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.


Catching up

So this blog-as-accountability-partner thing isn’t working out as well as I’d hoped and I’ve missed several weeks. The several weeks don’t have much going for them. All those 6/7 and 7/7 weeks seem like a lifetime away, and most of the healthy habits I’ve been trying so hard to put in place are back at 0/7 or 1/7 (on a good week).

There are a few reasons for this, and the thing is that now’s been the time I really should have been looking after myself, going to bed on time, drinking more water and less beer and pausing to breathe. But I can’t change any of that. What’s done is done, and it’s time to move forward again.

Something I’ve been neglecting for a long time has been making stuff. Arty stuff, journally stuff, scrapbooky stuff, writey stuff – just giving myself time to muck around in my room and make something.

A few weeks ago I signed up for a mini class called Creative Sandbox 101, which is a 7-day kickstarter to get people creating. I thought I’d whip through it in seven days. Turns out I was wrong and here I am six weeks later still on Day 4. The story of my life. Sign up for something, begin with enthusiasm, don’t make time for it, don’t finish, feel guilty forever about it. Yep. I can’t even finish a course that is seven days of 15-minute exercises.

This morning I felt better than I have for a long time, physically and mentally. I decided I was going to go for a walk (for the first time in at least three weeks), watch the sunrise and spend the time I would have otherwise spent moping in bed making something.

I did, and it was beautiful. I had breakfast with the boy and then it was time to make something.

201701008 Sunrise 2 IG

After clearing off my desk, it was time to make something.

After dusting up some cobwebs, it was time to make something.

I had a painting stuck to my craft mat. It had been stuck to the mat for months waiting for me to finish it and, at the same time, being an excuse for me not making anything else. It was time to call it done and go make something new. I didn’t want to waste another moment of the day shuffling stuff around my desk and not actually making anything. Action creates more action. Or something like that.

20171008 Taking the picture off the mat

Once I’d removed the picture, it was time to make something. After I’d removed the adhesive residue from the masking tape that had been on the mat, of course.

Ahem. Action creates action.

I started (yes, you read that right, I started) by making a really crappy painting based on an exercise from Flora Bowley’s lovely book Bold Intuitive Painting, which you can find on my Instagram feed if you really want to see it.

Then I went over to the Creative Sandbox 101 website and read up on Day 4’s activity. The activity I chose to do was to make photos of one person (or object) for 15 minutes. To capture different moods and angles. I decided I’d go out and photograph a tree for 15 minutes. I probably could have found one in my backyard, but I decided to make it a bit more challenging and go to the park where there would be people. I feel very uncomfortable

I feel very uncomfortable making photos when there are people around and it’s something I want to get more comfortable doing. I know most people don’t give a toss whether someone is photographing stuff around them (unless they’re photographing the person in question, I guess), and even if they do, what other people think of me is none of my business – but it still feels awkward. So today’s exercise was a two-part challenge. Excellent value for money.

I was sure I’d be safe anyway because the weather was crappy and no one would be at the park, right?

Nice try.

I tried talking myself out of doing it. I couldn’t find a tree I liked. The one I did like was too difficult to access. Wouldn’t people get worried about someone standing round a tree in a park for 15 minutes snapping pictures on their phone? Wouldn’t I be that weird woman who makes photos of trees? (I’m not sure why this bothers me. I’m probably already that weird woman who obsessively photographs 10 Murray Street, so over-photographing a tree is no big deal, right?)

No, no, no, no. You are not getting out of this.

I eventually found one away from the people, though they would have seen me if they’d looked, set the timer and started snapping.

It was an interesting exercise. The tree had lots of cool features and I was interested to see how the bark changed several times moving up the tree. There were little critters in there, things stuck between the bark and the trunk, spider webs, blackberry vines, new growth, lots of bark, some black bits, some interesting shapes. I saw faces! The 15 minutes went quickly and I only made 55 photos in that time. I was expecting more. I don’t know if any of them are any good. I wasn’t thinking much about composition and it was that glary middle-of-the-day light, so probably not. That wasn’t the point of the exercise. The point was to do something and to notice how I felt when I was doing it.

And I felt mixed things. Part of me wanted the timer to go off so I could stop. Part of me wondered if anyone could see me. Part of me enjoyed finding different parts of the tree to photograph, and wondered how old it was and if anyone had ever looked at it closely before. Part of me made me lie down on a log and look at it from that angle. That was actually one of the coolest angles. 15 minutes isn’t a long time, and I didn’t get bored. I enjoyed doing it. I’d do it again.

Maybe next time I will do this exercise with a person. Though getting up close and personal with a person might be somewhat more challenging than with a tree! (Any volunteers?)



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.



Book 19/24: Big Magic

This was a book I’d heard of, seen around, glanced through occasionally in the bookshop, not read for an online book club that I’m not really in, heard other people’s opinions of (well one other person), and finally decided to borrow from the library.

Book 19 - Big Magic

I finished it in four days, which is probably a record for me this year, and I found it a very easy book to read. The basic idea of the book is that it looks at ways people don’t express their creativity and the things that get in the way, and gives you a gentle (or not so gentle) push to overcome your road blocks.

There’s six sections, and I found something relevant to me in most of them. I’d have to say that most of the ideas that the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, presents are ideas I’ve heard before, so a lot of the book is reinforcing what I already know (but don’t necessarily put into practice).

I like her take on this though. “Most things have already been done – but they have not been done by you . . . Everything reminds us of something. But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours . . .  Attempts at originality can often feel quite forced and precious, but authenticity has a quiet resonance that never fails to stir me. Just say what you want to say, then, and say it with all your heart.”

I think the book succeeds in doing this very well.

