You are not alone

You need to go way out to a cabin in the woods to write a great novel. You must move up to a garret on the top of floor of a tenement to paint masterpieces. Do not disturb. Genius at work. The myth of the solitary artist, toiling alone, far from the madding crowd. We’ve all heard it. And yet I wonder, is solitude really the key to creativity?

Case in point.

In 1866, Vincent van Gogh left the Netherlands. For three years, he had been trying to teach himself to paint, essentially on his own. He briefly had a mentor who then grew tired and rejected him. He enrolled in an art school but clashed with his teacher for his unorthodox style of painting. Two months later, he quit to move to Paris.

Within 18 months, Van Gogh went from dreary, ham-fisted brown paintings to bright, lively, emotional masterworks that are some of the greatest paintings ever made. What made the difference?

Paris. Or more specifically the community of artists he found in Paris.

For the first time Vincent was exposed to Impressionism, Symbolism, Pointillism, and Japanese woodblock prints. He befriended Pissarro, Signac, Bernard, Seurat, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Gauguin. His palette changed. His painting technique changed. His line quality changed. His sense of himself as an artist changed.

When Van Gogh finally found himself in the company of artists, he discovered what being an artist truly meant. He borrowed ideas and discoveries from them. He modified pointillism, he painted with complementary color, he discovered light, and in two years, he made over 200 new, fresh paintings.

Marinating in all those influences, helped him discover a unique and utterly personal approach to painting. By associating with great and generous artists, Van Gogh found himself.

Many of our teachers tell me they love being a part of Sketchbook Skool, because they usually spend so much time working alone. They love to commune with other creative minds, to share ideas, to talk shop, to find new solutions to common problems. Some of them set up shared studios. Others travel to conferences and conventions. Others use social media to share their works in progress and find input and support.

For many beginners, sharing art can seem like a scary business. We fear being judged or seeming to be presumptuous by donning the artist’s mantle. But remember the explosive effect of creative community on Van Gogh. Nothing he’d made before 1886 deserved to end up in a museum. He couldn’t find a single customer for his flat, amber landscapes and dimly-lit, mawkish still lives. But by stepping out, by daring to expose himself and ask to learn from other artists, he was transformed.

You may think you are not a Van Gogh. But have you gone to Paris? Have you taken advantage of the impact a creative community can make?

Speaking of creative communities, this piece was originally written for the Sketchbook Skool Zine.  Didn’t see it in your inbox this morning? Sign up now.

A Zillion Sketchbook Tours

I just uploaded a zillion sketchbook tours from various random points in my library. They’re all on my YouTube channel now and now magically embedded here too.

It’s to celebrate the launch of our new kourse, A Zillion Ways To Fill Your Sketchbook. This kourse is pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.  It’s basically an encyclopedic review of what is so freaking amazing about sketchbook art. Trust me, my feeble tours are a mere blip in the firmament of this vast masterwork.  Hope you’ll join us.

Meanwhile, here’re the trailer and a dozen tours.

You’re welcome!

Sketchbook Club: Self-published

Today I shared a bunch of my favorite self published books. I hope they inspire you to make something awesome!  Here are the book I discussed and how to get ’em, for your own library.

And here’s some more info on Illustration Nation, our brand new kourse:

I wanna give you something free.

I love art but there are times I worry I’m doing it wrong. Like when I go to a Chelsea gallery and I am mystified by what’s hangin on the walls. Or when I go to the Met and am absolutely knackered after just half an hour of walking around. Or when I can’t remember whether it’s Manet or Monet. Or when I find myself getting super irritated by the way other people behave in the Whitney, snapping Instagrams and saying inane things about the Biennial.

I never studied art or art history and, truth be told, there are times I feel like I have missed something significant. It’s like drinking fine wine or watching the NFL; I can’t tell what I actually like or have any idea how to discuss it.

It all just seems sort of heavy — unnecessarily so.

That’s why I wanted to use my role at Sketchbook Skool as an excuse to learn more and fill this deficit in myself and my friends. When my pal Bridget wrote a book on the subject, a sort of primer on art appreciation without fear, loathing and manbuns, I thought it would be worth spending some time bringing it to life in an online kourse.

We spend months working on it, turning a book without illustrations into a dozen and a half visually dynamic videos, full of cool locations and special effects and animations to make the ideas come alive.

You’re probably saying, what are you on about? Stop whinging and go to the New Museum like a man.”

You’re probably saying, what are you on about? Of course, I like art, that’s why I even bother reading your stupid blog. Stop whinging and go to the New Museum like a man.”

But the fact is that we rarely talk about art the way we talk about movies or Netflix shows (or maybe I just have the wrong friends).We don’t have the guts or the vocabulary, we feel pretentious, we don’t know how or with who to talk about it. Yes, you too, with your yellowing Art History diploma, when was the last time you just sat around with some pals guffawing about Dan Flavin? Gimme a break.

Any way, let me stop insulting you long enough to ask you to join me on Monday when our new kourse, How Art Can Make You Happy debuts at Sketchbook Skool. It’s less than a latte and a ticket to MOMA and it’ll just take you a jolly afternoon to absorb it.

I really want to hear what you have to say and this will be a safe and fun place to do it.  I hope to see you in klass. Or I’ll snub you at the Gug.

P.S. And, because I love you and really think this will be worth your while, I’ve convinced the brass at Sketchbook Skool to give you a sample lesson, absolutely free. You’ll have to pay for the rest when you sign up for the kourse here.

Our newest kourse

I’m super excited about the brand new kourse we just put together at Sketchbook Skool. It features five amazing creative people and I do hope you’ll join me in Imagining! We start on September 18 so sign up now at

Here’s a Facebook Live video I made to introduce why I think it’s worth your time: