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?

Continue reading “How to get great.”

How to become a professional.

When I was a sophomore at Princeton, I had to pick a major. It seemed like the one crucial decision that would determine my life’s path. I sweated over it for months.

There were certain disciplines it was easy to eliminate, the ones that had always seemed like Greek to me. Math. Physics. Chemistry. Greek. History was sorta interesting but I couldn’t stand memorizing dates. Economics? Of course not, I wasn’t going to become a businessman. Art? Give me a break. Who majors in art at Princeton?

English? Well, I loved and devoured books but I wasn’t sure what an English degree would give me. I didn’t want to be an English teacher. Or an academic writing books about other people’s books.

But I’d always loved to write. Stories. Essays. Articles for the school paper. If I could write for a living, I knew I surely would be happy.

Continue reading “How to become a professional.”

How to make anything.

I spent a lot of time in school learning to conjugate latin verbs.  I ground my way through trigonometry. The dates of medieval wars. I memorized the key exports of African countries, the table of elements, and the names of all the US vice presidents.

But I never, ever studied the very thing I’ve made a living from my entire adult life. 

Continue reading “How to make anything.”

Podcast 09: Let’s Get Rid of Art Education – a modest proposal

I wrote this essay two years ago and lots of people hated it, so like a mangy dog licking a suppurating wound, I have returned to gnaw on it further in this week’s podcast.

Please listen and let me know what you think. And please subscribe on your favorite podcast app so I may gall you further in the weeks ahead.

Episode transcript: Continue reading “Podcast 09: Let’s Get Rid of Art Education – a modest proposal”


When I was about six, I started making books. There were so many aspects of bookmaking that intrigued me and I wanted to make them mine.

My first books were stories, with a drawing filling the left page, words filling the right. I made them with crayons and pencils, writing as neatly as I could.

At ten, I wrote a book on dogs, with drawings listing the different breeds. I had sections on dog care, and took photos of my long-suffering dog Pogo to demonstrate how to clean her ears with cotton balls and how her teeth were laid out in her long snout. When they came back from the photo lab, I pasted the pictures into my binder and wrote captions in italics beneath each one. Fig.I. Fig IIa, etc.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I wrote diaries, plays, short stories, novellas, and was fetishistic about the manuscripts, making carbon-paper copies, putting each one into a file folder or a plastic sleeve , then archiving them in cardboard boxes or ring binders.

I had my own library, with a card catalog I carefully typed onto index cards, scotch-taped Dewey decimal labels on each spine, and checkout cards in little sleeves on the final endpapers to record who had borrowed each one. I re-arranged my books by height, by color, by author, subject, date of publication, publisher.

He taught me the correct place for an author sign a book, not on the end paper but on the half-title or title page.

My mother sort of understood it. None of my friends did. But for me, there was something very comforting in making books, even if they were lopsided, incomplete, lumpy with glue and typos.

My uncle was very authorial — he had a beard, a Selectric, smoked a pipe, played Schubert lieder.  A shelf in his library held his six books in a row, his name on each spine, his author photo on each flyleaf. He taught me the correct place for an author sign a book, not on the end paper but on the half-title or title page.

In high school, I worked on the newspaper and saw my name and words in print for the first time. I have vivid recall of what each article looked like — the number of columns, the placement of the illustration, the size of my byline. I took home stacks of each issue and added them to my archive.

My undergraduate thesis was the first properly bound book I produced, three hundred or so pages on the power of group psychology of student radicals in the 1960s. It was a manuscript bound in plain white cardboard with a black taped spine and a typed label on the cover but, to me, it was a real book and I have it still.

In my mid-twenties, desktop publishing became commonplace and I delighted in setting pages of type, making faux-newspaper layouts, printing out little booklets all written, designed, and printed by me. It was a thrill to see anything I wanted set in type in columns and pages.Then I got access to a scanner and I could make images and wrap text around them. I loved the ker-chunk and thwack of pages extruding from a laser printer, crisp and sharp. I printed out booklets and faux newspaper articles for my family, then my girlfriend, then my wife.

Twenty years ago, I took some courses in bookbinding. There was something so magical about making a case-bound book. Sure, I’d made pamphlets, center stapling the pages together, and filled ring binders with loose-leaf paper, but they weren’t real books. A real book had a spine and pages that were sewn in. But on my own, I could never figure out how to make one, how it all stayed together in a neat box with a rigid spine. Soon the secrets were revealed and I cranked out perfect-bound sketchbooks. Perfect-bound, yes, but not perfectly bound. My bindings were, like everything I make, wonky, ink-stained, lumpy with adhesive, far from perfect, mine.

A couple of years later, my first book was published and soon, I too had a shelf with a row of spines with my name upon them. I would spot them in bookstores and libraries or being read by strangers on a train.  In time, as my publisher sent paperback editions and stacks of foreign editions, my books became more commonplace but they are never ho-hum. They are my books.

This last week, I finally wandered into the one uncharted territory left in my book-making realm: the actual printing of words. My sister is a commercial printer and I’d been on press before when I worked in advertising, watching ads and brochures roll of big industrial presses, but I’d never been involved in the actual setup, especially not in a pre-digital way, so this was very exciting — and scary.

It was another area half-filled with shadow. I had a vague sense of many parts of the process: that type was set, that it was put on a press, that ink came off rollers, that blank sheets slipped in one end and pages came out the other, but I knew I didn’t know the half of it. Actually the quarter of it. Maybe even a smaller fraction.

I took my week-long workshop at the Center for Book Arts in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, the same place I studied bookbinding back in the 20th century. The CBA has about ten old presses, six Vandercooks and a few other platen presses that look like Ben Franklin bought them second-hand. They also have dozens of cabinets filled with typefaces, each heavy drawer full of lead containing one face in one point size.

So that’s the first lesson: unlike with a computer, real type only comes in a limited number of sizes and many of the faces may only exist in one size. You can’t just scroll through a bunch of fonts until you see something you like. You have to pick one face from a big ring binder of samples (and the samples don’t contain every letter, just the name of the face set in itself). Then you have to find the drawer with your typeface and that could be anywhere in the stacks of cabinets, each with a tiny label, arranged in no coherent order. Then you slide half open the drawer below the one you want to support your drawer (each drawer weights a helluva lot — it’s full of steel and lead after all), and pear uncomprehendingly at the little compartments containing each letter. Uncomprehendingly, because they are not laid out alphabetically or even according to QWERTY. You have to get a map to the drawer and these maps aren’t universal, so you have to pull out each letter one at a time, a letters that’s backwards and sometimes minuscule, then arrange it right to left on a stick.

This sort of nightmare is even more likely if you’re the sort of butterfingered, ten-thumber who has spend his whole life making wonky, ink-spattered things.

Next you have to decide how big the space should be between each word and locate the appropriate spacer. Then you put down some leading to separate the first line from the next, leading being a strip of lead which comes in different lengths and thickness. You determine the length by setting your longest line of copy and, if that line is in the middle of the page, you’ll need to measure it, then dismantle it so you can begin again with the first line of copy. You determine the thickness by deciding how much space you want between lines and how many lines you want on the page over all.

Now, the ‘stick’ that you are arranging the letters on is just a little metal bracket with no adhesive or magnetic qualities. If you don’t hold it at the correct angle, the letters will topple over and may even slide off and end up in a jumble on the floor. This sort of nightmare is even more likely if you’re the sort of butterfingered, ten-thumber who has spend his whole life making wonky, ink-spattered things. Not naming names, just saying.

And that nightmare is compounded by the constant sense that the tools you are working with are not available on Amazon but are all artifacts from long-defunct manufacturers and if you screw anything up, you’ll be trashing part of our cultural history. No pressure, numbnuts.

There are also drawers full of even more magical objects: wooden type, some of it letters the size of my hand. They all bear a luminous patina from decades of ingrained ink, a rich sheen of mysterious layered color. These faces are often incomplete, missing letters, punctuations, that you need to compensate for with creative improvisation.

Once you have your type picked and assembled, you lay it on the bed of the press, then surround it with strips and blocks of metal and wood called ‘furniture.’ These all need to be measured and arranged like Tetris till they fill in each direction of pressure. Finally, you slip in a quoin which is a sort of expanding strip with a hole in it which you tighten with a key.

[Printing is the source of so many common phrases. For example, “to quoin a phrase” comes from locking some words into a form. “Mind your ps and qs” refers to a common mistake in setting type where you mix up backwards letters in the form. “Wrong end of the stick” comes from arranging the letters the wrong way. “Upper-case” and “lower-case” describe where in the drawer of type (or case) each letter  can be found. “Get the lead out” means get a move on and set the next line. There are scores of others.]

