Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

07 JUNE, 2011

Drawn In: A Peek Inside Favorite Artists’ Private Sketchbooks

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What the myth of the muse has to do with the discipline of refinement, visual poetry and Shel Silverstein.

I’m a longtime fan of artist Julia Rothman, who pens the wonderful Book By Its Cover blog and who in 2009 co-masterminded the excellent Exquisite Book, in which 100 of today’s most exciting visual artists engaged in a collaborative game inpsired by the surrealist movement of the 1920s. This month, Julia is back with another superb book project: Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists — a voyeuristic visual journey into how artists doodle, brainstorm and flesh ideas out, doing for art what Field Notes did for science, Street Sketchbook did for street art and Pure Process did for advertising.

The lavish volume offers a rare glimpse inside the minds and hearts of favorite artists like visual poet Sophie Blackall, happiness-designer Tad Carpenter, nature illustrator Jill Bliss and many more, showcasing stunning full-color images alongside profiles of the artists, who discuss their sketchbooks and how they use them.

Today, I sit down with Julia to chat about the theories of creative genius, common patterns of creation, and insights from the project.

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There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the origin of genius and the driving force behind the creative process, whether it’s the product of this age-old notion of “the muse” or closer to something like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory, which frames “genius” as the product of merciless practice and discipline. Do artists’ sketchbooks bespeak a particular truth to tip the scale in either direction, or do they embody some combination of the two models of genius?

JR: I think it’s definitely a mix of both. While you can learn a technique like drawing and try to perfect it by practicing and practicing, you still need that bit of natural talent to bring it to the level of these artists. In these sketchbooks, there’s evidence of artists spending a lot of time getting their drawings to look a certain way. Sam Bosma’s sketches of the same character over and over are a great example. His pages show a refinement in each rendering of the same subject. But there is definitely a spontaneity in much of the work in these sketchbooks. One of my favorite examples is Christian DeFilippo’s balloon page. It seems like he just threw a handful of balloons on the paper and taped them down flat. The result is an amazing colorful and sculptural page, an experiment which couldn’t have been created from practice.

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Did any specific patterns emerge from the bird’s-eye view of the 44 sketchbooks, anything that was common to many artist and perhaps a useful insight on how the rest of us can best tame our inspiration and creative process?

JR: Each of these artists have such different styles and ways of working, but one of the things that they all seemed to do was observational drawing from life. While much of Anders Nilsen’s sketchbook was filled with comics and imagery from his own head, you’d turn a page and see a realistic sketch of a person who was sitting in front of him. It seems like being able to capture the world around you is an important skill to each of these artists whether or not their non-sketchbook work reflects that. Being able to recreate the world around them, must help artists to be able to create their own worlds.

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What dead artists’ sketchbooks do you most wish you could peek inside?

JR: Keiko Minami, Vera Neuman, Ben Shahn, John Singer Sargent, Shel Silverstein, Ezra Jack Keats, Olle Eksell, Alexander Calder, Charles Schulz… I could go on and on.

Drawn In is out this month and an absolute, rare kind of treat.

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06 JUNE, 2011

Christoph Niemann on Happiness, Work and Creativity

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How yoga is killing kerning, or what chasing butterflies has to do with divine inspiration.

I’m a really big Christoph Niemann fan, so I was thrilled to see him speak last month at Creative Mornings, the fantastic breakfast lecture series by my lovely studiomate Tina (a.k.a. Swiss Miss), dubbed “TED for the rest of us.” Charming, irreverent and self-deprecating as ever, Christoph dances across everything from finding happiness at work to what it takes to have a good idea to the myth of “talent” to how to overcome writer’s block.

Creativity is like chasing chickens.” ~ Christoph Niemann

I found this visual breakdown of Christoph’s daily routine, tongue-in-cheek as it may be, quite interesting:

Here’s an unwitting wink at RSA’s animated version of Steven Johnson’s insights on where good ideas come from, also echoing my favorite TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert’s.

