Urban sketching: a worthy challenge

Art, Creativity, productivity

 

“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.”

-William Shakespeare

Old Bill is right, of course. We learn through challenging ourselves. You have to exist at the brink of your ability, stretching and straining with every fibre of your being – but without falling over the edge. That’s the fine balance you have to strive for to get better at anything. To stay safe, deep within the confines of your comfort zone, is death.

I’ve always loved drawing people. Faces, particularly. I must have drawn literally thousands over the years. It’s almost automatic now. Of course, I can always get better. But the increase in my skill is going to be marginal, now, particularly compared to trying something new.

In starting to share my work and engage with other creators, I’ve realised just how much talent is out there. I need to up my game. I’m not content with doing the same thing over and over again ad infinitum.

So, I’m doing something that truly challenges me: drawing places. They’re tricky – I’m clumsy, mucking up the perspective and shading. People and cars are moving around. It’s all going too quickly and I can’t get it right. They just feel wrong, disjointed somehow. But I’m learning so much, and it feels really, really good to be a beginner again.

Are you cruising along in any facet of your life at the moment? Is there anywhere you could mix things up, deliberately make things a little trickier for yourself? Your future self won’t regret it – they’d thank you for it, if they could.


Follow me on Instagram if you’d like to see a new drawing every day:

“Actions express priorities” | January in review

Creativity, economics, Fitness, Motivation, productivity, writing

Well, we got through it: January’s done. How was it for you?

Mine was good. At the start of this year, I set myself the goal of doing more. That’s what I figure it all boils down to. January’s been pretty successful on those terms.

Here’s some of what I’ve been doing:

Scan 01.02.2018 _3.jpg

I drew, I wrote, I lifted heavy weights, I slogged through some tricky assignments, read some good books, listened to interesting podcasts and great music, and tried to stay present throughout. I’m meditating more consistently than ever at the moment. Getting here has genuinely been a transformative process. These days, I rarely find myself lost in thought, a state which has been the norm for the majority of my life. It’s refreshing to feel focussed, determined, and happy instead of anxious, depressed and worried. I’ll link to some resources in the notes below if you’re interested in learning more about meditation.

Here’s today’s thought: remember that regardless of how your January went, it’s over. You can’t change it. The future, however, is yours. So take a moment to consider what went well well last month, what you might have handled better and what your goals are for February. After you’re done thinking, consider the quote below:

“Action expresses priorities.”

-Mahatma Gandhi 

What are your priorities? Are your actions in line with them?

Here’s a way to approach February:

  1. Decide what you want your month to look like.
  2. Think about the specific things you need to do to make it that way.
  3. Set your days up so that you have scheduled time for those things.
  4. Get to work!

Links/notes:

Here’s a short video summarising some of the benefits of meditation, and one of the best introductory guided meditations I know of (if you’re ready to give it a go):

Jon Kabat-Zimm is the founder of much of modern mindfulness practices. Pretty amazing bloke.

This meditation is only 8 minutes long, and Sam Harris is an excellent guide:

By the way, if you’re interested in my drawings/artwork, the best place to see more is my Instagram. Expect 28 new drawings this February:

“Shy bairns get nowt.”

Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation, Uncategorized

I love this saying from the North East of England. I’d never heard it before today. It essentially means: “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”

That’s rock-solid advice. On reading it, I thought about my own life. Has there ever been a time when I’ve been nervous about making an ask, and my fears came true?

I couldn’t think of one occasion that happened. Just consider that. In 23 years, there hasn’t been one time in my life making the ask has had the negative consequences I’d imagined. It was all fear. Worse, I’d been pouring the fuel on that fire myself.

“What’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.”

To get anywhere in this world you have to be willing to put yourself out there, to make those asks, to say yes even if you’re scared. You have to push past the uncomfortable feeling that you’re inadequate, that you’re somehow unworthy of this opportunity. Don’t be happy sitting there meekly, dreaming about the type of life you’d like to be leading. 

Don’t be a shy bairn. Go out there and live it.


