All posts by “amanda

The podcast phase

So 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

A 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.

June in books

Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling your Creative Career, Elizabeth Hyde Stevens (audio)
Henson’s approach to money is probably what appealed to me most about this book. According to Stevens, the accumulation of money and wealth was never Henson’s goal — his goal was to just make art. Henson saw the accumulation of money as merely that thing that fueled his ability to continue to make his art. With that as her central theme, Stevens tells ten lessons about Henson’s approach to running a business that is based on art and creativity. This is definitely more of a business book than it is one about art/creativity, making it not quite what I expected, but there’s still plenty here to enjoy and learn from.

Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, Sharon Louden (editor)
The latest contender for my favourite read this year, this is a wonderful collection of essays by 40 working artists. The essays deal with all the joys, pains, complexities, and trivialities of being a working artist, covering everything from how to actually get the work done, the creative process, creative blocks, and the usual self-doubt that goes with being an artist, to juggling relationships and family, money, gallery representation, and being a part of a creative community. There’s a lot to celebrate in these essays, but also a lot of plain talk around things like money and how to earn enough of it to live on and sustain a career (I didn’t count but it certainly seemed like most of the 40 artists featured spoke of having second jobs to supplement the income they earned from their fine art practice). These 40 essays are filled with passion for creativity and artistic practices, with a generous dose of reality tossed in. It’s a really excellent read.

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
It occurred to me recently that with all the books I’ve been reading on creativity, I should reread this one because it’s been about twenty years since I last read it and it’s such a classic. This book is a brilliant exposition on what it takes to be a female writer, written with tongue often very firmly planted in cheek. Let this serve as a reminder to myself to not wait another twenty years to read it again.

The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, Sarah Lewis (audio)
The Rise is a collection of stories and anecdotes held together quite loosely by the thematic thread of creativity. Lewis has a fairly readable prose style that I enjoyed, but it almost seemed like she was trying to tackle too much with this book.

#allthepeopleimettoday in June

All the people I met today

So this month’s art practice has been super fun. I’ve been drawing all the people I meet everyday and sharing my work on Instagram and a new Tumblr blog I set up a couple of weeks ago. I realized pretty early in the month that this is a theme I could probably sustain for a while, beyond just this month, mostly because it’s pretty wide open to interpretation. But also because I’m having tonnes of fun with it!

All the people I met today

Speaking of which, Crystal Moody, who is a huge source of inspiration to me thanks to her Year of Creative Habits project, interviewed me the other day about the project. I’ve been sort of floating through the month, feeling all these vaguely good and positive feelings about my daily art practice, and it was only when I sat down to answer Crystal’s questions that I really dug into it all. It was a great exercise and I’m totally honoured to have been asked!

All the people I met today

If you’d like to keep up with all this, follow me on Tumblr and/or Instagram. And you know what would be even cooler? If you joined in, too! I’d love to see how other people interpret the #allthepeopleimettoday theme!

All the people I met today

UX design for the whole library

Useful Usable DesirableComing home to a box of multiple copies of a book you wrote will never stop feeling awesome! Aaron and I wrote this book about user experience design for libraries back in 2012 and it’s finally out in real, deadtree form, the kind you can hold in your hands. It’s pretty cool. It was neat to flip it open and read the intro again, words we wrote over a year ago, and realize, hey, I like this book. I’m kind of proud of it.

You can pick up a copy for yourself or for your library from the ALA store (I wish we had some control over pricing because, damn, that’s spendy). Spoiler alert: all this UX stuff is not just for your website.

All non-fiction, all the time

May readsNot a single word of fiction in all of May. And I’m okay with that. Oh, and hey! Instead of another lame composite image of all the book covers from this month, I thought I’d draw them in a stack instead! Yeah, that was fun.

The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life, Twyla Tharp (audio)
Most of the titles I’ve read on creativity have been by writers and visual artists, so I was keen to hear the perspective of a performance artist. Good news: good creative habits are common across all the arts! There are some interesting perspectives here, as well as a bunch of useful exercises. The three-star rating comes down to the narrator, who way over-dramatised unfortunately.

The Creative Life: True Tales of Inspiration, Julia Cameron (audio)
This book was not at all what I expected. Cameron is the author of The Artist’s Way, that seminal text about creativity and the creative process, and I guess I expected something similar here. Instead, The Creative Life is a series of vignettes about Cameron’s life as an artist and a teacher. Once I got past my expectations and settled into the narrative, I enjoyed it.

Hello, New York: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Boroughs, Julia Rothman
Part memoir, part travel guide, this is a stunning look at the five boroughs of New York, told in gorgeous illustrations and lovely personal narratives by one of my illustrator-heroes. If you’ve ever wanted to explore NY’s little-known treasures and off-the-beaten-path highlights, this book is for you.

Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in its Own Words, Wendy MacNaughton
MacNaughton is probably one of my favourite illustrators and San Francisco is easily one of my favourite cities, so this book was a total treat.

Daybook: The Journal of an Artist, Anne Truitt (audio)
Such a lovely book! One of Truitt’s main struggles is the struggle between the competing roles in her life: her role as mother and her role as artist. She is positively lyrical when talking about that tension and how she navigates it on a daily basis. I listened to the audio version of this, which was delightfully narrated by Truitt herself, but I’ve decided I need to get myself a print copy because this is a book I’ll read again for sure.

Do the Work, Steven Pressfield
A quick little read that was the perfect followup to Pressfield’s The War of Art. Do the Work is a manifesto about the challenges of resistance and all the forms it takes.  That self-doubt you have about your yourself and your abilities? That’s resistance! That thing that prevents you from starting whatever it is you really want to start (a piece of art, a company, weight loss, whatever)? Also resistance! That thing that seizes you right at the end of a project and prevents you from completing it? You guessed it, resistance! Resistance sucks and this book is all about how you can get through/over/past it to just do the work you want and need to do. I enjoyed it.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey
I dipped into this book over the course of the month and thoroughly enjoyed it every time. All sorts of habits, rituals, routines, and practices that I couldn’t help but think must have been super fun to research.

Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, Edwidge Danticat (audio)
I wasn’t familiar with Danticat’s work prior to reading this series of essays but now I’m super stoked to dig into her fiction. This is a really wonderful collection of stories, most about Haiti or Danticat’s Haitian relatives, told with a lot of compassion.

#averbaday in May

Confession time: I missed six days in May. Still, I’m calling the effort a moderate success. This little video includes all 24 #averbaday sketches I drew in May.

Just last night I decided that for the month of June I’m going to draw all the people I meet everyday. I’ll probably interpret the term “meet” loosely. You should join me! Or follow along on Instagram.