With furniture in place, you next have to make the final adjustments to the type lockdown. That requires tweezering increasingly thinner sheets of copper and brass between the letters so they won’t wobble or slide. Next you pick your inks. There are dozens of vibrant colors available, each in a can with a tight lid which you have to screwdriver open and then pray it isn’t dried up or contaminated. Then you scoop out a tablespoon or so onto a sheet of Plexiglass, stir it about with a putty knife and either apply it to the roller of the press or brayer it onto the type by hand.

You pray again (no wonder printing used to be done exclusively by monks) and examine your print.

Next you do some tests on newsprint which reveal all the adjustments you have yet to make. You discover letters that are backwards or upside down or the wrong face. You discover that one of your Gs is actually a C. You adjust kerning with more little strips. You realize the whole damned thing looks like hell and is the wrong typesize and have to wipe it all down and reset it. In between skirmishes, you have to wash your hands repeatedly with orange-scented pumice soap.

Finally, you are ready to print — oh, wait, not yet. First, you have to go to the store and buy paper (250+ gram weight)  which comes in big sheets, usually 22″ x 30″. Then you have to determined the direction of the grain and how best to cut up the sheet to get the least waste. Then you go to the giant papercutter, a black steel guillotine with a foot pedal, and when you swing it up, try not to slice open the back of your head or sever many fingers.

Okay, now you’re ready. You start up the press, which activates the rollers. Then you make sure the press is in ‘trip mode’ and you ink the rollers (unless you brayered them by hand — don’t do both). Then you line up your paper, make sure it’s gripped by at least three points of contact, then hold the paper down on the platen while you turn the crank and walk down the length of press then catch the print as it comes up from the depths, pull it out with one hand, while rolling the mechanism back to the starting point. You pray again (no wonder printing used to be done exclusively by monks) and examine your print. If all went well, you put it on the drying rack and print again.

So far, so good. Now the trickiest part which is registering the second color. You have to clean and take apart all the type you have on the press and slip in whatever you wanted printed in the second color. You also need to do this if you combined wood and metal type because they are slightly different heights on off the bed). If you were organized and took your time, you kept all the furniture in the same order as you rebuilt the form, so the registration should work fairly well. Or, if you’re me, you’ll have to do a dozen alterations and adjustments and waste most of your test prints in the process.

Then you have an edition of prints and have to figure out what you will do with them. Mine will probably end up in a drawer but the lessons they revealed will stick with me.

First, after five decades of making things, from books to model planes to shirts to Ikea furniture, I remain a super-consistently hasty slob. Clearly, I can’t change.

Two: I like making stuff with my hands, even if it’s slower and shittier than doing it on a computer. I like the physicality, even the back-breaking parts, and all the many serendipities that happen with analog production, the mistakes that occur and the ingenuity needed to correct or compensate for them. I like the beauty of the brass rollers, the copper slivers you slip between letters, the burnished old wood type, the lumpy mouths of the ink pots.

Three: I like the historical thread that weaves through the press. The awareness that each of these bits of type was handled by generations of people before me, that the processes I’m working on are fairly unchanged back to Guttenberg.

This year, I learned a teeny bit about hockey, botany, canine dentistry, constitutional law, shark migration, and a loads of other inessential but fascinating things.

Four: I like to appreciate how hard it can be to make something well, how that appreciation of craftsmanship is is lost when I can just open InDesign, click my mouse and and push ‘Print.’

Five: I liked the vacation from so much of my usual days, sitting at this desk in front of this computer, the world of digital creation with its endless options, easy undos, and immediate gratifications. I spent a lot of this summer on another project —learning how to go from drawing in ink on paper to making art on an iPad. An exploration in the opposite direction with its own frustrations and satisfactions.

Six: I had to break free of the aesthetics and conventions of digital design. Initially, I was struggling with the design and concept of my letterpress project and then I realized why. I (and frankly many of my classmates) were creating designs that frankly could have just as well been made (and better) with a computer. When I realized this, I decided to use the medium for what it is, to make something I couldn’t make with a computer or a pen, something that was quintessentially an analog print. I drew my inspiration from circus posters and wild postings, chunky, loud, oversized, with rich colors my Epson couldn’t dream of.

