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.

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.

Screenshot 2018-02-28 at 15.31.31

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.

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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Today’s doodle: “When the train is in the station”

Art, Miscellaneous thoughts

Today was one of those days it took me about 40 minutes to warm up and nothing seemed to work. That’s ok. I kept at it, despite wanting to give up, and made something relatively ok in the end… It never gets any easier!

Happy Friday all. Here’s to the weekend.

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.


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:


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.