A hole in 26

Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation, Uncategorized

I was listening to music on my way to the gym today, shuffling a recent playlist I’d made. This song came on – an old favourite. But it sounded different somehow.

I took my phone out of my pocket and saw I’d accidentally added a different version. Take 26. I let that sink in for a minute. I’d, somewhat stupidly, always just had this perfect, polished image of the completed song.

The Beatles are, undeniably, one of the greatest bands ever to have existed. They recorded 26 takes (at the very least) of this iconic song, and every song. Even they didn’t hit it out the park straight away every time.

So why do we hold ourselves to such a strict standard?

I’m frustrated and disappointed when a drawing or piece of writing doesn’t turn out well the first or second time. That’s a naïve way to react. It will hold me back.

To make good art, we’ve got to let go of our ego, to be patient and willing to put in the work and focus on our craft every day. Go out there and get it done.

Don’t long for the hole in one. It’s lazy and unrealistic. Things take time.

Be happy with your hole in 26, if that’s what it takes to get it right.

Sisyphus and Storytelling

Art, Creativity, Motivation

Have you heard of ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’? Albert Camus captured this ancient Greek tale in his incredible essay. In it, a man is confined by the Gods to carry a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll all the way to the bottom again – for eternity.

Scan 12.03.2018 _2.jpg

In the essay, Camus managed to encapsulate that feeling we’ve all come across. That we’re struggling in vain. That, for all our efforts, we are tiny and insignificant, up against an uncaring world. And we are. But we can find meaning in that daily grind – our own personal boulder.

“The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

-Albert Camus

Jocko Willink is a retired Navy SEAL and best-selling author. His podcast is one to remember. One of the (many) highlights is captured in the video below: it’s his method for dealing with every setback, tiny or gargantuan. It boils down to one word: good.

Failed an exam? Good. You weren’t ready. More time to study and become a better student.

Didn’t get the promotion? Good. Learn why, and you have the opportunity to shore up weaknesses.

Relationship fails? Good. You’ll fix it and make it work, or it wasn’t meant to be.

We all have burdens to bear. Moaning or despairing about it won’t help. You’ll still have to get the damn boulder up the hill somehow. So, you may as well enjoy the journey. Find meaning in your toil.

Shoulder your load – then run with it.

The Young Pros

Let’s kick Monday off with a bang. One of my closest friends has started a blog. I think the premise is great, and I’m impressed at how quickly it’s gone from a phone call to a gorgeous website.

The Young Pros is a platform for driven people in the early stages of their careers, from all walks of life. The idea is we can all can share our experiences on a level playing field. We all have so much to learn from one another. One of my greatest joys is extracting valuable lessons from places you wouldn’t expect them. What could I, heading into a career in consulting, learn from a salesperson? What about a lawyer, or forensic accountant?

I’m honoured he let me write a guest post for him (the first of what I’m sure will be many) entitled: ‘Derivatives, Scandals and the Power of Storytelling’.  Head over and check it out (and more besides) if you’re interested.

Weekend doodles: the whistling scythe

Creativity, Daily drawing, Motivation

Someone asked me (after noticing my daily Instagram uploads): “Joe – where do you find the time for all this stuff?”

The simple answer is I can’t fathom not constantly working, learning and creating. But why is that?

Austin Kleon calls obituaries “near death experiences for cowards”. Reminding yourself of how little time you have is the source of limitless motivation and energy. Better than a cup of coffee and a cold shower, anyway (although I like those too). If you really face that fear, present yourself with the hard reality that we’re all running down a timer, you’ll find the time to do the stuff you want to do. Either that, or you’ll run from it. I choose the former.

This afternoon I went for a run. I wandered about the house, doing bits and bobs, finding every excuse not to go first – but I went. First I ran down the road, then into town. Then to the seafront. The kilometres piled up. I started feeling better, looser. I began enjoying it. When I got home, I looked in the mirror. I was glad. I’d done the work.

That feeling of satisfaction and contentment… It’s not like I don’t know it’s there. It’s a constant reward, forever waiting at the end of any kind of hard graft. And yet I still put off the work I know I need to do, whether physical or creative.

A way I remind myself to just do the damn thing is to be aware of the whistling scythe.

Daily doodle: back in the swing

Art, Creativity, Daily drawing

Here’s two sketches of some buildings I saw on my recent travels. Getting some fineliner pens has made a big difference to my urban sketching. I do kind of miss the subtle tones you can get with a biro… I definitely feel I’m getting much more proficient at capturing the intricacies of physical structures. I’m enjoying it too.