Seven: I like learning something new. So much of this week was mystifying, and much remains cloudy, but it was also filled with revelations. And even though I am not good at printing, I can see how, with time, I could be. I don’t know that I want or need to be good at this, but, from completely opacity, I have discovered a path and it is nice to know I could follow it if I chose rather than being afraid or overwhelmed by my ignorance. I’m not a native, but at least I know the basic language now and can find my way about with a map.

It’s important to me, as a creative person and as a human in this world,  to periodically shake up my assumptions and learn something, anything new. To understand a bit about things I like or things I am completely oblivious to. This year, I learned a teeny bit about hockey, botany, canine dentistry, constitutional law, shark migration, and a loads of other inessential but fascinating things.

After last week, I am a jack of yet one more trade.

Let’s get rid of Art Education in schools.

Art, they say, is great for kids. Art and music programs help keep them in school, make them more committed, enhance collaboration, strengthen ties to the community and to peers, improve motor and spatial and language skills. A study by the College Board showed that students who took four years of art scored 91 points better on the SAT exams. At-risk students who take art are significantly more likely to stay in school and ultimately to get college degrees.


Nonetheless, arts education has been gutted in American public schools. A decade ago, the No Child Left Behind and Common Core programs prioritized science and math over other subjects. In LA County alone, 1/3 of the arts teachers were let go between 2008 and 2012 and, for half of K-5 students, art was cut all together.

After the recession of 2008, 80% of schools had their budget cut further. Arts programs were the first victims. And, predictably, lower income and minority students were the most likely to lose their art programs. Only 26.2% of African-American students have access to art classes. As the economy has improved, there is some discussion about reversing some of these cuts. But it is not enough.

IMG_2467 They don’t need to be taught to be creative!

I’m no expert on education but I have spent a lot of time in school art programs over the past year.

In the lower grades, kids just have fun drawing and painting. They don’t really need much encouragement or instruction. In middle school, the majority start to lose their passion for making stuff and instead learn the price of making mistakes. Art class is all too often a gut, an opportunity for adolescents to screw around. By high school, they have been divided into a handful who are ‘artsy’ and may go onto art school and a vast majority who have no interest in art at all.

In short, every child starts out with a natural interest in art which is slowly drained — until all that’s left is a handful of teens in eyeliner and black clothing whose parents worry they’ll never move out of the basement.

Here’s a modest proposal: Let’s take the “art” out of “art education.”

“Art” is not respected in this country. It’s seen as frivolity, an indulgence, a way to keep kids busy with scissors and paste. “Art” is an elitist luxury that hard-nosed bureaucrats know they can cut with impunity. And so they do, making math and science the priority to fill the  ranks of future bean-counters and pencil pushers.

So I propose we get rid of art education and replace it with something that is crucial to the future of our world: creativity.

We need to all be creative in ways that we never could be before. We have so many wonderful tools that put the power of creation in our hands and we use them every day. Solving problems, using tools, collaborating, expressing our ideas clearly, being entrepreneurial and resourceful, these are the skills that will mattering the 21-century, post-corporate, labor market. Instead of being defensive about art, instead of talking about culture and self-expression, we have to focus on the power of creativity and the skills required to develop it. A great artist is also a problem solver, a presenter, an entrepreneur, a fabricator, and more.

Imagine if Creativity became a part of our core education…

High schoolers develop a creative solution together.

Instead of teaching kids to paint bowls of fruit with tempera, we’d show them how to communicate a concept through a sketch, how to explore the world in a sketchbook, how to generate ideas, how to solve real problems. Theatre would be all about collaboration, presentation and problem solving. Music classes would emphasize creative habit, teamwork, honing skills, composition, improvisation.

We’d teach creative process, how to come up with ideas, how to find inspiration, how to steal from the greats. We’d teach kids to work effectively with others to improve and test their ideas. We’d teach them how to realize their ideas, get them executed through a supply chain, how to present and market and share them.

Middle schoolers discussing a story through sketches.

We’d also emphasize digital creativity, focussing on cutting edge (and cheap) technology, removing the artificial divide between arts and science, showing how engineering and sculpture are related, how drawing and User Experience (UX) Design are facets of the same sort of skills, how music and math mirror each other. We’d teach kids how to use Photoshop to communicate concepts, to shoot and cut videos, to design presentations, to use social media intelligently, to write clearly because it is key to survival. We’d give kids destined for minimum wage jobs a chance to be entrepreneurial, to create true economic power for themselves, by developing their creativity and seeing opportunity in a  whole new way.

