I feel extremely proud to have been asked to participate in Penguin Books annual “What to Give, What to Get” feature, where they ask their popular authors to share their favorites for the year.
(p.s. If you are in the category of friends or family you might not want to read this.)
“I was interested, and still am, in starting from the unknown. I’m still looking for steps that break the mold and disturb the traditional apparatus. I have the feeling every time I make a new piece that at last I’m beginning.”
I presented this list to my illustration class today. It was targeted to illustration but I realized it has wider applications. Simple truths I have learned over the years, many I’m sure you have heard before. I am hoping to give them some mental tools to work with as well as tools of the trade. Part of being successful is having a belief in yourself and the process. Plus, sometimes it just feels good to read a list and feel like you can do it (especially number 6). I told them number 6 is the source for all of my best ideas (wreck this journal, guerilla art kit, explorer, all were done when I was supposed to be working on other things). True story.
Secrets of the Self Employed (or How to be an Amazing [insert profession here])
1. Don’t worry about marks while you are in school. No one will ever ask you what school you went to or what your marks were when you leave it. (this pertains to the field of illustration).
2. You are always working for yourself, even when you work for others. Sometimes it feels like you are just the hired hand (and some clients can be really challenging to work with). But there is always some way to turn an illustration job into something exciting for you. Some ideas: experiment with a new technique (or a new color palette), use it as an opportunity to learn about a new topic, rebel against the job in tiny ways (do some roughs just for yourself in which you insert subversive material).
3. There are no actual rules for how to become a successful [insert profession here]. Make your own path.
4. It will help you to create a social network of other self-employed people.
5. Move your body every day. There are many health reasons for this, but it also helps you to work on ideas subconsciously. Ideas and solutions will come in when you least expect them but (almost always after a minimum of one hour of walking). There are new studies that suggest increased oxygen to the brain is a greater source for creativity than “creative brain exercises”. I have found this to be true for myself.
6. Goof off on a regular basis.
7. If you want to work on your art, work on your life. All those personality traits that aren’t working for you will come back to haunt you in your career (i.e. assertiveness, fear of conflict, fear of confrontation.) It’s all connected.
8. What you think becomes your reality. I always had a belief that if I cleaned out my recycling bin in my studio I would get new work. And guess what, it always happened. If you think the industry is screwed and there is no work to be had, guess what you will find out there?
9. Focus on ideas instead of tools (technology). Anyone can learn to use the tools, but it is the thinkers who really impact the culture in important ways. In the end the tools don’t offer anything interesting.
10. Worrying about the competition does very little to help your career. I know it’s hard sometimes to ignore what other people are doing (we all think that others are doing better than us), but every one of us is on a different life path. We are all here to accomplish different things and even though it would seem like one person’s path is similar to yours, it is not.
11. Only work for free if you are passionate about the cause or receive something of value in return. (Be wary of people who offer your name in lights in lieu of money. Many people will tell you something is good promotion for you, often it is not and there are no guarantees when it comes to promotional value). If you are not getting something of a measurable value (i.e. printed pieces, or money) ask for something else, creative freedom. If they refuse then they may not be a good client to work for anyway.
12. Take some small risks on a regular basis. Some ideas: write some places/companies you would really like to work and let them know why you think they are great.
13. Don’t worry about whether or not you are good (good is subjective and most people are not great judges of their own work), just keep making work.
14. Ignore cool. Successful people do not try to be hip, they just do work that excites them.
15. Always come back to work that excites you. Even if you get off track for a while. Do personal work on a regular basis, show it to others. You can reinvent yourself at any time.
I love this image sent to me by Devin Brockwell, a collection of random items from around his house. You wouldn’t believe what crazy good mail I get from people working on the books. I have received hundreds of photos of people on secret missions from “This is Not a Book”. I will find a way to display them soon.
I am at a point where I am not able to respond to every email I receive, but please know that I read every one and I love them all. Thank you.
Sound: (knock at the door)
Me: (opens door. Looks at creature wearing a t-shirt that reads “fear of failure”, the shirt is covered in bloodstains.)
“You?!?”, I exclaim, “I thought I was done with you.”