I was particularly struck with ‘The Dancing House’. I’ve always liked Frank Gehry. He seems like a cool, grumpy old dude with interesting ideas on the creative process. I like this quote:

“When you build a building, any building, start with the simple block model to see where that goes.”

When you start an essay or report, you’re better off quickly jotting down the core ideas, the big blocks of information. They can be completely fluid, removed or expanded as time goes on – but get them in there first.


Czech-sploits and mental Fartlek training

Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation, Philosophy

I’ve just got back from a long weekend away, exploring the delights of Prague. It was my second time visiting: the first was as a fresh-faced 19 year old, on a backpacking adventure around Europe. I fell prey to some of the tourist traps (quick tip: pubs in the heart of the old town, with signs in English saying ‘traditional Czech cuisine’ are rarely good value for money, or, indeed, particularly traditional). I returned as a more seasoned traveller, and had an incredible time firmly off the beaten track: riding the efficient, faultless tram network to districts like Zizkov and Karlin, eating delicious goulash and open topped sandwiches and drinking copious amounts of strong coffee (not to mention perhaps a few perfectly poured Pilseners).

Strolling the gorgeous streets, I had time to think. It was a real break from the frenetic pace of my normal day to day. February was, as you’ll know if you had the chance to read this recent post, a pretty punishing month. This trip seemed to arrive at a perfect time: I’ve returned crackling with energy and enthusiasm, raring to go and full of ideas, whereas before I felt drained.

But why is that the case? What happened? I don’t think ‘getting away from it all’ or ‘resting’ are convincing explanations.

Something made me think of this line from Josh Waitzkin, in his fantastic book ‘The Art of Learning’:

“Of course there were plateaus, periods when my results leveled off while I internalized the information necessary for my next growth spurt, but I didn’t mind.”

This was part of his experience climbing to the very heights of two disciplines: firstly chess (where he became a national champion at the tender age of 9) and then martial arts (world champion in Tai Chi Chuan). It’s well worth a read.

Waitzkin raises a critical, obvious but oft-neglected point: it’s just impossible to continue at a flat-out pace indefinitely. And yet it seems expected of us in this demanding world. We have to remind ourselves that a paradigm of constant, linear progression is unattainable. I realised I needed to apply something I’d learned running to the rest of my life: the principles of ‘fartlek training’.

This Swedish technique (meaning ‘speed-play’) is simple. It’s some form of continuous exertion, spliced with shorter bursts of intensity. So you’re out on a run, cruising along. Perhaps you decide to sprint between alternate lampposts, or for the chorus of each song you listen to. It doesn’t matter how you do it. The principle remains the same.

This needn’t be confined to exercise. Apply it to the rest of your life. Allow yourself periods of recovery – not coming to a complete halt, or opting out entirely. You’re still moving forward. When you feel the urge, when you’re able, you can push yourself as hard as you can, knowing it’s not forever, and not beating yourself up when you have to lower the pace.

Do as those clever Swedes do: get a bit of mental fartlek training in your life.

Artistic genealogy: five inspiring creatives

Art, Creativity

I’ve been loving the process of sharing my work. You quickly discover the support, guidance and inspiration of this incredible creative community that exists online. It’s so important to realise you don’t create in a vacuum. So just a quick one today. Here are five incredible artists I’ve discovered on Instagram, who continue to inspire me daily.

1. @frauklinkig

This urban sketcher, based in Germany, has such a delicate mastery of form and depth. I love this piece below. Seeing this pop up in my feed was one of the inspirations to try out urban sketching. I love the absolute lack of ego and focus on the craft. Definitely worth a follow.

2. Albert Kiefer (@housesketcher)

Another artist who influenced my current urban sketching obsession. Firstly, bloody great Instagram handle – well in! Albert has a loose, frenetic style crackling with energy, which is interesting given his subject matter. He’s incredibly prolific, but it’s not a case of quantity over quality. Every drawing is gorgeous: I love his subtle use of colour. This is a particular favourite:

3. Paul Heaston (@paulheaston)

One of the very first artists I followed on Instagram. Paul is just immensely talented. I love his POV drawings. He’s also introduced me to the world of digital art – I may just have to invest in an iPad pro and jump on the Procreate bandwagon before too long. He’s got real mastery of his craft, and every time I see one of his creations I’m blown away, inspired and in awe. I’m reminded of the fact that I’ve got a long way to go.

You can see some of my clumsy, inspired efforts on my Instagram below:

4. Mark Leadbeater (@leadbeater)

I’m not sure how I came across this Melbourne based artist. But I’m glad I did. It’s not usually the kind of thing I’m into, but I find myself loving the work ethic, the themes and message behind this huge volume of output. I think Leadbeater has been responsible for inspiring hundreds of people to have the confidence to create, to not be afraid of putting themselves out there. I’m blown away by the commitment to seeing projects through to the end, staying consistent and focussed on what really counts: sitting down and doing the damn work.

