A Comic Book about the Artist’s Mindset

brick by brick cover

Creating is hard.  So is trudging through the Sahara without a canteen. If you’re in need of a cool drink, pick up a copy of Cartoonist Stephen McCranie’s book, Brick by Brick: Principles for Achieving Artistic Mastery.

Beautiful and wise, Brick by Brick has taught me about the creative mindset in a way few other books have. It’s packed full of insight and whimsical artwork drawn in soft shades of peach, brown, and aqua.

The title comes from the idea that a tower is built one brick at a time. “That means your measure for success is not how tall your tower is, but whether or not you’ve laid your bricks for the day” (p. 16).

In the introduction, McCranie says the comic essays stemmed from what he’d learned in his first two years as a professional cartoonist. He realized his experience might help other artists, but rather than tell artists how to create, this would be a “book about how to be a creator.” More than a “how to” manual, it’s a “how to be” book.

The comic format, a harmony of illustration and prose, grabs me in a way other books on the creative process have not. It’s written with honesty about his own failures, his struggles with self-doubt, and the principles that got him on the right track.

With a hearty dash of humor (I love his “deadlinosaurus rex”), he warns us to set realistic goals, break them down into small steps, and plan “backwards so you can live forwards” (p. 29). He offers tips to improve your craft and stay motivated while avoiding potholes along the journey.

The most helpful chapter for me (though it’s difficult to choose just one) is “You Are Not Your Art” – a pep talk for anyone who has invested too much of their identity in their creative pursuit.

“Hug the Elephant” is an insightful peek into the nature of beauty. “Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect” explores how to improve your skill by studying the experts in your field, and he gives tips to learn through imitation.

Other section titles include:

  • “Turn Your Pain into Plans”
  • “Planning for the Possible”
  • “Two Fallacies to Watch Out For”
  • “Taste is your Teacher”
  • “Be Friends with Failure”
  • “Know Your Artistic Lineage”
  • “Diversify Your Study”
  • “Get Stuff Done”
  • “Fun Gets Done”
  • “Divide and Conquer”

When I flip the last page of the “Conclusion,” my vision is sharper, and I’m motivated to follow McCranie’s advice: “Go outside and look for dragons.” Creatives of all types will find Brick by Brick amusing and inspiring.

Writers, artists, dreamers, read this book. It’s nothing short of powerful. You can buy it on Amazon or on McCranie’s website doodlealley.com where you’ll find more resources and see a sample of his drawing style.

Update: Yesterday, I received a copy of McCranie’s newest book, Space Boy. If it’s half as honest and uplifting as Brick by Brick, it will be well worth the read.

Advertisements

Write for Your Tribe

Are You Disheartened?

Have you thought about giving up this writing thing?

Have you wondered if you should devote so much time to this endeavor? Whether you should risk your sanity for it?

gata-1086278_1920
Pixabay

Is it worth all the SACRIFICE when you get so little in return? So little validation. So many rejection letters.

No money. Nil.

Or perhaps your half-finished story has never seen the light of day. You’ve hidden it in a drawer or on a hard drive, too afraid to show anyone. Too afraid to finish.

Meanwhile, your writer friends publish their work, get noticed, climb the rankings on Amazon. A few have published with the Big Five, won Pulitzers, and made millions. These may or may not be your personal friends, but they write the books you read.

flowers summer yellow plant
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You suspect your writing is not on the same level as theirs. You feel like a dandelion amongst roses. Like Ira Glass explained, a gap exists between what you admire – your taste – and your ability.

Should You Quit?

Perhaps the better question is, Can you quit?

Discouragement sets in because writing is hard. Believe me, crocheting is much easier. Or knitting.

Can you give it up and keep your sanity? If the answer is yes, then you can take up a more rewarding hobby. Like knitting. (I’m not knocking knitting. I have two projects going right now.)

Or maybe you’ll choose to do the hard thing because you want to write. Or you need to write. And you hate knitting.

And maybe you’ll decide that success isn’t measured by rankings or money or even popularity. Maybe success means making a small difference in the world.

Your Mission, If You Choose to Accept It

STAY THE COURSE. Don’t give up.

No one else can write with your unique perspective, with your experiences, your voice.

You might object, “Too many voices are clamoring to be heard already!”

But none of them are yours. You are the only one who can write your way. You are the only one with your voice.

If you study the craft, if you do the work, you WILL inspire someone else. If your story, poem, picture or post can help one, anonymous person, is it worth it?

Keep writing. Accumulate a body of work, and your influence will grow. You may not win a Pulitzer. You may never make a bestseller list. But you will reach the right people – your people – with your authentic words.

It’s about writing — and sharing — one true thing.

Be yourself. In time, your voice will find readers. Your readers. Write for your tribe.

Encouragement for the Overwhelmed Writer

Keep going. Don’t give up.

inch worm

 

An inch, a word at a time, will do.

Big things begin with small efforts.

 

 

 

 

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”                                                                                 Earnest Hemingway

 

 

IMG_1185

 

 

Cultivate one true thought and write it down.

Then do it again.

And again…

 

 

 

 

…until you have a story.

purple flowers

 

 

Bee’s Knees, and Other Swell Expressions

I woke up this morning in a contemplative mood. I was pondering grief, death, and the etymology of the phrase bee’s knees.

What in tarnation does it mean? Do bees have knees?

pexels-photo-460961.jpeg

I was certain this expression, which means “fantastic, supreme,” must be an Americanism from the 1920’s, a renaissance for slang.

Fiddlesticks! According to language specialist Matthew Male at Future Perfect, it isn’t American at all. The term derives from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.   

” . . . that but this blow/Might be the be-all and the end-all. . . ”  (I.vii.4ff)

The phrase “be-all and end-all” became a popular saying. It was so familiar that people shortened it to “the B’s and E’s.”

“B’s and E’s.” Say that five times really fast. What does it sound like? Right ho! There you have it.

That brings me to swell. Dictionary.com says it was first used to mean “good, excellent” in 1897, much earlier than I thought:

“The riverboat was swell!” said the dapper gentleman in the white, straw hat.

Later, in 1930, it emerged as a stand-alone interjection:

Joe asked, “How was the grammar lecture?”

“Swell!” George said, beaming.

A synonym of swell, and one I’ve also wondered about, is hunky-dory. According to phrases.org.uk, the first record of this expression is from an American (with possible Irish influence) song. Again, it did not originate in the Roaring 20’s but much earlier: 1862. Here are the lyrics which I quote from the website:

Hunkey Dorey

One of the boys am I,
That always am in clover;
With spirits light and high,
‘Tis well I’m known all over.
I am always to be found,
A singing in my glory;
With your smiling faces round,
‘Tis then I’m hunkey dorey. 

And on that note, I will sign-off, hoping your day is the bee’s knees.