How to dabble.

I’ve had a bunch of ideas and projects simmering on the stovetop of my mind and, because most or all of them may never get out of the kitchen, I thought I’d serve them up here and see what you think.

Mike Lowery just sent me a little book he made and had printed (How to Keep a Travel Sketchbook ). I loved the book but was also curious about how he’d had it made which turned out to be a company called Scout https://scoutbooks.com/ that makes little books of a certain size and length, and the cuteness of these little books, essentially pocket-sized pamphlets with kraftboard covers, reminded me of the books I used to love to make as a kid and I badly wanted to make one again. A similar impulse happened when I came across the Newspaper Club, a company that prints small-run newspapers, and I was obsessed with the idea of making an issue or two, but which, like my fantasies of letterpressing and screenprinting, died under a bleak vision of exhausted cardboard boxfuls of unwanted printed matter stacked to the ceiling of Jack’s former bedroom, sort of like the warehouse scene at the end of Citizen Kane but more ramshackle and sad. Anyway, the idea of making my own little books has haunted me since I was six and the fact that you can make them more easily and more professionally than ever keeps that flame alive.

I was reading the recent issue about podcasting in New York magazine and it made me think yet again about reviving my podcasting efforts which initially began more than ten years ago with a podcast and then a video podcast that no one ever knew about. Then I made the Shut Your Monkey podcast and then the Art for All podcast and I did what I so often do with so many creative projects which is to start with a flicker of an idea and then keep researching additional ways to make the production more and more elaborate until it collapses under the weight of my own unreachable expectations. What starts out as whim develops all these rules and procedures and expectation until eventually the mere thought of working on it further seems a frightful chore and bore and I wander off to the next. This blog has occasionally undergone this sort of metastasis as I have inflated the ambitions of my soapbox to unwieldy heights, like writing a long essay every single day or not at all, and it is not a pretty sight as I’m sure you as a long-time reader will recognize. But somehow I keep coming back to this particular oasis to drink, perhaps because at its core, blogging just requires typing on the keyboard and hitting “Post.” I am currently laboring under a self-imposed requirement that each post be titled “How to ___ ” which is liberating, in that the first two words of the post have been written for me and I can generally take off from that ruining start, and confining, in that I am always wrestling with that part of me that insists I must be a hard-blowing expert while I generally feel like my nature is to be a distracted incompetent and so having the title be necessarily proscriptive can be a challenge. I console myself with the fact that most of my self-help advice is not in fact terribly helpful.

An extension of this desire to self-publish — given fresh urgency of late because of my involvements with one publisher that unceremoniously remaindered one of my books that meant the most the most to me and another that declared bankruptcy just as we are in the last stage of prepress and may or may not come through with the goods in October  — is to self-publish a book or two through Amazon in the hope that at least those people who already know and can stomach my books might buy enough copies without the encouragement of the Media Industrial Complex to make up for the loss of piddling royalties I get from my various legitimate publishers to be worth the trouble. The fact is that I write, illustrate, design, and endlessly promote most of my books which means that the publishers just need to ship them to China to be printed, have a few lunches with the guys at Barnes & Noble, spend a week in Frankfurt at the book fair, and in return pocket 92% of every buck you spend on my books. So, the discontented voice in my head repeats, if we cut them the hell out, we can survive on far fewer sales and still spend the summers on the French Riviera and the winters in Gstaad. All I need to do is upload my InDesign files to some website and I’ll be golden. My fear that my readers won’t come through without the requisite serving of NPR interviews and guest podcasting and I’ll be left in a dark corner behind the stacks of boxes in Jack’s room licking my bedsores with the rough tongue of regret keep me springing to attention when my editor emails.

Where was I? Oh, yes, so I had this vague idea that it might be nice to revisit all of the best of the blogposts I’ve written here and polish them into a book of essays with black and white spot illustrations, the sort of thing that Seth Godin and David Sedaris and Montaigne have churned out to great effect, and issue it as an ebook and a paperback available through Amazon. Or maybe a small boxed sets of Scout booklets like Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library (God, I love those) which I could truck to the mail center across the street and ship to you with handwritten notes and custom rubber stamps and calligraphied addresses with grosgrain ribbon bookmarks and marbleized slip cases… there we go again, making things complicated.

Yeah, so back to the podcast. I thought could I make things bone-simple, just open the mic and cogitate on various creative issues like I do in this blog and then just post them and see what happens. But of course the problem is that they could quickly grow tedious and littered with digressions and uhs & ums which would require a lot of painful editing and post-production and so I should probably hire a podcast editor which means opening the old browser and looking for a freelance producer and then counting on this unknown person to get it and make something good and having one more distant person to manage and then what if it doesn’t work out and the whole thing becomes one more over-inflated project and I skulk away from it too.

This week I did the first of what could become an ongoing series if I don’t get too cute with it, a live thing on YouTube called “Draw With Me” in which I just drink a cup of tea and do a drawing while chatting with people over the comments section. It was lots of fun to do this first time and hopefully seemed a little more effortless than it actually was (I managed to come up with a litany of ways to complicate the procedure, including a four camera set up, a lavaliere mic through a digital recorder, a newly-purchased folding card table, and several other bits of tech I won’t bore you with); people showed up, we had a nice conversation, I did a not-awful drawing, and I am looking forward to doing it again. It has begun in the same spirit as another of my YouTube series, SketchBook Club, which involved my simply flipping through a selection from my library of great sketchbook artists, but then became contaminated with commercial intrusions like promoting SketchBook Skool agenda or responding to the not-great published sketchbooks other people thrust on me to talk about and, after 25 episodes or so, has lost some of its appeal, at least to me, or my podcast Shut Your Monkey which began with my fantasy that I could record an audio version of my book (for some reason the publisher left me with the audio rights) but then became a new career in booking guests and arranging good times to talk and wrestling with remote recording snafus and then spending insane amounts of time in post production including editing dozens of interviews down to bite-sizes and creating my own musical tracks and all sorts of things way beyond the pale, and the book excerpts became more and more fifth wheels until the whole thing petered out like this sentence. I hope that Draw with Me remains a fun thing to do, not a burden — but that remains to be seen.

People I know, like my wife and my business partner and a few old friends, have grown used to the fireworks display of my enthusiasms, soaring and careening and lighting up the sky then fading away with a whimper, only to be eclipsed by the next fusillade. I can no longer count on anyone I know to sustain much interest in my pet projects, perhaps because they know they’re bound to be short-lived or perhaps because they just can’t keep up, so I labor on, clattering pots, lighting fuses, my over-caffeinated imagination busting for some unknown response. My wife thinks that since my cancer diagnosis my volume of production has increased exponentially but I dunno, I feel like I’ve always been like this. I don’t labor under some impending sense of the end, the curtains inching closed and prompting a mad dash to take my final creaky stand upon the boards.

I am destined for less-than-greatness. A long time ago, my first roommate told me he thought I would one day be minorly well-known for some niche thing, and I was terribly offended at the verdict but it’s true, that is my fate, to be a vaguely familiar face in an old movie, a character actor whose name is just on the tip of your tongue, and honestly that’s fine and not at all the point. I make things because I like to and I must, but most of the fun is in the first 70 yards of the the 100, the burst from the blocks, the frying of the onions, the breaking of the ground with golden shovels. There are people who spend years polishing, who have a single-life’s work, who reach for the stars, who create for the ages. I’m more of a sandwich man, satisfying today’s hunger with something palatable but not fancy, something you might walk an extra block or two for but not necessarily make a reservation for. Alright, here we go, down the familiar rabbit hole that approaches self-pity and derision, a reflexive journey to blunderland, and not all what I intended or even what I feel this morning as I type here in my nook, snug in my dressing gown, a cooling cup of tea at my elbow.

This post began as a way of sharing some half-baked ideas with you, but it has turned into a eulogy instead. Well, I’m not dead yet and so I must get back to work.

44 thoughts on “How to dabble.”

    1. Amazing post. You’ve really gone and done it Danny and topped yourself!

      “I am always wrestling with that part of me that insists I must be a hard-blowing expert while I generally feel like my nature is to be a distracted incompetent.” totally resonated with me. Takes one to know one!

      FYI: I also still love my little Sendak Nutshell Library. So glad someone else remembers.

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  1. Awesome post ! I love that your mind is so richly all over the place ! All these ideas are great : can’t wait for the said self-published book ; I want to watch the new YouTube video and I loved both your podcasts so I would love more episodes ! To me you are famous because you are the one who taught me that I could draw without talent !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Danny, I enjoy your ramblings, yours is the first email I open in the morning. If you decide to self-publish on Amazon, I would definitely buy your books and I bet many others would too. Have no fear, have fun instead.
    Oh no, I’m giving you advice. LOL
    grace

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If I were a better writer, I could have written this. You have described me so well! I, too, find it hard to stay in one lane, polishing an idea to perfection. I approach art like a
    buffet table, and I skitter from one dish to the next. Comforting to know I am not the only one “destined for less-than-greatness!”

