Thinking with your own ink – and baby dragons

Well, 2017 has been a rocky one so far.  Over a few short months I have been quite literally hands-on performing an autopsy on our pet horse (my first and hopefully only time), seen the last of my side of the family leave town, started psychoactive drugs for paralysing nerve pain that I then found was being caused by (only) an abscessed wisdom tooth for the last 9 months, been in a car crash that ended in a write-off for our car and nearly a fight in the street in front of my family, and been in the thick of it for a very, very public emergency at work while my boss has been talking since February about disestablishing my job.  And that’s only the highlights.

So I’m making pictures of cartoon dragons and having a damn good time doing it.

2017.04.15_Blogdragonv

Picture is courtesy of my 7yo’s artistry (the one on the left hand side).  Yes, my 3d rendering and design is laughable from a technical pov, but I have only been learning Blender for a couple of weeks.  And I’m happy to post this embarrassing pic because at this stage of “the curse of 2017” I just don’t care anymore.  As I tell my daughter, “no you’re not bad at this, you’re just a beginner”.

Continue reading

… because famous people do it

The website (and great podcast) the Art of Manliness has a great article from 2010 about the pocket notebooks of famous people.

Some of the worst advice you could get would probably be “you should do this because it’s what famous people do”, but let’s look into this.  What do famous people all have in common – apart from a heavy dose of ego?

I’d say it’s clarity of purpose in at least one area of their life.  For good or bad, what defines someone famous is that they have confidence in themselves to pursue something nobody has done before, or to pursue the same thing but with a dedication and purpose that most other people do not have.

To have purpose you have to understand and motivate yourself.  Someone else can drive you but then your limit will be that person’s motivation.  Unless you are being mentored by Kanye West or Richard Branson, that won’t be enough to become famous.

You need to understand yourself, to soak in the world and re-combine what you see and hear.  You do that to understand the topic but also to understand yourself, to discover what angles you are using to look at and to explore new ones.

It is what Steven Johnson calls “in a very real sense textual play”, something earnest university students do under prompting from their lecturers, and which Google replicates in algorithm format whenever you type in a search result.

The difference in having a notebook you can hold is that it is an external construction that has become a part of you, you intellectual beaver.  It is something you can put down and forget, then pick up after months, years, and look at with fresh eyes and fresh insight.

Blogs, Google searches, they are useful but they are intentional.  Evernote and computer folders can become breeding grounds for inspiration, but they are hard to navigate and could never compare to simply skimming and flicking through the pages of a worn notebook.  Well, at least not until I figure out how to use Tags in Evernote the right way.

Taking the Steinbeck, hold the Starbucks

So in less than a month I am taking my first ever trip to the US.  Part work and part holiday, my wife and I are making the most of the time by “road tripping” to see the real America behind the typical tourist routes.

This trip is only a little longer than two weeks, but it is something I have wanted to do for years.  You see, even before restoration, storage container auction and renovation shows became popular, my wife and I have talked about antiquing and just shopping around for Americana (or Europana(sp!)) and taking it back to little old New Zealand.

I love New Zealand, but one can never get over the feeling you are right at the edge of the world.  For all the culture you can siphon from an internet connection, sitting and looking at famous art, historical locations and youtube videos of famous writers only adds to the feeling of disconnect from history.  Nothing compares with the visceral experience of being in a world-class city, where even if you’re a cab driver or a waiter, at least you’re a cab driver or waiter in a place where the world, where history is “happening”.  You either get it or you don’t.

But the older I get the more I realise it’s either move overseas, or bring what I want from that world to me.  For the latter, there’s nothing better, I think, than the written word.  Compact, portable, I have a vision of sifting through car boot sales and collectors fairs in the Deep South, filling box-loads of books into a container, one that grows with out-of-print texts, musty tomes rescued from the bottom of a second-hand store shelf.  Some even have yellowing scraps of local newspapers between the leaves, to serve as bookmarks.  Neatly hand-written dedications on the inside cover, or, most prized of all, marginalia in tight script, a running commentary on the book itself, straight from the mind of someone from that period.

Interspersed in the container is other Americana.  Dented and worn nineteenth century furniture, tarnished metal fittings, mountains of old relics crying out for some repairs and a coat of lacquer.  And on top, boxes with the latest artists from whichever pocket of Manhatten or San Francisco is the most teeth-achingly “cool” at this moment.  One off prints, new t-shirt designs, hand-crafted and 3D printed jewellery, sculptures, carefully hand-made notebooks and stacks of original stencil and multimedia art.

Not this trip, but someday.

Exporting US culture to the world has become a cliche since the 90s, but I think there’s still a huge opportunity.  And who says US cultural exports need to be synonymous with Starbucks, Coke or Michael Bay films?  That’s not the real America, is it?  I’ve never been there so I wouldn’t know, but I’m going there to begin to scratch below that glossy surface.

I can’t wait.

Basquiat notebooks – Brooklyn Museum exhibition

The NY Times has just published an article about an exhibition of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘unknown’ notebooks.  I’ll be in Brooklyn in April and can’t wait to see these up close.

I admit I don’t know much about Basquiat.  I was impressed by the 1996 movie while I was at university, but I have had little reason to find out more.

But all it takes is a quick Google to see there’s probably no other artist who so visibly fuses the concept of note-taking with stream-of-consciousness art.  His artwork isn’t for everyone, but it is worth a good look, if only to get inspiration about notetaking itself, and the movement from “concept” to presentation.

From New York Times article

From New York Times article

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled piece (1983) from MoMA Collection

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled piece (1983) from MoMA Collection

Hollywood Africans (1983) - from Whitney Museum of American Art collection

Hollywood Africans (1983) – from Whitney Museum of American Art collection

Historical recipe books – huge online trove

The Wellcome Library has a huge collection of historical recipe books dating back to the 16th Century. The digital interface is fast, easy to navigate and the zoom function is smooth and user friendly.
Hours worth of goodies ready to look through, all free to download…

http://wellcomelibrary.org/collections/digital-collections/recipe-books/

Private libraries and kleptobibliophilia

“Bibliothecae” – library or collection of books.  Kleptobibliophile – sadly not a real word but one that appears in the Wikipedia entry on Private Libraries, and a great way to describe some of the collection habits in the past.

Continue reading

Who cares about notebooks, anyway?

Imagine you are the centre of the world.  Not difficult for many of us, deep down.  Regardless of how much we understand about how others live and see the world, we are the director, author and sole actor in the screenplay of our lives.

We crave the vicarious experience of seeing through another person’s eyes, through a camera lens or the words on the page, and it is not a mistake that the words we use to describe a masterful work is connected to this feeling.  We are “caught up”, “carried away”, we “lose ourselves” in the story.  But even in the best works, we are always conscious of ourselves as the observer, something that artists play with, exploit, comment on, but can never overcome.

We are the amalgam of those tangled thoughts in our heads, conflicting, contradicting, negotiating.  We see ourselves in the singular by the mere fact that we have only one body to express the multitude of potential actions that compete for primacy every waking moment.  And we are a generation of the image, the presentation to the world of the best of our faces, the one that ends up on our Facebook page, our Instagram account, our studied words on a self-conscious blog.

Continue reading