The work is the reward.

A post shared by Steve Leadbeater (@leadbeater) on

5. Mark Anderson (@azorch)

Mark also documents his work here – definitely follow him on both platforms if you’re interested in seeing something pretty damn special. I love the confidence in his compositions. That doesn’t come out the ether – it’s source is the years and years of daily practice I know he’s put in. That’s how he can muster up these stark contrasts, bold lines and interesting perspectives to create incredibly effective work seemingly at will. The little notes and observations he writes are also an excellent addition, and something I absolutely see the value in.

It’s important to acknowledge the influence of others on your work: I’ve learned something from all these amazing creators. Perhaps you can too.

February in review | burning the candle at both ends

Art, Creativity, Motivation, Philosophy

February was short, bleak and tough. But I’ve achieved a lot, and learned some important lessons this month.

1. Ensure balance

I’ve been putting a lot of time into the site: thinking of ideas, reading widely, listening to podcasts and trying my hand at new drawing techniques. As my time at university is coming to a close, and the difficulty and complexity of my studies seems to be increasing exponentially, this month has been the first time since starting the ink I’ve really felt the strain. So, I had to back off slightly on the site after a major panic over getting my dissertation done in time. This was brought on when I got a grade for another piece of coursework back that was far lower than I’d hoped. I quickly spiralled into self-doubt and feeling sorry for myself.

It didn’t take long to realise that, rather than blaming anything else, I needed to admit to myself I was distracted and hadn’t been fully committed to university work. With that came the realisation a dissertation isn’t a paltry commitment – if I want to graduate with a first class honours degree, as I’m on track to (barely) at the moment, I need to double down. I’ve got myself to a good place with my university work now, despite my earlier wobbles. But I learned I don’t have a limitless supply of energy. I can’t burn the candle at both ends forever. In trying to do everything at once, you run an increasingly high risk of doing it all to a low standard. Better to prioritise and execute (as Jocko Willink might say).


Finished sketchbooks January to February. I’ve been industrious with my artwork, less so with university.

2. Support the foundation

Shoring up the base has been essential for me staying on track with everything else this month. I prioritised my physical and mental health over everything else. It’s the only logical way to do it: without either of those intact, nothing else you do will be of any substance anyway.

So, I’ve meditated almost every day, and that’s helped me stay focussed, able to detach from emotional reactions and avoid getting lost in unproductive patterns of thought. This has also had a knock on impact on my sleep schedule. That’s meant I’ve been able to keep churning out drawings, successfully fulfill illustration requests, write blog posts and keep on top of uni work without going insane.

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A freeze frame from some early morning sprints. Now if they don’t wake you up and get you going, nothing will.

Some people let their exercise habits slip when the pressure is on. I’ve never understood that. I’ve got to push myself physically some way everyday, through lifting weights, running, yoga, or even just riding my bike. If I don’t, I feel like I start to unravel at my core, and begin to lose discipline and focus in every aspect of my life. The same goes for diet: I’ve been eating mainly lean protein, healthy fats and greens, with very limited starchy carbs. I feel alert, lean and focussed when I fuel my body this way: like a well oiled machine.

Finally, no matter how busy you are with ‘work’, I’ve realised it’s critical to keep feeding your brain new and interesting stuff – allow time for ‘play’. Without reading extensively, listening to interesting podcasts, interviews and audiobooks and generally keeping my mind lively, I’ve found my creative muscles start to atrophy. The stream starts to dry up – and that’s not a good feeling. So, I’ve been reading a load of books, including Jordan Peterson’s ’12 Rules for Life’. It’s fantastic, and I usually get a good 20 or 30 minutes of reading in before I go to sleep every night.

3. Say yes to adventure

It’s really only been a few months I’ve been sharing my work with the world, and it’s already to led to some amazing stuff. From doing illustrations for a large and well-respected blog, to helping a friend with some ideas for their new website, and even being featured in a cool, local magazine: Southsea Folk. I constantly remind myself that all of this comes from the daily grind, getting myself to sit down and do the best work I can.