I was intrigued with Ms Gilbert’s concept of ideas being “a disembodied energetic life-form” that have consciousness and are driven by the impulse to be made manifest in the world – which they must do through a human partner. She believes that ideas are basically hanging around looking for people who can manifest them, and when an idea finds someone who could bring it into the world, it appears to them – and if you’re attuned to it, you can either work with it, or not. I believe in fairies, so this seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation to me.

This is covered in the second section, “Enchantment”, in which Ms Gilbert tells a tale of how she once began to work on a novel, devoted herself to it, but due to external circumstances changing she never finished it.  And how when she finally did get back to it, the spark, the idea had gone and she was unable to complete it. Some time later she was talking with a friend she’d met around the time she’d lost her novel, and it turns out her friend was writing the exact same story.

Two things interested me about this tale. First, Ms Gilbert’s belief that the idea had transmitted itself to her friend at the time they first me, and second, her reaction to finding out what her friend was writing. Instead of getting shitty that her friend was writing ‘her’ novel, and beating herself up over a lost opportunity, she chose to be excited and grateful that the idea was becoming reality, and that she’d played a part in making it happen.

Whether or not you believe in ideas having a life of their own, I think the big learning here is that being happy for someone when they do something you wish you could have done, or go somewhere you really wanted to go, or met someone you would love to have met is much better than lamenting over what could have been or feeling jealous or miserable because you ‘missed out’. Am I right?

I imagined from the tag line of the book “Creative Living Beyond Fear” that it would have a strong focus on overcoming fear and going out and doing things. Actually the chapter on fear (“Courage”) is rather short. It distinguishes between the fear within you that keeps you safe and that you need to stop you jumping off grooves or walking into traffic; and the fear that shows up when you’re trying to do something different or creative. And while this fear is unhelpful, it’s natural to have it. But she says if you try to fight it you can kill your creativity at the same time. So Ms Gilbert says she welcomes fear on her journey, but she makes it clear that she and her creativity are running the show. “You’re allowed to have a voice, but you aren’t allowed to have a vote,” she says to her fear.

She suggests that if you can’t travel along with your fear you will never go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting. This is a concept I’ve come across in a couple of other places recently, so it was nice to see it reinforced here.

The book is very easy to read and touches on a lot of very simple things that I often forget. Some of the great memory joggers for me included what Ms Gilbert says about people’s reaction to your work being theirs, not yours, so you should just go out and create for yourself and not worry about what people thing. And much along the same line, most of the time people are too busy thinking about themselves to worry about you and what you’re doing. You don’t need anyone’s blessing or permission to go out and create.

Perfectionism is a high class version of the fear of not being good enough that not only stops us finishing things, it also prevents us from starting in some cases.  Ms Gilbert says no matter how much you try, someone will aways find fault with what you’ve done, so you need to finish it, put it out there and move onto the next thing.

Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding – because that’s the moment when interesting begins.

Be curious, explore something and see where it leads.

If you get stuck, do something else. Do anything, but do something.

They were some of the messages that jumped out of this book for me. I enjoyed reading it, and found Ms Gilbert’s anecdotes from her own life that explained what she was talking about interesting. I haven’t read any of her other books, so I don’t know if this is typical of her style, and I found it very easy to read. It’s probably not for everyone, but even if some of the concepts don’t appeal, many of the messages are good things to keep in mind if you’re trying to be creative and need a bit of a push to get going.

30 days of growth mindset: day 23

I’ve lost count of the days since my reset. I think I’m up to day 23. That will do anyway.

I’ve been wondering what I can do to explore the growth mindset further before the end of the month. There are a couple of exercises in Carol Dweck’s book I had planned on doing but haven’t got around to yet, but I still have a whole week!

I’ve also been continuing learning a new skill apart from a few (um, most) days I missed when I was on holiday.

I might as well tell you what I’ve been doing, and that’s to learn a skill I have always believed I never had and never had any chance of developing. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I was never the arty one; that was the domain of Lil Sis. My maternal grandmother used to produce beautiful pictures of flowers and my father was a technical drafter in the military, and we have some of his drawings, which are really good.


Lil Sis and I took Dad’s drawing of Pevensey Castle in Sussex back to the original location

I gave up art after Grade 7. Looking back I remember it being difficult and me being no good at it, so I had no desire to pursue it. I could be mistaken because I recently found my school reports and my Grade 7 art teacher had given me the equivalent of an A and written:

“Straightlinesgirl is a talented student who has an instinctive sense of proportion and perspective. She has the ability to retain a clear visual image and is able to draw from memory.”

I was reading that thinking that whoever she was writing about there, it wasn’t me. Or else she wrote this about everyone.

I have started the exercises in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain at least twice, and given up fairly early on each time. When I was thinking of things to do for this challenge I stumbled on a book I’d downloaded several years ago and never looked at. It’s called You Can Draw in 30 Days by Mark Kistler.

20160722 Draw

30 days huh? Well that’s the length of my challenge. Try anything for 30 days right?

So I started. I’m now up to lesson 9, rather than lesson 23 because I wanted to spend enough time on each lesson to do it justice, rather than rush through each one in the 15-20 minutes I had to do it every morning.

It’s been an interesting process.

I’ve observed two things. First, drawing isn’t the big scary unknown thing I thought it was. Second I have seen myself want to give up on an exercise when it’s got a bit tricky. And I have battled myself on the lines that (1) I won’t learn if I don’t do it and (2) much as I want it to be perfect, it won’t be. I’ve been doing this for 23 days or thereabouts. My pictures won’t look like the ones in the book because I’m a beginner. I’m not Mr Kistler, so my pictures will have my nuances, not his.

So there you have it. Even if I don’t explore the concept of growth mindset any further, I’m applying it practically, which is, perhaps, a more valuable activity than getting stuck in my head would be.