Sunday, April 3, 2011

"How to Steal Like an Artist"

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Austin Kleon, but if you were in my class fall quarter with Zack, you saw a piece that I did in his style of 'newspaper blackout' where he takes pages from a newspaper and blacks out with a sharpie everything except a few chosen words to create an original poem. Since we're sharing design that inspires us, I thought it was only fair to look at a speech (and now piece on his website) of Austin's ideas about being an artist.

His notes about it say that "It’s a simple list of 10 things I wish I’d heard when I was in college."

One of my favorite parts of the 'list' is when he states:

There’s an economic theory out there that if you take the incomes of your five closest friends and average them, the resulting number will be pretty close to your own income.

I think the same thing is true of our idea incomes. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.

In other words, we have to constantly be looking at and exploring others' ideas, we can't live in a little design bubble as it sometimes seems that we do in school.

Your job is to collect ideas. The best way to collect ideas is to read. Read, read, read, read, read. Read the newspaper. Read the weather. Read the signs on the road. Read the faces of strangers. The more you read, the more you can choose to be influenced by.

This advice was also given to me by a screenwriting professor that I had while at DePaul. He used to ask us, "how are you going to write an interesting story unless you go and do interesting things?"

I think this advice is particularly important to us now that we are all seniors/soon to be seniors/almost graduating and moving out of school-mode.

Everything I said above is just ONE part of his list - 1) How to Steal Like an Artist.

It also includes:
2) Don't wait until you know who you are to make things.
3) Write the book you want to read.
4) Use your hands.
5) Side projects and hobbies are important (we also heard this in class!)
6) Do good work, then put it where people can see it.
7) Geography is no longer our master.
8) Be nice (the world is a small town).
9) Be boring (it's the only way to get work done).

Although this wasn't a piece of design that I found interesting, it is something that I felt should be shared with the class. Austin Kleon has a lot of interesting ideas, and if nothing else his Newspaper Blackout poems are also enlightening (and quick reads usually) if you're looking for something to think about in a new way.

The whole thing can be found here:


  1. Katie- I loved the statement "Read, read, read, read, read." Reading is what makes us relevant as designers. If you don't know whats going on around you, how can you intelligently make a comment on it, or design anything for it?

    LOVE IT... READ!

  2. I was really inspired by the last part of your post, especially the point "don't wait until you know who you are to make things". I love this because I believe it is so true; overall this post was very though-provoking.

  3. I had found this last week and was glad to see it posted here. It is some great advice. As someone who is prone to keeping to himself, I find that isolation unfavorable to feeding my creative energy. I never realized how much I would need to be around people who are not only creative, but just people who have interesting views on things. That is one of my challenges, getting out of the bubble, as it were. Also, I have to laugh at the last one about being boring. I have a friend in illustration and he made a similar comment not long ago, that being, he was boring, so it allowed him to be home working uninterrupted for days.

    Thanks for the excellent post.

  4. I agree! It's so important to surround yourself with other creatives from all fields. We are social beings, it drives our energy.

  5. I like how he said in the end "Be Boring" it's the only way to get things done. I always wondered how much more work I could make if I didn't have a life and if all the extra things I do on the side possible take away from me being a designer. I always secretly think I could get so much more work done if I hibernated, but then I agree with Nina in that we have to surround ourselves with others because we are human and our experiences shape ourselves and a designer our interactions influence our designs.

  6. It is interesting because the advice you posted have been things that have been going through my mind a lot recently with trying to find a niche and prepare for the "real world" outside of school. One thing I struggle with is the being boring part, I understand that constantly going out and doing things takes place of time working but its hard for me to accept that that is going to have to happen :(

  7. I really liked number 5 on the list, "side projects and hobbies are important." I know that we talked about this in class but I have always felt that it was important to have a more than one thing you like. For me it is horses and sports and doing side projects for design. I realized this when I was a freshman, I wanted to be a large animal vet for horses and changed to graphic design because I didn’t want to mix a passion and hobby with work.

    That being said I am glad I made the decision to make graphic design my career. My hobby of horses and sports are what is important to me and they are what drives my creative thinking for design. I also love doing side projects for other people such as one project I did over the summer for my sisters wedding. I wrote out all her invitations (300 of them) in calligraphy and didn't think I could get it done in time. Once I was done it just made me feel good, and that I accomplished something.

    I feel that it is important to challenge ourselves and now that school is ending and we are going out into the real world challenges for ourself are what will help us for success.

  8. I love every single piece of advice on the list, but #2 really resonates with me because I am such a perfectionist! It's pretty much the darker side of having figured out what sorts of personal projects and themes I want to explore in my work. I end up so invested in making sure that it's perfect that I'm too much of a wuss to actually, y'know, do it and put my work out there.

    The "nothing is original" statement from the original blog is another one I like. The variation I use, formulated by a writer friend of mine, is: "It's not so much about having originality as it is having unoriginality that's badass enough to stand out." Every time I come up with an idea, my default assumption is that it's probably been done before and I just haven't personally seen it yet. At that point, I can either take some time and try to research it, or I can just go right ahead and do it in a way that feels right to me, without worrying about being "original."

  9. I really like number six and nine. I feel that we should be motivated to make good work and show it to the world. Also being boring does help in getting things done, however it's good to also have fun once a while.

  10. I agree with all the steps explained in the article. I can see how certain philosophical theories can also be applied to the advice that this article provides, especially the process of creation and how our experiences and observations can move us to explore ideas further in works.

  11. Every single step is very interesting. When we surround ourselves to different fields of art. Art has the power to transcend thoughts, uplift environments, enhance moods, change attitudes, improve health and it just makes you feel good!

  12. I love all the steps listed exp number 8 because who you know and even those you don't can be important to you in someway.I cant tell you how many times I've run into people I know in differnt states just walking down the street, the world is very small and everyone knows someone else. And inspiration is everywhere.

  13. I love all these rules - they're all worth remembering. Although, 3 is a lot harder than it sounds. I've tried to no avail.

  14. like everyone, I love this list. I think we have all have these goals- maybe just difficult in execution sometimes.

  15. i remember your project, and we talked about it a lot during the build process and i thought it was so cool the whole way through.

  16. I really respond to "Write the book you want to read" and I think it can be applied to any creative field. Make work that you are pleased with, don't wait around for someone else to do it.

  17. These are all great rules. I personally relate more to the rule that tells you to read read read. I do agree that the more you read the more you can choose what to be influenced on. I do not have a lot of free time, but whenever I get a change I am trying to read as many different things as I can.