Kick me. Harder.

Dianne wrote to me the other day. She’d never written to me before but I’d made her do it. She said:

Where Are YOU? I’m putting my foot down now. Summer break, ok. The end of the world as we know it, hey, please shine a light. just a wee one. A scribble in a pen that intimidated you, view out the window, your dog’s butt. No pressure, but moments of creativity just feel very important at the moment. My own, and those who are part of my psychic wellbeing. Sorry man, but you blog, you take on responsibility.

I stammered that I’d been really busy, that I was working on a bunch of new things, traveling to film stuff for Sketchbook Skool, and that I’d been doing Facebook live events every day, blah, blah. But I didn’t really tell her the truth.

And the truth is I’ve become hesitant.

This has been going on for a while with me, this impulse to pull back. Instead of sharing things, I amass them, filling up my hard drive with ideas, drafts, sketches, but not going the final step to finish and launch them.

I started this hesitancy last summer when I rented a studio, made a bunch of paintings and was then coy about it all, hesitating to write about what I was doing or share more than a glimpse of the work.

The monkey had a hand in this reticence. He said that none of the things I was doing was especially impressive and that maybe if I kept stockpiling them, their lack of quality could ultimately be masked by their quantity. Of course, that wasn’t true. I never made an especially significant number of bad paintings and ultimately had to just release the results candy coated in some baroque musings about the creative process, as if my handful of Sunday paintings was some earth-shattering exploration to deep wisdom.

Then I started working on a project that had pretenses to be a definitive exploration of the creative process. I did a fair amount of research and took a lot of notes which boiled down to a grubby handful of one-liner bon mots. Each was to be the basis of a short piece, maybe a chapter in a book, then more modestly an epic series of blog posts. then, after reading so much about the demise of blogs, I decided they should be little videos instead and I churned out a handful of scripts, shot them —and promptly sat on the bunch.

Then I decided that the quality of the ideas wasn’t so inadequately that I should make the videos less off the cuff to mask their inadequacy. So I tried making them more elaborate — but still they lurked in a folder. I almost shared them with my wife a few times, but then demurred again.

Then I started doing daily calligraphy videos on Facebook. These were initially fun to do, but then I worried they were no more than evanescent
trifles and stopped after a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, my absence on the scene began to intensify my hesitation. I felt like I had to do something really cool or far-ranging, some awesomeness to make up for my indolence. That just made it heavier and heavier.

And, while I and my ego and character flaws bear the lion’s share of responsibility for all this balking, 2017 has not made it any easier. For the first time, I have really felt I had to watch what I say online. I have seen so much rage on the internet over the past few months, so much intolerance on all sides, so much fearful obstinacy, that my own tongue has been increasingly tied.

In the past, I’ve always liked to casually toss out the occasional extreme, not very well-thought-out idea, but the consequences for doing so have never felt higher. Sure, a reader or two has deleted me from their feed over the past decade and a half because I took a weird stance on something or other, but these days, it seems like whatever I do could end up on my permanent record. That’s not just self-aggrandizement; I think we are all a little paranoid right now. These are strange times indeed.

But the real fault lies with me. With my surrender to my inner critic and his incessant alarm ringing. With my harsh self judgement. With my short attention span.

So if you wished I’d write more, I think I shall. But I hesitate to promise anything. I’ve rarely live up to those pledges in the past.
I think I need to regain my confidence in what I am, what I have to offer, and in what is important to me and to you.

This post is the first step.

So thanks, Dianne, for the boot in the ass. I hope to pay you back in kind.

39 thoughts on “Kick me. Harder.”

