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.

The podcast phase

The Podcast PhaseSo I do this thing where for months all I can listen to in the car is audiobooks. Eventually, my interest in audiobooks peters out to the point where no audiobook in the whole world can get me interested enough to listen, so I turn my attention to music. I make tonnes of playlists of all my favourites and I cycle through them during my commute, wondering the whole time how I ever could have listened to anything but music, sweet sweet music, when I drive. A few months of that and I get all I hate my music, I have nothing to listen to, so I load up my phone with podcasts, so many podcasts, all the podcasts in the world. Eventually, I’ll get sick of those, too, and switch to CBC radio for a while, and then back to audiobooks, and then… you get the idea. There should be a name for this condition (symptoms: mid-length attention span + mildly obsessive).

At the moment I’m about six weeks into The Podcast Phase (and that’s the real reason why I only read two books in July) and I’m still very much in the ramp up portion of the phase, still subscribing to new podcasts and wishing that I could listen to podcasts every minute of every day. Here’s what I have queued up at the moment:

  • Design Matters. Debbie Millman interviews all sorts of big deal designers.
  • 99% Invisible. Roman Mars on various topics that illustrate (often obliquely) how everything in our environment is designed.
  • This Creative Life. Sara Zarr talks to creative types about their process.
  • Typeradio. Typography and design.
  • Creative Briefs. Conversations with creative professionals about what inspires them.
  • New Yorker Out Loud. Weekly conversations with feature writers from the week’s issue of The New Yorker.
  • Illustration and a Beer. A live conversation (during which beer is consumed) about illustration, usually with a working illustrator.
  • Creative Minds. All about what makes people creative.
  • Spark. Nora Young on digital stuff.
  • Blank on Blank. Archival audio interviews with famous people, usually on a specific topic.
  • On the Grid. Three designers gab about design.
  • NPR Fresh Air. Terry Gross talks to cultural icons about stuff.
  • NPR Books. Book reviews, interviews, all things book-related.
  • Crafted. Conversations with artists and designers about what they do.
  • While She Naps. Abby Glassenberg talks to creative people about creativity.

Some of these podcasts are holdovers from previous podcast-listening phases and others I’ve just barely started listening to. I’ll report back in a couple of weeks on what I’m still enjoying, what’s dropped off the roster, and what’s been added.

July reads

July readingA pretty light reading month, considering that one of these two books took about 2 days to get through, and the other was mostly pictures. We were traveling for 2 of the 4 weeks in July and I decided to keep it light and not pack a single deadtree book. Instead I downloaded about 6 titles on my ipad and convinced myself that I was Doing The Right Thing (limiting luggage, weight, &c.). The result? I didn’t read a single word during the whole trip, other than the few chapters of a book that I picked up at the Musee D’Orsay book shop (still reading it, it’s brilliant, more on that in next month’s post). Verdict? I am no longer a reader of e-books. A few years ago, that was all I read, but for some reason, that desire/inclination has left me entirely. Print books are my bag, I suppose.

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking, Mike Rohde
If you doodle incessantly when you take notes, you might already be a sketchnoter. I had no idea my visual note-taking style (all boxes, callouts, doodles, and arrows) had a name until I laid eyes on this book. It was sort of interesting to read a bit of the psychology behind why I’m drawn to visual note-taking, and this book even provided some ideas for how to get better at it. It’s good.

Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists, Julia Rothman and Vanessa Davis
As someone who has kept a sketchbook, on and off, for many years, I’ve always been drawn to other people’s sketchbooks — what do they use them for? How do they interact with the pages? Do they have the same anxiety I do about that first, blank page? Do they ever tear pages out? This lovely volume asks these sorts of questions of 44 artists and reproduces images from their sketchbooks. It’s a gorgeous book, and pawing through the pages, reading all about how these artists feel about their sketchbooks is a delightful treat. This is one I’ll keep returning to and enjoying for ages.