Austin Kleon’s Notebooks

Writer/artist/poet/collagist/speaker/inspiring internet dude Austin Kleon credits Lynda Barry with changing his artistic life.

Inspired by Barry and other artists, Kleon has developed his own notebook practice over the years. This guy is a really dedicated notebooker! He keeps THREE notebooks going at the same time (a logbook, a diary, and a commonplace diary). Here are his posts about his notebook practice.

In Syllabus, Barry recommends pasting/taping stuff into your notebook. She expects students to fill up 3 to 4 composition books over the course of a semester. Kleon similarly puts in lots and lots of stuff, from notes taken when listening to podcasts, to collages, notes to self, cartoons, doodles, & scribbles.

Here’s a more-or-less random example he’s posted online:

I notebooked from about 13 to 37, stopped from 37 to 53, and have been notebooking the last few years (~5ish). I don’t think I’ve ever completed the equivalent of 4 notebooks in a semester. (One a month?) I also wasn’t doodling, drawing, sketching, and scribbling so I’ll see if I can pick up the pace this cartoon sprummer.

Cartoon Number 1

First unforeseen challenge was trying to get my scanner to talk to my computer. I spent an hour doing network troubleshooting yesterday afternoon before giving up and deciding to use the scanner at work.

I didn’t want to ink over the pencil image in case I made a mistake. So, the following cartoon is inked over a photocopy of a penciled cartoon, which means there’s no pencil underlay to erase, which means it has a weird double-lining.

Anyway, this is my first attempt to create a cartoon avatar for myself.

Cartoon #1

Daily Diary

One of the reasons I wanted to return to Lynda Barry’s Syllabus is because I wanted to re-visit her daily diary method.

For this exercise you set aside 6 minutes and then spend 2.5 minutes listing things you did yesterday, then 2.5 minutes listing what you saw, then 30 seconds listing something you heard, and then 30 seconds drawing a quick sketch of something you saw.

I like the specificity of the of the exercise and how it helps me work at paying attention to the details in the world around me. After doing this for awhile I start to look for things for tomorrow’s daily diary. All of this helps build the attention muscles of the brain* (*brain may not have real attention muscles).

For example, here are some random papier-mache monster heads (Krampus!) I saw at the beer store yesterday. I can add that to my list of things seen, and maybe use it for a 30-second sketch.

In 2020 when I first read Syllabus I was not meditating. Now that I am I see how much mindfulness is built into Barry’s exercises. Her technique for getting the brain to slow down its chatter so the artist can pay attention to the page is to slowly draw a spiral.

That’s it.

Focus, draw a spiral, slowly, making the lines as close together as possible without touching. She starts the following writing exercise (a variation of the daily diary page called an x-page) with the spiral and a systematic awareness/relaxation technique to draw the artist away from their chatttering mind and into their body. (The embedded video is nearly a half hour – here’s a ~10 minute version.)

One of the mindfulness techniques I’ve adopted (also found in yoga) is this systematic scan of the body to locate tense spots, ease the tension, and to slow down the chattering mind. I also use the body scan as a way of helping me intentionally relax as I work on falling asleep at night.

Cartoon Sprummer

It’s summertime! Ok, not technically as far as hemispheres, axial tilt, and journeying around the sun, but culturally as spring semester ends and there are several toasty months until fall semester begins.

Today marks the middle of spring and I’ll be exercising my nascent drawing/cartooning skills by posting cartoons, sketches, drawings, etc. here on the blog until the middle of summer. (I wish we had a word for the times between the halfway points of seasons — sprummer?). I see this as near-daily to more-than-daily posts of, and about, cartoons and cartooning.

I attempted something similar to this in the spring of 2020 but the pandemic rearranged my brain (in a metaphorical/symbolic sense) and I dropped my drawing exercises.

My guide for this effort is Lynda Barry’s Syllabus. I read Barry regularly in the 1990s. Not by seeking her out, but because she was one of the random nutrients in my information diet at the time. She dropped off my radar at the turn of the century and popped back on my radar after she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2019.

As is the case with many adults, I’m embarrassed by my childish scrawls and crude drawings. Even as a child I never really went through a drawing phase. However, I’ve decided to trust in Professor Lynda and give it a shot for the next few months.

In between posts about cartoons and cartooning I’ll update you about my ASS (arbitrary stupid spirituality aka arbitrary spirituality system). Let the summer begin!

This Year’s Resolution

I am not one to pooh-pooh new year’s resolutions. I love them. Over the years I’ve had resolutions that changed my life in little ways and large. I’ve also had plenty that fizzled out before the first day of February. My resolution this year is to give myself permission.

I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but it’s my resolution nonetheless.

In June Jennifer bought me some ‘magic’ candles for my birthday. I’m not sure why candles promising harmony, or wealth, or creativity, or peace, or love delight me so much. Perhaps I’m charmed by the utter absurdity of an almost no-effort tool to change the universe.

One of the candles she gave me was Permission. My initial interpretation was to wonder what spirtual entity would give me permission if I burned it. Permission from whom? I let it linger while I burned the other candles. It was only in December it occurred to me — waitaminnit! This is not about getting permission from someone or something else, this is about giving myself permission! And so I decided to burn my permission candle at the beginning of 2023 and to make permission my 2023 resolution.

In 2023 I give myself permission to…

I doubt it will be only one thing for which I give myself permission, but the premise is promising and I’m looking forward to learning what sort of inhibitions might fall away.

Post-Hiatus Rejuvenation

Q: How are you feeling?

A: Much better. Thanks for asking!