“Apparently not, since you seem a bit flustered.”
“Shit, is it that obvious? Listen, I know now that comparing oneself to others is silly. We all have different life paths, so it is a futile act to compare one with another. Each human is here to learn different things and progress in different ways.”
“So why am I here then?”
“Because I still have those days when my confidence takes a nose dive?”
“You’re human, it happens.”
“You might as come in. We should probably sit for a while. But only for a day or so because I have work to do and I’m anxious to get back to it.”
“Why don’t we go for a long walk instead.”
the boxed set is out now! I saw someone had posted pictures of the instructions on the back of it. But I don’t want to give them away here (in case you are the kind of person who likes surprises). It’s really cool.
Really really cool.
I remember when I was working at my first bookstore job in high school (the first of many), during the Christmas season it was an exciting thing to unpack and shelve all of the shiny new boxed sets. I recall a feeling of being invited on a journey. There was a different energy in the store and the promise of immersing yourself into the world of a writer for an extended time. It was more of a commitment to embark on a whole series, you really had to love it and sink yourself into it. And sometimes you would purchase a boxed set just because you loved the author and wanted to have a set that was consistent design-wise. In those days there were often many different cover designs available so it was nice to have ones that matched, (or in a size that matched). Oh, how I coveted my Madelaine L’Engle series.
There are so many things I miss about working in a bookstore around the holidays. The music, the chaos, the challenge of finding that “perfect” book for a customer, or even just finding the one they were looking for. I lived for the “book mysteries” people would bring to you, (“it has a white cover and there is something about a red fish in the title”). I still feel that I had a real gift for this, able to deduce a title from the most obscure clues. One had to be up on the current books though. You had to read the book section of the paper every weekend, and you had to listen to the book shows on the radio. And you had to read as much as humanly possible. For me the reading was like an endless journey through a large forest that you never wanted to leave. Every book was full of new possibilities and many had the potential to change you forever. And they did.
What you don’t think about at the time, or what I didn’t think about is the fact that each book is connects you to a time and place. In this way books are temporal, the experience of reading is a way of marking your days. I was listening recently to a lecture about the future of books by James Bridle and in it he talks about how the book (the artifact) becomes a souvenir, marking the time and your existence. This is why incidentally he thinks that ebooks are not doing so well, they do not offer us a souvenir to remember our experience by.) We associate the object with a memory, and just by picking it up again we are quickly transported back. This explains why it is hard to let go of our favorite books, even when we know they take up too much space on our shelves.
I enjoy thinking about someone opening up one of my boxed sets on Xmas morning and setting off on a slightly strange journey with my ideas. We will become partners of sorts. Maybe they will spill some egg nog onto the pages. The books themselves will become linked to the excitement of the moment. Maybe they will do some of the pages with their family, and have a few laughs in the process.
I would really love it if that happened.
cold, damp, wet.
unable to get warm.
a long school day.
playing. hands covered in charcoal.
class dismissed. a walk to get food for dinner. the public market.
some fish. potatoes. good cheese. olives stuffed with lemon.
on my way out I smell them cooking on a cart.
small talk with an elderly man who stirs the nuts with a metal spoon and tells me they will be a few more minutes (“they are not done until they are soft and chewy inside”). we talk mostly about the weather and how it’s warmer here than back east. he wears one white glove on his left hand (I learned later it was so he could put the hot nuts into the small paper bag, while holding the bag with his ungloved hand).
I hand him six dollars.
he hands me a bag of nuts and they warm my hands all the way down the street.
they smell smoky as I peel the shell off and I bite into their strange chewy texture. I am hooked.
I think I have a new addiction.
both my husband and sister feel they are they are one of the more challenging things (read: disgusting) they have ever consumed.
I’ve been dreaming about them at night.
sadly the dog ate the last four I was saving for the next day.
but it’s okay.
I’m going back next week.
and I have all week to be excited about it.
addendum: I found a very interesting post about roasted chestnuts in Spain.
did you notice anything?
“It is only after you have come to know the surface of things that you can venture to seek what is underneath. But the surface of things is inexhaustible.” –Mr. Palomar