IMG_3485 Here’s what 100 8th graders collaborating looks like.

Yes, I know that there are high-school video classes and art computer labs, but they need to be turned into engines for creativity and usefulness, not abstract, high falutin’ artsiness based on some 1970s concepts of self-expression. Don’t make black and white films about leaves reflected in puddles, make a video to promote adoption at the local animal shelter. Don’t do laborious charcoal drawings of pop stars, generate ideas on paper. Fill 100 post-its with 100 doodles of ways to raise consciousness about the environment or income inequality or saving water. Stop making pinch pots and build a 3-D printer and turn out artificial hands for homeless amputees.

(And, by the way,  if we teach kids loads of math and science but don’t encourage their creativity, they aren’t going to grow up to be great engineers and scientists and inventors and discoverers — just drones and dorks.)

Creativity is not a ghetto, not a clique, not something to be exercised alone in a garret. It’s also not a freakshow of self-indulgent divas and losers.

Creativity is about helping to solve the world’s many problems. We need to make sure that the kids of today (who will need to be the creative problem solvers of tomorrow) realize their creative potential and have the tools to use them. That matters far more than football team and standardized test scores.

What do you think?

Related Post: How to make anything

Why men don’t take art classes.

For a while, I have been wondering why the art conferences at which I speak are filled with women. Why most of the commenters on this blog are women. Why Jack’s class at RISD is predominantly female. Why the students of Sketchbook Skool are about 85% women.

Where are the men?

Certainly men seem to like to make art as much as women do. Half of the SBS fakulty are male. The museums and galleries I visit are full of work by men. In fact, women have long complained that the art world seems biased against them.

So what is it about art education that seems more interesting to women than men?I searched the web for answers. There weren’t many categorical ones but here are some of the clues I picked up.

In 2007, the NY Times had an article about why adult classes of all sorts seem much more popular with women. Tennis classes. Writer’s classes. Triathlon classes. All were 65-95% women. Here’s what a man who teaches wine tasting said of his students: “It’s argued that women are better tasters of wine than men. A higher percentage of women have more taste-bud receptors.” So maybe they are getting more out of the class. But, echoing others who lead classes, he added: “It may also come down to the fact that men think they know more about wine anyway, so they don’t need to learn more about it.”

In other words, men know more. Or think they do. No need to take classes. Why admit you are ignorant?

Is it that simple? Men go to golf pros. They read business books. They take coding classes. Maybe art classes teach skills that don’t seem concrete or finite enough for men? Do men just need more goal- rather than process- oriented activities?

I have also been following a heated debate on Reddit (where all debates are heated) about why there are so many more successful male artists than females. Here’s are some highlights.

One theory is about marketing, that male artists are more into promoting themselves than women.

“In my experience the successful artists are the ones who concentrate their time about half on the art and half on the selling of the art. …That is selling paintings, building relationships with patrons of the arts, raising money for their dance/theater/etc. company, writing grant proposals to non-profits etc. 

“…perhaps men are more drawn to the concrete and the rational and less to the expressive and emotional. This keeps them away from art statistically but those who do get into art spend more of their time with the rational part of marketing art and less with the expressive side or art. This may actually be the more important part of becoming a successful artist.”

And self-promotion is not encouraged in women:

“When you look at hugely successful female artists they are generally the ones that market themselves well and are obsessive about selling their art. However, women who promote themselves and their work intensely are often seen as ruthless social climbers.”

Another argument: Art is less practical so women can afford to indulge in it more than men.

“At the university level, women are more free to pursue educational interests without as much criticism. When a guy takes an art class, he’s usually expected to come up with a practical application of it as a justification. Anytime a show wants to make a joke about a father worried about a grown son’s directionlessness, they’ll say the son is studying some art/humanities degree, like dance, or theater, or English.

(But as you can see in the chart above, there are loads of men in ‘impractical’ fields like philosophy and classics too).

“when a woman cooks, it is her duty. When a man cooks, he is an artist.”

Or is it just that women aren’t valued for what they do — and so neither is their art? In fact, as Richard Florida’s research on creative professionals has shown, women earn about 40% less than men do in creative class employment. I’m not sure if the situation is as imbalanced in all skill professions.

