flow.

I’m excited about 2018 and the possibilities for me to have new adventures in my everyday life. I want to focus on learning something new and finding something to be grateful for every day, making more photos, writing more, staying active and seeking out and appreciating the beauty that is around me. I also want to become clearer on what I really want to do and to let go of things I don’t want to do but am doing because I think I should want to do them or that I wished I wanted to do. (Gretchen Rubin puts it like this: “you can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do”.)

Happy New Year and may the coming year be good to you and your loved ones.


Black and white #2

Today is day 19 of my extended black and white photo project, following the original seven days. I have a bit of a backlog to get through, so here are the next seven photos.









Art from trash

Two years ago I was lucky enough to go with Kramstable’s class on an excursion to, among other things, the Art from Trash Exhibition.

20170601 Art from Trash 01

It’s an annual event run by the Resource Work Cooperative at the Long Gallery in the Salamanca Arts Centre, which “encourages the reuse of discarded materials in the production of amazing visual art”. I didn’t go last year, but found out about this year’s exhibition in time to make sure I set aside a lunch hour to go and check it out.

20170601 Art from Trash 12 - Toolbox by Stcott Fletcher

Toolbox by Scott Fletcher, made from recycled tools

It was fascinating to see what people can turn stuff that might normally be thrown away into.

20170601 Art from Trash 02B - 20th Century Dolls by Pirjo Juhola

21st Century Dolls by Pirjo Juhola,made from rusted wire, electrical wire, rock and other discarded materials

20170601 Art from Trash 03 - Tennis Racket Ukulele 2 by Mark Lleonart

Tennis Racket Ukulele 2 by Mark Lleonart, made from wooden tennis rackets and Huon pine scraps

20170601 Art from Trash 04 - Three Bags Full by Irena Harrison, Liz Toohey, Bec Williams The Three Weavers

Three Bags Full by Irena Harrison, Liz Toohey and Bec Williams, made from single use plastic such as pet food and coffee bags, and remnant leather

I really loved these bags (there were three of them) and the way The Junk Weavers have used old scarves on the handles of this one.

There was a separate section for schools and some wonderful artwork by primary school students.

20170601 Art from Trash 10A - More Than A Rooster by Grade 2 Albuera Street Primary

More Than Just a Rooster by Grade 2 Albuera Street Primary School

This piece recognises 2017 as Year of the Rooster and was the result of the students integrating their studies of Chinese, sustainability, art, science, maths and visible wellbeing through the inquiry questions “what happens to our rubbish?”, “how can we reduce, reuse, recycle, or rethink our daily actions?” and “what materials make up our rubbish?” They asked further questions on the disposal and decomposition time of plastic and decided to collect their plastic waste and create a rooster.

20170601 Art from Trash 06 - Our School by Grade 5-6 Lenah Valley Primary

Our School, by Grade 5 and 6s, Lenah Valley Primary School, made from coloured pencils

20170601 Art from Trash 05A - Bitsabot by Grade 5-6B Albuera St Primary School

Bitsabot, the class robot of 5-6B at Albuera Street Primary school, made from bits and pieces from electronic devices and appliances. 

This is the most creative use of a vacuum cleaner brush I have ever seen!

20170601 Art from Trash 07C - All That We Share by Young Migrant Education Students Tas TAFE

All That We Share, by the Young Migrant Education Program TasTAFE students, made from recycled paper bags and other assorted recycled materials

20170601 Art from Trash 08D - Mirror of Maleficent by A TAste of Togetherness Mosaic Support Services

Mirror of Maleficent by A Taste of Togetherness Mosaic Support Services, made from a mirror and old toys (Creepy!)

20170601 Art from Trash 09 - Necklace by Jeka Kaat

Necklace by Jeka Kaat, made from washers, jumprings and clasps

Ever wonder what do do with old Christmas cards you feel bad about throwing out? Wonder no more.

