September reading

Dani Shapiro quote Still Writing: the Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
This book is a lovely, meandering look at what it means to be a writer, with plenty of advice for how to manage the beginnings, middles, and ends of the process. Towards the end of the book, Shapiro quotes advice from poet, Jane Kenyon, and adds a couple of her own bits of wisdom, into a collection of statements, worthy of printing off and pinning prominently near your workspace, that just about summarizes what this book is all about. I thoroughly enjoyed this and look forward to reading more of Shapiro’s work.

The Good Creative: 18 Ways to Make Better Art, Paul Jarvis
If you’ve read Paul Jarvis before, you’re probably familiar with his accessible, pithy style. More of the same here, all sorts of really useful, practical advice. A quick, enjoyable read.
Hugh MacLeod quote

Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, Hugh MacLeod
Although it might not have been intended this way (though he does explicitly talk about it), this book is pretty much the handbook for people who make art while working a day job. As such, it’s full of empowering, common sense advice, in MacLeod’s usual no-BS style. Over on the right are 3 of my favourite of MacLeod’s 39 (actually, 40) keys to creativity. Super quick read, really enjoyed it.

Widow Basquiat, Jennifer Clement
A series of snippets from the lives of Jean Michel Basquiat and Suzanne Malouk, with the occasional account from Clement herself (a close personal friend of Malouk’s), this book is a really interesting account of the tumultuous relationship between Basquiat and his lover and muse, Malouk. I’ve been fascinated with Basquiat’s life and work for a long time, so I was probably somewhat predisposed to liking this book, but what I didn’t expect was the remarkable way Clement drew a window into the frenzy and excess of life in New York in the 1980s. So much of this story isn’t pretty or happy, but it’s told in a really compelling, compassionate way.

Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian

sunday artist, monday librarianYou know what I’ve been struggling with lately? The balance between working my day job and having the time and energy to draw or paint or do whatever creative thing I’m into at the moment. For the last few months, I’ve been trying to draw something everyday (lately it’s been the people I meet) — it’s a part of my day that I really look forward to because it rejuvenates me and totally fills my well. However, I’m keenly aware that I might not always have the time and energy to balance the two and, for practical reasons, the day job takes priority. That weighs on me constantly.

The whole issue of balancing your day job with art-making is a recurrent theme in practically all the books I’ve read on creativity. Hugh MacLeod calls it the Sex and Cash Theory. Austin Kleon says don’t give up the day job. The quickest of Google searches nets all sorts of articles about successful artists who managed that balance throughout their careers (Kleon’s got a nice collection of posts about just such artists, too). So I thought I’d dig into my very own profession to see what’s what.  I’m not sure if my place of work is unique but I can think of at least four librarian colleagues who have some sort of creative practice on the side. And that’s just at my library alone! So I figured there’s got to be other creative librarian types out there who are managing the same delicate dance, right?

So I’ve started talking to some of them to find out how they make it work. What their creative processes look like, how they balance their day jobs with their art-making, and what kind of influence one has on the other (if any). And I’m going to post those conversations right here in a new series I’m calling Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian. I’ve also set myself the challenge of drawing everyone I talk to because, well, who doesn’t love a drawing challenge?

I’m polishing up the first interview right now and should be ready to post it soon, so stay tuned for that. And if you’re a librarian who makes art in whatever spare time you have, and if you’re not totally offended at the thought of having me draw your likeness, drop me a note. I’d love to chat (and draw you, too)!

The podcast phase continues: An update

podcast listeningThat post I wrote about the podcasts I’ve been listening to got a lot of attention over on Facebook, which is lovely because it resulted in suggestions for about 38 other podcasts I should check out. And check them out I did! I listened to at least one episode of every podcast that my trusty fb friends suggested (thanks again, friends!). Many got added to the roster and some did not. The exercise really taught me what my personal preferences are when it comes to podcasts: not too long, strong host/interviewer definitely required, and topics should be at least vaguely related to art/design, with some sci/tech thrown in. So I think it’s safe to say that I now have a steady and dependable queue of fine podcasted programming that I can rely on for my commute. Here’s what that queue now looks like:

