Doodle Cam – Mask

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How to work with a friend?

With only one more week to go on the campaign to fund ‘The Case Of The Thinking Man’s Trumpet’ I took some time with my good friend Paul to reflect on our journey together…

Phoebe:  What was it like working with a buddy on this project?
Paul:  Working on this project with a buddy was an absolute necessity. This project would not have happened without you, PMu. This story wasn’t waiting for an artist, it was waiting for someone who liked it and could hack spending time with the person who wrote it (and who was also an artist, obvs). Making things can have small and delicate beginnings, like nurturing a flame which can be snuffed out by some gust from the bigger world of strangers who just don’t get it. It’s no wonder that collaborations happen between friends, people who just start doing stuff because they enjoy being in each other’s company. In a way friendship is like a culture, a set of shared beliefs and practices. Culture produces artefacts, and this is one of ours.This project was like hanging out, having fun making and thinking and just being us. Who wouldn’t want that experience?
Paul:  What did you learn from this project about yourself and your practice?
Phoebe:  I learnt that it can be difficult opening up creatively with other people.  My drawing is pretty much just me doing my thing, and it was harder to collaborate than I thought it would be.  Ultimately this lead me to missing deadlines, especially when I found a particular drawing difficult.  Working with a friend I learned that the more openly I spoke about this the less likely it was to overwhelm me, even if sometimes that sharing was a little bit jumbled and half worked through.  It really helped.
Working with you in particular I learned that I am not a natural completer, and that I have a tendency to just dive into something head first, but once that initial energy is gone, it’s hard for me to drum up the energy to finish things off well.  I think that’s where we differ slightly, and compliment each other.  You are good at pacing yourself and nurturing something through to fruition, and I would like to learn that more.
Phoebe:  Okay onto the juicy things, what did you find challenging about this project and working with me?  What would you do differently in the next thing we work on?
Paul:  The long timescale of the project and the variety of stuff we needed to do. It helped to have a shared idea of what finished and good looked like and enough of a plan to know what the key steps were and what the next action was to get us there. I’m glad we did it in this way rather than get lost in loads of planning -it meant we quickly got on with doing stuff.
Gaining a confident understanding of self-publishing and crowdfunding, both of which were new to us. What helped was us both researching other people’s experiences and knowledge and sharing back.
Shared knowledge lead to shared decisions and shared risk and benefit!
As ever it is a challenge to me to find the best way of describing the work for the people we feel might be interested. What helped was getting other people’s perspectives on what we have. Even if it wasn’t a readymade answer it helped our own thinking and grew our confidence.
Phoebe:  …and working with me? 
Paul:  What I found challenging about working with you was… okay grownup time. I felt sometimes challenged those times I noticed you fall easily into a narrative of self-doubt in your abilities or qualities or when I saw you defer to do what was quick or easy. I am sensitive to this because I think it of and struggle with it myself, so please forgive me if I’m just projecting my stuff.
I have seen you rise to the challenge of iteratively crafting images that elevate the thing you are co-creating. I have seen you develop your abilities and enrich the style you created off your own back through dedication to your passion and through prolific output. I feel you have made a contribution to our project that is not only unique but is essential to why it is appealing to people, including myself. You’ve done this and made illustrations I love to look at all without being a dick. Good job.
For your party bag then: a suggestion that you can choose to own your confidence in what you are and can do and trust the knowledge that, based on hard won experience, you are able to accomplish what is challenging and new.
Phoebe:  What would you do differently in the next thing we work on?
Paul:  Every project is different so it is difficult to say what I’d do differently. The thinking we did about our intentions for the project and keys steps felt really useful so I’d pay attention to that. I feel that plans, deadlines and the like are only as useful as how you check in on those and I’d like to have had more focussed time when things got crunchy.

 

Phoebe:  What was the first book that moved you to tears?

Paul:  My memory gets worse and worse and I’ve no hope of remembering that far back. There is a book called ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman, which my sister gifted me. It’s about a girl searching for her brother and about growing up and family and it’s beautifully written. I probably cried over that.

Phoebe:  What book do you always recommend to people?

Paul:  I rarely recommend books to people and don’t have a go-to recommendation. For a while I was really into David Mamet’s writing about writing and theatre. He has a book called ‘The Three Uses of the Knife’, which is a very slim thing all about dramatic structure. I must have recommended that because I don’t have my copy anymore.

Phoebe:  What was the first thing you ever wrote?

Paul:  My name? Some individual letters? That’s where most of us start I guess. I can’t remember the first thing, but I can remember being an 8 year old in Mrs Weir’s classroom and wanting a lot more to continue writing my story than do the other project the class was meant to be doing. I was adamant this was going to happen so I sat there with my arms crossed while she tried cajoling me and then eventually gave up. I don’t remember the story, only the feeling that I’d rather be writing that than doing whatever else was going on.

Phoebe:  When you are feeling de-motivated, what do you turn to for inspiration?

Paul:  When I am feeling low and uninspired I like going to the cinema and theatre. There is something special about the ritual of sitting in the dark to be told a story. It is no coincidence I think that, however we evolve technologically, as a species we are still moved to create spaces where the lights are turned off and our attention is directed towards something that someone feels is important to share.