20170601 Art from Trash 11 - Ghosts of Christmases Past by Jen Duhig

Ghosts of Christamases Past collage by Jen Duhig

If you get a chance to call into the Long Gallery before the exhibition closes on Sunday, it’s definitely worth a visit. There’s lots of very cool and interesting art on display, and creative re-use of materials that were probably destined for the rubbish heap.




Challenge 8 – Crosswords Day 15

I’m now half way through the crosswords challenge and have started puzzle 22 today. I completed three puzzles this week, one of them I cried out for help on Twitter because there was a clue I just couldn’t get:

“American runners from Alaksa wearing cruel smiles (8)”.

I got that there would be AK (Alaska) in there somewhere but couldn’t put the rest of it together. The answer is “sneakers” – AK in cruel smiles (sneers) = American runners. I was thinking of runners in the sense of athletes, not in the sense of shoes.

Thank you Annie!

I have a long way to go. But I’m enjoying it. I’m especially enjoying wrestling with a clue and then going back to it a couple of days later and immediately seeing the answer.

I’m finding it a lot easier to pull out the crossword book when I have a spare moment or two than I do to pull out the sketch book and try to draw something. So I’m going to give my morning “learning” time back to drawing and use spare moments that crop up during the day to work on my crosswords.

What I learned this week:

  • I need to get back into my evening routine and 10.00 bedtime.
  • I read a fascinating book called Untrain Your Brain by Mike Weeks. One line that stood out for me in the book was: “Even when we seemingly lose all choice over what life presents it’s crucial to remember that our internal response is and always will be ours to choose.”
  • Adélie is a species of penguin
  • If I sleep in and miss my morning routine yoga/meditate/walk/draw/me-time, my day doesn’t go as smoothly as normal.
  • When I’m cutting bread with a sharp knife, I shouldn’t take my eyes off what I’m doing (ouch).

And to round everything off, here’s my progress against my goals for this week:

Get a new yoga mat

  • I looked but I’m not sure exactly what I want, so this is on hold for now.

Get as far as I can on at least 6 more crossword puzzles

  • I’ve started four new puzzles and completed three (two of which I had already started).
Draw two faces
  • I drew one face and several eyes.
Complete steps 5-7 of Living With Intent
  • Completed and I did step 8 and started step 9.
Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge
  • It’s all in my head.
Write a blog post on what I learned this week
  • You’re reading it.

Goals for this week:

  1. Listen to the Asian Efficiency Podcast on creating a manifesto and start to write these 5 documents.
  2. Make a start on the last three “easy peasy” crosswords in my crossword book.
  3. Write a blog post on where I’m up to with the “clarity” challenge (i.e. actually do it this week).
  4. Write a blog post on what I learned this week.

Challenge 7 – 30 days of yoga

I started this challenge on Thursday with 15 minutes of yoga following my daily 10 minutes of meditation instead of going for a walk. It feels really weird to be doing yoga by myself, without the direction of a teacher or a DVD. To guide what I was doing, I used a handout that my lovely teacher Fran of Derwent Valley Yoga had given us last holidays to practise with, which I used exactly zero times in the three weeks we had off.

I felt bad because Fran had taken the trouble to sketch out the postures, so I hope that using them now will make up for that.

15 minutes seems like enough time to work through most of the poses Fran has suggested and a few others that I’ve always liked to do, plus end up with a couple of minutes resting in corpse pose (savasana) at the end. I’m avoiding twists at the moment because my back is giving me grief but I’m no having trouble with any of the others.

Unfortunately i didn’t have 15 minutes on Day 2, because I fell back to sleep after my alarm went off, but I managed to reshuffle things so I got in 10 minutes of practice.

Day 3 was Saturday and I had enough time to do 15 minutes and go for a walk, so I was pleased with that. Day 4 (today) was the same, but I think I might have over-extended my back trying the locust pose (salabhasana), so I might give that one a miss for a few days. It wasn’t on the list anyway.

In other news, I am continuing with my drawing lessons that I started as part of my Growth Mindset challenge in June. I’m now up to Lesson 23 of Mark Kistler’s You Can Draw in 30 Days course.

This is one of Lesson 23’s bonus lessons. It took me three days, but I’m pretty happy with it.