Reflection, Planning & Tiny Steps – a Podcast

DrawingYourLife_300-200x300In our 2nd (as yet unnamed) podcast, Fabian Kruse and I chat to our guest Michael Nobbs about his new book Drawing Your Life.

We take some time to reflect on how 2013 is shaping up for each of us so far, following what Michael suggested could be a Month of Reflection and Planning in January and a Month of Tiny Steps in February.

We also delve deeper into the process of choosing a small manageable activity that allows you to get at least 20 minutes of creative work done each day – which isn’t quite as simple as it sounds!

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“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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 :)