Shut Your Monkey | Book Review

Hey everyone! I’m starting a new series of book review posts. There’s a bunch of inspiring books on creativity stacked on my nightstand, and I thought it’d be helpful as I read through them to share some highlights with you. It'll let me sort out and apply their lessons while letting you know why I think you’d LOVE these books!

I’m kicking things off with a book that I know some of my friends are excited about: Shut Your Monkey: How to Control Your Inner Critic and Get More Done by Danny Gregory. I snapped this sucker right off the bookstore shelf during one of my ‘I need help with procrastination’ moods. Now I’m really glad I did! I'd recommend this book to every creative person out there, especially those who struggle with being their own worst critic.

Author Danny Gregory refers to the negative voice inside your head as "The Monkey." The monkey picks apart all of your new ideas, then tells you that you suck. It says that you shouldn’t even try, and then distracts you from getting anything done. We all have this voice inside our heads, and for me, it’s really hard to shut it up. My monkey got the better of me in 2016, which is why I've struggled so much with productivity and motivation. But this year I’m silencing that damn simian once and for all, and so should you.

There’s a lot of relatable content in this book, and it provides for a fun and quick read. The sections on perfectionism and overthinking stood out the most in relation to my inner critic, and I thought the advice was very helpful.

If you’ve been following along with my previous posts, then you’ve noticed I have a huge problem with perfectionism. Gregory talks about perfectionism quite a bit in the book. Your monkey insists you do everything perfectly, but will make sure perfection is always just out of your reach. My monkey nitpicks everything I do, and if my work isn’t 100% perfect it tells me I suck and should just give up.

What Gregory says might seem like common sense when you read it, but I struggle to remember it whenever perfectionism starts to take hold of me: When you try something for the first time, you’re more likely to fail because you don’t know the rules, don’t have the tools, and haven’t failed enough to learn the lessons. Perfection isn’t natural; it’s boring, so be more realistic with your capabilities. Even the Mona Lisa has cracks. Maybe you’re just a flawed major masterpiece (to me, this was the most powerful phrase from Shut your Monkey).

Another area of self-criticism I struggle with is thinking too much and not actually doing. My monkey makes me procrastinate, telling me to forget about that new idea I have and instead go hang out on the couch to watch some trashy TV and eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. It says tomorrow is another day, and that great idea I have can just wait.

Gregory’s advice for silencing the moneky this time? Beat it with the habit of work. Don’t focus on the results, just focus on being productive. Work hard and give yourself a sense of purpose. A lame idea beats no idea every time. Just make something, anything.

Ok, so I shared just a SMALL snippet from Shut Your Monkey, and I could go on and on about how helpful and relevant this read is for creatives, but I don’t want to give away all of Gregory’s good advice! I highly recommend checking this book out if you can. Not only is it a quick read, but also I find myself going back to specific sections to re-read whenever I’m in a creative funk. It’s a mini mood booster and a tiny shot of confidence (just look at all these great reivews). See if your local library has a copy, or pick it up here. And please let me know what you think after reading it by leaving a comment below!

Bad Ass Ladies of Lettering

Hand lettering is a skillset I’ve been drooling over for years, a talent I’d like to add to my creative tool-belt. Last year I enrolled in Hand Lettering for Designers at School of Visual Concepts (if you live in the Seattle area, I HIGHLY recommend taking some classes here), and got a first-hand introduction to lettering. My passion for beautifully drawn letters started to grow, full speed ahead!

Hand lettering is the illustration of letters, not to be confused with calligraphy or typography. It’s the art of drawing letters, as opposed to writing them. Calligraphers write words, type designers make fonts, and letterers draw words. As a graphic designer and typography lover, it seems natural to desire this skill. Hand lettering brings an impressive element to both personal and professional projects. 

Over the years I’ve curated a nicely sized collection of hand lettering books and followed some EXTREMELY (seriously) talented letterers, who inspire me to keep at it and continue practicing my lettering. I’m really excited to share my very favorite letterers, bad asses Jessica Hische and Mary Kate McDevitt (who are also the authors of my favorite lettering books, go figure). These ladies are not only crazy talented, but also hard working individuals who’ve found something they love doing and were able to turn it into a full time gig. If you're interested in lettering, or just like looking at pretty art, I hope you'll find some inspiration and resources below!

Photo from The Everygirl

Jessica Hische, also fondly known as ‘The Drop Cap Girl’, was the first professional letterer I started following. I saw her gorgeous Penguin Drop Cap series online, and then years later, stumbled upon her book In Progress. If you’ve had the pleasure of holding this book in your hands, then you’d understand why I simply couldn’t leave the store without it. Once I got home and looked through the pages I realized I’ve actually seen several of her projects before, without even realizing it! Most notably, her Barnes & Noble Classics book cover collection, her logo re-design for Mail Chimp and Retail Me Not, the film titles for Moonrise Kingdom, and the cover of Elizabeth Gilbert’s second novel Committed, a Love Story.

Jessica’s work is very clean and controlled, with a touch of elegance. Her lines are precise, whether they are delicate and flowing or ridged and bold. She is a versatile designer, able to create vastly different styles of art. Jessica’s Daily Drop Cap series is quirky and fun, and I have to say that no one can illustrate intricate drop caps like her!

One of the most inspiring lettering books out there, In Progress is not only informative, but visually stunning from cover to cover. Lovers of lettering, typography, and striking layouts need to add this book to their collection. Jessica goes through her entire process, from the early stages of research and sketching, to digitizing and vectorizing her letters. She gives a behind-the-scenes look at her big-name projects, talking about conceptualizing and brainstorming, then sharing her sketches. This book is full of tips and tricks for aspiring letterers.

"I think most people that have a lot of sucess early in their careers don't see what they do as 'work' - I would make art whether or not anyone was paying me to do it. If you can see your career as your calling more than your job, it's easy to devote your life to it." - Jessica Hische

 

Mary Kate McDevitt entered my life when I randomly found her Hand-Lettering Ledger in the design section of Barnes and Noble. I noticed her distinctive style at once, and started following her online. Soon after I enrolled in her lettering classes on Skillshare.

Mary Kate’s work has a vintagey, slightly rough, sketchy, non-perfect look to it. She uses a lot of illustrations mixed in with her lettering to create bold and playful pieces of art that show her sense of humor and highlight her personality. I admire her unique style, which is easy to spot among a pile of other letterer’s pieces.

One thing I love about Mary Kate is all the fun projects she’s done for Chronicle Books. I’m a sucker for this type of stuff, and really want her Mini Goals Notepad, Carpe Diem Journal, and The Big Ideas Notepad, just to name a few. I also enjoy the super crazy (in a good way) covers she’s illustrated for Mental Floss magazine. Look at that color!

 

Hand-Lettering Ledger is half informative guide and half workbook. While I’d never write in one of my design books, you can easily photocopy the workbook pages for personal use. Mary Kate goes over a handful of primary lettering styles and provides us with helpful tips while using bright and exciting examples. This book is packed FULL of character, and is less about her life and career and more about teaching and guiding aspiring letterers, something I really appreciated.

"Hand Lettering takes the simplest form of communication and transforms it into an expressive art form." - Mary Kate McDevitt

 

I hope your creative juices are flowing and these bad ass ladies have inspired you as much as they’ve inspired me! If you’re looking for additional lettering resources, I’ve pulled some more books from my collection that are worth checking out: Hand-Lettering for Everyone, Draw Your Own Alphabets, and Drawing Type. I may even put together a ‘lettering tools’ post in the near future, featuring some of my favorite pens and inks.

Because this was so much to write, I’m toying with the idea of turning this post into a series, where I’ll focus on inspirational artists with specific skillsets. Maybe I’ll do letterpress next? Or screen printing? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below!

Portfolio Makeover: 5 Step Plan

I graduated from art school back in 2008 and I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve been toting the same design portfolio around all these years. It’s in serious need of an over-haul! Every creative person knows it’s important to keep your body of work up-to-date, because your style naturally changes over time. Adding and removing pieces keeps the variety of work fresh and cohesive. When’s the last time you updated your portfolio? Are you in the same boat as me right now? If so, it’s time to abandon ship and get to work!

How do we undertake the huge process of re-working our portfolio, and how do we fight the anxiety? My weapons of choice this time around are planning, research and inspiration. I’ve created a 5-step list to help navigate the process and make it feel less overwhelming.

I’ve come to the realization that I’ll need to create brand new work for my portfolio because the current examples are outdated, but thinking about all that work gives me paralyzing anxiety. That’s the reason I haven’t updated in so long. Your portfolio is a very personal body of work. It defines who you are as an artist, and sells you to potential employers and clients. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself! Also, making new pieces takes a hefty chunk of time (and stress!). 

How do we undertake the huge process of re-working our portfolio, and how do we fight the anxiety? My weapons of choice this time around are planning, research and inspiration. I’ve created a 5-step list to help navigate the process and make it feel less overwhelming.

Step 1: Cull

Look through your portfolio and pull out any outdated pieces, work that no longer speaks to you or represents you as a designer today. You might not need to completely over-haul your body of work. See if there are any old pieces you want to keep or update, and recycle them to save yourself time.