And something reminiscent of Scott Belsky philosophy on making ideas happen:

Watch, laugh, nod knowingly, and marvel at Christoph’s fantastic signature brand of wit, humor and simple, raw human truth:

(Imagine my terror when Christoph hit it out of the ballpark the way he did, given I was the speaker for the following Creative Mornings — what a tough act to follow!)

In order to have creativity, you have to allow for dead ends to happen.” ~ Christoph Niemann

See more of Christoph’s brilliant work on his site and grab some of his utterly wonderful children’s books for your favorite tiny humans and their parents.

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06 JUNE, 2011

The Moby Awards for Best and Worst Book Trailers

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What zero-gravity intercourse has to do with the future of information and the fate of the printed page.

We have a soft spot for brilliant book trailers here at Brain Pickings, so it was a delight to stumble upon the 2011 Moby Awards for best and worst book trailers, who revealed the winners last week. Zany rather than brainy, and yet uniquely illuminating, the Moby winners — selected by a panel of judges from literary tastemakers like Slate, Flavorpill, GoodReads and The Millions — are a treat of creativity, humor and an occasional profound human truth. Drumroll please…

GRAND JURY AWARD

Subtitled “We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards,” the quasi-epic mega-award was bestowed upon Gary Shteyngart for his Super Sad True Love Story — a dystopian, profane and, in its own twisted way, relentlessly entertaining vision for the future. (This, friends, is no Optimist’s Tour of the Future, mind you.) Veiled in the love story between a middle-aged man obsessed with eternal life and a 20-something Korean American oppressed by her overbearing parents is a faceted commentary on the obsessions and catastrophes of the information age, adding to the ongoing conversation on what the future of information and the internet may hold.

The James Franco cameo also landed the trailer the award in the Most Celebtastic Performance category.

BEST SMALL HOUSE

Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes, dubbed the “impossible book” for its ambitious production vision, landed atop our list of the best art, design and photography books of 2010 — a remarkable literary remix created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, and rearranging the text to form an entirely different story. Its trailer, just as meta as the book itself, scored the Moby Award for Best Small House.

BEST BIG HOUSE

After two excellent books at the intersection of the curious and the macabre, and a controversial TED talk, Mary Roach has done it again with Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, in which she explores the psychology, physiology, technology and politics of sending humans into space. Roach looks beyond the shiny techno-luster of space travel to explore its most fundamental human concerns — eating, having sex and bathing, going to the bathroom, not dying when reentering Earth’s atmosphere — in her signature style of irreverent curiosity, wry humor and irresistible science writing.

Admittedly, however, I was rooting for Steven Johnson in this category with his Where Good Ideas Come From (which topped our list of the best books in business, life and mind for 2010), brilliantly animated by The RSA, a longtime Brain Pickings darling.

STAND-ALONE ART OBJECT

The Book Trailers as Stand-Alone Art Object award went to How Did You Get This Number — a collection of nine thoughtful essays by Sloane Crosley exploring the delights and distresses of youth, from foreign travel to social awkwardness to heartbreak, complete with ten quasi-innocuous federal offenses Crosley has consciously broken in the past 10 years of being, well, a young person with a restless mind and a creative itch.

WORST PERFORMANCE BY AN AUTHOR

Though Jonathan Franzen recently delivered one of the smartest, timeliest, most poignant graduation addresses I’ve ever had the joy of hearing, he didn’t fare so well on the book trailers front, where he scored the Worst Performance by an Author.

And that’s quite unfortunate, because the book the trailer is for — Freedom: A Novel — is commonly considered some of the best fiction to come by in years.

WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OUR CHILDREN?

It’s a Book by award-winning children’s book author Lane Smith is part playful pastime for your favorite tiny human, part poignant manifesto for the printed page in the digital age.

It rightfully snagged the Moby Award in the children’s lit category, edging out Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s excellent The Hidden Alphabet, and is also an honoree in our own selection of 7 best book book trailers.

Want more? See the full list of winners and the finalists with whom they battled it out.

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