A poster on Reddit says: “Women’s work isn’t valued on a ‘profound’ level in the same way that men’s is. The perfect example is cooking. Cooking is seen as a woman’s task, but the vast majority of celebrity chefs are men. Of the female celebrity chefs, how many are really valued for their ‘greatness’ vs. how many are famous for showing you quick and convenient ways to cook at home? In other words, how often do we talk about women’s Michelin stars?”

“….I always think of the quote, “when a woman cooks, it is her duty. When a man cooks, he is an artist.”

Another says that women’s art tends to be ghettoized:

“I don’t know enough about the art or cooking world to judge whether it’s because the stuff that women are creating doesn’t push creative limits enough to warrant that kind of recognition. What I do know is that in the fiction and poetry industries, women are expected to write in certain niches. Maybe a small portion of their work will transcend those niches, but they are rarely able to make an entire career out of writing the same stuff men write about, even if the quality is comparable. ….”

What do you think is behind the disparity? Why don’t men take art classes? And why, despite all those workshops and classes and conferences, aren’t women equally represented in the contemporary art world?

Update:  it’s not just America. 

Corrupting the youth of Switzerland.

I’ve just completed the first leg of my European crusade: a week in Switzerland. Basel is a lovely medieval city along the Rhine right on the edge of Germany and France. It’s home to loads of banks and pharmaceutical corporations and two dozen museums — some with extremely contemporary contemporary art, one which is the size of a doorway.

I’ll tell you more about my visit to the city in another post. Today I’ll just try to summarize why I was there.

Important skills: focus and self-starting.

Last winter, I was invited to be an artist-in-residency at the International School of Basel this September. Perhaps you remember that a year ago, I was in residency at another ISB (the International School of Beijing) and had a lovely and illuminating time, so this invitation was very welcome. I was pumped to spend more time with kids, making art, and wallowing in their creative energy. Additional pluses: I’ve never been to Switzerland and, of course, Basel is a mecca for art.

My week began with a school assembly. Six hundred children under the age of 11 sat on the ground while I introduced myself and talked about all we would do in the week ahead.

The future.

Then each morning at 8:15,  I’d let a couple hundred kids and their teachers into my gigantic office/studio/lecture hall and showed them films and gave them creative assignments. We drew breakfast and lunch and shoes and upside-down bicycles and portraits and more. We made enormous murals that covered all the halls and stair wells. We ended the week with a sprawling field trip to the natural history museum to draw dinosaurs and endangered animals and then drew the cathedral and the twisting medieval streets.

It didn’t stop in my classroom. The kids went home at night mad for drawing. Each morning, moms and dads came into the school with stories of  kids transformed. They filled up sketchbooks at home, drew with their parents and teachers, insisted that nobody eat their dinners until they had been drawn.

Important skill: observation

After school on Tuesday, I met with all the teachers and showed them how art had opened my eyes. I told them that art is not just for art class — it’s for learning about the world and can be applied to any discipline, from literature to social studies to science to music to gym. I pulled out examples of my travel journals, of my investigations into homelessness, fishing in Manhattan, and dogs in coats. I showed them my maps and Koosje’s recipes and the SBS students’ instruction manuals.

Important skill: problem solving

The next day, an inspired math teacher asked her 4th graders to make drawings that explain the concept of ’rounding up’ numbers. She showed me dozens of stories and watercolors the kids made in response to her assignment. They were all different, all clear, all beautiful. She was able to see how well they understood the concept and they could use their pieces to teach the 3rd graders this concept.

On Thursday evening, I met with the parents and told them why I had come to Basel and why I thought it mattered that their kids had started keeping illustrated journals.

Important skills: collaboration and communication

It was to prepare them for the future — not a future as professional artists necessarily, but as successful people in an ever-changing world. The days of being able to assume that a well-educated person could finish school, get a corporate job, and rise up the ladder till retirement, are over. Instead, kids need to be prepared for the unforeseeable. Technology is upending every industry, traditional jobs are withering while new opportunities are springing up in surprising places. Change is the constant. Kids need to learn to swim in it.

