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Posts Tagged ‘art

7 Questions that Shape Your Art/Work Life

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Please Write this Book: The Freelancer’s Attitude Kit

I’m working out new ways to present the freelance life to college writing students. They are interested in this independent life but not clear about all it entails. They wonder: is there more to it than sitting around in your underwear all day?


I’d like to present them with a textbook that answers these seven questions. Because these are seven questions that freelancers and other independents continually ask and occasionally even answer. These questions are useful for anyone trying to figure out the relationships between work, craft, art and employment.

  1. How do I balance art, craft and economics? Is it even possible? Because there is stuff I want to do that has no audience. There is stuff I’m less interested in that has a larger audience. And there is stuff I can do to pay the bills, which frankly doesn’t engage me much. I feel less fulfilled when I do that third category of stuff. Then again, I feel pretty fulfilled when I cash the check from that third category. Part of the answer has to do with what your time in life allows. Part of the answer has to do with the economic choices you make.
  2. Is it me or is it you? What does it mean to care for others with my work? Is it possible to use my art or craft or skill to truly look after the needs of another—or perhaps to look after the needs of an organization? One point I’ve made repeatedly to students is that while introspection is one way to sort out who you are—and our creative lore pegs introspection as the main work of writers and artists—there is another way. And that way is finding places and people to work alongside and, well, serve. Sometimes we begin to sort out who we are as we seek to help others. Sometimes our collaborator and our collaborative processes reveal more than we could ever sort when isolated at our desk or easel.WhatIsArt-04302015
  3. What unseen forces are at work? I am a copywriter who also believes that God answers prayer. I am a copywriter who is also comfortable with artists who say the universe provides. My point is that the independent person has a better perspective when convinced there is more going on than what they can muster on their own. For example: every client I called last week said “No.” But then two new calls came in from completely unexpected sources. And these calls said “Yes.” Coincidence? Faith of one kind or another plays a role in this life—especially if a spouse/children/mortgage are part of the picture.
  4. Where does my ladder lean? Aiming for the approval of your boss is not bad, just limited. Bosses change—and sometimes very quickly. Better to climb toward a larger goal. In corporate life, we climb toward this position or that responsibility. In freelance, we climb toward this kind of project or that kind of project. Freelance does not have titles and offices that automatically designate how important you are. Are you ready for that? Freelance depends on intrinsic motivation—the stuff that bubbles out from inside. In fact—it turns out—that corporate life does too. The intrinsically-motivated colleagues are far and away the happiest, because they do the work out of willingness and mission. Just like freelancers.
  5. What do I look like, an entrepreneur? In fact you do, if you are someone who sees a need and starts to figure ways to meet that need. One textbook defines entrepreneur this way:

Entrepreneurship is the process of identifying opportunities for which marketable needs exist and assuming the risk of creating an organization to satisfy them.

–Hatten, Timothy S. Small Business Management, Entrepreneurship and Beyond (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003)

There is risk with the approach: you might fail. It might take a long, long time. This approach requires turning that intrinsic motivation into an engine that chugs along every single day. That can be exhausting, especially when met with a daily chorus of “No.”

  1. What’s sharing go to do with it? Today artists and writers and crafters and tribe members find each other online. Not exclusively, but frequently. Part of the independent life has to do with finding generous ways to talk about your passion. This is not shilling for work, this is giving away good stuff. Good stuff that people can use. It turns out that clients just might find you this way as well
  2. What if people knew how weird I was? That’s right, you are strange. Really strange. But everyone is. Freelance capitalizes on weird by you doing what you do in the way you do it. Freelance is the opposite of cookie-cutter. It is niche-building with much of your weirdness intact (not all, people will run from you).

That’s the book I want to use as a text. Some books I’ve read come close.

What questions shape your work life? Tell me if you’ve read this book.


Image and dumb sketch credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 30, 2015 at 10:13 am

Go Find Yourself

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Are you hiding in plain sight?

Are you already doing who you are?

That question barely makes sense.

Still, I like it because it combines process with self-identity and hints at motivation. To answer that question all you have to do is look at how you spend your day—and with whom—to begin to sort your priorities.

Matthew Crawford’s book The World Beyond Your Head: On becoming an individual in an age of distraction (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015) is not a quick read. But it is a satisfying text because he pulls back the draperies hiding some daily mysteries we live without thinking.

For instance, I found out I am an artist. Of sorts.

For instance, I found out I am an artist. Of sorts.

Like work.

Mr. Crawford, the philosopher/motorcycle mechanic dismantles the notion of work and rebuilds it around the cylinders of service and ability and passion. (Wait—only three cylinders? What sort of wimpy metaphor is that? Don’t blame Mr. Crawford—that’s just my take on it and I’m only ¾ of the way through the book.)

Mr. Crawford notes that we must submit to a discipline—this is important—to become useful and adept at that discipline. Sort of like knowing the rules well so that you can break them well:

  • Mechanics must know the fundamentals of engines to work on them.
  • Writers must know how to speel, and the must know a grammar, to right. Otherwise, misunderstood. Are they?

Mr. Crawford’s take on authority is powerfully counterintuitive: we submit to the authority of a discipline so we can work within the logic and expectations and outcomes of that discipline. Along the way, after practicing that discipline for a time, it turns out we come to understand life through the tools and foci that discipline affords.

This notion of authority is counterintuitive because we Americans like to speak ill of authority every chance we get. I may be chief among the ill-speakers. That needs to change (though, of course, speak truth to power, and so on).

Here’s the point: looking back over the disciplines we’ve come to use every day is a key to how we understand the world and how we process life. Some people understand life through their writing. Some people process life through their woodworking. Some through watercolor or costume design or clipping topiaries.

There is a link between who we are and what we do.


Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 11, 2015 at 9:41 am

Boiling Down

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Locate Essence

Over at Dumb Sketch Daily I’ve attempted a couple abstractions (per my brave declaration), and the sketching process is starting to become clear: recognize the heart of an image and work with the essential shapes. A few of my art-minded interlocutors (Kerfe, Larry Zink, and Laura of course) have contributed to my slow understanding of the process. It’s really a hands-on thing: One learns by doing.

Chester Arnold: Thy Kingdom Come II, 1999. Oil on canvas. (di Rosa Art Museum)

Chester Arnold: Thy Kingdom Come II, 1999. Oil on canvas. (di Rosa Art Museum)

Today’s writing process involves at least one project where I must also reduce and abstract. But “abstract” seems the wrong word: I must locate the essential bit and then work to make that piece clear, understandable and compelling. Oddly enough, clarity sometimes flows better through comparison than it does through paragraphs of didactic copy. And that may be the point of abstraction. An image can remind of something entirely opposite. Abstraction can become an emotional bypass. But it need not be anti-intellect. Especially if it causes someone to stop and think.

Looking for essential bones of an idea may be my favorite thing about writing: locating the bones and laying them bare. More and more I’m finding those idea-bones are best expressed through analogy or metaphor, where a simple image paired with simple words replaces long and labored explanation.

Boiling down and locating essence may be a life lesson for me. It’s far easier to do for clients than it is my own ideas.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

August 19, 2015 at 2:40 pm

Art-A-Whirl: Orange.

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Last day of Art-a-Whirl


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

May 17, 2015 at 9:13 am

Casket Arts: The Artist’s Palette

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High in the Casket Arts Building


The artists in the Casket Arts Building are readying their spaces for Art-A-Whirl, next weekend.


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

May 8, 2015 at 10:13 am

Note to self: Don’t be (so) boring.

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Why do what we do? (Gotta keep asking)

Do something every day.WhatIsArt-04302015

Do that something every day for 30 years.

Has that something lost its freshness?

Over on Dumb Sketch Daily—my ongoing project of learning to see—every once in a while I get caught up with trying to create art. It is almost always a mistake for me to try to create art. I am no artist and the impulse to create art results in weirdly earnest dumb sketches, sort of like a child putting on dad’s tie (do dad’s wear ties these days?) or mom’s high heels.

Still—one must experiment. And that experimentation is good because it draws the questions forward yet again.

Doing something every day, and somehow keeping it fresh, means asking the “Why am I doing this?” that drives the behavior. Yesterday I had to remember that my goal is not to create art. Making art is simply too high and too unrealistic a goal for me. It works for others, and many who comment on that blog and whom I follow are creating honest-to-goodness, bona fide, Grade A art.

Every single day.

But not me.

I’m just trying to see better. That’s a goal and purpose I can rally around. Trying to see how light shines on stuff. Trying to see what a face looks like, the creases, the asymmetry, the tractor beams that shine from eyeballs. Seeing what posture says. Seeing how shadow falls across a 100 year-old building. All of that happens as I try (and mostly fail) to capture real life on paper. The real life happening around me.


Something good and productive happens with revisiting the “Why?” question. My sense is that if I can be reengaged with the question, and with seeing how it was answered differently today, I may even be less boring. At least for a few moments.


Dumb sketches: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 30, 2015 at 9:06 am

Where Can I Buy a Fine-Art Mode?

