gone fishing

I’m very, very lucky to be flying off for a little European sun and adventure. I’ll be back in a couple weeks with new stories, ideas and inspiration.

À la prochaine fois

posted 25 May 11 in: inspiration. This post currently has no responses.

cinematic storytelling

photo courtesy Mission Workshop

My jaw hit the keyboard when I saw these stylish videos from Mission Workshop. Based in San Francisco (in The Mission district, naturally), this hip company creates gear and apparel for cycling, travel and urban designophiles. Their bags are sleek and can withstand the abuses of bad weather — or a little bad behaviour.

Check out this gem, shot on the streets of Paris, no less.

The objects, the music, the cast, the cinematography — they all communicate, wordlessly, the Mission culture and target customer. The video also presents a pretty appealing day-in-the-life. Oh, and it demonstrates how useful that messenger bag would be for spinning around town. This is a commercial, after all.

Strategic content shows the world what your work is all about. Pick a medium that intrigues you, whether it’s photography, video, blogging, social media, newsletters or some combination of several formats. Use it as a creative playground and tell your story, your way.

posted 10 May 11 in: art, business, design, fashion, inspiration, media, retail. This post currently has no responses.

back in bloom

Whew. I just wrapped several big, highly technical projects. It’s satisfying to emerge from a dark tunnel and I’m happy with the finished products, but I’m also feeling a little burnt out. Drained. Empty. In fact, my head is a test pattern.

So, I started thinking about what builds (and re-builds) creativity. In her classic book, The Artist’s Way (What? You haven’t read it?), Julia Cameron describes creativity as a deep well that needs constant filling. In order to enjoy that blaze of inspiration, you must actively seek new fuel for the fire.

Straightforward, right? But it’s not always easy to do. Our culture prizes action, results and measurable gains. We’re supposed to stay constantly in motion, striving earnestly toward a series of lofty goals. I love juicy projects and daunting to-do lists. I’m happy when I’m in hot pursuit of something big. But, I also know creativity requires regular pruning to stay healthy.

And here’s where I had a moment of (admittedly primitive) insight. It’s not wasteful or indulgent to spend time seeking inspiration. Getting immersed in music, magazines, books, galleries, dark bars, forest trails, complicated recipes and long conversations is, in fact, part of my job. It’s essential. Editors, clients and readers will be bored silly if I’m dried out. I owe it to myself and to others to keep that well filled.

I’d love to hear how you get and stay creatively engaged. Please spill your best secrets!

posted 18 Apr 11 in: art, books, business, inspiration, media, music. This post currently has one response.

escape to italy

photos by Lissa Cowan

It’s 3 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Heavy rain (or worse, snow) is flying sideways past the window, whipped into a frenzy by late-winter winds. Someone dented your bumper in the parking lot. A series of inhuman deadlines loom large. Lunch was tuna salad on pasty freezer bread, washed down with a mug of anemic coffee from the communal office pot.

Who wants to chuck it all and go to Tuscany?

Lissa Cowan, a writer, consultant and all-around literary talent, recently did just that. She and her partner, Sanjay, sold their Vancouver home and are traveling and working overseas for at least four months, and possibly more.

We’ve all seen a similar storyline unfold in movies like this and this and in this wildly popular book. But what strikes me about Lissa’s adventures is that she’s a full-fledged adult with a complicated life and real responsibilities. This isn’t a post-college backpacking trip. She’s not looking for love or trying to “find herself” in an olive grove. Instead, it took bravery and careful planning to (temporarily) leave everyday life in search of peace, creativity, mental space – and some very delicious food.

Today, Lissa’s sharing the details from her rented cottage in the Italian countryside. How did she make it happen? That’s what I wanted to know, and I’m sure you do, too.

1. Describe what you do for a living.

Professionally, I am a copywriter, editor, social media storyteller, communications strategist, translator and media relations specialist. My company is called Go Small or Go Home and our clients are mostly non-profits looking to make a positive social and/or environmental impact. The name for my business comes from my philosophy that working in small, unsuspecting ways with social media tools can be more cost-effective and have the greatest impact.

Creatively, I do all the above, and I’m also a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction. I have a literary agent in the UK and have been working with her on a novel project, which is finally nearing completion.

2. What are you most excited about right now, creatively speaking?

I’m excited that I’m on the last leg of this novel journey and that after this I’ll be able to follow up on other ideas I have for stories, other novels and a blog. Being able to see my work take shape in the way that I envisioned – after an incredible amount of hard work – is definitely a thrill.

3. How are you spending your days?

The trip to Tuscany, Italy just fell into place for me. I was planning to go to Bali and Vietnam, and then I was told it wasn’t the best season to be there. I started looking for somewhere to stay in Italy and found the perfect place right away. I’d been here six years ago and managed to write a non-fiction book proposal and see many places as well. I remember it being very peaceful, stunningly beautiful and easy for me to get into the ‘creative zone’ I needed to write.

Typically I wake up, do yoga, meditate, have breakfast and then start writing. I usually write for about five hours and then focus on client work in the late afternoon and evening. Though I also have about two or three days a week where I write all day, stopping partway through the day to go for a walk in the hills.

4. How were you able to leave “regular” life for so long?

It took a good three or four months to prepare to leave for four months, and a couple years before that to consider how it might be possible. My partner, who is also a writer, and I shared a home, had a cat, family responsibilities, a number of clients, and so on. Then there were lots of details to consider. For example, I needed a new, more lightweight computer with better capabilities. Because I work freelance and much of what I do is solitary, I figured that as long as I had an Internet connection, I could pretty much go anywhere. I have had some difficulties with Wi-Fi, though. For instance, last month I was on Santorini Island in Greece and had to leave a bit earlier than planned because the connection wasn’t good.

5. What were the most challenging pre-trip preparations?

I’d say the most difficult part was simply making the decision to leave. Once the decision was made, it was just a matter of making it happen. It’s not over the top to say that our lives have been turned upside-down. We were homeowners for seven years and it was hard to give that up. Yet we decided that living in a beautiful home in an expensive city was not as important to us as writing and following our dreams. The way I look at it, things come into our lives and they go out. When we have these things, we need to give thanks and accept the joy they bring to us, yet not have them rule our lives.

6. What has been most rewarding (so far) about your trip?

Definitely having the time to be more creative with my work and the time to write without worrying about all my deadlines. I still have deadlines and interruptions and I enjoy my professional work very much, but at least I’m in a place and a situation now where I can play more. To me, writing is all about having fun, exploring, and keeping that window of possibility open.

7. Any standout moments to date?

Arriving at this cottage in the Tuscan hills is definitely up there. It was pouring rain, the birds were singing. The house overlooks a valley of olive groves and dense forest. On the other side of the road, behind the cottage, I could see the medieval village on the hill. The whole setting was truly enchanting.

Generally speaking, buying local is a big thing for me. Almost everything I’m eating is produced here: the prosciutto, the cheese, honey, bread, wine, olive oil. It’s been a joy to talk to farmers at the Saturday market about their passion for what they do. And, of course a joy to eat!

I’ve also met some wonderful people since I’ve been here. In Florence I stayed in a 15th-century villa where the owner had weekly potluck dinners for her guests. I met a photographer, academics, an artist, writers… It was interesting to talk to them about how they managed to live creatively. A woman who was an art historian said to me, “Do whatever brings you joy.”

Thanks, Lissa!

posted 7 Mar 11 in: art, books, business, food, inspiration. This post currently has 10 responses.

in the grip

It’s almost March, but winter has its teeth sunk deep into the Pacific Northwest. True, we’re notoriously weak in the face of chilly weather, but this unseasonable arctic air is creating strange juxtapositions on the street.

Hope you’re having a warm, productive week.

posted 24 Feb 11 in: fashion, inspiration, retail. This post currently has no responses.

advice revisited – part 1

Mister (Billie Holiday's dog) / photo courtesy the Library of Congress

Does typical business wisdom apply to creatives? It’s a question I’ll be considering in the next several posts.

First up: “It’s a dogfight in the middle.”

This gem comes from my good friend Lisa. It’s not the most common phrase heard in classrooms and boardrooms, but it’s ripe for examination.

The point

Most people assume it’s impossible to reach the upper echelons of their industry. We believe a coveted invitation, contract, sale, or opportunity is like a golden envelope slid under the door; you either get it or you don’t. In fact, most people don’t even shoot for the top. They target what feels like an attainable goal and prepare to battle it out with everyone else working in the same space. Hence, the proverbial dogfight.

For example

Think about TV newscasters. The climb-the-ladder, pay-your-dues model means you start at a local cable station. You build your clips, work your way onto the news desk and then aim for an affiliate network. Every night you dream about being plucked from your home in Moose Jaw, Eugene or Sarasota to land in the national spotlight. You’re a small fish longing for bigger waters. If only the right people would recognize your potential…

The translation

Creatives are not newscasters. Most avoid fuchsia and hairspray, but that’s beside the point. Aiming high means taking a hard look at what’s happening in the rarefied space you crave. For example, what’s true about the artists exhibiting at your dream gallery? What’s true about the bands playing major festivals — or the designers showing on national runways? Forget about the local DIY market. What would you do and experience if you were working at the very top of your field? How can you set yourself apart from the pack? When you target the outer limits you actually begin to think differently. A technicolor vision takes you beyond the dogfight and unlocks a path that hasn’t been fully trampled.

The verdict

This (relatively uncommon) business wisdom applies beautifully to creatives. Get out of the middle and go where things are emerging — where there’s space to realize your dreams.

– be specialized and unique

– cross-pollinate and juxtapose your work in unusual ways

– look beyond the crowd and target the top

posted 16 Feb 11 in: art, business, inspiration, media. This post currently has no responses.


"Urban Light" by Chris Burden

Creativity often defies rational explanation. You can think about the work and break it down into pieces, but you can’t think your way around it. And the hallmark of originality is attention. It’s a rare creation today that will make us stop multitasking and focus completely on reading, listening or seeing.

In school, I consistently daydreamed my way through math class (and then wondered why I couldn’t do the homework… but that’s another story). My mind would travel so far from the classroom that I was practically orbiting the moon. Original creations make that kind of mental escape nearly impossible. They snap you back into the moment and command your attention. They shake you up and change your very thought patterns. The brain connects disparate emotions and ideas in one seamless thread — and whether or not those thoughts make conscious sense, you’re always, always engaged with the experience.

The American poet Audre Lorde said, “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” We’re all building on the words or brush strokes or visions of the brilliant minds that came before us. True originality lies in absorbing those influences, mixing them in with the mess of daily life, and then saying something completely, uttery true. That’s creativity in action.

Is this original work?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately — and it’s a bar I want to set high.

posted 28 Jan 11 in: art, inspiration. This post currently has no responses.

go for no

photo by Amir K.

Just like bungee jumping, skydiving and shopping for swimsuits, sometimes you’ve got to trick your brain into taking risks.

Here’s one technique that really works. Start by making a list of 30 people, gatekeepers, institutions or opportunities that represent a big stretch in your career. Think long shots and lofty goals. For example:

– request representation with a gallery you admire

– book a venue far bigger than where you currently perform

– pitch your designs to a prestigious retailer

You get the idea. Keep writing until you reach 30. Heck, make it 50. Force yourself to be really outlandish.

Now it’s time to take action. Start working through your list with the intention of getting 30 or 50 “nos.” Just make sure you’re backing up all those pitches and plans with the necessary legwork. Do your homework and give every item your best shot. As you’ve probably guessed, two important things will happen:

1. You’re going to hear the word “yes” a lot more often than you expected.

2. You’ll become more comfortable with rejection, which is essential for artists and creatives at every point in their careers. The dagger becomes a little dulled — and you start growing a tougher skin.

Give it a try and let me know what happens.

posted 24 Jan 11 in: business, inspiration. This post currently has no responses.

fashion illustrated

David Downton is one of those prolific artists whose work just seems to pop up everywhere. His illustrations have graced the pages of Vogue, The Financial Times, Harper’s Bazaar and V Magazine, and he draws for commercial clients including Chanel, Barney’s, L’Oreal, Dior, and Tiffany & Co.

Doesn’t his style look familiar? I didn’t know anything about the man behind the brush strokes, however, until I caught a recent profile on Fashion Television.

In 2007, Downton started an international fashion illustration journal called Pourquoi Pas? Printed on heavyweight paper in a limited edition of 1,500, the periodical is intended to “celebrate drawing in our digital, disposable, point and shoot world.” Pretty fantastic.

He also published a glossy coffee table book last year called Masters of Fashion Illustration, which celebrates some of the world’s most outlandish talents (himself included). Light on text but heavy on eye candy, it looks like a gorgeous source of inspiration — whether you work in a visual field or not.

posted 19 Jan 11 in: art, books, business, fashion, inspiration, media. This post currently has no responses.

christmas sounds

Rockstar Diaries is one of my daily blog reads. Writer / dancer / photographer / red lipstick afficionado Naomi Davis has such an unbridled zest for life that you always want to know what she’s thinking and what vintage frock she’s wearing.

Her site recently saved my carol-addled ears with a great online holiday album called, Hey, It’s Christmas.

And while we’re on the topic, what are your picks for best and worst Christmas songs? Here are mine:

Best: It’s a tie between Band Aid‘s Do They Know It’s Christmas**  (’80s nostalgia) and O Holy Night (beautiful).

Worst: Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney. Oh, Paul. My ears are bleeding tinsel.

Happy Holidays!

** p.s. Morrissey clearly doesn’t share my love for the 1984 charity single:

“I’m not afraid to say that I think Band Aid was diabolical. Or to say that I think Bob Geldof is a nauseating character. Many people find that very unsettling, but I’ll say it as loud as anyone wants me to. In the first instance the record itself was absolutely tuneless. One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it’s another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of Great Britain. It was an awful record considering the mass of talent involved. And it wasn’t done shyly it was the most self-righteous platform ever in the history of popular music.” [1]

posted 22 Dec 10 in: art, inspiration, music, performance. This post currently has no responses.

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