How to grow healthy.

My grandmother won prizes for her gorgeous chrysanthemums. She had a huge rose garden that was designed like a Persian Carpet. She had two full time gardeners who kept her topiaries trimmed and her lawns like billiard tables. She taught me to love making things grow and to respect the endless powers of Nature.

One of her pet peeves: “Why must Americans call it ‘dirt’? It’s soil. It’s earth. It’s not dirty. It’s wonderful.”

Last week, I thought about her often as we watched a wonderful film about turning dirt into magic. The Biggest Little Farm is a documentary about the Chesters, a cooking blogger and a filmmaker, who worked for eight years to transform a mistreated farm into a Garden of Eden.

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How to see dinosaurs.

Last week, I spent a lot of time watching Floridians. There were a fair number of geezers in golfing shirts and slow-moving Cadillacs, but the most interesting creatures by far were the birds. Limpkins, buntings, grackles, curlews, grebes, plovers, loons and whipoorwills.

I love watching birds, even in New York where you mainly run across grayer species likes sparrows and pigeons. The park across the street is home to doves, starlings and the occasional woodpecker but the most exciting are the red-tailed hawks who nest on the top floor of the NYU library. They hunt in the morning and at dusk, usually pigeons, squirrels and rats, but rumor has it they show up with the occasional tabby. I always used to worry they’d snatch our miniature dachshunds and try to fly off with them while I gripped the leash like a kite string.

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How to handle perspective.

I was working at my desk when the news flashed on the screen. Notre Dame was burning. The videos and pictures were heart-stopping and across the world we were joined by a sense of helplessness as a thousand years of history and culture exploded in flames. I had visions of a charred wreck left to hulk on the Seine, a post-modern monument to human fragility surrounded by rioting yellow vests. The toppling spire sparked a deep sense of dread in me, that our civilization itself was toppling, that our history was being erased, that humanity was all too vulnerable, that I too would soon be forgotten dust.

Twenty-four hours later, the fire was out, the damage assessed. It was extensive but appears confined to the roof. I read with relief that the cathedral had been heavily damaged and rebuilt several other times in its long history, and by day’s end almost a billion dollars had been raised to start the restoration. Within a day, we had gone from annihilation to resiliency to the Mueller report. Next.

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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.

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How to get great.

You’ve probably heard of “The 10,000 hour rule”. Malcolm Gladwell popularized it in Outliers —  in which he posits that it takes that long to become expert at any skill. Gladwell’s distillation of the science behind “rule” has been debunked since then. Not surprising, our own experience confirms that there’s more to the story.

Think about driving. You’ve probably been doing it for decades. If you commute for an hour, you’ll drive 10,000 hours in twenty years. So are you an expert driver? Really? Could you win a NASCAR race? Do stunts in an action movie?

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How I found my tribe.

We just launched a new social network just for SketchBook Skool called the SkoolYard. Among many other things, it’s another place for me to hold forth and write long pieces —like this essay to welcome new members. You may not be in the community yet but some of my thoughts may still resonate with you.


When I was little, we moved an awful lot. We lived in London, Pakistan, Pittsburgh, Australia, Israel, and Brooklyn — all before I finished seventh grade. I lived in different neighborhoods, spoke different languages, and had to learn about new cultures, new sports, new foods every year. I guess this diverse upbringing had its upsides but the hardest part was always being the new kid. And always feeling like an outsider.

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How to buy art supplies.

It’s tempting to think that if we want to make art, we should, of course, begin by shopping. Full of zest, vim and vigor, we resolve to really get in the creative mode and, tail wagging, we prance off to the art supply store.

We browse through walls of pens, shelves of sketchbooks, and bins of brushes. We consider locked racks of spray paint, spools of armature wire, lino knives and airbrush frisket. We stare blankly at tubes of yellow watercolor that arbitrarily cost a buck or a Benjamin. And finally we stagger home, our credit cards limp with exhaustion, clutching bags of random gear, unsure of what to do with most of it.

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Movies about artists — must they suck?

I will always check out any movie that’s about an artist (the cheesy Basquiat biopic directed by an artist (Julian Schnabel) remains one of my faves) but I have never found one that made me want to rush home and draw or taught me much about what it’s like to actually be an artist at work.

Why are movies so awful at capturing how artists work? The creative process is a part of moviemaking so you’d think directors and writers would know it intimately.

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How to judge your work

When peacocks are hatched, they are ugly grey balls of fluff. When you snap a Polaroid, it is grey, then murky, washed out. When a baker puts a cake in the oven, it is runny, mealy, and inedible. A great burgundy goes into the bottle as grape juice. When a marathoner crosses the finish line, her body is depleted, her heart is erratic, her brain is mush. When you are clinging to the side of a mountain, your face pressed against the granite — you can’t see its shape against the sky, its majesty.

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