  1. Danny, I just wanted to share with everyone that has had a dream or idea to follow through with it. Before someone launches out into doing projects and such, they just need to weigh whether they will be able to complete the tasks. I am facing this thought right now as I am going out the door to an interview. If I see everything pointing to being able to thrive on the job, I will accept it:)

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  2. Dear Danny,
    I sure share in this anxiety. I have felt fearful to say anything anywhere on line that isn’t ….Bland. Innocuous. Pablum.
    The current environment does in fact work, (but for the haters hating), at shutting us all down. So great has my disgust & fear become that the only stuff I have retained on my Facebook/twitter are sites associated with Sketchbook Skool, Michael Nobbs and some language learning blogs. Thank you Danny for the lifeline you and your kind space hold as sane places for lots of us

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  3. I always look forward to your writings. Not producing anything great these days but looking forward to a gallery opening tomorrow with paintings I created in past year. Your sharing is inspirational and reminds us of peaks and valleys all artists experience.

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  4. I think you need to go back to the “beginning.” The first sketchbookskool lessons. I just did that…and I just finished watching the first instructor…You, Danny Gregory. Your videos were so fresh, simple and good. I checked you out before I signed up for SKS. We were both in the same field, advertising so right off the bat I felt a connection. You were fun and witty. I loved your choices of instructors and secretly wished you would call me…but I’m glad you didn’t because I would have declined. Since 2014, I’ve been drawing everyday, filling up sketchbooks. I occasionally run into some of your instructors, like Roz Stendhal on Sktchy. She even commented on one of my drawings. How cool is that. We sketchbookskooler alumni do miss you. Sometimes all we need is to see your name come up in our email. I never miss reading one. You have made us all very happy with drawing every day. WE like you, we really do.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hm. I guess if you can get over your hesitance, and shut the monkey up with a banana or two while it sits in the corner, maybe I can too. Maybe I can stop just carrying my sketchbook everywhere I go (and adding unnecessary weight in my purse!) and use the damn thing.

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  6. Funny that you say this. I too have lists of ideas some interesting some not but nothing started!

    Just goes to show that you are human like the rest of us. And it is winter and a lot of shitty stuff is filling the air waves and the air. OK Now that we’ve both said the obvious, get crackin’. And I will too. 🙂

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  7. Welcome back, Danny. I hear what you are saying about the negativity online. I have found myself avoiding Facebook, Instagram, etc. because it was making me feel angry and very sad. I didn’t want to share work or interact with anyone. Hopefully it is temporary and we can all find our way back.

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  8. “I think we are all a little paranoid right now. These are strange times indeed. ” –
    Danny, that’s so true – and I almost feel the same in Germany! – If you would check my blog you could see: 2014-15 almost 2-3 /drawings/ posts/ each week. 2016-2017 you’ll realize: 1-2-3 posts / month. For 2016 I’ve a good excuse: I was ill often… but meanwhile I’m fine again. – I found out: I can’t blame “The Donald” (or “the monkey”) when I don’t draw more often, I have to blame myself! – I also realized: the less I draw – the more I’m depressed (and the more I have time to care about daily horror news) it’s a downward spiral!).
    – So 2017 I decided to restart to draw regulary… draw, draw, draw – everyday… … By the way, that’s the REAL truth and no “alternate facts” (as the monkey always tries to explain 😜) ! – Matthias

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  9. I’m glad you took the leap and responded. I’m aware you are involved in many projects especially as cofounder of SBS and that many of us feel we need to be careful of our writing. On the other hand, our voices and lights are needed more than ever before to continue to encourage the world we want to inhabit. Thank you for being responsive to yourself and others. I hope the monkey gets to take the ride in the back seat while you drive your car! My best wishes always, Zena

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  10. I find it amazing that someone as famous and talented as you, not only as an artist, but the author of so many wonderful books that have inspired so many people could have the same self doubts and anxiety that I have. Your monkey has been working overtime to get you down, don’t let it win, there is a great book “SHUT YOUR MONKEY” I think is the name… that could help you. 🙂 We love you Danny, we’d read your grocery list if you posted it here, and I’d bet some people would try to buy the same stuff and figure out what you’re having for dinner this week if you did publish it.

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  11. You post it and I will read it. I thought about writing you but I have seen you do this before and frankly perhaps you might want to really see that you are fantastic and important to a lot of people; and yes it matters. That said, remember that “every critter has a problem to solve.” I think you said something along those lines several years ago. Worked for me. You want to blog, then blog, if you don’t then don’t. But stay in touch, and keep teaching and sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve been hesitant always. Resently I’ve been inspired by the movie Baghdad Cafe. It’s music and imagery haunt me. I’m making urban sketching like watercolors. I figured out how to draw a transparent coffee carafe!

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  13. Strange that you should lose confidence in what you do so well, putting thoughts and ideas into words. I have found them very motivational in the past. I know I lose my way so often. It’s encouraging to hear you still trying to find your path.

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  14. It really is nice to hear your voice … again! I too was beginning to be concerned! (Worry is what Jewish mothers do best) I hear you about the Paranoia! I keep wondering if ‘they’ are taking down names, making a list, perhaps sending out fake ‘my side of things’ posts I’ll respond to and give them my personal information! Is there a camp for people like me I’ll be carted off to? But as to your “is my stuff good enough” rant, I’ll give you back your own words paraphrased: we are all on our own artistic journies not to be compared one to the other … it’s all good!

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  15. Danny, one of the things that drew me to you in the first days was your absolute transparency. I’m not glad you’ve felt that way, but I am glad to know I’m not the only one. Before everything went completely off the rails, I made the mistake of taking a neutral stance, and the fallout was enough for me to want to delete all my accounts and go live off the grid somewhere, etc. Comparatively speaking, it was nothing compared to what prompted you to intervene a few weeks ago, but it hurt nonetheless. My confidence was shaken, and I too had to reevaluate. I wish a lot of things, but I do wish you’d write more. I wish I wrote more. Reading your post “New Me” reminded me of that. Thanks for being you.

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  16. “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open….Martha Graham

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  17. Thanks for writing this, and for sharing Diane’s spunky, brilliant email too! I totally understand feeling unsure, doubting what you want to say, or not wanting to deal with putting it out into the world. I would say that in these uncertain, upsetting times, our voices are more important than ever, for our own expression, but also for the help or inspiration or insight we can give to the world. Our words and our art can bring so much, and your words and art have led the way for countless people already. Please continue to shine your light, and I’ll continue to shine mine too. All together, we can light up this whole dark tunnel we’re in, and hopefully find the way out.

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  18. You always seem to give a voice to what I’m struggling with just at the right time. I figure if you feel that way, someone I respect as a creative guru of sorts, then by golly it must be legit!! And I think it is. My blog has been quiet except for very thought over and edited posts. I never used to care. I don’t do art because I can’t do anything significant. I don’t have time, I’ve lost my mojo, blah, blah. When I started caring for my dad four years ago (he’s got Alzhiemers) I went through some mild depression and just lost all desire to do art. I had to quit teaching and all my art groups. I lost my tribe. The people who inspired me and buoyed me up. A desire to do art is coming back slowly as I have adjusted to my new life. This January 1rst, I decided to do (and post) a sketch a day all year. I just do one every day. Often they suck. Whatever. I’m thinking we are starting to care too much. Don’t stop anything! I need you! You inspire me. And before I rethink all this as sharing way too much– I’m going to hit post! You write it, (please) cause I read it!

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  19. Dear Danny, your post has inspired me to offer these three contributions. (1) Years ago I was a massage therapist. I knew, and know, a lot of other massage therapists. We all worked in the private sector. Whenever we got together, talk eventually turned to how to get more clients. Then I became a physio, and eventually a writer. I agonized over possible criticisms of my books. I meet therapists who knew more than me. I sometimes feel inadequate. But I try to remember the fun times I had with the other theraists when we met for our monthly ‘dream team’ get togethers, and used to ask ourselves, ‘who would be our perfect customer?’ It strikes me that in the closed SBS Facebook page you’ve attracted over 6,000 pretty perfect customers, people who totally admire what you do and support you and feel inspired by you and miss you when you’re not there. We don’t care if you put out what your monkey thinks is crap. Because you make a difference in the world. You make a difference to all of us. We are your perfect customer. (2) When the odd few monkey-faced critical bastards slip through, metaphorically or in reality, sometimes it helps me to momentarily zone into teenager land and go, ‘yeah, wot-ev-aaah’ (it helps to walk about without a belt in your trousers, odd socks and not wash for a few days). (3) You know that saying, ‘it’s better to wear out than to rust out’? Well you’ve done stuff. You’ve made stuff. You put stuff out there. You’re the wear-in-out-ist person I know! What’s your monkey done? What have those critics done? Jack shit that’s what.