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The Beauty of Knowing Nothing

I don’t have a fine-tuning mode that tinkers with physical detail. I draw and it is mostly crude. I cut plywood and pine shelves and they are rough enough to make my craftsman-father scoff into his hand. I make dinner and it is mostly broad-stroke stuff that requires very little finessing. I will confess my popcorn is a work of art, combining yellow and white kernels, salted and buttered and mixed to a sensuous, savory smack of flavor. And I am learning how words interact on a page—though it is slow going.


How does someone get to the point of crafting from rough cuts to fine finished detail? It is possible that in this age of ordering clothes, pizza and romance from a button on our mobile devices, that some things still take time. Some things require beginning at the beginning. The question for each of us: do I have the courage to begin at the beginning? To know nothing for a time and do things badly?

The beauty about not having been taught drawing is that you are in a position of the acquirer: the process of figuring it out might take a while, and you will most likely continue to figure stuff out as you go, but that process is yours. There are no shortcuts and no tricks. Just the plain practice of drawing, screwing up, and drawing some more.

–France Belleville-Van Stone in Sketch! (NY: Watson-Guptill, 2014)

You cannot buy personal processes. Not really. You have to make them from scratch—those processes that help you make meaning in the world. And you have to begin at the beginning.

Mistake will be made.

You will make those mistakes.

And that’s OK.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

3 Lessons I Learned Hanging With 70 Artists

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See. Do. Share.

A group of artists in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area gathers monthly to sketch. They call themselves MetroSketchers. These are talented people with facility for capturing life on a page. Yesterday I showed up to sketch alongside them at the Como Zoo in Saint Paul.



  1. Look To See. It’s easy to spot these sketchers in the crowds at Como. They are the ones balancing a sketchbook, and possibly watercolors or an arsenal of color pencils. They are the ones looking up and down and up and down at the very scene I dismissed with a quick glance. It’s the lingering look with an intent on capturing what they saw that was meaningful to me. Sketchers linger far longer than the causal passer-by. They must.
  2. Do It. Right now. That’s it—just get it on paper. Whatever you can. This is a lesson that carries over for me from writing. Do it badly, but just get one good stroke on the paper. One good mark among many bad marks. My great contribution to the day’s artistry was the Polar Bear Butt (the only animal who insisted on posing). Bad as it is, it is still a move toward representation.
  3. Share It. These uniformly talented people were also great encouragers. To a person they were all about what you saw and the marks you made in response. They found good stuff to say even when good stuff was pretty well hidden behind lots of not-good stuff. They also loved to talk about paper weight, the best inks to use, how small they can pack a watercolor kit and, “…here, let’s just walk through my sketchbook together.”


I spoke with many during the sketching and they were more than happy to show what they were doing, to describe how they were seeing and to talk about the difficulties in representation.


More than one sketcher expressed delight in what they were seeing—and if that is not a perfect reward for the interaction between drawing and seeing, then I don’t know what is.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

For Some, The Past is Still Present

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One Wall in North America’s Only Walled City



This art wall reminds me of Wendell Berry’s The Memory of Old Jack.


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 23, 2015 at 9:22 am

“6 things I learned after drawing 319 drawings in 4 months and 13 days”

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Especially #6. Buy Why Does #2 Work?

I follow One Drawing Daily in my attempts to produce my own Dumb Sketch Daily. But whether you’ve made it a point to draw or paint or sketch or shoot photos (or write essays or verse or reflections) there are some curious things about developing and sharing daily habits.


Read One Drawing Daily’s whole post (please!) but I’m particularly interested in #6: “Draw whatever you feel like.” Much of art—like much of life—seems to be about absorbing the sensibilities of the taste-makers among us. Critics, media, famous artists. Famous people who are famous for being famous. There is a subtle pressure to like what they like and do what they do. But uniformity is not the great thing about the human condition. One of the great things about the human condition is that we all have a slightly different take on things. I love seeing different people’s perspectives. And developing your own perspective takes time and attention. But out of the habit of time and attention come a point of view.

And #2 still enthralls me: “Share everything you do!” How is it that the simple act of sharing something can have so much impact? It’s true with writing, true with making dumb sketches. It’s true with our ordinary conversations and when we confess some secret to someone else. It’s true with my clients: as they come to understand the power of sharing expertise and passion, all sorts of things start to happen in their business. It’s still shrouded in mystery for me, this sharing thing, but I’m pretty sure it triggers something in us that simultaneously wakes us up and fine-tunes consciousness.

What habits are you building?


Image credit: One Drawing Daily

Written by kirkistan

January 22, 2015 at 8:47 am

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