Other thoughts:

I had a bad day yesterday. I felt lazy, depressed, tired, unmotivated: in a word, I was down. But I didn’t let the feeling propagate. You can’t let moods like that settle in for the long haul. Don’t give them it a moment’s respite, or it’ll start to lay foundations. You have to uproot it while the cement is still wet. Maybe you can get a sense of my mindset from this gloomy drawing I did:

Sunday sketches. This is a cheery one.

A post shared by Joe Hart (@joehart.one) on

So, this morning I set the alarm, got up early, and ran to the seafront. Nothing like some interval training to shake up the negative vibes. Today’s been excellent. And it’s a reminder – mood follows action, not the other way around. Laying around on your phone is not the way to get motivated.

Screenshot 2018-01-31 at 15.38.27

In other news, I’m fast approaching 1000 views on the ink. What’s more, over half of them came this month. I can almost physically feel this thing picking up speed as the momentum builds. It’s incredibly exciting to feel every piece of writing, every drawing, contributing to this larger body of work. I’ve loved the process of creating. My writing and drawing is tightening up every day. I’m just so appreciative to everyone who’s taking the time to read along. I hope you’re getting as much from taking these posts in, as I am from creating them.

Here are my top 5 most read posts so far if you’ve missed any. By the way, isn’t it interesting that sometimes the posts you didn’t think would strike a chord seem to really take off?

  1. How (and why) tidying your room will improve your life.
  2. Nobody’s listening. Here’s three reasons why that’s a good thing.
  3. Getting back on the horse.
  4. A mass of habits.
  5. Always be closing.

 

 

The flu, creative destruction and the importance of rest

Art, Creativity, economics, productivity

Today’s drawing:

I’ve been feeling awful for two days now. This cold that’s been doing the rounds finally caught me. I hate the feeling of sickness hampering productivity. Every part of me wants to just power through it and refuse to accept the illness, but that’s counterproductive. I have to force myself to allow my body the chance to heal. I slept for 11 hours last night…

But things are looking up. Here’s one of Joseph Alois Schumpeter, an economist who coined the term ‘creative destruction’ – a phenomena which explains a lot of the rapid technological transformation we see in the world around us today. He’s been on my mind, as I had an essay due in on the effectiveness of barriers to entry – the Schumpeterian entrepreneur has been mucking around in my subconscious a lot. So I guess that’s why this drawing appeared.

Had some more success this week. A drawing of my favourite coffee shop, Home Coffee, was noticed by them… I think they’re going to display it in store! It’s just a reminder that consistently doing good work and sharing it does pay dividends.

Here’s to the weekend everyone.

 

 

Getting back on the horse

Creativity, Motivation, Philosophy, productivity

You know the story. It’s all going brilliantly: the diet, the study schedule, the workouts, the commitment to practice learning a new language. Then something comes along and messes it all up.

Before you know it you’re in a downward spiral. You ate that donut, so the rest of the diet can go out the window. You missed a workout so you may as well wait until next week to start the new routine again.

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In my case, I missed a few days of writing and drawing over the weekend. I prioritised other things. It doesn’t feel good to know I’m never, ever going to get those hours back. But there’s nothing to do about it now other than to get going.

Think of a strongman dragging a lorry (or truck for any of my American readers). They push off, straining, every tendon taut. It’s hard at first, but they start making progress, inch by painful inch. As soon as they start to slow down, even slightly, it’s essentially impossible to get going again.

So keep the momentum up for as long as you can. When you mess up (which you will, and I will), leave as little time as possible before getting back to work. Don’t give yourself a chance to breathe. Don’t let the thing you’re hammering at stiffen and set – get right back to pounding at it until it’s red hot again.

Today, I got back on the horse. And that’s good enough for now.

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.”

-Voltaire

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!


Links

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.

 

Today’s drawing, and a very short thought:

Art, Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, productivity

So far, I’ve been successful in doing a drawing every day of 2018 (all seven days of it… pretty impressive, right?).

Here’s today’s:

Certainly wasn’t easy to motivate myself to draw after a day spent in the university library doing econometrics… But I got it done.

I’ve been thinking about why this recent bout of writing and drawing has been going well (and feeling good) so far. I think this quote is extremely important:

“You can’t win a game you haven’t defined.”

-David Allen

Vague goals are impossible to achieve. Most new year’s resolutions are like this: “get in better shape”, or “be more creative.”

If you set clearly defined parameters, you’ll know if you’re on track or not. You can adjust as and when you need. So “be more creative” has become:

  1. One new drawing a day.
  2. Write 1000 words a day.

And that’s it! It’s binary. If I notice a pattern of routinely meeting these or not, it’ll tell me something about whether they’re the right goals, whether I need to change a habit or routine.

That’s infinitely better than flailing around in a cloud of uncertainty.

Define your game.

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

How (and why) tidying your room will improve your life

Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Motivation

The world is chaotic. It’s loud, dynamic and confusing. There is only one place you have total control – your room. This small area that’s entirely yours is an external representation of who and what you are, as much a part of you as your arm or leg. By taking the simple action to tidy up, you are asserting control over your environment, creating your identity, developing confidence, and bringing order to chaos; both internally, and externally.

Three key benefits of taking this simple, powerful action:

  1. Bring order to chaos (mental state follows action)
  2. Develop personal pride (surround yourself with the things you love)
  3. Allow yourself to focus (optimise your personal studio)

Watch this video by psychology professor (and Youtube sensation) Dr. Jordan Peterson – he can explain the concept far more eloquently than myself:

If you’d like to hear more, his Youtube channel is an incredible resource. I’ll include some of my favourite lectures, seminars and podcasts in the ‘Notes’ section at the end of this post.

It took Dr. Peterson’s vocalisations to make me realise this was something I already knew. When my world has felt the most chaotic, random and cruel, the last thing I needed was to come home to a disorganised mess. So, on these occasions, I’d do some sorting. Nothing crazy – just organise books, fold clothes or throw away rubbish. Within that process, you can almost feel your mental gears shifting to a different zone entirely, getting ‘unstuck’. Peterson describes feeling ‘disintegrated’. In tidying, I almost feel like I’m assembling my atoms together again.

A messy room is the epitome of chaos. You can’t find the things you need, you see nothing around you you enjoy, you feel cluttered and unsatisfied. There’s an itch, a nagging feeling that will prevent you from doing what you know you need to. So maybe you’ll scroll through Instagram or Snapchat instead. In procrastination lies the death of dreams.

Ayn Rand wrote about a NY Times writer’s routine in ‘The Art of Nonfiction’:

When she sits down she knows she does not want to write. Here is what her subconscious does to “save” her from that difficulty. She thinks of everything she has to do. She needs to call a friend on business, and does so. She thinks of an aunt she has not called for months, and calls her. She thinks of what she has to order from the store, and places the order. She remembers she has not finished yesterday’s paper, so she does. She continues in this way until she runs out of excuses and has to start writing. But suddenly she remembers that last summer (it is now winter) she never cleaned her white tennis shoes. So she cleans them.

Circumvent ‘the white shoes’ problem by ensuring your environment is conducive to whatever you want to do. Set your priorities, and organise your space to support that. Someone who’s done an incredible job of that is Casey Neistat. His studio is incredible. Is there a better representation of who he is than the space he’s created to sustain his incredible work ethic? Importantly, this space is constantly evolving, growing and changing. It’s not stagnant, nor should it be… Exactly like us.

Caught up in the ‘new year, new me’ hype, I recently reorganised my desk. I’m in a student house, so the space itself isn’t everything I’d want – but I’m making the most of it. Now, I’m happy and proud every time I sit down to draw, read or write. I’ve surrounded myself with the equipment I need to be productive, things I love and that inspire me. The massive benefit to this kind of process oriented organisation is that once you’ve had that initial tidy, it doesn’t take long to keep that way, just a few minutes each day to put things back where they belong.

These kind of themes are also discussed by Admiral William H. McRaven (who is also a NY Times Bestselling author of a book titled ‘Make Your Bed’).

He advocates simply making your bed as soon as you get up in the morning, a habit I’ve maintained for over a decade. It’s the best way to kick the day off with a success, completing an objective. That gets the ball rolling and sets you up to keep ticking things off your list, progressing towards achieving your goals.

Tidying your room is like the ultimate version of making your bed. Create order out of chaos. Feel pride in who you are and the space you create.

Today, your room; tomorrow, the world. 


Notes, links and sources:

First post of 2018! Big plans for this site in the new year… Stay tuned. Been loving the process of creating, through writing and drawing. Here’s some recent work (with progress pics):

Books, podcasts and other links you may find useful:

Planning this article:

Dead time

Creativity, Miscellaneous thoughts, Philosophy

I took the coach back home for the Christmas holidays yesterday. Portsmouth to Southport – 300 or so miles, with plenty of stop offs on the way. It takes longer, but it’s way cheaper than the train. My student budget accommodates it a lot more readily.

IMG_20171221_132826088.jpg

I love people watching. In the dark of the M6, 8 hours in, bored faces all around me were illuminated by their phones. It seems whenever we have long journeys ahead of us, people absolutely love to moan about it, to feel frustrated, like they can’t wait to get to their destination (“12 hours on the coach? Wow, how awful.”). This is ‘dead time’ (I think Ryan Holiday coined that term, but I’m not sure… I definitely didn’t come up with it). Of course I was excited to see my family, but there’s no point wishing for the journey to be shorter. It’s a waste.

I refused to let it be dead time. I’ve written before about Victor Frankl, and Stoicism – the gap between stimulus and response, your freedom to choose how outside events circumstances impact you. So, I could choose to frame this 12 hour slog into something completely different. How did I want to spend your time? Obviously, I had some constraints in a confined space. But, applying constraints of some kind is an incredibly effective way to get creative. It’s actually the only way to stop planning, and start doing (letting go of perfection).

I took 5 minutes the night before I left to plan how I’d spend my time roughly:

IMG_20171221_132853007.jpg

If you can’t see the photo for whatever reason, it’s a loose list. Here’s what I actually did:

  • Finish reading The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell)
  • Start The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Listen to Sam Harris/Joe Rogan podcast
  • Listen to Rich Roll/Ryan Holiday podcast
  • Draw (observation)
  • Write (review fitness goals for the new year)
  • Write – ideas for blog
  • Meditate (headspace)
  • Curate Spotify playlists – listen to music

That’s all stuff I’d like to do on an ideal day! The only thing missing is being active, busting out some pullups or sprinting up hills. Even then, being stuck in a seat unable to move makes me appreciate even simple things like getting up and walking way more.

And I had the opportunity to go down rabbit holes I never usually get the chance to in the hurly burly of life…

I went on a bit of a Joe Rogan binge, listening to an early episode with Joey Diaz and Doug Stanhope from about 8 years ago. Joe spoke about the massive impact of Opie and Athony’s radio show on him and his podcasting style. The conversational, freeform format was the absolute the antithesis of phonie, talking head shows in the US at the time. Doing shows like that became less of a chore for people, and something more akin to a meaningful conversation with a friend. It’s so interesting seeing him before his current, insane popularity, before podcasting blew up. The format is decidedly unchanged, but I also liked seeing how much more open minded and mature Joe’s become in the intervening years.

That was a whole chain of thought I wouldn’t have had if I’d just been listening to the podcast in the background like I usually do.

I think my recent consistency in a meditative practice has helped me see the opportunity for tranquillity and satisfaction in the seemingly mundane. Rather than getting frustrated at a delayed connecting coach in Victoria, annoyed at people barging in the queue and encroaching in my personal space, I was absolutely sanguine, content in observing the world around me. When the coach pulled into Southport, 12 hours after I got on it at the Hard interchange in Portsmouth, I jumped in a cab at the station. The cabbie was an old, dyed in the wool Labour type, with an incredibly rich Liverpool accent. He was fascinating, and I had this engaging, intense conversation with him. When I finally walked through the door and saw my family I was ecstatic. Spending the day moaning, unsatisfied, longing for it to be over would in no way have made the reunion more satisfying. Being present, engaged and doing the things I love seemed a much better use of my day.

Have a think about all the time in your life you’re allowing to slip through your fingers. Stuck in traffic? Doing your grocery shopping? If you added up the hours, I think you’d be horrified. I know I was.

So get out there and reclaim your dead time. It’s your call.


Notes/drawings: