Mars Dorian profile pic

“Blow Your Comfort Zone to Smithereens” – An Interview with Mars Dorian, Marketing Artist

Standing out online is all about personality, passion and a powerful visual brand. Mars Dorian has all three (and then some).

Over the last couple of years Mars has produced an explosion of colourful cartoons and articles bursting with equally colourful language.  His posts are hilarious and highly motivational, with a ton of insight and advice about branding yourself online.

Now it’s time to find out how he will “light a fire under your ass”.

Andy Lobban - CMC

Andy Lobban, Designer and Music Promoter

You can always find the time and energy for something if you really love it.

Some creative people have one good idea and stick with it throughout their career – others, like my friend Andy, who is a designer and also runs a local mini-record label, seem to have too many ideas and projects to fit in to the average lifetime. As you can see from the questions below, Andy’s been a very busy boy.

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

I’m Andy Lobban. I’m a designer at Storm ID by day. In my spare time I do a few things. I co-run Gerry Loves Records, a tiny little vinyl and cassette record label concentrating mostly on local grass roots artists. I help organise Refresh Edinburgh which is a get together for internerds.

Up There Kirsty Strain

“Don’t Wait to Be Discovered”- Zam Salim, Director of ‘Up There’

“You realize at a certain point that what you’re doing is storytelling and everything- the writing, the directing, the editing- is just part of that fundamental skill.”

Zam Salim is a writer and filmmaker based in Scotland whose debut feature Up There recently won the Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema at Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The (sold-out) UK premiere of the film is tomorrow night at the Glasgow Film Festival.

With Up There Salim presents the initial stages of the afterlife as a mundane purgatory in which individuals are doomed to continue to walk the streets where they lived, but cannot be seen by anyone, including the loved ones they left behind, or even open doors or pick things up.


Alex Mathers from Red Lemon Club

I’ve been a fan of Alex Mathers and his Red Lemon Club blog for quite some time. The site provides really solid advice for freelance creatives of all kinds. Alex’s own speciality is illustration, a topic covered by his other site, Ape on the Moon – so he talks from experience – and of course this means all of his sites and products are extremely well designed.

Alex is releasing a new ebook today designed to demystify the latest social network from Google that hardly anyone seems to know how to use properly, Google+. The guide is designed specifically to help creative freelancers to attract new clients and simplify their online presence. As you can see from the below interview, he knows his stuff.

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

I’m a London, UK-based self-taught illustrator and writer working on various illustration projects, including something for Wired magazine right now. I run a website called Red Lemon Club that aims to help other freelancers, entrepreneurs and creatives with going it alone, finding clients, doing business, and so on.

I’m about to make a move to Tokyo to experience things from a different perspective and can’t wait!

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?

Practically everything that I’ve ever done up until this point has been a result of trial and error, and gradual change. I like to try out new things but also make a point of sticking with something once I’ve started it, and allowing it to evolve over time, fine-tuning as I go.

I’ve stayed focused on particular things, like my illustrations, by always having a vision in mind of where I would like things to go. The thing is, that vision always changes slightly (but not dramatically), and that’s how things progress. When I first started illustrating, things looked a lot different to how they do now.

Ali George

How to Write 12 Books in 12 Months – An Interview with Writer/Illustrator Ali George

Most writers are faced with a difficult decision as October draws to an end – whether to take part in NaNoWriMo (more details below). I’ve never managed it myself and having tried and failed to write a novel when I was younger the thought brings me out in a cold sweat.

So for the next in the Clear-Minded Creative Types series I looked to local writer Ali George for advice and more info on what drives her to work so hard.

As well as being a NaNo veteran, the level of output she maintains on her own blogs and in a variety of other outlets is hugely impressive, and oh yeah, there’s that small challenge she set herself for 2011 – writing a book every month. I hadn’t even realised that she is also an illustrator.

withered hand

“Travelling & Hollering”: An Interview with Musician & Artist Dan Willson aka Withered Hand

After a bit of a break, I’m delighted to crank the Clear-Minded Creative Types series of interviews back into action with one of my favourite songwriters, Dan Willson aka Withered Hand, who is also an artist and DIY gig promoter – not to mention husband and father.

He also happens to be an Edinburgh resident and I’ve seen him at various venues in town, from the small and dingy to the vast and expansive with his recent Queen’s Hall show. He even appeared my telly box in a recent BBC documentary about the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas (Dan became a trending topic on Twitter in the UK due to the US authorities initially refusing his visa).

Please can you tell us who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

My name is Dan Willson. I write songs and perform them under the moniker Withered Hand. I suppose I have been doing this on and off for about 5 years. Before that I used to play guitar in bands and draw a lot. I certainly never expected to be a songwriter, much less a singer, but I mostly like what I get to do right now.

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?

As a kid I wanted to be an artist. I guess my parents didn’t realise I needed dissuading. I have always had a clear short term idea of what I want to do creatively, but stagger along with no real plan and right now I’m getting it out there via songwriting and performing songs, I hope it carries on being something I do but maybe in a few years I’ll be doing something else which involves less travelling and hollering.

Extract from Dan’s comic strip ‘A Fake’s Progress’


Poet, Artist & Blogger Emily Dodd

One of the good things about starting this blog has been meeting new creative people and Emily Dodd is one of those lovely new people who I’ve come into contact since the blog started up.

I’ve been amazed at how positive, creative and productive she has been in the short while I’ve known her, so as with all of the Clear-Minded Creative Types so far, I wanted to find out what her secret was, and she hasn’t disappointed with her extremely honest and generous answers below, which I found very inspiring – hopefully you will too.


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 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


Fabian Kruse (The Friendly Anarchist)

I’m delighted to introduce you to Fabian Kruse aka The Friendly Anarchist. Despite never having met in person, I’ve been good friends with Fabian since we both took part in an online course run by Jonathan Mead called Paid to Exist, which gives an overview of how Jonathan was able to quit his job and run his own online business. A small group of us who were on the course have kept in touch through Skype, our blogs, social media and email, and it’s been fascinating to see how things have progressed for each of us since.

In December of last year Fabian and I supported each other in getting our key creative projects at the time off the ground (or should that be nagged each other?)– for me it was this blog, and for him it was his excellent new book Beyond Rules: A Dilettante’s Guide to Personal Sovereignty, Space Travel, and Lots of Ice Cream which he has generously made available for free download.

Fabian has a unique, thoughtful angle on life, inspired partly by his travels, and he’s a superb photographer. I particularly like his emphasis on tempo guisto, meaning to do things at a pace which suits your own inner tempo. Now if I’m honest with myself that’s pretty much how I naturally do things too, no matter how much I try and make myself stick to a strict schedule, so Fabian’s philosophy on life makes me feel a lot better about myself!

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

I am a writer, thinker, artist, activist and idler with a background in political science. I am also a slow-pace long-term traveller. Currently, I am living in Cologne, Germany, where I finished writing and editing my first book, Beyond Rules.

I like the sun, friendly people, good food, good rum, and am interested in the internet, micropreneurship, friendly anarchism, and lonely beaches.

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 describe myself as deliberately dilettantish, because I enjoy the trial and error process so much that I would not want to miss it.

This is noticeable, when it comes to means of creative expression and technique: I am currently mostly writing, but cannot let go of – both analogue and digital, serious and from-the-hip style – photography. I also enjoy painting and doodling, and am very interested in art in the public space. Then, there’s typography and print design, screen-printing, and graffiti that call my attention. I even once started making electronic music, but I admittedly suck at it.

Fabian’s photography site

Short answer to your question: I decided not to focus, even though I agree that it’s important to practice a lot if you want to become really good at something. Still, I believe there’s more than one thing we can do in life, and I prefer to become “pretty good” in many things, instead of being “stellar” in just a single one.

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

I decided against pursuing an office career and having lots of money.

This was quite a challenge, because I was raised in the old economy, focusing on stable jobs, secure retirement savings, et cetera.

Still, I never really bought into that approach, because I felt that life should be lived here and now, opposed to postponing it endlessly. Too many people die waiting for the future, or they become sick or simply old and tired, and won’t be able to move freely anymore and make their dreams come true once they have the money.

Changes became more concrete for me after I started traveling on my own, mostly in Latin America. Once you’re on the road and in a different culture, you see that other approaches to life can work, based more on solidarity and freedom than on competition and restraint.

I am dreaming of creating a very basic community fund with friends and acquaintances in order to free ourselves from the broken pension system and create working alternatives at a lower level. I understand that most people need some safety guarantees, but I suppose there are better ways to do it than what’s the standard today.

How do you define success?

I believe success is driving a Porsche and living in an apartment overseeing Central Park in NYC.

I also want a trophy wife that gets plastic surgery every couple of months.

And a learjet.

(Of course, I’m just kidding. My real take on success can be found in chapter 5 of Beyond Rules. I’m serious about the latter, though. I’d *love* to have a learjet. Have you seen that last James Bond movie where they fly from some old runway in Haiti directly to the opera in Bregenz, Austria? Amazing!)

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

The negatives: I get lost in it sometimes. Too much information and input isn’t always a good thing. So I think you have to identify that fine red line between inspiration and information overload.

The positives: Dictionaries, encyclopedias, how-tos and tutorials right at hand; the ability to get in touch with similar-minded people anywhere in the world; the end of the gatekeeper culture (even though there is a new one emerging, and we have to stop that!).

Plus, it’s helping me to earn a living without being in an office, and I definitely love that.

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

I am used to working last-minute, *and* I’m a recovering perfectionist, so these two factors don’t combine well with many people.

On the other hand, it can work pretty fine; it’s really a compatibility question, and one of creating clear milestones and deliverables for everybody involved.

It also depends a lot on the matter. Photography, for example, is something very different from writing: When I am shooting for my own pleasure, I’ll often bring people along (or just shoot during meet-ups and travels), and this will always influence the result. In portrait sessions, I’ll of course try to include ideas and wishes from the clients as well.

In painting, I am sometimes working together with my wife… so there’s always some give and take, and it leads to interesting results.

When it comes to text, though, I am often unwilling to collaborate, at least during the process of creation. I prefer to write alone, discussing content either before starting, or once an advanced editing stage is reached. If you compromise too much, you will water everything down to the point it gets boring and mediocre.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

It’s key. Peers are so important. They will critique me, they will motivate me, they will inspire me, they will kick my ass, they will laugh at me or with me. Key, key, key, key, key!

It’s something I miss during my travels at times, and it’s probably also a reason why I end up doing so many different things. For example, I met a bunch of genius screen-printers in San Salvador, so they taught me their technique, and we just met up several times to drink and print; a thing I wouldn’t have done on my own.

Or the whole extreme metal subculture – I met those guys in the Caribbean. Incredible, it’s like 35 degrees and the sun shines 365 days a year, and they dress in black leather and sing about the eternal winter. So I simply had to document them, and at the same time I could help them out with promotional photos.

Extreme Metal in the Carribbean by Fabian Kruse

Community also matters online, even though I am a bad forum user. I’ll sometimes be around for weeks at a daily basis, and then get lost for a couple of months because other things in life are happening. Old-school web user that I am, I still prefer staying in touch by email, although I enjoy Twitter quite a bit, too. Changeblogger (created by Raam Dev) is another new forum I’m interested in.

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?

The only solution seems to be doing something every single day, no matter what.

I either write a text, or take some photos, or do something else, and, surprisingly, it helps.

My main advice would be to lower the entry barriers: Just decide to work on your creative stuff for 10 minutes each day. Or to write one sentence. Often, once you’re at it, you will be able to do much more than that, and you will see the progress after a couple of weeks or months. I think it’s true that most people overestimate what they can achieve in a day, and underestimate what they can achieve in a year. But in order for the year to be successful, at least a small action is required every single day.

Apart from that, of course, I am not very consistent in what I do – and I don’t think this is necessary for every creative person, either. It even can become a limitation that’s merely imposed by economic considerations. While that is one possible way to pursue your art, it’s certainly not the only one, and there have been some very successful people (like Gerhard Richter) doing otherwise.

Cheers and thank you, Milo! :)

And the same to you Fabian!  If you enjoyed that and found Fabian’s outlook on life of interest, please say hello in the comments. Meanwhile don’t forget to have a read of his book.

Mule guitar

Journalist, Podcaster and “Philosopher” Steven Kearney

Ok, so to get back into the swing of things with the interviews, here’s one with Mr Steven Kearney, a writer for The Scotsman’s music website Radar, who I first met because we both did a radio show at Edinburgh’s student radio station Fresh Air.

Alas, Stevie has killed off the truly excellent ‘Dylan and the Mule’ podcasts which I shamefully only started listening to around the time he stopped doing them. And I miss them now. Sob.

I’m told though that he has plenty more web projects up his sleeve for the future. For the time being he’s busy enough with a certain charity challenge – read on for more info.

I wanted to interview Stevie in particular for his perspective as someone who has recently trained to be a journalist and who has intimate knowledge of the current (difficult) situation for that profession. He’s also kindly given me permission to make his dissertation Could the Professional Music Journalist Vanish available for free download – see the end of the post for more details.

Hi Stevie! Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

We all know the scene – you are sitting in a bar with friends and you are introduced to someone new. They ask “what do you do then?” I always struggle with this particular question. If I’m feeling playful, I tend to answer “philosopher”, although this is in no way the truth. It has led to some of my most wonderful lies though.

My university studies were in Corporate Communications and then Journalism, so I tend to be very communication centred. By day I run a wine and whisky shop, which I enjoy immensely. In terms of the creative side of things, I have been writing for the Scotsman’s Radar blog for around two years, I have been Fresh Air Radio’s Best Male Presenter on two occasions, I previously ran the Dylan and the Mule new music podcast and I’m currently in the planning stage of organising an all day charity music festival in Aberdeen during July (possibly entitled Aural Pleasure, if I can get away with it).

Podcast Powered By Podbean

I’m working with my friend Colin Austin to put on a series of acts in two venues, somewhere around Belmont Street to raise money for youth projects in the creative arts sector. There’s still a hell of a lot of work to be done to get things moving though! We also have plans afoot to start up a new Aberdeen-based new music website in the next few months, with regular reviews, interviews and podcasts featuring session tracks by local musicians.

I have previously tried my hand at music, but lack any modicum of talent. I have written a lot of short stories and am currently battling my way through writing my first novel – which is about an alcoholic television news journalist who commits a terrible act of violence late one night, then arrives at work the next morning to find out that he is covering the story. It is, I stress, not an autobiography!

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 still lack focus to be honest. This time last year I was moving to Manchester to be a kick-ass news journalist. That was what I’d studied for and that was what I was going to be. I did well at university and had no doubt I would be successful. Five months later I had quit, having absolutely hated my job. I had to source and write 25 articles a day and I couldn’t keep up. It was a sobering time. Two months after that I was moving back home to Aberdeen and working back in the wine trade. However, you can’t put a price on looking forward to going to work in the morning rather than dreading it. So yeah, plans change. Mine change regularly.

In terms of creativity, I am still unsure if I am a properly creative person myself – I see my role more as a facilitator for creativity in others. In terms of music writing, I am the guy who arranges the quotes in a certain order and adds a bit of background detail. The creative people are the ones making the wonderful music. With the festival we are planning for the summer, we are giving a platform to others.

I guess in many ways it has taken me a long time to find a role for myself within the music scene, which effectively makes me a frustrated musician doesn’t it? I still have to try very hard not to behave like a total gimp when I’m around people whose music I love. Every time I see Dan Willson from Withered Hand I manage to speak absolute shit to him because I think the guy is phenomenal. I reckon he thinks I’m a proper mental case, but he’s much too polite to say anything.

Looking forwards, I want to keep the music writing as a hobby as that allows me to pick and choose my projects more carefully. Journalism is not half the fun it is cracked up to be and you need to be really focused on one particular goal, otherwise you’ll end up doing what I did, which was sitting in a tower block in Manchester at 8am every morning writing about property investment in the Middle East. And that is a pile of shit.

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

I’ve not made huge sacrifices, because I am doing what I want to do. I work on projects which interest me and have a job I enjoy which is flexible enough to allow me to do other things outside of work time. I don’t make much money, but I am not in a place where that bothers me right now. It bothers my bank, but I’m fine with that. I’m waiting for my government bail out.

How do you define success?

Success for me has to be measured by a yardstick of my own making. If you look around at others too much you create two problems. Firstly, any success you identify will only be comparative success, compared to your peers, which is fairly hollow. Secondly, there will always be someone doing better than you, so you’ll never be satisfied. Success is getting up each day and looking forward to whatever shit might be thrown at you, safe in the knowledge that none of it really matters at all.

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Stevie interviews Comedian Marcus Brigstocke

The positive side for any writer is that the barriers to entry have been steamrollered by the internet – and the rise of blogging in particular. My university thesis was on this very subject – looking at how technology has changed the role of the music writer. The general outcome was that it is wonderful that anyone can now write a blog and have their work accessible to such a global audience, but it makes it much harder to make a living from music writing.

With my journalist’s hat on, the biggest problem is that so many journalism graduates are being pumped out each year into an industry in terminal decline as technology replaces people, perpetuated by a recession where advertising revenues are at an all time low. There are no paid positions to take up. Subsequently, talented young journalists are working for free, even for some of the big publications. In some cases recently, people are paying to do work placements.

Thus, the publications see no need to pay anyone, because there is a massive queue of people willing to work for nothing. It is a vicious cycle for music writers just now and it isn’t going to get any better. Incidentally, when I left my job as a news journalist, I was apparently replace by an endless stream of two-week unpaid work placement students, all giving up their time in the hope of landing a paid position which didn’t actually exist.

While we discuss the upside and downside of technology, it is useful to consider that blogging does present another problem. Too many people think their opinion matters when it comes to music. I am a music journalist because I research bands, I interview them and I report what I learn. I am trained to ask the right questions and get the required information to create an informative and entertaining article. I don’t judge music and I am certainly not a music critic.

My opinion on a band is no more valid than that of any other person at the gig I’m attending. I am careful to keep my opinion of the music out of what I do because, essentially, I have no basis on which to be a taste-maker. Blogging causes a din of unqualified opinion and I personally try to keep out of this. With my podcasts, it is a bit different, because it is obvious that I will play things I like because it is my podcast. When writing for a site like Radar though, it carries more weight, so I’ll stick to the facts. It would be nice to know that people realise that starting a blog doesn’t make you a music critic.

Stevie with Neil from the super awesome Edinburgh band Meursault

Working with others certainly leads to a much better creative process. With the music festival we are plotting, it only really came to life when I sat in the Brew Dog pub in Aberdeen with Colin one night and we threw ideas around for about 3 hours. John – who runs The Kiosque – joined us and helped take some of the rough edges off our more elaborate plans. We had two dreamers and one guy thinking practically. It was so much more productive than being sat at home, trying to figure it out on my own.

In contrast, my fiction writing is a resolutely solitary process, where I have to switch off the internet, block out the world and find a quiet room, where I will sit for at least 3 hours at a time without budging. Occasionally it gets to a stage where I am prepared to send it to a select few people who are my trusted proof-readers. Even then, I find it brutal having someone pore over your work looking for ways to improve it. It undoubtedly helps to have a good community of writers who can help each other out, but I still find it much too difficult to let go.

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?

When your creative outlets happen outside of your work hours, it is hard to be disciplined enough to achieve consistency. This is certainly something I struggle with. Also, I was afraid to say no to anything for a long time, because I hoped to make a career out of journalism. It is so incredibly tough to find a decent job that I felt compelled to agree to everything to keep my CV looking good, but in the end I spread myself too thin and did a half-arsed job on everything.

In terms of advice, I’d say pick one or two things and do them really well, rather than trying to do everything and thus doing it all badly. I have a much better balance now than this time last year, but I still take on far too much.

Incidentally, I have also decided to take on a bit of an insane challenge to raise money for a very worthwhile project in Tanzania, so when I’m not working or writing, I’m out on my bike or in the gym, preparing to cycle 270km over mountains, while stopping off to run up Ben Nevis and Ben Lomond along the way – all in just 4 days. I have actually lost the plot, so feel free to sponsor this madness at

Cheers Stevie! So do you agree or disagree with his outspoken opinions on blogging, or demand that Stevie start podcasting again right away? Let him know in the comments.

That free dissertation – the full details.

Given that Mr Kearney is also giving away his entire dissertation to readers of this blog, why not  say thanks by sponsoring the man and helping charity at the same time? I’m off to do it now.

