Fill Up Your Creative Batteries With Austin Kleon’s Priceless Advice
Austin Kleon is a writer who draws. If you are not familiar with Kleon’s work, he is an artist who gained a lot of attention a few years back with his Newspaper Blackout’s poems and hit home with ‘Steal Like An Artist‘, a manifesto he wrote to his younger self and “to anyone who’s trying to inject some creativity into their life and their work.”
That would be us.
I’ve been following Kleon for couple of years now, and he has done a lot of talks in high profile venues, TED, Pixar, Creative Mornings, you name it, he’s been there. But I particularly enjoyed his conversation with Chase Jarvis at Chase Jarvis Live that took place couple of days ago, and thought you might too!
One of the reason I particularly enjoy Kleon is that I relate to his lifestyle which is, as he says it himself, ‘very boring’. I wake up, I make coffee, I work. I go to yoga at some point during the day, I work some more and, at night, I read a book or watch a TV show or a movie, and I sleep. This is my routine every day when I’m not shooting. I love it, I can’t get enough of it, but it’s not glamorous.
It can be hard to explain to others what you do (or even that you are doing something), especially if your friends have regular jobs with a warm salary falling at the end of the month, and Saturdays and Sundays to get drunk and “entertain” themselves. We (freelance creatives/storytellers) need to work harder, for little to no-pay, not knowing when or if it will get us anywhere. So love and faith are a big part of the process. And its spine is made of work.
And sometimes, you need to hear someone else’s view point and fill-up your batteries. So, following my recent trend of highlighting key points in lectures, presentations, conferences and all that jazz, below is my very own ‘Kleon selection‘ that will, I hope, inspire you too:
#1 – Small Things Get Big Over Time.
It’s a simple concept that is hard to follow, but when you do, things radically change for you: take on a project that you can do once a day. May it be a side project or a main project. 365 are life-changers, so much so that even Mark Zuckerberg made it one of his habits. And as Kleon puts it: “If you do one thing every day, you will have a body of work by the end of the year.”
#2 – The Most Boring Your Life, The Better The Art.
What this really means is: Do. The. Work. Truth is, I don’t think Kleon sees his life as boring, and neither do I. I think he loves it. And if you love what you’re doing, you will love working. But you need to do the work. “Creativity takes a lot of work and energy. You sit down in the same place everyday and you do the work.” There is no other way to put it, which is why we end up saying it’s boring.
#3 – You Are Only Half Of the Equation.
For Kleon, creation is a two-way street and can’t be complete until it reaches someone else. “It’s an interaction between you and the person who is going to experience the work. And the person who is going to experience the work is bringing just as much to it and is just as important as you are.”
#4 – Share Your Process.
This is always a tricky advice because, depending on what you do, ‘sharing your process’ can be tough. It is up to you to be creative and find what you can share that will help others and help you grow; Kleon’s advice is “Share online something that is either interesting or helpful.” In other words, if you don’t have a work in process you can share, you can always share what helped you, or interests you, and will likely interest and help others. (This is exactly why I started this site.)
We all get inspired by other artists, and we all seek for information. Be generous and let the world know you are here and working. Something Kleon said I really like was that “We live in a world where you might not even like an artist, but there are a lot to learn from them.” And this says it all.
#5 – Scenius Is Everywhere
‘Scenius‘ is a concept defined by Brian Eno that stands against ‘Genius’. The Artists we love were not born-geniuses but are/were instead part of a ‘Scene’, interacting with other artists and, more importantly, inspiring and stimulating people. And their Art gained from that fertile background. What Kleon says is that today, with the Internet, you do not need to be nostalgic of Saint-Germain’s era, and wished you could have hanged out with Camus, Sartre, Picasso and de Beauvoir; you can be online and chose artists and inspiring talents from anywhere in the world. Good news y’all.
#6 – If One Person Bites, Other Persons Will Bite
Sometimes it feels like there are never enough audience, viewers, readers, or that they are not the persons we try to connect with (see video below). But we all know that it just takes one person for your work to go in directions you couldn’t have foreseen. Every time you put your work out there, you let go of the pebble and can only wonder what the ripple effects will be. And if one person is interested in what you do, others will.
#7 – Don’t Steal the Style, Steal The Thinking
There is a big difference between stealing ‘like an artist’ and just stealing. Kleon explains: “Don’t limit yourself to one artists. Study many and absorb their influences. You don’t want to steal your heroes you want to think like your heroes.” “By studying and stealing you are trying to see what these people didn’t do and you’re looking for the void to fill with your own work. ”
See the graph below from his second book for more on that:
#8 – Be As Generous As You Can and Selfish Enough To Get Your Work Done
This advice might be my favorite. You need to be selfish and know when to say ‘no’. You need to create time for yourself to work and make it happen, and since creativity doesn’t always come when summoned, extra time is always welcomed. But to compensate, when with others or helping peers, you need to be as present and generous as possible. This is work and life ethic right here and there.
#9 – Deadlines Are Important
“You have to put constraints on yourself otherwise it turns into lifelong projects.“ Your work is never done. There will always be something that could have been tweaked, fixed or changed. Give yourself a deadline, give yourself constraints, do what you can, learn from it and move to the next project with your freshly learned lessons.
#10 – Do the Work You Want to See Done
Remember screenwriter Brian Koppelman’s advice: “Don’t write about what you know, write about what excites you.” Whatever you do, if you are a storyteller, it applies.
You can also watch the full conversation below, there is much more than what I’ve post above, so if you like what you’ve read so far, don’t hesitate!