Pass it on.

can

Think of all the people who’ve inspired you. The authors you love, the directors whose movies have moved you, the musicians who kept you company in the studio, all of them. And now think of your creative work as payback. Rather than being intimidated by the greatness of the people you admire, see your work as a way to pass on the favor.

Maybe your mentors will see your work and be inspired by it (I’ve had that experience and it is one of the most gratifying there is). Or maybe your work will inspire a total stranger, someone in need of your help. That is the greatest kind of gift —  to give anonymously — and do your work has the potential to do that.

Think about these things next time the monkey is trying to squash your productivity. Think of those who will not benefit from your unborn work.

Process.


limoDo you want to write? Or do you wanna publish?

Do you want to draw? Or do you wanna shop for art supplies?

Do you want to paint? Or do you wanna gallery?

Do you want to direct? Or do you wannan Oscar?

Do you want to be in a play? Or do you wanna be in a magazine?

Do you want to do? Or do you wanna dream?

Starting again.

The road ahead

If you haven’t gone to the gym in a long time, how do you start again?

If you haven’t done a drawing in a long time, how do you start again?

If you haven’t written a blog post in a long time …. how do you start again?

You start by starting. By picking up a pen, a dumbbell, and getting to work. There is no magic trick, there is no massive process for preparation. There is simply the active of sitting down at the computer, opening a new document, and starting to type. It may seem painful, it may seem scary, but all that misery goes away as the first letters march onto the screen.

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”     — Maya Angelou

Art by another name

Unafraid.

Unafraid.

One thing I keep encountering when I talk to people about starting to draw:  fear.  People are terrified of pens, paper, and brushes.  Art is scary.

So I propose we call it something else. Drawing or journaling or sketching or doodling or sketchbooking or testing your pen. I call it ‘art with a small a‘.

Here’s how I look at it.

There are so many things we are willing to do that we know other people do much better. There are all sorts of amazing chefs on TV doing incredible things with scallops and opening four-star restaurants, but we are all still willing to cook some burgers for dinner without being terrified. We don’t say, I just can’t use  a microwave, I didn’t go to cooking school.

We may not be ready for the NBA but we’ll toss a basketball around with some buddies.  We won’t be headlining at Madison Square Garden or winning any Grammys but we’re all still willing to sing in the shower or whistle while we work.  We may not be on the Pulitzer shortlist but we can still write an email or a birthday card.  We are just doing it to have fun. Or because it’s an essential part of life.  And I think art can be both.

We don’t need to label ourselves chefs, or basketball players, or musicians, or writers.  So why does art have to be so different?

If you want a painless, unscary way to start expressing your creativity, sign up for the best semester yet of Sketchbook Skool. Thousands of people who are rusty as barn door hinges are doing it.  Join us!

A hundred feet of eighth graders

(A somewhat funky video I made in my hotel room in China)

Learning to draw is not like learning to drive.  You don’t have to master the fundamentals, take courses, pass tests, put thousands of dollars of equipment at risk.  You just have to start.

Drawing isn’t a learned skill so much as it’s a process of discovery that starts with skills you have had since you were a toddler. And that process requires a willingness to stretch and practice, things that can be scary or boring if you approach them with the wrong set of expectations.

One thing that has been reinforced with me over the past few weeks that I have spent drawing with kids is that the most crucial thing is to have fun. If you are all enjoying yourself and slopping ink and paint around, well, you want to keep it doing it. As as you do it, you encounter new situations, you have questions, you want to stretch. And that’s where a decent teacher can step in and show you how to make progress. You also start to feel more comfortable with what you are doing so you are willing to make mistakes and take new risks, and that’s how your adventures to new places begin.

We all need to accept that creativity is not about immediately achieving some sort of awesome finished piece; it’s an exploration of discovery, not a straight-line commute to Perfection.

Of course, this insight isn’t just for junior high. It’s the core idea behind Sketchbook Skool: having new experiences, having fun, exploring with friends, and having opportunities to grow. Speaking of which, the new semester is about to begin. I assume you have already signed up, but if not, get over to our site and enroll.

All the t-squares in China

stuck-in-traffic

Some clichés are based in truth.  The one I encounter a lot in China is the Asian student who drives her/himself super hard and who is forced by expectant parents to be overachieving and highly pragmatic.

These kids have been coming to me, one by one, to ask for my advice on their future plans. A classic was the senior who said she was picking colleges to study art based on whether they also had a  great physics programs — in case she had to switch directions.

I understand their anxiety.  They live in a country that is going through a massive transformation and there’s a lot resting on the new generation.  They want to be as prepared as possible, to dot every ‘i’, take every course, ace every test…

Here’s my message to them and it might be useful to you too.

It’s good to be prepared, but what are you preparing for? I think the only thing you can intelligently anticipate is change. And no number of degrees or job offers at investment banks will prepare you for the unknowable. That takes creativity. An ability to adapt. A willingness to live with ambiguity. Resourcefulness. A knack for collaboration.

I encountered their core problem when they made art. They were so afraid of mistakes.  Kids would go to rip up their work if they encountered any sort of screwup, a bent line, wonkiness. And I would say to them, “Hold on! Try to turn that into something. Work with it. Solve the problem. It’s okay.”

mistake

I love this. It says it all.

When the teachers asked their students what they got out of my stay at their school, they say things like:” Danny taught me to make masterpieces our of mistakes” and “I tried making drawings unique instead of exact.”

Learning to live with (and embrace) our essential fallibility. It’s what I learned at Clown School earlier this year.  And I hope I managed to pass it on to all those kids who will be contributing to our imperfect future.

Speaking of mistakes, if you miss the greatest semester yet of Sketchbook Skool… well, we wouldn’t want that would we.  Enroll today!