On Reading KEEP GOING

The book Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon couldn’t have entered my life at a better time. In short, Kindergarten is killing me, and “just keep going” has become a mantra on which I now depend.

My daughter began school earlier this month and adjusted well to everything new: new people, new wake-up time, new bedtime, new routine altogether. As for me, not so much. However, Keep Going not only reminded me of the interests and passions that continue to have possibility in me, but also convicted me of some misconceptions I’ve held and misbehaviors I’ve adopted as I pursue the creative life. Through his book, Kleon challenged me to think or act differently in a number of ways, including the following:

Ignore the audience
I’ve worked in the realm of business communications and public relations for nearly twenty-five years. The concept and reality of audience is my industry’s biggest concern. The audience’s needs. The audience’s reactions. The audience’s attentiveness and current opinions.

Kleon poses, however, that the work of a true and focused creative is unfazed by audience. We should make what we make because we feel compelled in our own souls what we want to make. We should not depend on others’ positive or negative feedback to drive what we accomplish from day to day to day. We should resist the urge to monitor clicks and likes and comments as some kind of personal validation.

Uh, guilty, and point taken.

Tidying has its place
I’ve become a sucker for books and articles and blogs on cool studio spaces. The thing is I can see myself spending about ninety-five percent of my time making sure I have the best back-drop for making art, with just a nickel left for actual art-making.

Kleon’s position: Tidying has its place, namely with the tools needed to make art. Knowing where to find a brush or pen or pad of paper is definitely necessary for getting the job done, but not so much staging an environment that gets us “in the mood,” is photo-shoot ready, etc. If things get too cluttered or out-of-control, we can use tidying as a way to explore new ideas, says Kleon. The mess may reveal a collision of media and subject matter and technique that we hadn’t thought of before.

Just do it
When I resurrected this blog thanks to the motivation of Show Your Work!, another of Kleon’s books, I was determined to claim the title of artist (this was my idea, not Kleon’s). “Title schmitle” is what Keep Going got through to me (and now I can’t help but hear the cast of Meatballs chanting in my ear, “It just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter…”—yep, I’m definitely a product of the 70s).

Kleon puts it this way: “Forget the noun, do the verb… Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.”

Along with this “doing business,” Kleon suggests that it be wrapped in playfulness, no end goal in mind. It’s okay to throw our work into the scrap heap. It’s okay not to finish. It’s okay to have fun with nothing to show for it. Imagine that.

Give gifts
I have also fallen prey to the glorification of Etsy and other money-making machines for creatives—that any success in these realms is the brightest jewel in the crown of creativity. I was absolutely moved and convicted by this quote from Quincy Jones that Kleon includes: “God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.”

If I’m going to stay on this crazy creative course, I want it to be pure in motive. I want it to be rich in spiritual collaboration with the Almighty. I want it to be less about marketing and earning and getting ahead, and more about simply being and enjoying, and giving through and from the heart.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon—this book may be among the top five game-changing books of my creative career. Not only did it encourage my ongoing adventures in exploring and making of art, which has become more difficult in the face of transition. It also challenged my integrity, and that’s definitely something I want to maintain no matter where my artistic interests lie or take me.

Dear readers, I invite you to keep going with me! Join me in learning more from Kleon through these video links:
“How to Keep Going” (Bond 2018)
“Creative Is Not a Noun” (Scratch@MIT 2018)

On Reading I JUST LIKE TO MAKE THINGS

IJustLikeOn the recommendation of a creative friend, I picked up I Just Like to Make Things: Learn the Secrets to Making Money While Staying Passionate About Your Art and Craft by Lilla Rogers. The author is both an artist and an agent who has secured contracts, licenses, and other agreements for herself and others who have a knack for modern illustration. The book is filled with testimonies and tips on how to make a mark in children’s books, textiles, craft papers, and other goods that carry color and design.

 

I most enjoyed the bookends of I Just Like to Make Things, first Rogers’ use of a bird analogy to demonstrate how we artists can visualize our life’s work:

 

…for every person on our planet, there are fifty birds. Wow! I would love to meet my fifty birds. They are all out there, and we don’t even know which ones are ours… If you think of the life of your career as having fifty birds, what would they be? Let’s let them equal fifty meaningful events or highlights in your career. They are out there, but like your birds, you just don’t know what they are yet. You won’t know until you reach the end of your life and look back; but in the meantime, they will happen. 