  • Design Matters. No new episodes all summer but I’m patient. I’ll happily wait for Debbie Millman to return with her usual slate of wonders from the design world.
  • 99% Invisible. I feel like I will never tire of this one. Also? Each episode is exactly the perfect length.
  • This Creative Life. I haven’t yet figured out the schedule for this one but I’ve liked everything I’ve heard so far.
  • Typeradio. Also been on hiatus for much of the summer, but that’s the beauty of podcasts, isn’t it? No need to check for new content, it just queues up when it’s fresh.
  • On the Grid. The three hosts talk about design-y things. Great rapport, fun to listen to.
  • Crafted. Great interviews with creative sorts, edited well but I sort of wish you heard more from the host.
  • While She Naps. The host, Abby Glassenberg, has a lovely, casual interview style.
  • Creative Briefs. Interesting conversations with designers.
  • Creative Minds. Pretty laid back conversation between a couple of Canadian hosts and creative professionals of all sorts.
  • The Accidental Creative. Short conversations with writers, artists, musicians, and such.
  • This American Life. How could I forget TAL? It’s my Monday morning go-to.
  • Otherppl with Brad Listi. That thing I said about a strong host? Brad Listi is that. Super entertaining.
  • Process Driven. Only a couple of episodes in to this new podcast and I’m really digging the emphasis on the creative process.
  • What’s Your Story? The emphasis seems to be on small/internet business owners who do creative things. I liked Meighan O’Toole’s old podcast, My Love For You, way back when, so I was pleased to find she’s doing new stuff.
  • Studio 360. Another classic I used to enjoy that I somehoe forgot about. Glad I was reminded!
  • Radiolab. See above.
  • TLDR. Short but in-depth stories about stuff that’s happening on the web. Great concept, well executed.
  • Converge: The Business of Creativity Podcast. Really awesome conversations with people who make a living from their creative pursuits.

Books I read in August

Books I read in AugustThe Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles, Martin Gayford
In my post about the books I read in July, I vaguely referred to this book as the only one I read while we were in France earlier this summer. I picked this up at the museum shop at the Musee d’Orsay, right after we saw the Van Gogh/Artaud exhibit, which I found overwhelmingly moving for so many reasons. So reading this was timely, which probably accounts for why I enjoyed it as much as I did, even while being quite frustrated by it at times. As the title suggests, the book covers a difficult 9 and a half week period of Van Gogh’s life, so the narrative was dense with  detail around the mental anguish and anxiety Van Gogh dealt with that ultimately led to the bizarre self-mutilation we all know about (the cutting off of one of his ears). The frustrating part about the book was that Gayford tried to build suspense all the way through by not referring to the self-mutilation, which was odd considering that we all know the story (pretty sure I haven’t ruined the ending for you, right?). So, anyway, this was a generally good and only slightly frustrating read.

Art Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist, Lisa Congdon
I’ve been reading Lisa Congdon’s blog for years, so I was pretty confident that I’d enjoy this book even before a copy made it’s way into my expectant and excited hands. This is a really wonderful book — it’s quite literally full of nuggets of info that would be invaluable to anyone who is trying to make a living (or even thinking about trying to make a living) as an artist. One of the things that I enjoyed most about this book is the way Lisa demystifies the world of professional artists, taking that age-old romanticism out of the notion of the starving artist and instead exalting the thriving artist. A great, affirming, and totally useful book.

Make Good Art, Neil Gaiman
This is a truly lovely edition of Gaiman’s 2012 commencement address to The University of the Arts  designed by Chip Kidd (watch the address here and read the transcript here). The artifact is just as delightful as the sentiments expressed therein.

Theory vs Practice: On keeping a logbook

If you’ve read Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, you already know all about the logbook. Back in December, I made a pledge to start keeping one myself, it seemed like such a good idea at the time. I love the idea of keeping track of the things I’ve done, seen, eaten, thought, whatever, on any given day. As I mentioned back then, I’ve been doing this sort of thing in doodle form for a while, just not in any planned, deliberate way. So I figured just getting a notebook (who doesn’t need another excuse for a new notebook?) and having a plan to do this everyday would be enough for me to make the commitment.

logbook no goSo I got my notebook, hacked it appropriately (OK, I added a pen loop with some neon orange duct tape and called it done), and got to work. I logged daily for all of January but, I won’t lie, I missed a couple of days here and there and I had to backtrack to catch up. Then February hit and I found myself going back to fill in missed days more than I was logging stuff in any regular way.  By mid-March, I reluctantly and regretfully ditched the habit altogether.  Why? A few reasons:

  • The more I was backtracking to catch up on days I missed, the more I started thinking of logging as a chore, as one more thing I had to get done before lights-out. That’s not how it’s supposed to work! I thought about just letting go of days when I don’t log anything but then I worried that I’d have more blank pages than full ones! That’s probably not how it’s supposed to work either.
  • I’ve kept a journal, off and on, since I was a kid — I am thoroughly drawn to that sort of self-reflection. So as I was logging the pithy, factual stuff, I was sort of struggling to see the real value in it. It felt a bit like a forced combination of stuff that’s in my calendar and stuff that’s in my everyday notebook. Speaking of which…
  • I am a one-notebook girl. I know people who carry notebooks for different things, whether those are different parts of their lives (work, home) or different purposes (lists, notes, etc.). My default has always been one notebook to rule them all. My notebook is doodle pad, my to-do list book, my place to scribble notes at work meetings, my reminder book, my phone book, all of it (I’ve only just (as in in the last couple of months) decided that I need a separate sketchbook and that’s only because my sketchbook needs to hold up to watercolour). So all that jotting down of stuff in my logbook felt slightly redundant, especially when a lot of that same stuff was already in my primary notebook.

Lesson learned? I already sort of (kind of, maybe) do keep a logbook, it’s just not the kind of logbook I thought I should be keeping. And I think I’m OK with that.