The dissertation looks at how things like blogging have affected music journalism and  out of the people he interviewed there are quite a few different opinions on the topic.  I was delighted to be asked to contribute, along with the following Scottish music scene movers and shakers:

Vic Galloway, Jim Gellatly, Matthew Young, Jason Cranwell, Nick Mitchell, Billy Hamilton, Peter Kelly and Dan Willson.

Download Could the Professional Music Journalist Vanish by Steven A Kearney


Filmmaker & Photographer Mary Gordon

This week’s interview is with Mary Gordon, who I first found out about through her blog Creative Voyage. Mary runs courses in Edinburgh based on the hugely popular book The Artist’s Way
(which I will be talking about in more detail on this blog soon). However despite that fact we both live in the same city we have yet to meet in real life- something we must remedy soon!

I found Mary’s ideas and philosophy of life really interesting and hope you will too.  I was especially intrigued by how she has following her instinct on a number of key occasions has been a key part of her creative journey.

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

I’m a filmmaker/photographer who runs creative unblocking workshops in Glasgow & Edinburgh based on the techniques developed by Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way and my own 20 years of creating. I’m working on putting together a collaborative photography exhibition and developing a feature documentary.

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?

Well… I had various quite random wishes of things I wanted to be as a child, junk shop owner, writer and someone in ‘biznis’. However I had a very profound experience walking as a student through a wood in spring when the trees were in blossom by full moon and a most powerful and direct inner voice said to me that my job was to ‘tell stories’.

However in what form as been the basis of my exploration ever since. I started by making films and then I took up photography in a slightly random way about 12 years ago.

The Lomo LCA

I was staying with a friend in London and walked past an early Lomography shop. I had been reading about Lomography online and was compelled to go in. I ended up buying a Lomo LCA from this rather strange woman with a strong German accent who gave me a quick lesson on how to use the camera. And I was off on a whole different kind of creative adventure.

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

Yes but partly because there are certain things or ways of working which really don’t work for me (full time in an office 9-5). But there are other ways to look at it. What other people think of a sacrifice to me is a relief. Because what others think is necessary in their life is not to me.

But then they probably wouldn’t travel 500 miles to the best photo printer or spend their holidays in the Imperial War Museum Archive watching rare films by Ruby Grierson!


How do you define success?

Humm well I feel that if I’m creating regularly, in contact with a wide group of creative people, having fun, have something to look forward to and not starving – I’m doing brilliantly.

I’ve found that whenever someone is trying to shove their idea of ‘success’ at you it is because they have achieved their idea of ‘success’ and are as miserable as sin but won’t admit it so they are on a mad recruiting campaign because they cannot countenance the idea that they have swallowed something that does not work. Being happy is the best revenge.

On a side note re money – whenever I have had well paid work which I dislike I’ve always ended up worse off financially speaking due to the amount of cash spent on ‘treating’ myself to compensate on my time being tied up in something I dislike doing.

This is not to say that I’m against money. But I think it isn’t helpful to push the idea of making living from your creativity to legitimate being creative. I found Tom Hodgkinson’s book How To Be Free very helpful about clarifying my ideas around what makes a good life.


What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

As far as creating goes I’m old school (waggy finger) analogue. I only work with film. My last documentary was recorded on video but had a large tranche of footage which was originated on Super8 which I shot myself.

What I like about these formats is the amount of chance and accident which is involved and actual conditions. By that I mean the shot or footage is dependent on me being there at that particular moment when the light is like this. Its not faked up later. It’s a zen lesson on dealing with what is.

When it comes to promoting my work? Bring it on! Gosh I wish I’d had the internets when I made my first film. It was agony putting myself out and my film out into the world. I now would have such an easier job. The ability to make connections and be connected is infinitely expanded.

I am a total twitter convert – it was my friend Rhiannon Connelly @starrybluesky, a photographer working with polaroids who introduced me to it. As a result I now actually feel more connected to the place I live in and I’m making wonderful connections in a wider way.

I was on an old school email list to do with creativity about 10 years ago and the connections I made via that have meant that in the past 5 years I’ve been on quite extended trips to US and Australia where I actually met all the people I’d been emailing with all those years.

I occasionally have a freak out about the amount of time I spend online. But I am becoming less reactive more organised about it. But I had a lovely aha moment talking to a friend last week when she pointed out presocial media we weren’t all rushing about being wonderful in the now, connected, present people and she could remember spending much time lying on the sofa flicking her way through Heat.

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

My films are necessity collaborations or a bit like gathering an army together! I’ve been considering whether it would be possible to work more on film alone and I’ve been thinking about Margaret Tait as a role model here. I would never have made my first film Ethel Moorhead without my producer Steve Quinn who was a wonderful collaborator. We were both novices and learned together.

I think if you do collaborate you have to respect whoever you are working with. My current producer has a strong background in TV so when he talks to me about the way my story is or isn’t working in terms of storytelling in TV terms I have to take what he says on board. I think when collaboration works you can take turns in infusing the partnership with creativity.

On the other hand when you work alone as I do with my photography – I enjoy that very much as its something I can do whenever I want to, I don’t have to persuade or ask permission. However the downside is that I’ve probably not pushed myself as much as I could have. And this is something I have to do more of in my photographic practice.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

Oh yes I put a lot of time in my friendships, maintaining them – they are my ballast as a creative person. We need to be what Julia Cameron calls ‘believing mirrors’ to each other. We can see the talent and possibilities in each other usually easier than in ourselves, which is why it’s important to keep telling each other about our faith in each other.

I made a film about a wonderful woman called Mary Fraser Dott who was a chiropodist by day and SNP activist by night – she was a founding member of the SNP when it had about 30 members. She was my great aunt and she ran a literary salon from her flat in Millar Place with people like Hugh MacDairmid and Anne Redpath. I’m really hoping to start something similar as I’d like to do an in person network.

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?

Yes I am luckily quite a tenacious person by temperament so have put in many hours learning lo-fi photography methods by myself. I think what helps is making practicing your creativity a daily habit (or at least aim to make it so).

Doing something small but regularly is much more sustainable over a long period than waiting for a large swathe of time which then becomes very daunting because you have then justify putting aside the time. I find the Artist’s Way practice of morning pages (a free form form of writing in the morning which helps to clear the brain for the day ahead) gently reminds me every day of what I should be doing. But generally a working method which is just step by step in the direction you want to go in makes the most amazing progress over time.

Thanks Mary! If you enjoyed this post why not leave a comment or say hello to Mary directly, either on her blog or on Twitter where she’s @creativevoyage.

Note: this post contains affiliate links to Amazon. One day, someone will actually use them to buy a book and I will be rich wohahaha.


Artist, Blogger and Tea Drinker Michael Nobbs

I first became aware of Michael Nobbs through my friend Fabian (The Friendly Anarchist). As well as loving his artwork, I was impressed with the sense of calm, compassion and wisdom that he demonstrates when he writes about ‘sustainable creativity’ on his blog.

And of course it’s a topic very close in theme to ‘clear-minded creativity’ so I was delighted when he agreed to take part in this series.

I’m also seriously impressed at what he’s achieved despite being diagnosed with ME/CFS as he speaks about in more detail about below. I think the way he’s managed his illness is seriously helpful for anyone who struggles to find time to be creative, or indeed suffers from any kind of illness (or even psychological issues such as depression or low self-esteem which can also set people back from achieving what they want creatively).

So without further ado, let’s find out more:

Hi Michael! Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

My name is Michael Nobbs and I’m a full time artist, blogger and tea drinker (not necessarily in that order). Back at the end of the 1990s I was diagnosed with ME/CFS and over the last decade and a half I’ve learnt a lot about sustaining a creative career with limited energy.

I am author of the blog, Sustainably Creative. Between regular cups of tea I draw the everyday and ordinary things around me and post links to Twitter about drawing and trying to keep things simple. I recently released the first version of an ebook that I have been working on for a while, Sustainable Creativity*.

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?

My journey to where I am now creatively has been a bit of a winding one. When I was first diagnosed with ME/CFS I was working as a freelance writer and publisher.

My life had been getting smaller and smaller for a number of years as I’d struggled to keep working (and making money!) whilst I was very slowly (almost in perceptively) getting progressively iller. In the end I basically had a breakdown and started on a six month medical treadmill that finally ended up with a diagnosis for ME/CFS.

The relief of a diagnosis was huge. I was told to give up trying to work, and basically took to my bed and rested and slept and began the slow process of learning to look after myself and my energy levels.

During that period I picked up Julia Cameron’s wonderful The Artist’s Way*
and rekindled a wish to be a visual artist that had become lost somewhere in my early teens.

As energy allowed I began to take some art classes, drawing first and then painting. I loved painting, and for a while painted some very large landscapes, but the energy entailed in working in paint on the scale I wanted was really more than I could cope with. As hard as it was to accept, I finally came to the conclusion that I would have to find a “smaller” more energy-considerate way of working.

In 2004 I came across two artist’s blogs, one by Keri Smith and the second by Danny Gregory. They both draw a lot, and tended to draw the things around them. I was inspired both by their drawings and the fact that they blogged.

I began to make small drawings and posting them to a blog. I realised that the process of drawing and blogging was something I could generally sustain, and I loved the feeling of achievement I felt from finishing a little drawing and posting it online. I realised that feeling that I had accomplished something (and would be able to do so again) was a huge boost to how I saw myself; instead of often feeling defeated and exhausted by the things I tried to do I found I felt buoyed up by doing something sustainable.

Eventually I studied for an MA in fine art and now drawing and blogging are central to my creative life.

How do you define success?

For a very long time success meant getting through the day and remaining as positive as possible. Getting successfully through the day was measured by things like keeping myself fed and watered and my home reasonably together. If I could also make a small drawing and post it to my blog then that was often the icing on the cake.

Over time though, as my health has improved I have found myself wanting more. Studying for my MA (part-time over a couple of years) felt like a huge success to me, both creatively and in terms of learning to manage my energy levels.

Now a few years on from my MA I’m beginning to measure success in more financial terms. I spent a decade and a half on a very low income and over the last couple of years I’ve been working at increasing my income. I want to end 2011 earning at least £2000 a month (about US$3200) from my creative work, and I want to be earning it in a personally sustainable way. I went public with this aim a couple of weeks ago and have also launched a subscription based newsletter for anyone who would like to follow my progress (and maybe learn a little along the way too).

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Michael Nobbs – drawn iPad

I’m a technophile and happy to admit it. I think technology and the Internet offer huge opportunities to creative people who are willing to embrace them. Should we wish we can all be our own publishers, gallery owners and PR companies.

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

I prefer to work alone. This year I announced that I was no longer going to be directly exchanging my time for money. That means I’m no longer going to be working with or for people in the conventional way of being paid for providing a service or my time. Instead I’m going to concentrate on producing my own work, which I will either give away or sell via the web.

I’ve been moving in this direction for a while, reducing the amount of freelance work I undertake, and spending much more time working on my own projects and being in charge of deciding my own schedule.

I’ve learnt that this is by far the most sustainable way for me to work. Not having to deal with other people expectations (no matter how understanding they can be about my limits) is very liberating.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

Yes community is very important to me. I meet with a group of writers once a week and value their support and input hugely. I also have group of online creative friends who I keep in touch with via Twitter, Facebook and email.

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?

Focus and practice :) Easier said than done I know. I learnt a long time ago that having severe limits to my energy meant that I needed to be very selective about what I chose to use my energy for. It made far better sense to focus on one manageable creative practice than to spread myself thinly.

Moreover it was better to work on what was important to me regularly and in small pieces of time. Little and often really can build up a creative body of work. Even just twenty minutes a day can make a difference.

Thanks Michael, excellent advice indeed! Are you inspired by this interview and Michael’s gorgeous drawings? Why not say hello in the comments.

Enjoy this interview? You can be one of the first to read Michael’s new e-book Sustainable Creativity*, which includes inspiration and advice to help people with low energy or limited time (or both) maintain a creative life. It’s also beautifully illustrated by Michael himself (of course!) You can also download his free e-book Start to Draw Your Life.

*As you might have guessed these are affiliate links. Yes, I’ve liberally peppered this article with desperate attempts to make a pittance of small change because I’m determined to prove that I can earn some cash doing something I enjoy, in this case interviewing amazing people and letting you know about them :)