Phoebe:  What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Paul:  I spend most of my time not writing so there are a great many things that I like to do. Sitting quietly with a cup of coffee is a favourite. I enjoy playing guitar. I am pretty good at staring off into the middle distance, or when I’m walking staring at the ground. These are places where ideas grow. I like eating food and I have become very good at this.

Phoebe:  Do you have philosophy or ethos, which you apply to your creative efforts?

Paul:  Oh man that’s a good and tough question. It’s an evolving thing I think. I’ve moved beyond the ‘beating myself with a club so I work to be creative on a regular basis’ thing. There are times to graft but nothing should be a total chore or else what’s the point? Otherwise the only ethos I keep coming back to is find what is joyful, painful and irresistible and focus on sharing that because that’s where the good stuff will be.

Phoebe:  What does writing give you?

Paul:  It helps create some sense of order in life. It gives an excuse to stare out of the window into the middle distance (I used to feel bad in doing this I wasn’t ‘being productive’, but now I realise one occasionally needs to suck in the words from one’s environment by keeping an eye on the zebra crossing or that person at the table by the window who’s eating a stroop waffle). There’s escapism to be had in stories and even more so when you’re making them up. A sweet session of ‘what-iffing’ and ‘oh maybe it’s that-ing’ is as good as a holiday and only costs the price of a cup of coffee. And it’s free therapy.

Phoebe:  What piece of advice would you give to people who want to write but find themselves unable to?

Paul:  Well it would depend on what any individual’s particular hurdle is. If they can’t hold a pen to paper because they’re spinning through space and have cat paws for hands then there’s not a lot of good advice I can offer. I shall speak more generally then.

Remember, you’re already qualified. Even if you’ve never written anything then you are beginning at the same place as anyone who ever did. To write successfully I think you must get comfortable with being not very good. If you can show up, write the words -even if they’re bad and you know they’re bad- and then show up again to make them better then you are on the right track.

There has to be joy in it somewhere for you, beyond just the delayed gratification of finishing whatever you’re making. The best way forward then is to make it fun. Find the space that you can go play in and enjoy making a glorious mess. It’s just making stuff up and writing it down isn’t it? A child could do it. And they do.

Phoebe:  How would you describe The Case of the Thinking Man’s Trumpet?

Paul:  Really well, thank you.

This is actually really important. Often there is an expectation that someone writing something already knows what it is they are writing. But I’ve found this to be untrue. People make things, out of words and otherwise, because they have a need and the answer to that need doesn’t yet exist. So they have to make something up.

Once you have made something, being able to describe that thing to others can feel really difficult and slippery, but it is so important. Otherwise how will you best gift it to the world? I’m trying to get better at pausing and asking ‘what is this thing? How can I describe its uniqueness?’ The perspective of a loyal supporter can be invaluable here as they will see what you might otherwise take for granted. They can help you find the words for ‘oh I don’t know it’s sort of a story about a cat astronaut, like a catronaut, and it’s kind of funny yeah but sad too. Aw please stop asking me, this feels like a job interview’.

Our friend Tamsin was wonderful in helping us describe The Case of the Thinking Man’s Trumpet. You can find the fruits of that on our Kickstarter page (where you can also pledge and get your hands on a copy of the book).

Phoebe:  Words to live by?

There is always something to be thankful for.

Have you ever felt trapped in a Sunday? Ever caught your pocket on a door handle? Ever regarded the buttons on someone’s coat as edible? Ever thought the sun a lozenge? Felt that roundabouts are the last colonised spaces in the world?

Bumble and Nitsy have, and their boundless awareness and imagination have made them the most renowned Detectors in the world.

‘The Case of the Thinking Man’s Trumpet’. Please check out our Kickstarter to support and to get a copy: http://kck.st/2s6l7rD

You Guys Made Me Cry!

Have you ever felt trapped in a Sunday? Ever caught your pocket on a door handle? Ever regarded the buttons on someone’s coat as edible? Ever thought the sun a lozenge? Felt that roundabouts are the last colonised spaces in the world?

Bumble and Nitsy have, and their boundless awareness and imagination have made them the most renowned Detectors in the world.

‘The Case of the Thinking Man’s Trumpet’. Please check out our Kickstarter to support and to get a copy: http://kck.st/2s6l7rD

Bonus Post: How to Deal with Artistic Blocks

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Daily Doodle just reached it’s 500th post, and as with other milestones I like to mark the occasion with a bonus post.

This time round, I would like to talk about creative block, more importantly, how I combat artistic block.  I have been posting a doodle every day for just over a year now, and I can tell you one thing; creative blocks are real, extremely annoying and completely temporary.  The trick to speeding its departure?  Practice…  Did I just hear you roll your eyes?

For those of you have have followed me for a while you may have seen the occasional comment, or feature post elsewhere where I have talked about drawing as a practice.  Anyone who has a regular practice in anything will be familiar with entering a state of flow.  So I thought I would share with you how I enter this mental space while drawing.

Brace yourselves, this is where my inner hippy is going to fully engage.