Q: So what did you do during your hiatus?

A: I think of last fall as a sort of health sabbatical. I quit doing lots and lots of things and focused solely on self-reflection, meditation, and implementing the practices I’ve been learning over the last couple of years. A big part of what I wanted to accomplish was to reduce screen time. I shut down all my social media accounts. I’m no longer on FB, Twitter, Instagram, or anything else. (OK, I do still have a tumblr account I go to to look at illustrations/art. I like having a feed for pretty pictures!) I reduced my RSS feeds from over a hundred to a couple of dozen. I dialed my Google Alerts back to zero.

Q: Since you gave up screen time did you read any good books?

A: Nope. I gave my brain a break. I got a big stack of random comic books from an Ebay seller and that was the most weighty thing I read. Wait! It’s not completely true that I didn’t read any good books. I read a Robin Hobbs trilogy. And I also read Pema Chodron books (and listened to about a zillion Tara Brach talks). But I read very very little compared to every other year of my life.

Q: Was this just about mental and emotional health?

A: Nope. I did more for my physical health as well. More bike riding and more walking. I lost about 30 pounds in 2022. I feel physically better than I have in a long time.

Q: What prompted the hiatus?

A: Mid-life crisis. I’m 57 and was having a little trouble adjusting to the reality that so many of my youthful dreams would forever remain dreams. I had to find the identity of the person I am now instead of holding on to the identity I conjured up years ago that I was still clinging on to. A couple of collegues dealing with cancer caused me to reflect deeply on… well, not to sound too cheesy, but caused me to reflect on the meaning of life.

Q: What’s next?

A: Outwardly I’m not sure if anyone will notice much change. The last few years have been about learning to process a lot of internal stuff. I might do more blogging. (Blogging like it’s 2003!) I really enjoyed the pre-FB/Twitter era of blogging. And I have a creative project in the works, but I’m building it slowly and putting less pressure on myself about quality or completion date. My health remains my priority, so the creative project will probably move slowly. No different than before, really, but now I’m not going to be beating myself up over it.

The process is ongoing but I’m in a much better mind and heart space than I was at the end of last summer. And last summer I was in a much better space than I was a few years before that. I would say that my nadir was probably the summer of 2021.

Ok, enough retrospection. Let’s see what amazing fuckery 2023 has in store for us!

My Very Own Arbitrary Stupid Spirituality (ASS)

In 2022 I started paying more attention to matters of spirit and spirituality. All of my adult life I’ve confidently proclaimed my commitment to reason, rationality, and science. As a teen I went through the stages of belonging to my mother’s church to declaring myself an agnostic and then being spiritual but not religious and then falling into a comfortable atheism.

Because I’m curious about the human experience writ broadly I’ve always been willing to explore and learn about different belief systems and ponder the role of religion, faith, spirituality, and superstition. I never, however, applied any of that to myself. Science over superstition.

In 2022, as it became overwhelmingly clear I needed to stop neglecting my mental and emotional health, I started seeing spitituality in a new light. (This is mostly related to taking up regular meditation.) It turns out there are elements in spiritual systems that are really useful for maintaining and improving my emotional, mental, and psychological health.

Since I’m not about to join any church or proclaim my adherence to any single faith, I started developing my own catalog of practice. So far I’ve drawn from Wicca, Buddhism, and long-lost Aztec faiths, and I’m sure I’ll be adopting more over the course of 2023.

I’m happy to believe the universe, the world, and the human experience is weirder than I can imagine. I’m less happy to imagine interventionist deities meddling in human affairs or making demands of devotion.

I also suspect that religion/spirituality is a socially constructed expression of some collective interpretation of our neurological/physiological experience. Things happen and we turn to ideas in our world to make sense of those happenings. I also suspect that faith/religion played an important role in emotional and psychological health before we had ideas like psychology.

My approach is to view the world’s faiths (and all historical faiths available to me) as a giant cafeteria selection. It’s all there to help me understand my own experience. And from that I’m creating my arbitrary stupid spirituality.

Why stupid? The phrase is inspired by Tamara Shopsin’s book Arbitrary Stupid Goal. I first phrased this idea as arbitrary stupid spirituality to honor Shopsin’s original spark of inspiration. That said, I sometimes have been mis-remembering the name and describing my ASS as an arbitrary spititual system. The latter may ultimately win out as the ‘humor’ of calling this endeavor stupid loses its luster.

I’ll be writing more about this over the first part of this year, but I want to get this background posted so I can link to it in the future.

Happy 2023!

Here’s wishing your 2023 is better than your 2022.

I have so much to write about my hiatus metamorphosis but that can wait for the posts to come. Right now I’m working on some projects and listening to some music.

(At the moment I write this the following came up on my shuffle. Seems like good advice for starting a new year.)

[Intro: Vocals by Bobby Rox]
One, two
Hey, look it’s a fantastic day
As you’re listening to the sounds of WTBG
Tall Black Guy Radio
Put your phone in airplane mode
Hey, look the operative phrase is pay attention
And minimize distractions
People say that life is short
But check this out
It’s the longest thing that we will ever do
So, look
Be a surgeon with your time
Aspire to greatness
Be the best version of yourself
Live your life
Help somebody, help somebody
Pay attention
Minimize distractions
Catch somе good vibes
It’s all about that happiness
Progress, lеss stress
More love, go offline
Take long rides
Cook to it, clean to it
Rock to it in your cubicle
Make love to it
It feels good right?
Airplane mode
Featuring the sounds of the one and the only
Tall Black Guy