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.

What Casey Neistat can teach you about persistence

Art, Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation, productivity, writing

If you haven’t heard of Casey Neistat, he’s a pretty big deal on YouTube. He has around 9 million subscribers and is widely renowned for having revolutionised something that’s now become ubiquitous: ‘vlogging’.

He’s a pioneer. This fantastic video essay by the Nerdwriter (one of the best channels out there) explains exactly why Casey’s had such an incredible response:

In a nutshell, it’s the combination of a lifetime of practice and skill with a willingness to be agile, adapting to new platforms and ways of sharing. He’s bringing the eye of an award winning filmmaker to what had been mainly an amateur game – and shifted the expectation of quality of content on YouTube to new heights.

So here’s the lesson: Casey forced himself to produce a vlog every single day, no matter how busy he was, even if he had nothing exciting planned. Applying such rigid constraints to his creative process, rather than being stifling, actually allowed him to flourish. That’s where the majority of his growth has come from, and I think put him into the zone where he was able to create such inspiring, interesting work and connect with such a huge audience.

I’m learning from him and applying that persistence, the commitment to daily output to my own work. So far I’m loving it. The fact I’ve promised myself (and you guys now) that I’ll be sharing something every single day removes the need for it to be perfect. It just needs to be done.

“The best is the enemy of the good.”


A trap we can fall into too far too easily is holding back on getting stuff done. We tinker, and play around, waiting for the thing to be ‘perfect’ before we put it out there. Let me tell you what you already know: that time will never come.

So, instead of perfect, strive for good enough. Instead of waiting, put it out there. Then, move onto the next thing. It’s precisely that attitude that’s allowed Henry Rollins to be so incredibly productive over so many years.

Without further ado, here’s today’s drawing:

I’m having a lot of fun doing work inspired by film noir, sometimes known as ‘the golden age of cinema’. I’m producing highly stylised drawings, with lots of stark black and white, crosshatching and brightly coloured contrasting backgrounds. I have my mum gifting me a set of brush pens to thank for the injection of colour (thanks mum!). The result is what I’d describe as Dick Tracy crossed with Frank Miller (never thought I’d see those two together in a sentence).

What are you working on at the moment? Stop reading this, and get back to work!


Casey’s channel

Some of my favourite videos of his:

The first one I ever saw… (still watch it if I need a bit of a boost):

And here’s the Nerdwriter.


Nobody’s listening. Here’s three reasons why that’s a good thing:

Creativity, Motivation, writing

I started ‘The Ink’ to share what I’m working on, find other creators, writers and interesting people, and ultimately to satisfyingly scratch the creative itch I’d been ignoring for years.

I’m ‘showing my work’, as Austin Kleon put it.

So, in that spirit, here’s the drawing I did this morning. I’ve been waking up earlier recently and just getting it done, before I have the opportunity to distract myself.

I couldn’t stop tinkering around with my ink brushes, adding specks of colour. But I like the way it came out. I can see a larger version of this as a poster. Hopefully that’s where some of my work will be one day.

The practice of creating, putting it out there, improving with every single mark of the pencil, and type of the keyboard is so satisfying. But there is a dark feeling, lurking just beneath the surface here. The social triggers built into all of the platforms that enable us to share our work can leave us lusting after virality, beating ourselves up over the number of likes we receive. Our psychology has been manipulated and (perhaps permanently) altered.

With all of that social conditioning, blogging can sometimes feel like howling into the abyss when you don’t get an immediate dopamine hit of a like. But it takes time to be discovered, and you need to fill that time with creating good work.

It’s so easy to get filled with enthusiasm and energy initially, then realise how hard it is to keep going, quit, and endlessly justify it to yourself and others.

I’m determined to persevere this time.

Image result for austin kleon creativity graphFrom Austin Kleon’s Tumblr, found here:

Here’s three positives you can extract from the difficulty of gaining attention in an increasingly crowded world:

1. Relative anonymity gives you the opportunity to get better

I haven’t had a consistent practice of drawing or writing for years. I’ve sporadically started work an idea or done a half hearted sketch, but never sat down and put in the work every single day. Why would I be any good with that kind of work ethic? Still, I daydreamed and imagined being a creator one day…

Now, every day is an opportunity to get down to business, to practice, read widely, watch interesting things, think about them, draw my icons, and improve.

Bill Burr, one of my inspirations (not just in comedy, but in life), didn’t start stand up until he was in his late 20s. He’s spoken at length about how badly he bombed on stage at the start, how many opportunities he messed up. Now he’s grateful for all that time. He needed those formative years, all of those experiences, to forge him into one of (if not the) funniest and most successful comedians in the world today. All those years toiling away meant that when opportunities finally arose, he was absolutely ready to take advantage of them.

I like finding stuff that I suck at and trying to get better. So I’m taking classes, getting myself comfortable in an acting scene. You’ve got to work out those ticks.

Bill Burr

A great podcast to get to know Bill, where he tells some interesting stories about his early years, is with Tim Ferriss. You can find it here.

Bill also hosts his own podcast, which he’s kept up for many years now. It’s absolutely hilarious, and he uses it to work out new material for his sets – definitely give it a listen.

