What I did this Summer

It’s been a while. The last you heard from me, I was whining about my extraordinary good fortune, that I had rented a painting studio for the summer to share with my son and how challenged I felt by this enormous hot fudge sundae.

And, while it may have appeared on this blog that I had disappeared into that studio and locked the door behind me for two months, I actually was absent because I gave myself an even bigger gift.

A summer off.

It wasn’t a deliberate plan at first. But despite my industrious and responsible nature, I decided to shirk more and more habits and rutware and see what grew in their place. And to see how much trouble I’d get in to for not showing up.


I made a bunch of paintings and some sculptures. Despite my initial trepidation, I let myself go fairly wild with how I made them, experimenting with new media and working much bigger than usual. Most of the paintings were fairly large and the sculptures were all knee high but were installed in various sites as if they were monumental. In a few days, I’ll write a detailed post about what specifically I did and what I learned by doing it, but suffice it to say for now that going to the studio was a refreshing departure that helped me examine and combat a lot of those fears I had expressed to you a few months ago. I drew some but less than normal and didn’t keep any sort of illustrated journal at all.


Usually, the summer is a great time to go to the movies. But over the past few years, the cinema has lost its appeal for me. I find most of the films really forgettable. I can think of two I have seen this year that I liked (Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The Lobster) and, because so many of my friends don’t seem to go the movies any more either, even they haven’t been good fodder for dinner party conversation.

Instead, I have watched TV and read books.

I made time to read a lot. I’d get up early and read before breakfast and go to be early and read for an hour every day. I read a fair amount of escapist crap as one should in the summer. I also read some fantastic books, many of them new. Many of these are memoirs and others are novels that feel like memoirs. Here are the ones that have really stuck with me, creating moods and insights that I keep coming back to as the best books do.

Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Vol.4 of Karl Ove Knaussgard’s My Struggle, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, The Nix by Nathan Hill, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Ahmad.

I read some books about business and about creativity. The better ones include How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton, Makers and Free, both by Chris Anderson, The Prize by Daniel Yergin, Let the Elephants Run by David Usher, Choose Yourself by James Altucher,  and Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance


We watched a fair amount of TV when staying in the air-conditioned living room seemed the sanest plan. We watched the ABC series Lost on Netflix, a strange and endless tease which I hadn’t watched when it was first broadcast. It took the better part of the summer.

We watched the Olympics, although our initial enthusiasm waned over the two weeks of breathless coverage. Partly because living with a millennial for the summer who doesn’t get the Olympic quadrennial ritual and wonders why we need to watch hours of gymnastics and swimming when there 700 other things on to watch instead. And partly because I started to wonder the same thing.

The Election.

(Note: One thing that I have learned in a dozen years of blogging: avoid talking about religion or politics; it just ruins the party. But I’ll break that rule today to share how I have felt watching the election this summer.)

Since high school, I have always been a deeply committed election follower. I was a political science major at Princeton, a White House intern, and devoured all the classic books about campaigns like Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail by Hunter Thompson, The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse, The Selling of the President by Joe McGinnis, and the various edition  The Making of the President by Theodore H. White.

I like following the campaign strategies, the unfolding dramas, the twists and turns. And, in at least four elections in my adult life, I have felt pretty passionate about one of the candidates running for office.

This election has been a gobsmacking, rubbernecking train wreck but it lacks the usual pleasures. There’ve been no real discussion of solutions, no traditional campaign strategy, and the result, despite the media’s shrill thrashings, has been forgone for some time. It’s like the 1972 Olympics in Munich — instead of watching a match of amazing accomplished competitors, we are watching a highjacking. It’s disturbing that at a time of such change in the world, this important opportunity for discussion has become just a referendum on two individuals. Like a lot of people in this country, I don’t feel much enthusiasm for either candidate, and I am just waiting for it to be over. Nonetheless, it’s hard to tear one’s self away from the spectacle. I just hope I can get back to enjoying the race next time.

Okay, back to more important things we can all agree on, like Sketchbook Skool.

Sketchbook Skool.