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  4. I started jotting things I wanted to remember as soon as I began reading. You put out much useful information and encouragement. So what I want to know is, can you tell me what you want? I have appreciated, been moved, and motivated by your writing over (time does fly) many years. It is easy to tell someone to maintain focus and not to lose the spark that can only come from their work. So hard to do for oneself. I can only hope that you keep working at it cause there is only one Danny Gregory and I like him.Is dabbling contagious? I’ll stop. Get back to People Drawing People.

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  5. Dang it Danny Gregory! I NEVER comment on posts but here I am. Quit feeling sorry for yourself! So what if you stop doing stuff? So what if you choose that? YOU are the creative, the artist, the director of your life. When you start caring more about not dissapointing people than about your next idea is when your creativity is hampered. You make stunning things all the time that I am very privileged to enjoy. It doesn’t matter what media or form they are in -you just keep amazing me with what is next! Do not let the monster of perfectionism steal that from you. You are in charge. You can do whatever you want. I’m just incredibly thankful to be along for the ride. I don’t care where we go. I know its going to be wonderful. Keep it up. Whatever you want. I and many others will be there.

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  6. Ha! I can relate, and I bet many other creatives can. I drove my (ex)husband crazy, not finishing things. (Where is Gemini in your birth chart? I have Gemini rising, the sign of the gypsy.) Thanks for expressing the dilemma so beautifully! I look forward to your next project!

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  7. Danny, I believe that’s just how creatives are. They have heads full of wonderful creative ideas. Not all of them come to fruition but the important ones do. Your creation of Sketchbook Skool is so successful and a wonderful blessing to so many around the world who love to sketch or have learned to sketch. You can be very proud of that creation along with Koosje and it seems that idea will not fade away! You keep coming up with better and interesting ways to deliver great content.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Danny. Of course I will buy your books even if you make them in your kitchen and I have a feeling I am not alone. I really enjoyed your various podcasts but if they become a real chore then I say scrap them. I love the new “Draw with me” because there are many out there who like the idea of casually drawing with the “not well-known except in niche circles but much loved” Danny Gregory. Keep these up…as long as they don’t become too precious or chore-like. Just my 2 cents. Now, back to PDP!

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  9. Well, I, for one of many, miss you when you’re gone! I love when you ramble because it echos my thoughts and I don’t feel so alone. Our age demands we take a look at what we have been doing and access what we will continue to do. Not just for its relevance but now because we are freaking running out of time and we have so many things we could do!! My daughter tells me to just “pick a lane, mom”. Yeah, right. How long has she known me? My son tells me “it’s all good, mom”. And there you have it. Whatever the lane, its all good as long as you’re not stuck in traffic! Thanks for the smile on my face this morning!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I love your books, blogs, podcasts, Sketchbook Club, Draw with Me, et. al., Danny and I can appreciate the time you spend on your many creative initiatives. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying new things and changing them to another great project when they get tedious or when one feels a sense of accomplishment or even just loses interest. Routines are great until they become a bore or (god forbid) start to feel like a job. As long as you let your followers know where and when to find you next, we will continue to keep up with your creative approaches to communicating, teaching, sharing, and making us think. Thank you.

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  11. Always will love your “dabbling”. Your will to create I turned out to be a blessing for so many of us who became sketchbookskoolers… So, PLEASE , just go on!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Multipotentiality

    “An educational and psychological term referring to a pattern found among intellectually gifted individuals. [Multipotentialites] generally have diverse interests across numerous domains and may be capable of success in many endeavors or professions, they are confronted with unique decisions as a result of these choices.”

    Danny, this is you. Be proud as the world needs people like you.
    Blessings,
    Kathryn

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I have been and still am a loyal follower! I didn’t reclaim doodling until my sixties and that was more than a decade ago. It was Everyday Matters that pushed me over the edge into daily doodling. I suggest your book to my clients, (I’m a psychotherapist) and they actually read it. That’s saying a lot. Your article is the first I’ve read here and now I’ll be reading more. You’re somebody to me! So keep moving and dabbling, I am. A Danny keep on shinning greatness all over the place, we’re soaking it up.

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  14. Ok, first of all, the publisher who “remaindered” (yes, I had to look it up) “A Kiss Before You Go” is a total and complete idiot. This book is right up there with Joan Didion’s “Year of Magical Thinking”, and anyone who doesn’t get that is a moron. I will buy any book you write however it is made available. If it has a soft cover, a cover made out of recycled brown paper sacks, or no cover at all, I will purchase it, and I am sure I’m not alone. Next, you are not and will never be what I consider a minor character in my life or the lives of all the people you’ve reached over the years. I discovered you 10 years ago this month, and I can’t imagine my life with all it’s crazy ups and downs without your influence and “introduction” to the world of other makers. I wouldn’t have my books (16) full of drawings of my now very old dog if you hadn’t included Roz in one of your books. I’ve gone on too long, but here we are. Finally, I’m happy when your name appears in my inbox. What’s Danny doing today? I click on the link, wait for another window to open, and I know it will be a good day.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Oh, Danny, you know me so well.
    If you could read my morning journal you would find it says exactly the same in different words.
    Imagine if those of us like minded souls got together? Oh what a party that would be! We may not accomplish much that those outside could understand, but would find pure delight in the energy of the ideas. I like to think of myself as a tiny Sparkler in the midst of grander Fireworks.
    Thank you for your Brilliant soul and sharing your sparkle with us.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. ART for ALL! Yes, bring it back. I would enjoy hearing the steps in the projects you have completed. Or some of the pitfalls you have encountered as pod cast topics. I am always motivated to look into the new ideas and projects that you offer up.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Oh Danny! I love this post. IMHO this is you at your best. I’ll read anything you post. Whatever you do, keep on blogging. I am so much a dabbler and have tried to curtail this characteristic over the years but now at the ripe old age of 76 I’ve decided the world needs dabblers and I’m going to keep on dabbling.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Dear Danny, I’ve been knitting the same scarf for 15 years because I only get the bug every 5 years. It sits on it’s own little table by a rocking chair and a lamp. All tucked in a sweet little corner. It looks so inviting and if you didn’t know me you would imagine me there every evening spinning out scarves for all the people I love. I have this idea that scarves make nice gifts and who wouldn’t want one? I also make little bird pins out of paperclay. They are intricately designed, each paper feather glued on, each foot made of wire, each head painted, each tiny bead eye carefully placed. After about 3 birds I have to put it all away until my imagination returns to this, usually with the thought that everyone I know would like one of these. Wouldn’t they? Then there’s my sketchbook. I love my sketchbook but it has very little drawing in it. And yet I envision a sketchbook that records my every day. When I have managed to record a day visually I truly love looking back on it. It gives me a sense of satisfaction. In my art group this month our prompt is “Move Forward”. And maybe that’s all we have to do. To whatever that may be.

    You have been a true source of inspiration in my life, mostly because you’re so honest. You help me see that we all struggle in one way or another with our creativity, wild imaginations, lurking desires. And it’s ok. I’m really excited about the Skoolyard! And if you self publish a book please know I will buy it!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Danny, there are many of us who think you’re pretty special! We love your drawings and your musings.

    I did not catch your Draw With Me live. But I watched the recording. It was great fun…and I love the casual setting…just real life. I hope to watch the next one live. Any idea when? And, how will we be notified?

    I also am looking forward to being invited to play in Sketchbook Skool Yard!

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  20. Danny, you’ve outdone yourself! Love this post. Best yet.

    “I am always wrestling with that part of me that insists I must be a hard-blowing expert while I generally feel like my nature is to be a distracted incompetent.” resonated with me. Thank you for expressing that which I couldn’t adequately express.

    FYI: I also love my little Sendak Nutshell Library. So glad I’m not the only one who remembers this little gem.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Oh Danny, such a great post! So many dilemmas that so many can relate to. Some of us dabble and it does make for an interesting life. Unfortunately dabbling often come with a side of self-consciousness as in “why the f can’t I just land on something and stick with it?!@ A new podcast would be great and if/when it gets boring or too complicated, chuck it. That won’t stop me from loving your work and seeing what you’re up to next.

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  22. Danny, this was an awesome post! I’m thinking that many of us creative types are similar. Once the idea takes shape it somehow loses a bit of its magic so…on to the next idea😉

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  23. Hey Danny, I’m gonna point out the obvious to at least us, if not YOU. You’re not a bit player in a second rate film that one has trouble remembering the actor’s name. I don’t want to blow your ego up (although I’m not sure that’s possible, that monkey of yours seems to take care of that nicely), but you should know, you’re pretty damn HUGE in an industry that is growing by leaps and bounds with hurricane sized winds daily. Art as therapy. Finding yourself again in the miasma of life that is a stage, lately, is hard. “Danny Gregory” is a name that is on the marquee of that movement. I thought you might want to know. (try turning around and looking at the sign that screams your name in twenty-five foot letters. The rest of us see it as kind of a beacon of hope. Keep going, Danny. We’re all cheering and following your pied piper of self discovery.) Oh, and even though I’d have to scrape up the money, I’d totally buy a self published book of yours, I think it’d be your best yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Wow, your monkey is some kinda gorilla.

    Mine’s whittled down to marmoset size now. But you know what? If you keep even one of those tiny little things in your house, it’ll still throw shit on you.

    Yes, make and self-publish a black-and-white book. (Color is a lot more expensive to print.) Order a couple of this type of book for yourself first, so you can make sure you’ll be happy with the quality. Create your own publishing company, which costs next to nothing; buy a handful of ISBN’s (which is NOT free, unless you live in Canada, which you don’t as far as I know). Assign your own ISBN to your book , rather than using Amazon’s free one, so you can publish via a different venue if you choose in future. I advise against using B&N’s in-house digital publisher, because it’s practically impossible to get it back off there if you need to for some reason. I’ve been happy with our ibooks sales, too. Lots of people (myself included) read on our phones or ipads, and it’s just much more convenient to buy from itunes.

    Others who’ve self-published more than I can give you more input, but I have to say I really prefer the % of income I get from self-publishing ovr the royalties available from regular publishing. Especially as you have your own established audience. These days, writers with the big publishing houses still often have to do their own self-promotion. May as well be doing that for yourself!

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  25. Also, if you do publish conventionally in the future, you can put a rider into the contract such that you have first option on purchasing the books at a discount in the event they are remaindered. AND that the rights revert to you should the book not be published within X years of the contract.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I love your meanderings–I find myself in the wandering mind that is not in neutral, but is in fact following threads so fast that one skips from one thought to the next and if one goes back, yes there is a thread–and honestly, you are a gift. I was struck by that roommate comment–I think when we are young we still think we might be president or Pulitzer Prize winner or save the world in some way…and the days and years tick off and we have kids and jobs and some days are amazing and many are just getting through–and then we remember that all of the days are amazing. And so, perhaps we won’t go down in history books, but we have touched others. In your case, you have touched many and in such an encouraging way–and so you have nudged this old world into a bit better place–and thank you for that.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Phew! All your projects you’ve done and all you want to do ! Danny . Move to a small cottage in the woods and breathe! Or you could do what we do. We have no home, no storage space, no camper just sketchbooks and a few supplies and my husband has golf clubs and we go online and rent furnished apartments through air BNB for 3 months At a time and travel! The 3 months gives us time to know a place. We’ve been doing this for 4 years. I’m 64 and husband 67. It’s cheaper than paying for a condo, maintenance, parking etc. so freeing not to own. We go to Europe and around USA. My husband has skin cancer so we go to mds where grand kids are so we visit them 2 times a year. Sorry to bore you. Anyways……,
    Have fun in whatever you decide!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh Sherry! Your story is so inspiring. How I would love to do that. My life from 37 – 53 yrs old was spent living on a boat and it was awesome. We traveled around the world. Have been “ashore” for 13 years now and are getting ready to travel the states in our motorhome. Thank you for sharing your story of what is possible if you think outside the proverbial box.

      Liked by 1 person

  28. Please don’t ever stop rambling. I totally get the “dabble” part and the fear of “why can’t I just pick something and be great at that one thing”! But some of us are meant to dabble. Our minds racing from one project to the next and moving on when our natural tendency to create makes it bigger than we wanted it to be. Little ideas grow up and need new shoes and braces and get unpredictable. And we feel overwhelmed and overexposed and back off and move on. And how about that “I’m not famous yet” thing? Someone who went to my high school a grade behind me just won a Pulitzer for fiction. I’m looking back at my career thinking what the heck have I done? But occasionally someone says something I did really spoke to them, and it’s then that I realize that my legacy is how I affect one individual at a time in ways that I never expected. So, you sir, have affected my life and countless others in a very personal way by sharing your “dabbling” with us and helping us to find our better selves in a new mode of expression. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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