Bill’s podcast is actually a fantastic example of the benefits of consistent, focussed practice coming to fruition over many, many years. It was his outlet, before his TV series took off, before his Netflix specials – and yet he still records one several times a week to this day. What does that tell you?

2. Increased likelihood of experiencing ‘flow’ state

You may have come across this concept – it’s been quite trendy over the last few years.

To put it simply, think of an occasion you completely lost track of time. You were probably doing something you really, really enjoy. Maybe you were on a date, engaged in this fantastic conversation with someone you love. Or perhaps you were playing football, passing, dribbling and fully engaged in the game. For me, I get into it pretty much every time I draw, and sometimes when writing.

It’s that state of full absorption in the task at hand, absolute focus, in an activity which is enjoyable but challenging. You lose track of time, space, and your only goal is to keep doing what you’re doing in that moment.

Here’s an incredible Ted Talk on the topic, with one of the primary researchers into flow states, Mihaly Cskiszentmihalyi (I promise I wrote that name out in one go, no typos):

People chase after this feeling with narcotics, expensive cars and lots of other external validation.

It’s eminently possible that you can achieve this pure joy, completely grounded in the present moment, without any of that stuff.

Here’s how:

Simply pick an activity you can improve at! Try out as many as you need to before settling. You’ve got time

Then, spend time doing it consistently, working towards improving. I guarantee you’ll find this feeling there.

3. Finding meaning in work

Every single article I write, each drawing I do – it’s all contributing towards this huge project. The project of life. I’m building my life’s work, brick by brick. It’s incredibly satisfying.

Satisfaction (which is, of course, entirely different from pleasure) is derived from progression towards a long term goal. How satisfied you feel depends on how much progress you’ve made, and the relative importance of the goal.

I can’t think of many better ways to spend my time than creating, editing, curating, and working.

Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.

 Joseph Campbell

Recommended reading: 12/12/17

books, Creativity

I love books. Over the years, they’ve been my friend, ally, counsel, entertainer and teacher. I had the fantastic fortune to be raised in a household surrounded by books and reading. Nearly every weekend, I’d go to the local library, max out my library card and immerse myself. I’d say it’s up there with exercise in the most important activities in my life… But then again, I first got inspired to start working out reading Arnold Scharwzenegger’s autobiography, Total Recall. Books can encapsulate a human being’s life work – the opportunity to learn from that, to be effectively transported into their brain, is enormous.

Here are three I’ve either read or revisited recently:

  1. Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon

This book was one of the biggest influences in finally starting the ink. It demystifies the creative process, reminding the reader that no work exists in a vacuum. Everything follows what’s come before – you are part of an evergrowing story in your chosen discipline.

“Nothing is original.”

Austin Kleon

It’s short, actionable and extremely powerful. You’ll feel fired up to stop consuming, get your hands dirty and make something.

“It is better to take what does not long belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.”

Mark Twain

  1. The Daily Stoic, by Ryan Holiday and Steve Hanselman

I’m familiar with Holiday’s previous work – The Obstacle is the Way was a particular favourite, my introduction to Stoicism. He’s an unusual bloke. Apprenticing under Robert Greene (of Mastery fame), and working with Tim Ferriss, he was appointed Director of Marketing at American Apparel by the age of 22.

He loves reading and writing, and has shifted his career in this direction in recent years (while maintaining strategic consulting work). The mixture of anecdotal evidence from his own vibrant career, historical examples and clearly stated Stoic principles make for excellent reading. I also love how he shares his process, like here, in this exhaustive blog post on how his book, Perennial Seller, was written. He’s not scared about revealing ‘the secret’ – because it’s doesn’t exist. It’s hard work and consistency. Ryan knows there’s no risk of anyone stealing the method. It still takes countless hours of research, synthesis and concerted effort to create something of value.

“If you find something very difficult to achieve yourself, don’t imagine it impossible – for anything possible and proper for another person can be achieved as easily by you.”

Marcus Aurelius

The Daily Stoic has become my bible. You may recognise some of the pages featured in the notes section of various essays on this blog. The book is split into four sections, reflecting the core principles of Stoicism. There’s a different meditation to consider every single day of the year from Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus or another Stoic thinker, complete with Ryan’s riff on the topic. It’s an incredibly powerful way to reset every morning, remember these critical lessons and put them into practice.

  1. The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell

One of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever come across. Gladwell has become synonymous with popular science, a field rife with copycats, sensationalists and those who pack out 300 pages with nonsense and fluff around one half decent idea. That is categorically not Gladwell. His work is inventive, creative and meticulously researched. I find it incredible the way he frames concepts, connects dots and constructs a narrative from the seemingly chaotic world around us. If I had one criticism, it’d be the feeling of worthlessness and idiocy that sets in when I compare my writing to his. But I don’t despair. I can only try and emulate Gladwell, learn from him, and focus on incremental improvement.

What are you waiting for? Get reading!


You can buy the aforementioned books here:



The idea for recommending books came when sketching my desk (don’t ask me how or why that happened)… so here’s the ‘note-taking’ process for this post: