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:

Rocky IV changed my life

Creativity, Fitness, Motivation, productivity

One of the best things about the Playstation 2 was that you could play DVDs on it. Around the time I got one, I managed to procure a small TV somehow. Then, one night, I made the move – up to my room they went. That heady combination led to many late nights gaming, and watching movies.

When I started working a Saturday job, I bought pre-owned games and DVDs by the dozen. The summer holidays of Year 9 were like a crazy, self-funded term at a film school. My curriculum was as varied as you’d imagine a teenage boy’s to be: Bond, Rambo, Conan the Barbarian, Predator, Under Siege. Then, at Christmas, I got the complete Rocky box set. I can’t remember if I managed to watch them all in one sitting or not, but it was pretty damn close.

Yes, they’re cliched and hammy. But they’re glorious. The training montages are the crystallised core of the films, representing all that makes them an iconic part of the zeitgeist. Rocky IV sees a bearded Stallone in the best shape of his life, sprinting up mountains, lifting rocks and helping Russian peasants. Why’s he putting himself through this agony? To avenge the death of his best friend at the hands of Ivan Drago. His trainer screams “No pain!” while synth music blasts in the background. To this day, the scene below gets me pumped up:

 

At the time, I was simultaneously extremely skinny and ridiculously out of shape. I’d never been in shape! I didn’t play any sports, or even think about why anyone would want to. My diet consisted of anything and everything – bags of donuts from the tuck shop were a staple. I just wasn’t connected to my body in any way. I had absolutely no drive or discipline: physically, or in any other area of my life. I was simply floating along, letting things happen to me.

For some reason, seeing Rocky control his body in that way, deliberately putting himself through hell to become stronger, faster and better in pursuit of a worthy goal, changed the way I looked at the world forever.

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s winning.”

Ringside at the final fight.

I started doing pushups, situps and pullups in my bedroom. I progressed onto making contraptions out of cinder blocks, sticks and rocks. I’d load up Sainsbury’s ‘Bags for Life’, and haul them around in a crazy circus act of a workout. Eventually I started running too, with absolutely no finesse, strategy or understanding. I literally just ran around the block in plimsolls. At first, I could barely get to the nearest lamppost and back before I was out of puff. But, it filled me with a kind of joy different to anything I’d ever experienced. At 17, I joined a small, local gym and started lifting weights properly. From there, I’ve not looked back.

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I’ve become more and more addicted to exercise over the intervening years. It’s slowly formed a central pillar in my life. It grounds me. I know that wherever I go, whatever I do in my life, physical exertion will be a part of it somehow.

Exercise showed me how the actions I took had direct impact on outcomes. If I chose to do pushups and pullups, I could literally see a physical development in my chest and back muscles in a matter of weeks. I’d never thought of things in that way before. The realisation was incredibly empowering.

It didn’t take long to start applying that understanding into other areas of my life: the more I read, the more knowledgeable I became. The greater my effort into thinking clearly and having challenging conversations, the better my ability to communicate.

Rocky IV was the way I discovered self-discipline. And that’s at the root of everything I do today.

So… what’s the point? Why did I tell you that story?

Well, I’m not saying Rocky IV is going to be as transformative for you as it was for me. But you don’t know what film, song or book could be. It might be anything, and it may arrive in your life at just the right moment to make a difference. So deliberately expose yourself to new things. Go in with an open mind to every book you read, every TV programme you watch, every conversation you have – and maybe even every blog post you read.

In being curious, thoughtful and ready to act on your convictions, your mind will become a fertile ground for new ideas.

And, if that moment of realisation hits, you’ll be ready.

 

“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:

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.