First of all what are we aiming for?

A state of flow is that mental space where you are focused on a particular activity, often times something which can reduce stress or anxiety, with which you are very familiar.  You will know you have entered flow because you attention will be absorbed into the activity with very little effort.  For some this may be a physical activity such as running, others may find this space through playing a musical instrument.  Whatever it is it will likely be something that you will be so well practiced in that muscle memory will kick in.  As your attention shifts into flow you will find you are able to focus the mind in such a way that allows for clarity of thought.  One sign that you have found your flow is that time will slip past you unnoticed.  Have you ever been so engaged in an activity that you start in the morning and before you know it lunch time has come and gone and you just continued through?  Welcome to flow.

While it may sound airy, the phenomena of flow is well documented and shares a great similarity with ‘hyper-focus’.  One of the main reasons the state of flow is so important  is that through this engaged, extended concentration, we loose a great deal of our self-consciousness, while still remaining self-aware.  Who doesn’t want to inhabit an inborn sense of confidence and shed some of those nagging self-doubts which follow us through modern life?

How to get there?

So now we know what we are aiming for, you might even have an idea of an activity which will get you there.  I think no matter what the practice there are some really simple steps you can help to enhance it:

Arrive in your activity.

If you are trying this with drawing or art it can be as simple as consciously taking your seat.  Take in your surroundings.  Notice the quality of light.  See if you spot something you have never noticed before, if if your surrounding are familiar to you, look at these normal objects in a new way.

Take a moment to check in on how your body is feeling.  What’s your posture like?  Are you sitting comfortably?  Feel the weight of the pencil in your hand, the texture of the paper you are going to draw on.  Take a moment to connect physically with your environment.

If you find you activity is a more physical one, it may be that you want to really engage with putting your trainers on.  If you are a musician then show up and enjoy the tactile activity of setting up your instrument and tuning it.

The main aim for this step is to take a moment to get curious about the world around you.  Give yourself permission to let go of anything outside this moment in time.

Don’t aim for flow, just be in the activity

So here’s the tricky thing I have found over time.  Flow is a great space to be in, it’s relaxing, open and incredibly creative.  I have done some of my favourite drawings while hanging out here, but it is hard to intentionally get there.  Ready for the cliche?  Flow is the journey not the destination.  Sometimes you won’t get there at all, and I have found the more I force it the less likely I am to find it.

Because it is impermanent, and sometimes elusive, enjoy it when you are there.  Celebrate when it ends, and know that any time spent trying to get there and failing is still time well spent on training your mind.  I found the moment I let go of my need and desire to be there, it was much easier to gently slip in and out of a state of flow.

Notice when your mind is drifting and bring it back to the task at hand.

John Kabat-Zing is often quoted for saying “practice like an athlete” when it comes to Mindfulness.  Any athlete will tell you there are great days, when you smash personal bests and break records.  There are also days when your form is sloppy, you hit a wall you can’t break through and really you would rather be doing anything else.

The mind is really no different.  Humans are conceptual animals and your mind will wander.  The practice is not effortlessly maintaining your focus, the practice is the discipline of noticing when your mind is floating back to what you want for dinner, that important deadline at work, that unfinished email in the draft inbox or that really stupid awkward teenage moment that you always remember when you experience stress.

In the same vein, if you haven’t practiced for a while that’s fine, you can always pick up the pen and start again.  It’s a practice because it takes discipline, but it should also be fun, and something you want to willingly engage with.  On that note…

Celebrate the fact that you noticed, don’t punish yourself for wandering.

If you notice yourself wandering try approaching the thought with gentle curiosity, “That’s interesting, I’ll come back to that later”, take a deep breath, reconnect with your pen and congratulate yourself for noticing the fact that you wondered.  In my experience there is no single human being who couldn’t benefit from being kinder to themselves.

If you notice your mind has wondered WELL DONE! It means you are doing it right.  You haven’t failed because you weren’t perfect.

This attitude is also invaluable for learning a new skill or developing an existing one.   Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk?  They do an enormous amount of falling over.  Embracing my mistakes has changed my whole attitude to drawing.  It is the single most useful tip I have, and the main reason I am able to post a doodle a day.  Is everything perfect?  Not a single one.  So many artists I know have found themselves blocked because they need to get their drawing, story or song just right before they can share it.

The search for perfection is admirable, but is the enemy of a practice in that it you miss out on opportunities for developing feedback.  You also miss out on a huge amount of surprise.

Some of the drawings I least like have prompted surprisingly nice comments, because the things that bother me as the creator, don’t even register with the audience.  It’s the most important lesson I have learnt, but it also the most hard won and easily forgotten.  Which is why it is even more important to celebrate when you get something right!

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The great thing about cultivating a practice that allows you to find a state of flow, is that it takes a huge amount of the pressure off.  When this pressure dissipates, it makes maintaining a steady creative output relatively easy.  It’s not a fool proof approach, but it does help.

I hope that was at least somewhat interesting.  I also hope it encourages you to have a go at intentionally stepping into an activity.  If you have already found your practice then I would love to hear about it in the comments below.  Share your tips, insights or even just what you do when time flies by.