 

I love this visual. I love that my success doesn’t have to be defined by just one epic moment—a sum of many makes up the whole. I also love that, like birds, my art can boast diversity and color and merry tunes of all sorts. Yes, this imagery will indeed stick with me as I discover my artistic identity and calling. 

 

IMG_3739The other bookend? One of the concluding exercises of I Just Like to Make Things is to consider the many different turns an art career can take. Rogers presents forty-plus ideas to help “garner some self-awareness” and arrive at “what you really, deeply want to do next” in the creative realm. As she suggests, I photocopied the page, cut all the options into little rectangles, then drew five pieces randomly from the pile. I was skeptical of this assignment at first, but in the end, I gained some valuable insight:

Open an Etsy shop
I attempted this about a year ago with some scarves I made, but I think I definitely need a lot more stuff and a more defined personal style. I plan to work on the latter to arrive eventually at the former.

Volunteer to help creative kids
I love this idea! My dream of dreams would be to facilitate a kids’ knitting and crocheting group. My daughter is attending a fine-arts interdisciplinary school this fall, plus my church is starting a free after-school program for grades K-5. Perhaps I could start groups at those venues?

Sew for fun
Another option that piques my interest! It was at a Fourth of July parade that I became aware of the efforts of Iowa-based Dress a Girl Around the World, and I’ve been thinking about making simple little dresses for charity ever since. I also came across a few fun videos on Creativebug on “Patchwork Improv.” I’m in!

Start your own company including manufacturing
I began my own company about twelve years ago when I became a freelance writer. I changed the name of it some time later to make sure it could grow beyond communications. My next steps? To honor my intentions from long ago! To get creative! To make stuff!

Make jewelry
This option wrinkled my nose at first, but it grew on me when I thought about how I can use my current skills, know-how, and supplies to make small items for sale. I plan to experiment a bit with crochet and buttons and yarn and beads in the weeks ahead.

 

I know I’ve read a good book if it motivates me to some kind of action. Boy, do I have a to-do list from this one! Stay tuned as I get to work.

What I Did This Summer

A number of months have passed since my last post, but I wouldn’t say it’s been any kind of lazy-days vacation; I’ve continued to enjoy my adventures in creative discovery and dabbling. Here are my top 5 artistic memories from Summer 2018:

Writers Workshop at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts – For its third year, Banfill-Locke hosted its writers workshop, this time around the theme “Tending Your Word Garden.” Through three breakout sessions, plus a collective reading at the end, I enjoyed fellowship with other writers, tested out some new techniques, heard some great work, and shared some of my own attempts from the day.

Art-a-Whirl – Wow! WOW! How did I not hear of this event before? Throughout Northeast Minneapolis, hundreds of art studios open their doors to the public. I didn’t take to the streets but spent all of my time in the Northrup King Building where floor upon floor is devoted to the making and selling of art. Before the next Art-a-Whirl next spring, I hope to go back to Northrup King on a first Thursday for a mini Art-a-Whirl.

“Loving Vincent” movie – I’m not sure how I came upon this film, but it was available at my public library and ended up being worth the watch. The storyline takes place a year after Vincent Van Gogh’s death and delves into his fragile mental health and strained relationships. But most fascinating is the fact that the entire movie is an oil painting in motion!

Crochet Along for a Cause – Led by Breann of Hooked on Homemade Happiness, hundreds of crocheters, including myself, are making “chemo caps” for people in cancer treatment. Every week for 14 weeks, Breann releases a pattern that we all try our hand at making in the colors of our choice. It’s fun to see all the different renditions posted on the group Facebook page.

Scarf selling at Banfill-Locke & Etsy – I finally got the ball rolling! Over the past several months, I’ve also crocheted dozens of thick and cozy infinity scarves—and now they’re officially for sale. The gift shop at Banfill-Locke is now carrying a few of these pieces, and my new Etsy shop, “By Hand by Barb,” is open for business. Watch for more products to be added over the coming months as I continue to claim my place and share my voice in the world of art!