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  20. We missed you. We aren’t looking for some grand idea, we just genuinely like you and want to hear your thoughts! Please ditch the monkey and come back out to play!

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  21. Danny, oh Danny…you are such a great brother, friend, father and kid to all of us.. if I hadnt seen your book, first one for me on reportage, I would be going stark raving mad during these tryin’ times…drawing each day keeps me rooted to the earth and is a marvelous distraction from you know what and who…loosing myself on a page, priceless…over 1000 drawings of my studio companion..dog!!!!..some are really good…we wont discuss the others..but you were the one who got me into the habit, making me wish I could take every trip over again, throughout my life and draw more.. etc etc etc..pat yourself on the back, or let us do it..paint and stack…..whatever it takes, you are valuable!… best, sandra

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    1. Sandra,
      I have over 1000 drawings of my dog too! You’d think I’d be happy with them all, but no. I always wish they were better. We should compare notes!
      Stacy

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  22. Love both your words and your drawings. I’m happy to see them every time they pop up in my emails. I’m very happy you have chosen not to fill your posts with all the political rhetoric that is so abundant now. I follow people because i love their art not because I want them to shove their beliefs down my throat. thank you for not getting up on the soapbox very often and when you do, getting back down pretty quickly and not dwelling on the negative. you can post whenever you like and we’ll be here to see what you have to say.

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  23. When I read your post, my monkey (who is quiet when I draw, BTW) shouted to me, “Why do you think that Danny Gregory, who is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, creative, articulate, inspiring people you’ve read would want to hear from you?” I’m not someone who speaks publicly often. I don’t post much to the SBS community (sorry about that), but I have posted even when I’ve felt uncomfortable doing so. Not just because it’s good for me, but because I want to support the amazing skool you and Koosje (and all the others involved) have created. But I wanted to let you know that you are a huge part of me rediscovering drawing again after 30+ years of leaving it behind. I used to love drawing, but the weight of the monkeys was too heavy, so I put it away. Now I’m taking SBS classes, I’m drawing every day (since 1/1/17) and there are no more monkeys. I take risks, and I expect to fail – that’s the point, and that’s okay, and it’s still fun. You, sir, have taught me this. I don’t know what to say to help you unpeel your monkey, but I can say that I absolutely LOVE everything you do – I can’t say that about many people. You’re a natural educator and you make a huge difference to people with your thoughts (I’ll read anything you write), your teaching, creativity, and your art. You don’t have to do anything to impress us. Just be you and have fun.

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  24. I get what you’re saying but do I really need to remind you that these, of all times, are times when silence is perceived as acquiescence? Yours has been such a valuable voice to so many in the past. To be silent out of fear of reprisal is to lose before you even start. We do need to hear your honest voice. Glad you’re coming back!

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  25. I love your blog! Your writing is wonderful, and I have to admit I haven’t watched many of your vlogs. We need your voice right now, more than ever, so get with it mister! (Fondly of course)

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  26. I would like to address the “what you have to offer/what is important to your readers” part of your post. I found you only recently, having encountered Art Before Breakfast a few months ago. Prior to that I drew, but very sporadically, and did fiber arts, but not as frequently as I wanted to (both as hobbies; I am not a professional). Often I had the problem of not being able to find the block of time that I had hoped for on a given day, and then would get discouraged about how little time there was. That too frequently led to not doing anything creative at all for the day. Through your book, you reminded me that incremental progress is ok and gave me permission to approach my creative endeavors in a new way—that it is all right if you only have time to do a little bit; what is important is the doing.

    The first 3 things I was struck by in your book and that have become guiding mantras for me are:

    1) Don’t go to bed until you’ve drawn something, even if you resort to drawing your alarm clock or the late night host–I use this to kick ME to make sure I do something each day.

    2) Two minute drawings are ok and can look pretty interesting if you get lots of small drawings together on a page–this reminds me that I don’t have to draw long. If the schedule is going badly, I say, “OK, I’ll just sit down and take a couple minutes and that is allowable and OK to just do a very short time block or very small drawing.” (But then I always end up drawing longer than those couple minutes once I’ve started.)

    3) If you want to do a bigger, more complicated piece of work but don’t have much time, do it in parts/layers (sketch one day, color another day, detail work another, etc.)–Keeping this in mind as a way of working has really helped me, because before I was always looking for the elusive block of time that was long enough to sit down, start my page, and finish it in that sitting. Those blocks of time showed up way too rarely and so I wouldn’t work on something because I wasn’t going to be able to finish the page at that time. This has now changed.

    By applying these ideas of incremental, daily output, combined with the reminder that “art with a little a” is valuable and it’s fine if some pieces don’t turn out the way I want, I have gotten much more creativity in my life on a consistent, daily basis this year, which has made me really happy. I am planning to try adding in daily fiber arts starting next month, using a similar incremental, low-pressure basis (obviously, they were never anything I could finish in one sitting and so was doing incrementally anyway, but I was always looking for the big blocks of time to make big progress on them and I never managed big blocks daily even though I tried to and really wished I could. I think I will actually get more done overall and be happier when doing them incrementally on a small, low-pressure, daily basis, as opposed to sporadic longer blocks and frustration on days when I couldn’t reach my goal times).

    Sorry for such a long comment, but permission/reminder about these things and how to fit creativity into everyday life on a regular basis is what you have offered me.

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  27. I would like to append to my previous, really long comment the fact that I have in the past read a number of other books that were about, or had substantial sections on, how to fit art-making into one’s life. None of those other books were ever effective for me in creating change. Your book seemed so real-life, so approachable, so do-able. It’s been the only book and approach/philosophy that’s actually worked for me. Thanks again, Jennifer

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  28. Danny, I read this post of yours a few days ago, and my heart immediately responded. The response seems to need to be here in words , for you to read. There may be some who respond negatively to all the beautiful, open hearted things you put out so bravely. I hear that. This is not an easy time to be open, there are risks. I, who live my anonymous life, feel that fear every time I click a Facebook like on a political point. But we mustn’t let our creative expressions be stifled, especially in this time. It is our hope for better times. It is powerful, out there shining like a light in the dark. I loved your caligraphy pages, watched each with intense focus. You are a beacon , a mentor for all of us. Know you are loved, by many who may never meet you face to face. But we can love you because you are brave enough to share who you are and how you feel. I salute your courage, and HANG THAT MONKEY!!!!

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  29. So glad to see you posting again! People want to read whatever you have to say, learn from your art or your thoughts or your experiences. No matter what. It sure as hell doesn’t have to be perfect. What’s that line about the most important part of the job is just showing up? And please remember, not everyone is on fb. I stopped going there just over three months ago, and don’t plan to go back for at least another three years and nine months. If ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Danny, everyone has a ‘bunch of UFO’s’, as an artist I used to work in a gallery with called them [unfinished objects]. Now, I laugh an continue to make / collect more & more. I firmly believe that sometimes we just need to do something-right at that moment. There will be a time and place to use them ‘or publish’ them. How about thinking positive and name your files something like:

    – When the time is right…..
    – Bits ‘n Pieces….
    – Suprise…
    – Maybe Not …
    – For a brain dead day [coloring in line work like in your personal color book]. You want to do something but don’t want to think about it

    PS…the last time I posted on my blog was almost 2 years ago…that means soon I’ll need to reup with godaddy.com.

    Wishing you a wonderful day, and sending you positive eneryies. You are a light to many of us, but I for one know that you are a real human being and that for most of us our lives are filled with ‘fits and starts’. I love you for that.

    Blessings!

    Donna

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