Not too long ago, I gave a presentation to a group of students at UW-Milwaukee entitled “Mashup,” which was a compilation of things I had learned throughout the course of my 20 year creative career. I distilled my story down to the following chapters:
- REDEFINE CREATIVITY
- LEARNING IS EVERYWHERE
- SIDE PROJECTS
- GO AHEAD, STEAL
- GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE
- MAKE SOMETHING
Also not too long ago, I received an email from my friend Mike Rohde introducing Austin Kleon and his agent to Translator, noting “I think Translator’s space would be ideal for an event when Austin visits Milwaukee.” In Steal Like An Artist, Austin writes the book contains “things I’ve learned over almost a decade of trying to figure out how to make art.” The chapters are titled:
- STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST.
- DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE TO GET STARTED.
- WRITE THE BOOK YOU WANT TO READ.
- USE YOUR HANDS.
- SIDE PROJECTS AND HOBBIES ARE IMPORTANT.
- THE SECRET: DO GOOD WORK AND SHARE IT WITH PEOPLE.
- GEOGRAPHY IS NO LONGER OUR MASTER.
- BE NICE. (THE WORLD IS A SMALL TOWN.)
- BE BORING. (IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO GET WORK DONE.)
- CREATIVITY IS SUBTRACTION.
Huh. I’m pretty sure I like this guy.
Well, tomorrow is your chance to meet Austin Kleon as we discuss his wonderful book Steal Like An Artist at Translator from Noon ’til 2pm. Steal Like An Artist is an owner’s manual for anyone looking to inject creativity into their life and work, which—as Austin correctly points out—should be everyone. This is a book you’ll want to keep with you in your backpack at all times. It is a book that will perhaps look best having been rained on, having coffee (and wine) spilled on it, and festooned with post-it notes, doodles, and multiple underlined passages.
Here are but a few of my favorite excerpts:
There’s an economic theory out there that if you take the incomes of your five closest friends and average them, the resulting number will be pretty close to your own income. I think the same thing is true of our idea incomes. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.
How do I love that? Let me count the ways. At a previous place of employment, I was called a “job-hopper” by one of the owners after receiving an offer to join another firm as an equity partner. (I averaged about a 3 year stay per agency over the course of my advertising career, which I believe is fairly normal). I speculate that this comment was made to suggest I was always on the lookout for more income, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I transitioned from jobs when I felt there was no longer anything I could learn, which made some moves quite difficult because of the close friendships I had formed. But in order to continually grow, we must be pushed by the people who surround us, and that involves seeking out those that we can learn from. Just as a distance runner will get no better by continually winning races against less talented competitors, we excel when side by side with the best.
I have two desks in my office—one is “analog” and one is “digital.” The analog has nothing but markers, pens, pencils, paper, index cards, and newspaper. Nothing electronic is allowed on that desk.
I am carving out an area at Translator to do this. I may add LEGOs to my desk. I took a spring course this year at MIAD taught by Mitch Mortimer called “Dynamic Cartooning.” It reminded me how much I loved to draw. Not just thumbnail draw, which most of my work springs from, but actually study, sketch, erase, study, redraw, polish. Not working with your fingertips on a keypad, but feeling the freedom of your hand and arm as it captures motion and weight in a drawing. Making things with our hands is what we did as children, and it’s at the core of creative thinking. Get up from your laptop. Put away your smartphone. Grab a sketchbook. Cut some paper with a scissors. Glue something together. You’ll be amazed at how it makes you feel—and think.
The manifesto is this: Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done.
That’s good stuff. I can say without hesitation it’s what every one of us at Translator believes. Together we create the company we all want to work at. It may be unconventional and undefinable at times, but that’s okay. It allows us to have open lab hours, be inspired by what’s happening in our community, and launch XSMKE—which in turn allows us to welcome kindred spirits like Austin Kleon to talk about the magic of it all.
I hope you can come hang out with Austin tomorrow for a conversation I’m really looking forward to about Steal Like An Artist. You can still register here. If you can’t make it to Translator at noon, you can catch Austin at Spreenkler at 7:30am, and Boswell Books at 7pm.
XSMKE: Steal Like An Artist is made possible with the help of our sponsors 800ceoread, Milwaukee Brewing Company, and Mandel Group.
On a related note, I’ll be leading a conversation called Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable at the Web414 Meetup this Thursday 5/10, 7pm at Bucketworks. Details here.