We are entering a new phase in the Skool’s development. It may not always be apparent from outside, but we do a lot of thinking and planning and replanning and rethinking about what the future of the Skool should be and if it should even continue at all. What began as an experiment almost three years ago grew into a business. And a passion project became a job. There are times it has been the best job I could imagine. At times, I have felt like I work for the worst boss ever: me.

This year, we had lots of ambitions, tried lots of experiments, and finally came to a maturing in the early summer that has made us all feel both excited and in balance.

We have created a number of new kourses this summer. We released Andrea Joseph’s Creative Lettering klass, one of our biggest launches
ever and people really love it.

We filmed another intensive kourse with Veronica Lawlor that we will be launching later this year. I am in the midst of creating a kourse called “How to Draw Without Talent” that I am having loads of fun with. And we have several new teachers segments in the can for another 6 week kourse to launch in the winter.

Jack and I even made a film (to be released soon) called “How to Draw Your Dog” featuring our two favorite canine mascots, Tim and Joe. We’ll share that soon.

We are also advertising on Facebook for the first time which has been a great way to welcome new people and has made us completely rethink how we present ourselves and what our Skool can be. It has also been fascinating, as a person who created advertising for thirty years, to be marketing my own business, and to be using new tools and technologies that work in such amazing ways. I can’t say I ever knew exactly how any ad I ever write really worked. Now I know on an hourly basis.

This summer we also committed to doing a Study Hall video for every single week of every kourse, a daily blog post that’s useful and inspiring, a weekly newsletter, a weekly video roundup of everything that’s going on in the community and to our first wave of Teaching Assistants, recruited from our alumni.

Our growth has had some pains. We have come to terms with the fact that our platform may not be right going forward and in the next few weeks, we will begin to transition in a hopefully seamless way to a new technology that is faster, more secure, and has lots of new features that will improve the Skool. It’s one of the most essential and most disruptive things we have to do (we changed platforms last year and it was like moving to a new country) and it’s taken many months to finalize the decision but it’s gotta be done.

We are also getting better at doing our jobs. For the first time, we are regularly getting planning and things done long before they are due, sticking to proper production and marketing schedules. And we are being realistic and focused in what we take on so we can get things done, and grow in the way we want to, to accomplish our personal and business goals.

Sketchbook Skool is a great part of my life and the lives of lots of other people, my colleagues, fakulty, and students. Keeping it viable and thriving is challenging but rewarding and this summer has been one of our most important chapters, even though much of that work has gone on behind the scenes.


I signed on to do a three-month project for a former client which will take me through early October. I can’t discuss the deets but it involves a sizable budget and a fair amount of autonomy.

It has been interesting to fire up those sections of my brain that have been under a tarp for three years and see if they still work. They do.

It has also been interesting to see how I have changed in the past three years, how differently I work, how differently I view the processes of big corporations and of the advertising business. I must say I much prefer how we do things at SBS. So much less bureaucratic, more decisive, more flexible — but so it goes. I don’t miss working full-time for the Man but an occasional visit is fine.


My boy graduated this summer and has spent a couple of months working to save up for his move to Los Angeles in the fall. It has been great to have him here with Jenny and me but bittersweet because we all know it’s the last time he’ll really be living here. Soon he’ll start his new life, far away, and I am savoring every one of the moments we have left.

At the end of September, I plan to drive with him from New York to Los Angeles to help him get setup in his new apartment and to leave him the family car. Then I’ll fly home and he will begin his next chapter. Gulp.


We spent last Spring having our kitchen renovated and we love the results. Jenny and I have a beautiful, sunswept place to cook now and we are making the most of it, visiting the farmer’s market, ordering mystery boxes of artisanal veggies from Fresh Direct, and having an excuse to buy even more cookbooks. Our kitchen is so big and well designed that all three of us can work in it together, without knife fights or saucepan jousts.


Maybe it’s my demographic, but more and more of my friends and relatives are getting decrepit. They’re spending time in the hospital, struggling to reach their shoe laces, filling drawers with pill bottles. I want to avoid that. My shingles experience last Spring really brought that home. I have been ever more dedicated to working out with my trainer Keith, to avoiding french fries, double dip cones, and the sun’s rays. I am also realizing that I am not meant to be thin but that doesn’t mean I am meant to be fat. I am, however, meant to be baldish, it would seem.


This summer I began a new habit: I start each morning by writing down a bunch of ideas. Each day I concoct a different assignment and write down whatever occurs to me. It pumps my brain with blood, clears the cobwebs, and is a nice habit. Most of the ideas are worthless but the occasional one is worth developing and that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll share some of those lists with you here, in time.


I have a new book. It just came out at the end of August. It’s called Art Before Breakfast – the Workbook. It is designed to help you develop a creative habit, of drawing and seeing the world around you every day. If you have read Art Before Breakfast, you will recognize some of the content but it has been redesigned and expanded and printed on high quality sketchbook paper so you can not only carry it around with your for inspiration but also draw and write and even paint right in its pages. I hope you like it.

And if you prefer Frühstück to Breakfast, you will be glad to know that the original Art Before Breakfast is soon to come out in German. That will be the sixth edition foreign language, including Spanish, Russian, Korean, Mandarin and I forget the other one. Aussie?

The fall.

Well, I hope you had a great summer too. Do tell me about it.

School’s back in session, I have my new shoes, fresh haircut and sharpened pencils and will be at my workstation, posting semiregularly again. So get used to coming back to this same batchannel in future for more ruminations on all things creative.

18 thoughts on “What I did this Summer”

  1. Good to hear from you, Danny. You have a way of bringing important things up Close and Comfortable. Yay for your experiments and honesty. You help so many of us by just those things, alone, and your sketching adds more enjoyment. Thank you so much.


  2. Thank you so much for sharing what you’ve been doing this summer – it’s always so good to hear what you;ve been up to. So much of it chimes with life here in the UK. Those elections, huh – well we’re living in a post-Brexit nomansland here and even if we never actually leave the EU (which now actually seems possible, if not probable) so much of the damage is already done… But I hope you get Clinton rather than Trump even if neither is particularly desirable, because from this side of the Atlantic the former is definitely preferable to the latter!
    As for Jack moving on, well my life has always been 3 short steps behind yours because Daisy leaves for university in a week’s time (gulp). We’re moving her belongings in this coming weekend and then she’s coming home for a week before she goes back for Freshers week.So I will be thinking of you at the end of the month and empathising completely!
    As for my summer I’ve been creative lettering of course, and drawing portraits, and Daisy’s been doing some creative lettering too. And I went to Manchester to the Urban Sketching Symposium – I didn’t do much urban sketching but I had a ball meeting up with sketchbook skool students and playing SBS fakulty bingo with them – basically making contact with SBS fakulty (ideally before anyone else, not that I’m competitive or anything). I proved to be pretty good at this! My one failure was Liz Steel who I managed not to meet at all (boohoo!).
    Oh and, like you, I’m not meant to be thin, I am definitely decrepit, but I’m hopefully never going to be bald (even -ish).


  3. All wonderful for you, your family and for your followers! Taking time to explore and re-start is never time wasted. I’ve really enjoyed the Study Hall videos and DrawTip Tuesdays with KK. If I don’t do anything else in a week, I do both of those. Looking forward to signing up for another class.


  4. Welcome back, missed your posting but kept busy with several items, moving, started working in a small Moleskine in March during a Michael Nobbs 20MinutesADay challenge and have been doing that faithfully, the watercolor a day challenge, and Andrea Joseph’s fantastic klass. Though I prefer not having to check or wait for an assignment as have a tendency to stick to a certain way of doing things. I am telling you this because if I did not have all these things going for me then I would have really missed you far more than a grown person should ever have to experience. Really happy you are back though.


  5. Phew! I am so glad that you are not ill. I was beginning to worry. Just finishing CreativeLettering which has been good. Be well,




  6. Danny, glad you see you’re back, and you definitely deserved a break. I hope you didn’t feel too guilty about doing so. Life is stressful enough, and sometimes I get stressed about things that are supposed to be fun…like falling behind in Sketchbook Skool. I thought about you several times over the last month especially, wondering if it (SBS) wasn’t as fun anymore or if it had grown into a different type of monster (but a monster nonetheless). I just read Koosje’s post about offering her last “Just Draw It” course, and I imagine that’s bittersweet for her. I loved that class. I’ve learned so much from all the fakulty, and I see them growing and changing from artists to teachers. I hope they (including you) can still get back to their own work, and let us get on with ours. I personally cannot wait to watch “How To Draw Your Dog”!

