Someone’s been monkeying with my sketchbooks.

Yesterday I had to pick out a few representative watercolors from my sketchbooks to share with a magazine editor who asked to include my work in an upcoming issue. I didn’t have a scan that was high enough resolution, so I decided to go through my sketchbook archive and shoot some new ones.

But something odd happened.

After going through the first few books, I started to wonder why they all looked so dull. The colors were washed out. I turned on more lights in my darkened living room but they still looked lifeless. But there was more to it than just the vibrancy.  The brush work seemed primitive and half-finished.  And the lines were dreadful and crude. Page after page, the drawings I knew so well looked just, well, bad.

How could I send any of these things to a magazine devoted to watercolor art? It was laughable. How had I ever had them published in books? How had I dared share them on the Internet? Had I ever done a single drawing that was any good at all?

I flipped through more books. Nope. They were all dreadful. Every last one.

Maybe they had faded over time? Nope. They were all stored, closed, in a light-proof cabinet, closed. Maybe the iPad was affecting my ability to look at analog colors? I looked through my Instagram page. Nope, they were all dreadful too. I clearly do not know how to draw and have been pulling off some massive con on the universe and myself. This magazine editor was clearly deluded in thinking she should include me in her publication and would soon lose her job.  Hmmm.

Today, Something has happened to them again.

I went back, looked through the images I’d picked, then flipped through a few of the books on the shelf, then looked at my Instagram. Not so bad. In fact, I liked quite a lot of them. Wonky, sure, but with style and a POV. I’m glad I made them. Whew.

A cautionary tale. Maybe it’s because it’s so stupidly cold. Or because I haven’t been sleeping terribly well. Or because, well, I’m me. But I can’t always rely on my judgement of the given moment. I need to trust myself, and others over the long run, and meanwhile just keep my head down and keep making stuff. It doesn’t matter if it sucks. Especially if I’m going to think it sucks so much I stop making anything altogether.

Does this ever happen to you?

New Podcast: Intoxicated

Ever since Baudelaire and his pals started wolfing down hashish, absinthe and laudanum, we’ve been stuck with this lie that creativity is best fueled by getting wasted.

Have you heard of the 27 Club? Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse … they are just a few members of this mythical group of creative people who died at 27, thanks to drugs, booze or suicide. Romantic, but stupid.

In fact this is just another monkey con to distract us from what we are supposed to be doing, creating intoxicating ideas, rather than firing up the bong or draining the keg.

The Monkey of the Week is the Enabler. It’s that voice that says: Have a drink, you deserve it. Get high, it’ll make you more creative. Act like a prima donna, you’re a star. I’ll give you some thoughts about why that’s uncool and how to cut it off pronto.

This week, I am joined by Victor Yocco, author and psychologist, who shares how he wasted a fair amount of his life by pounding drinks instead of the keyboard. When he finally sought help and turned his life around, Victor was able to write the book he and the monkey had been putting off for years.

Click here to find out more about Victor’s new book,  Design for the Mind – Seven Psychological Principles of Persuasive Design.  Use the discount code: yoccomupad to get 39% off the book if you order through the publisher.

Listen to the new episode here:

Or better yet, subscribe to the whole series on iTunes (and leave a nice review).

Or you can visit and listen to the episodes right in your browser.

What’s your experience with your monkey? How has it affected you, and how have you overcome it? Record your Monkey Tale at

New Podcast: Jennifer Louden

I felt a little shitty and inadequate last week for giving the podcast a bit of short shrift. So I decided to compensate for it this week.

First step: be a day late releasing the podcast and the newsletter. Check.

With that bit of self-flagellation out of the way, I do think this is a great episode. First there’s some very important stuff from the Book (note, capital B), all about how the monkey tries to nail labels on to us, categoricals that distort who we really are and limit our futures.

Then a profile of a vile and insidious monkey subspecies: the Utopian. You know that little crystal-ball-gazing bastard. It’s the one that says, “Your life could be so perfect, so much better than this if only you would listen to me. Instead, it sucks and so do you.” Don’t worry, I put that Monkey of the Week squarely in its place.

Next up, a Monkey Tale from Susanna. it’s a return visit for her— she was also my first guest, way back in Episode 2.

And finally, a longish a chat with a very special guest: Jennifer Louden. Jen is a personal growth pioneer who helped launch the self-care movement with her first book, The Woman’s Comfort Book. She has gone on to write 6 more books on wellbeing and whole living which have sold over million copies in 9 languages. She’s been invited to speak around the world, has been on hundreds of TV and radio shows, wrote a national magazine column for Martha Stewart, and has led retreats and workshops and online communities for the last 25 years.

Click to get yours — free!
Click to get yours — free!

Jen has just come out with an invaluable new book called How to Follow Through on Your Creative Desire.

This book is a serious first aid kit for your creativity. Full of salves to heal the inevitable setbacks of making stuff and different-shaped Band Aids for every type of wound. Every creative person should keep it handy and you can get your copy for free.
Just click here and it’s yours. FUH-ree.

Thanks again for tuning in. But please, give me some feedback, yo.

It makes a difference. F’r instance, I heard there were a few people grumbling that my first episodes were a little hard to hear and that may well have been the case, I don’t know, I don’t listen to podcasts myself.

I have given a severe talking to my audio engineering team here at Gregory® International, Inc. and even raised my voice a little to show how miffed I was and it would seem the problem has been helped, at least so my VP of Audio Tech claimed at our last offsite on the corporate yacht. Honestly, it seems that no matter how many PhDs and Grammies and nose rings people have, they still can’t be counted on to mix a decent sounding podcast. Sigh. You have no idea how hard it is being me.
So don’t just write to complain.

Anyway, I really must insist that you make this whole thing a 2-way road. I give you blood and sweat and, in return, I just want you to buy hundreds of copies of my books, to book me to speak at your local prison, to send me home-baked lo-carb desserts, to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and leave glowing 6-star reviews, to leave recordings of your monkey tales at and to, once and for all, shut your monkey! Do it!

Or better yet, subscribe to the whole series on iTunes (and leave a nice review).

Or you can visit and listen to the episodes right in your browser.

What’s your experience with your monkey? How has it affected you, and how have you overcome it? Record your Monkey Tale at

A summer whine.

As I start writing this, I already feel ridiculous. Hypocritical. Spineless. Overprivileged. Maybe if I just write whatever’s on my mind, I’ll get some clarity and balls. Let’s see.

This afternoon, Jack and I are going to pick up the keys to our brand-new studio. It’s a big, lovely empty space made for doing nothing in but making art without interruption.Jack can’t wait. The weeks since he moved out of his studio in Providence have been torturous as his mind brims with unpainted paintings. He’s itching to get to work and put them all on canvas.

Jack has a clear sense of himself as a painter. He’s not thinking about the whys of making art, not concerned with who will see the work and what they’ll do in response. He knows that he’s meant to make art and so he’s been like a clamped firehose, thrashing around the pavement, struggling for release.

I am stomped down, bottled up, and tightly capped. I haven’t made anything larger than a sketchbook page since we left Los Angeles, almost two years ago. Even that period in the garage was an anomaly. The idea of making art that could hang on the wall is still scary and ‘wasteful’. I have used our lack of wall space as an excuse for decades. I have long-claimed that art with a small ‘a’ means focussing only on the process and filled books to gather dust on shelves. I tell people not to think about what they will have made but only on what they are making now. When you are done, store it, frame it, burn it, I don’t care.

This is not just a black and white matter. On the one hand, I believe that when I take the pressure off myself to produce something finished and public, I am freer and more likely to take risks and make progress. So working in obscurity has helped me develop. And on the other, I don’t liven a hermitage. I do share images of my images in books and on-line. You’ve seen ’em. So have thousands of others.

But there are shortcomings to this approach. For one, I am always off-hand about the images I make. They are mere illustrations for my blog posts or book pages. It’s a way of avoiding real responsibility, this business of making pictures that are just marginalia, just a record of a nice breakfast, a quick sketch here or there.

I know this is gift-horse dentistry, a problem we’d all like to have.

I could say the same about my writing. Even when published in a book, my words still lack a certain seriousness, a full embrace of their role. It’s as if I only write captions, quips, epigraphs, body copy to be tossed out with tomorrow’s trash. A brief amusement in a social media post here, an email there.

Am I writing or drawing for the ages? Can I? Do I dare?

Maybe my years in advertising convinced me that what I make is always subservient to someone else’s agenda, another’s strategies and goals. And making advertising is inherently impermanent. A commercial last for thirty seconds, a print ad runs for a couple of months. It’s a diversion, never the main event. I know that some of my books have been in print for years, and that they have had more than a passing effect. Nonetheless this, sense of triviality is deep-dyed in me. I’d like to make something that matters. But trying to also scares the shit out of me.

Jack is a wonder to watch because he doesn’t feel a burden to achieve greatness each time he picks up a brush. He throws things around, then paints over them. He doesn’t stop to explain or justify. He just does. He’s the same kid who made elaborate Lego towers, then knocked them down to build something new.

Before Jack was born, my mother and my sister chipped in to rent a painting studio for me for a moth. I entered it with a sketchbook, a marker, and a lump on my throat. I hadn’t really drawn for ages and this room seemed designed to strip me of excuses. The first week there I wrote a long polemic about art and posted it on the wall. The next week, I made a few half-hearted collages. I spent the final two weeks trying to make a painting from an old photo of my grandfather. When the month was up, I left behind the handful of things I’d made and ran like hell.

I know it won’t be like that when we start this new adventure. First off, Jack won’t let me get away with it. But also, I have the feeling I can get there, that there might actually be stuff in me that is worth saying, worth saying large, and worth saying well. On that last point, I know that I need to work harder on what I make. Instead of dashing off a sketch or a watercolor, I want to push myself deeper into a painting, to explore, to respond, to refine. To evolve from playing the field to deepening my relationship with a work of art.

I know this is gift-horse dentistry, a problem we’d all like to have. And I am ashamed to start a summer in a painting studio with a whining screed about my inadequacies and fear. But I hope this self-assessment helps me to move past the anxiety of starting something new.

Thanks for holding my hand while I steel myself for the first leap.

New podcast: Ilise Benun

Here’s this week’s excuse. We’re in the middle of the biggest shoot we’ve done for Sketchbook Skool and I have been debating all week with the monkey on getting out this podcast.  We’ve been at it from the crack o’ dawn till well into the dinner hour every single day this week and the Fuggedabout-It monkey has been gleefully urging me to skip posting a new episode for the first time.

I almost gave in a few times until the Perfectionist monkey chimed in to say, “What!? I thought you said this was gonna be a weekly podcast. You can’t miss an episode, you lazy buttwipe.”

I would nod earnestly until another voice piped up to tell me no one listens to or cares about the podcast, another would say I never follow through with anything, another said I was being a slave driver and it was time for a cold beer, and on and on till the break a dawn.

Which bring me to the podcast itself which you are about to listen to (I hope). It’s about how the monkey moves the goal posts, giving any sort of contradictory advice it wants, anything that fits its agenda and derails mine.

I had a nice chat about this topic and many others Ilise Benun. She is the founder of where she dispenses sound, actionable advice for creative professionals. Ilise has been coaching freelancers and creative business owners for thirty years and has written more than a half dozen book essential books on how to build and manage your practice, connect with great clients, and be smarter and happier in what you do. She is intelligent and empathetic, and her counsel is practical and clear.

Here’s the episode:

Or better yet, subscribe to the whole series on iTunes (and leave a nice review).

Or you can visit and listen to the episodes right in your browser.

What’s your experience with your monkey? How has it affected you, and how have you overcome it? Record your Monkey Tale at

New podcast: Karen Salmansohn

Self-help needs help. It can be tedious. It can be preachy. It can be dull and holier than thou. It’s an embarrassing part of the book store to be caught in.
Unless you’re with Karen Salmansohn.

She is a former copywriter (in fact, she named the Burger King Croissanwich®) and she has great knack for reducing wisdom to pithy memorable phrases. Her Facebook page is full of things like “You are a fine piece of china. Don’t let anyone treat you like a paper plate,” “If 2 people love each other, nothing is impossible (Except deciding where to eat)” and “If you are in a relationship and all you do is cry, you need to stop and ask yourself, are you dating a human being or an onion?” Her preoccupations may seem to be love and food but there’s a lot more to her too.

Karen has sold over a million copies of her wonderful and hilarious self-help books, gorgeously illustrated books like How to Be Happy Dammit, The Prince Harming Syndrome, and The Bounce Back Book. She’s a contributor to Oprah, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, Lifetime TV, a relationship expert for, and a radio host on Sirius. I am lucky to call her my friend and to have her share her wisdom with us on this week’s podcast.

We talked about Aristotle, optimism, perfectionism, masochistic equilibrium, breaking bad habits, changing your neural pathways, and the bucket list from Hell. Oh, and she defines “flawesome.” It’s a funny and fascinating conversation.

Monkey of the Week: The Fuggedabout-it. It’s that voice that says: Tomorrow’s another day. So’s the day after next Thursday. That tells me to quit doing anything that seems to be making a positive difference in my life. It’s an exhausting and boring beast.

Here’s the episode:

Or better yet, subscribe to the whole series on iTunes (and leave a nice review).

Or you can visit and listen to the episodes right in your browser.

What’s your experience with your monkey? How has it affected you, and how have you overcome it? Record your Monkey Tale at

New podcast: Ghosts.

After months of preparation, I gave my first post-publication presentation about Shut Your Monkey: How to Control Your Inner Critic and Get More Done. I spoke to a packed hall in Atlanta, GA at the HOW Design Live conference.

I was joined on the podium by my old pal, the Monkey.

DOG-@-HOW-2016-3He told me that people were bored, that my fly was open, that they saw through my fake expert pose, that this was surely the end of the road for me. Despite all that, the talk went very well and afterwards, I received lots of positive response —of course, the monkey told me that the applause just came from toadies and second-raters with nothing better to do.


This week’s podcast is all about the tapes that play in our heads that were recorded in a by-gone era. 78s that became LPs that became cassettes, CDs, MP3s, and now stream live from Spotify, but always the same old song: “You suck, you are in danger, you better watch out lalala!”

Sometimes that song was recorded before we were born, the trauma that molded a great-grand parent or an even more distant ancestor. A war, an economic crisis, a death, can mold a world-view that gets passed on through a family. We end up hearing those distant echoes long past their sell-by date and are screwed up by their reverberations.

Joining me on this podcast is Patti Digh. She’s a wonderful and wise woman,  a best-selling author who has recently been studying post-traumatic stress. We talked all about our ghosts and how to exorcise them. It’s a really useful discussion.

Do you have a ghost story? Share it with me. I am collecting Monkey Tales, stories from all sorts of people about the challenges the monkey brought them and how they dealt with them. Real stories, real moving. If you have a monkey tale you’d like to share, just go here and click the red tab on the right to record it. That would be great.

All the episodes of the Shut Your Monkey Podcast are on iTunes and will soon be on all the other places you subscribe to podcasts (as I figure out what they all are).

To hear them, you can can either:

I hope you like this episode. I hope your monkey and his/her grandparents do not.

New podcast: why the monkey messes with creatives.

There’s a terrific new episode (#4) of the Shut Your Monkey podcast going up today and I hope you’ll give it a listen. First, I talk about creativity and how the monkey loves to hate it, meddling with your creative process and throwing up blocks. Then I am joined by this week’s guest, the rock-star of graphic design, Stefan Sagmeister.

I’ve known Stefan for about fifteen years and every time we chat, I come away excited, impressed, and inspired.  He first became famous for a poster for which he carved all the type into his chest with a razor blade. That shocking experiment was typical of an artist who breaks boundaries left and right. His work for clients like Levis, the Guggenheim, Red Bull, Jay Z, the Olympics, the Rolling Stones, have won every design award and  two Grammies. He has published several gorgeous and mind-bending books (and his sketchbooks are included in my book, An Illustrated Life), and he is a legend to designers everywhere.

Every seven years, Stefan closes his studio for a year to recharge his batteries. Most recently, he used his sabbatical to explore the science of happiness which led to the most visited design exhibit ever. He has also just finished directing his first motion picture, The Happy Film.

On the podcast, we talk about the process of making it, the obstacles inherent in trying something so brand new, the important of honesty and self-exploration in making good work, the power of communication to improve lives, and so many topics that matter to us both. The conversation was quite a long one but I have decided to share it all in one episode because I think Stefan is one of the most important creative minds of our time and every minute spent with him is never wasted.

You can listen to the whole episode right here.

Better yet, subscribe on iTunes so all the future monkey-shutting-goodness goes right to your device as soon as it’s outta the oven.

As always, I am interested to know what you think of the show. Please leave me a comment below if you are so inclined.