Important skill: Innovation and problem solving

Parents can no longer assume that a traditional education in math, science, literature, language and history will be enough prepare a child for the future. A crucial new skill will be the ability to think creatively. That doesn’t mean dabbling in fingerpaints, but knowing how to spark innovations, to develop ideas, to present them clearly and persuasively, to find resources and collaborators to bring them to fruition, to build networks, to be entrepreneurial. I told them that’s why I supported my own son’s plan to go to art school, so he could learn skills I think will be essential to his future. If he had majored in English or pre-med, I wouldn’t have the same sense of confidence that I had given him the necessary tools.

I told them that they should look at art not just as a sign of being cultured, a middle-class luxury, but as a key component of their children’s total education. I suggested they insist the school’s administration support and look for ways to incorporate art and creativity into all aspects of the curriculum.

Important skill: optimism

If a student is encouraged to look everywhere for inspiration, to combine ideas into new ones, to replace competition with collaboration, to accept mistakes and ambiguity and learn from them, to have faith in the creative process, to know how to overcome its pitfalls, only then will he or she be prepared for a world full of self-driving cars, delivery drones, mobile apps, and Donald Trump.

Knowledge alone is no longer power — it’s something that pops up in your browser. Knowing how to use that knowledge to create new ideas and solve new problems, that will be the source of true power, a power that will serve all mankind.

Keeping the fun in fundamentals.

Teaching yourself to make art is a lifelong endeavor. Books and courses will help but it’s up to you to keep the work interesting and relevant.

Look for creative ways to keep practicing the basics, like contour drawing, proportions, foreshortening, tone, shading, volume, etc.

Don’t make drills dull. Find ways to mix things up. Draw things that mean something to you.

Instead of setting up artificial subjects like bowls of fruit or vases of flowers, draw the contents of your fridge. Draw the roses you got for your birthday and write about how you feel getting a year older. Instead of drawing naked strangers in a life drawing class, draw your naked spouse, your cat, your boss. Rather than doing “Drapery studies,” draw the shapes your feet make under the covers on a Sunday morning.

Be inventive. Be fresh. Be personal. It’s an adventure, not a chore.

The Stare Master.

What were the very first things you ever learned? Unless you are Mozart, they were probably things like walking, talking, using a spoon and a sippy cup. You learned these skills from someone who knew how to do them well, like your mum or your older brother. And you learned them by watching, watching intently. Check out how a baby or a toddler watches — it’s like a lion on the veld or my dachshunds as we unpack groceries. Unblinking, rigid with attention.

Oh, and speaking of Mozart, how do you think he became a prodigy at three? He watched his older sister take harpsichord lessons and he watched his father play the violin. It’s no coincidence that so many prodigies, from Michael Jackson to Wayne Gretzky, were the youngest kids in large families. Lots of people to stare at and learn from.

When you learn this way, you create a vision of yourself performing the skill, a mental video you play over and over. As the scene loops, it is burned into your brain, creating new neural pathways and locking in the nuances of the skill. You notice not only the steps the experts take but the intensity and rhythms with which they perform the action, the way that all the component parts of actions come together into one cohesive and coordinated whole. In time, these observations lead to fluid and confident motions.

Learning a physical skill is a very complex process, most of it nonverbal. You are programming your head and body to dance together in a thousand little ways. You must keep refining those dance steps, polishing them until there are no hitches or hesitations, until they run like greased, teflon-dipped clockwork. That’s how you learn to walk, to dribble a soccer ball, to drive a car, to play the guitar, and to draw. You program neurons.

If you want to improve your golf swing, watch Ben Hogan on YouTube. If you want to improve your jump shot, watch LeBron during this week’s NBA finals. If you want to improve your drawing, watch any of my Sketchbook Films or the demo videos on Sketchbook Skool. Watch them again and again. And don’t watch passively, like you were dozing off in front of a Seinfeld rerun. Sit forward, engage, focus, mimic, stare. Let your body respond as you watch. Feel your muscles tense, your fingers twitch. Throw yourself into it and absorb the rhythms, the linkages, the unspoken logic behind the scenes.

Your meat computer takes longer to train than silicon chips, but it lasts longer too. Once you have forged these connections, they will last a lifetime. Neglected, they may get rusty and overgrown, but, with a little practice, you can prune them and get them up and running again, like a long forgotten stretch of railroad track. You never fully forget how to ride a bike. And the same holds true for the network you’ve built between your brain, eyes, and hands so your pen will make lovely marks in your sketchbook.

Stare, engage, mimic. And repeat.