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

-Steve Pressfield

Inspired by creators on this platform and Instagram, I’ve started trying out the tricky but satisfying art of urban sketching. One of the things I’m loving most about trying this new discipline is being a complete amateur again. It’s also so refreshing – it gives you a point to going or being anywhere – I’m constantly looking for interesting angles, perspectives and scenes. Check out a selection of February’s output below:


One of the final ‘themes’ of this month has been travel. My girlfriend and I have (somewhat impulsively) booked lots of trips for the rest of the year, from Prague to Stockholm to Bangkok. I’m excited to go to all these incredible places with a sense of purpose: to expose myself to new experiences, to create the best art I can, to eat tasty food and drink beer, to marvel at amazing architecture and natural beauty, and to have engaging conversations. I start my graduate job in October, and I’m looking at the summer as an opportunity to explore and create – not just bum around wasting time. Life is far too precious: Henry Rollins showed me that.

Onwards: goals for March

As well as keeping up the daily drawing and writing practice, and continuing weightlifting, running and yoga, there are some specific things I’m aiming for:

  • Submit my dissertation/research project
  • Produce at least 5 urban sketches I’m proud of in Prague, for potential display/exhibition
  • Hit 100 followers on this platform, and make March my best month yet for interactions, views and visitors on the ink

Looking for my 100th follower…

I absolutely love the process of writing this blog: it’s given me a sense of tremendous focus and meaning. I appreciate every single person taking the time out of their days to read this, and I hope you all get something useful from it.

If you’ve made it this far, consider doing this: take some time today to think back on your month: what went well? What wins, big or small, did you have? Where did you trip up, and what can you do to avoid those circumstances in March? Set yourself some exciting goals, and figure out what you need to do to achieve them. Then get to work. It’s all to play for.

Daily doodle: Steinbeck and scribbles

Art, Creativity, Daily drawing, Miscellaneous thoughts, writing

Pretty standard day today comprised of three main ‘lumps’: university, working out and creative output. What do those activities have in common? They’re the sum of thousands of tiny concerted efforts. There’s no way to just get econometrics quickly. It doesn’t happen. Nor can you walk off the street into a gym for the first time and bench 100kg (or 225lbs for my American readers). And you certainly don’t build up any sort of competency in your art immediately – if ever.

“Just set one day’s work in front of the last day’s work. That’s the way it comes out. And that’s the only way it does.”

John Steinbeck

Steinbeck got it right. His diaries revealed he was plagued by feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. In a way that’s comforting – it never gets any easier for anyone. But he stumbled across the answer: it’s by focussing on what’s in front of you and doing it to the best of your ability, one day at a time, that you get the work done.



Weekend doodles: Bangkok to Wakanda

Creativity, Daily drawing, productivity, Uncategorized


Exciting news. My girlfriend and I have just booked return flights to Bangkok. Nearly 2 months over the summer will be spent somewhere in South East Asia… Although I’ve travelled widely over Europe over the last few years, I’ve never left the continent. An extended summer break before I start my graduate job in Manchester seemed the perfect opportunity to do so. The thought of sitting in the heat, perhaps outside a cafe, sipping a Vietnamese iced coffee, listening to the chaotic noise of the traffic and sketching the world around me… now that’s a scene that gets me pretty damn excited. Just got to finish the degree first!

In other news, I got featured in a local publication, ‘Southsea Folk’ – the first bit of media attention I’ve received. Check it out here. So cool that there are independent publications supporting local creatives, especially as I only started sharing my work a few months ago. It’s one of the reasons I’ll miss Portsmouth. But, with platforms like this and Instagram, I’m confident I’ll always have a digital community to interact with wherever I am.

I’ve got a busy week ahead – the economics degree does warrant some attention! Then, I’m off to Prague on Saturday. Keep an eye out for a steady stream of Czech sketches, beer and sausages here:

Oh, coffee… The drink that will forever hold a place in my heart.

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Daily doodle: roaming the university corridors

Art, Creativity, Daily drawing

Note to self

Today, I deliberately found an awkward spot in the middle of one of my favourite university buildings to draw, snapped a quick photo. It’s the newest member of the rag-tag group of structures that make up the main hub of the University of Portsmouth: all concrete, glass and steel.

I’m actually pretty pleased at how this one came out. The little notes to myself in the bottom right corner aren’t something I’ve done before – they’re the result of a tip I picked up off other urban sketchers on Instagram. It’s useful to think about what went well, and what I’m not so happy with: that way, every drawing is a learning experience.

Substituting sleep for sprints

Riddle me this. I woke up around 3am last night (no idea why). It took me a solid few hours to get back to sleep, meaning I only totalled approximately 5 fragmented hours. I got up around 7am regardless, and did 20 minutes worth of interval training along Clarence Esplanade. I love training by the sea. Today’s workout was 10 repetitions of approximately 30 second bursts of maximum speed, with short rest periods in between. Immediately after I finished training, and despite my lack of sleep, I felt energised. It’s stayed with me throughout the day. Now, perhaps it was just the sea air. But perhaps not. Anyone else notice that weird phenomenon?