Mike Davenport of Stick Figure Simple

Here’s an interesting interview with an unusual creative type – Mike Davenport has been a teacher for over 30 years, and it doesn’t seem to have dampened his humour as you’ll see by his answers (hint: doughnuts feature heavily).

Mike’s one of those rare people who practice what they preach, as seen by his wise advice  on clarity over at stickfiguresimple.com and his ability to express complex ideas through his deceptively simple stick figure drawings. He’s also an active member of the Third Tribe marketing forum, run by Copyblogger Media.

Let’s hear what he’s got to say. I’ll give him a moment to prepare himself first.

Mike? Are you in the zone yet?

Okay, I’m ready. Bring on the toughest questions you got. Fire ‘em up.

If you insist!  Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

Starting easy on me, are ya? Okay.

I’m actually two people—not physically, but mentally. A part of me works with actual humans for my day job, coaching and teach. The other part dabbles here on the net—working with humans (at least I hope they are) virtually and digitally. I draw stick figure images and use simple drawings in an attempt to help readers find clarity and better engage their audience.

Exciting, eh?

Some days I remind myself of this fellow who’s eating a dozen doughnuts by himself. But he’s drinking water because he is conscious about his weight. Kinda schizo, a nice guy, but ya gotta wonder what he’s thinking.

About doughnuts, I guess? Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

I’ve always known that I wanted to teach—and I’ve been lucky enough to do that for over 30 years.

But the tricky part has been WHAT do I want to teach. And I’ve been all over the place on that. I’ve taught courses ranging from cross-country skiing to courses on failure and wisdom. Now I’m teaching on the web about clarity. Man, that’s a wide spectrum of stuff. Keeps me young and attentive . . . er . . . what were we talking about??

Clarity, I believe. Speaking of which, how do you define success?

Oh . . . questions getting tougher, I see. How about four versions then.

Short version: success = living

Long version: success = living a long, prosperous, engaging, and compassionate life.

Heavy version: success = the split-second before you die you do a quick review of your life and you realize that you made a difference.

Even heavier version: success = getting the last doughnut.

Ah, the doughnuts again, I notice a recurring theme!

In a possibly futile attempt to distract you from circular sugary foodstuffs, what in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Jeez, I should have studied harder. Okay . . . hm . .

There is this wicked cool part to technology and that is how fast new things can appear, almost out of nowhere. Like smart phones. Within the last two years the market has exploded with users and with the ability of the phone and access to services.

Yet there is a negative of side to technology—and it is often very significant. And that is how your work can now be seen by an enormous audience, and very quickly. (As I write this one of our political leaders has just resigned due to the fact he was sending explicit images of himself to women over his smart phone. I don’t think he realized that that material could (and was) easily shared with others.)

See, people struggle with the power of new technology sometimes, like this poor chap did.

So what? Well, I draw simple stick figure images. Those have been around for thousands of years. And back then a guy probably put the image up on the cave wall to impress a gal or his family. But technology, such as smart phones, now makes it so anyone in the world that has one can see my images in a second.

That can freak a guy out sometimes. Really.

Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?

I do both. I collaborate usually until I annoy the heck out of someone then I end up working alone. Hm . . that should be telling me something.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere! Seriously though, is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

Community is where it is happening—both real and web-real. To me, stories are critical to what I do and if I’m just telling stories to myself, well, that’s weird and kinda scary. I get stoked by an active and vibrant community. Bored by my lonesome.

Hm . . this is almost like a therapy session. Do I need to pay you an hourly rate?

No, but maybe therapy is the way forward for me. At least that’s what my wife tells me…

In fact here’s one of my recurring issues: I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly. Is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

Y’know, I’ve entered this mid-life point—fifties actually. And I can hang my hat (and I do wear hats) on two things that I have been trying to master.

Be authentic, and be honest.

Both have been hard for me to get a handle on, and I still struggle, but in terms of what I do and how I do it, those are the most critical parts.

Brilliant, thanks very much Mike, for taking my quite serious questions not at all seriously and thus reminding me to take myself less seriously too – a good lesson indeed. And of course for the illustrations which he drew especially for this interview. Don’t forget to check out his stuff over at stickfiguresimple.com.


Clear-Minded Classic #4: Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod

Ignore Everybody is a brilliantly inspiring little book by former copywriter turned artist (he’s most famous for his witty cartoons on the back of business cards),blogger (at gapingvoid.com) and internet marketer Hugh MacLeod.

How to be Creative

The book started out in life as the free manifesto “How to Be Creative”. This manifesto is still available for free, without the need to handover your email address, at the wonderful Change This website (which a few other superb manifestos for clear-minded creative types which I’ll be talking about here soon also).

According to MacLeod, it has now been downloaded a staggering 4.5m times. Wow! Clearly a lot of people out there have an interest in creativity.

Short but Sweet

Ignore Everybody is an expanded version of the free ebook. Do you need it if you’ve already read/downloaded the PDF? Well no, you don’t need it quite frankly, because you’ve got the bulk of it already, but it does have a fair bit of extra stuff that makes it worth getting if you found the ebook inspiring.There are 26 tips in the PDF, and 40 in the book, and the extra ones are equally worth reading.

Plus, who wants to sit at a computer screen reading a PDF when you could be reading it with your feet up on the chaise longue sipping an extravagant cocktail?

It won’t take you long to read the entire thing of course, but then again it’s the kind of book you can turn to again and again when you need some inspiration or a short sharp kick up the arse (creatively speaking).

Speaking of which, it would be perfect for the bathroom bookshelf, should you like to read on the toilet (not that you would publicly admit to such a thing, of course). And it would certainly make a great gift for someone else in your life who’s in need of creative inspiration.

Sex and Cash

The thing about MacLeod’s advice is, it’s hard-hitting, and no nonsense. All that copywriting experience hasn’t gone to waste – not a word is out of place or unnecessary, and he really hits the nail on the head with every sentence.

The original Change This manifesto

He tells us that we are all born creative, but that matters little unless we put the work in. He also suggests that having full ownership over your creativity is the most important thing you can do.

And for that reason, MacLeod actually advises you to keep your day job, so that you keep your passion about the creative work you really care about.

His ‘sex and cash’ theory describes the former as “the kind of work that pays the bills” whilst the latter is “the sexy, creative kind”. Now in his own case, this may have been good advice, considering he was a copywriter in a New York advertising agency – at least his day job involved a fair amount of creativity and was presumably very well paid.

Not all of us are so lucky – if you’re miserable in your day job, this particular piece of advice is perhaps up for debate.

I think if you’re creative, you should aim to find work which allows you to use that creativity as much as possible. You just might not get paid for doing your favourite form of creativity.  I know when I play my songs on the guitar that as much as I enjoy it, it will never be something I do for a living, because I have never invested the time to get really good at it.

So I get what he’s saying in that respect. Having said that, lots of people do manage to make their living as an artist, and enjoy it, so I think he’s perhaps a little bit wide of the mark on this occasion.

No bull

Apart from that small niggle, there is a lot of great advice. One of my favourite headings is “Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.” Brilliantly put.

But this is no softly softly, self-help feelgood love-in. Like MacLeod’s frequently foul-mouthed and often dark cartoons, this can be hard-hitting stuff. How about this quote from “Being Poor Sucks”:

To deny the importance of the material world around you (and its hard currencies) is to detach yourself from reality. And the world will punish you hard, eventually, for that.

Or this subheader to “Allow your work to age with you”:

You become older faster than you think. Be ready for when it happens.

And of course, this from “Nobody cares. Do it for yourself”:

Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, screenplay etc

Personally I find his no-bullshit style totally refreshing and invigorating. I prefer to hear the truth, because kidding yourself, or deluding yourself about reality means you will never improve it. And I think the honest advice in this book, which clearly comes from at times bitter experience, could really help you improve your reality if you are struggling to come to terms with how you can be both creative and happy in this complex world.

If you haven’t already, I recommend you download How to Be Creative for free from the Change This website – and then if you want more and you want it in ye olde style dead tree format you could always buy Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity  from Amazon.co.uk
or Amazon.com. It’s also available on the Kindle Store UK and Kindle Store US (all Amazon links are affiliate links).