    Jack moving away (doesn’t really matter how far, does it?) will be tough. Our son moved to Atlanta (we’re in Indianapolis) two years ago, and my husband drove him and most of his post college possessions, a “father and son road trip” down to a place we’d never been. I’m glad you’re flying back. My hub said the 10 hour drive home was too much time to think.

    Anyway, good to know you’re back and rested after taking a pause. So many people think of you as a guru, but even gurus need a break. Your name pops up in my email, and I’m like Kathleen Kelly in “You’ve Got Mail,” …those are very powerful words. Take care, Friend 🙂


  7. So great to have you back Danny. My friend Bea and I were talking just the other day and wondering how you are and missing your blogging.


  8. I wondered where the hell you went! Thought maybe an extended honeymoon!? But this all sounds very productive and exciting! Welcome back! I look forward to all the changes! Like your focus on health too! Means you’ll be around all that much longer for folks to enjoy😄


  9. I’m so glad you checked in with your tribe….and I’m also glad you were able to make this summer what you wanted it to be! I’ve loved SBS classes so much and have wondered if it would go away. I’m glad it will be around for us to learn and grow! Blessings to you and your family!


  10. What a great newsletter and what a busy summer you’ve had. Looking forward to seeing how SBS evolves – figuring out what works and what can/should be changed is so important in Skool as well as in life. What you said made me think my summer has been a sabbatical; now, I feel much less guilty for not being able to keep up with homework assignments. Sometimes life gets in the way.


  11. Nice post! As an SBS student since the first class and reader of your books, its nice to hear what the founders ands faculty do in ‘their real lives’. It helps us relate.
    My summer? Actually has had a bunch to do with SBS and those connected with it. Yes, I’m taking Andrea’s class— fabulous! Love the idea of expanding on the expertise of one faculty member for a whole course!
    I also took the time to check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast after you featured her. Only in the first 5 episodes, but it has kicked me in the tush to go out and make or find my ‘tribe’. As a results, I’m collaborating with another SBS student and a long tine USker to reinvigorate or better, resuscitate the urban sketchers group here in Houston and finally start an official chapter. Hopefully it will take off.
    Many thanks for all the inspiration!


  12. So very happy to have you back… Strangely enough, I was just out looking at your blog 3 or 4 days ago, wondering if I had missed something…I certainly missed the blog!!!

    As a student in all of the SBS Klasses, I will be looking forward to the new and exciting klasses and changes to come! I know change is hard, but it worked out last time when Morgan was able to get all of my klasses in one place!!! Yea!

    Summer has not been an exciting time for me…I have undergone two surgeries within 4 months, and am currently recouping from the last…But what does keep me moving is the ability to pull up any of my previous klasses on SBS and revisit the lesson and redraw. How wonderful !!! Thank you for that lifetime access!

    So, I am looking forward to beautiful Autumn and the change in the air!

    Thank you for all you do and share!


  13. When you serve up mind candy we become addicted. We know it’s hard to present new stuff constantly, but we love and appreciate your posts. Whenever you can get them out. You are a gem…


  14. This has been my first experience with Sketchbook Skool. I was SEEING your ads for a long time but never had the courage to sign up and take a class. This spring I took my first class and continued with the summer semester. I have to tell you I believe I truly enjoyed the summer more than ever. I was SEEING summer with new eyes, artist’s eyes…and even if I couldn’t always capture exactly what I was seeing my skills were improving. I found what I consider my style, and I loved the experience. I learned so much and had a terrific time along the way. My sketchbook and I are looking forward to many more classes. I thank you. And I loved hearing about your summer as well.


  15. I’m glad you’re back and have thoroughly enjoyed reading what you have been doing. As I work in hospitality summer has been hectic so hopefully I will now have a little me time to do something creative as well! All the best …and thanks for sharing and all the inspiration 😄


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