I realized I needed to make several new pieces of work after I took a helpful class on Skillshare. It’s called Expressing Yourself with Personal Passion Projects, and you’re asked a simple question: What are you passionate about and how can you convey that in your work? The goal is to create fulfilling art that is distinctively ‘you’, not only showcasing your skills, but also highlighting who you are. Ask yourself what your dream portfolio would look like.

Step 2: Skills and Strengths 

You’ll know how many new pieces to create after you thoroughly cull your portfolio. I like to make lists to help with my brainstorming process, so I started listing out my relevant skills and strengths. Are you good at photography? Illustration? Typography? Photo manipulation? Website design? UX/UI? Are you strong at web design, print, or both? Let your skills guide you in deciding what types of pieces to create.

For my work, I want to show a good balance of web and print design, with a focus on typographic elements, hand lettering, vector shapes, and a dash of screen-printing.

Step 3: Passions and Interests

This is the part where you sit down and think about what message your body of work will convey. What are your passions? What type of work do you do in your spare time? What do you someday hope to be paid to do for a living? In other words, find what you love and love what you do. List out anything you can think of, even if it seems silly. You can go back later and sort the list.

I’m really passionate about environmental and wildlife conservation, human rights, and travel. I’ll be incorporating these passions, at varying degrees, into my new projects. I’m not passionate about sports (sorry sports fans) or theater, so you won’t see that reflected in my portfolio.

Step 4: Form Projects

Now that you know what skills and passions you want to incorporate, you can start thinking about what type of projects you want to make. Combine steps 2 and 3 to form project ideas. Maybe I’ll make a vector illustration of an endangered species, screen-print a travel poster, or re-design the website of a local nonprofit. While I’m at it, I could even re-design their logo.

This is also the step where I’ll gather inspiration (think pinterest, art museums, or design books) to help get the wheels turning. There are lots of projects out there with unlimited possibilities. Narrow the ideas down to a handful so you can build a strong portfolio.  

Step 5: Goal Setting

We should have a good list of projects at this point, with a vague idea of what our new pieces will look like. Setting goals for completion is something I find very helpful, and it eases the overwhelming feeling you get when you first sit down to work. I like to plan out when I’ll complete each new piece, and list out what resources I might need.

I have a full time job, so I know my personal time is limited. That means it wouldn’t be practical to set goals of more than 1 project every month or two. I just can’t work that fast!  Think about the amount of free time you have and plan accordingly.

How do we undertake the huge process of re-working our portfolio, and how do we fight the anxiety? My weapons of choice this time around are planning, research and inspiration. I’ve created a 5-step list to help navigate the process and make it feel less overwhelming.

So there you have it, not too complicated, right? These are the 5 steps I’ll use to tackle my portfolio’s makeover. I hope they are helpful to you, too! Just remember to focus on planning, research, and finding inspiration. It will take some anxiety away from the process. Is anyone else updating your body of work? I’d love to hear about it.

Creativity, my old friend.

When I first decided to create a blog it was going to be a collaborative project with my boyfriend, Jeff. He’s a talented graphic designer, illustrator, and photographer (and apparently a national award-winning writer…). I’m also a graphic designer, with a growing interest in screen printing, letterpress, and photography. I wanted to build a site to showcase our combined talents, and motivate us to do more projects together.

However, as I put thought and planning into a combined blog, something unexpected happened. The process forced me to examine my relationship with my own creativity in a level of detail I hadn’t before. I realized I was neglecting that relationship, and wasn’t living up to my full potential, which made me sad.

Creativity and I have a long history, like a friendship with someone you’ve known since you were in diapers. I spent my childhood drawing late into the night, I took every art class my small town offered, and upon high school graduation, I ran off to the big city to major in Graphic Design. Sadly those college years burnt me out. By the time I graduated, designing had become a chore and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be an artist anymore. Eventually I went back to school for a ‘real degree’, majoring in Global Studies, and left creativity behind. (Though I did study abroad in Italy, where I paid to stare at the statue of David’s ass… twice. That part was totally worth it).

As I continued to think about my damaged relationship with creativity, I was hit right in the face. This was becoming deeply personal, so the blog shouldn’t be a collaborative project with Jeff (don’t worry, he has his own blog). This blog has to be a representation of me. This is something I need to do for myself, so that I can be the artistic person I once was and reconnect with my personal creativity. 

A few months ago I read the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. The title of this book caught my eye at the exact moment in life when I realized fear was preventing me from making art. It’s kind of spooky how this book, which had just been published a few days before I found it, came to me at the right time. I read it all in one sitting and began to ask myself questions.

Why did I give up on my creativity in the first place? Big Magic helped me answer that question. The answer is fear and perfectionism. I sabotaged my relationship with creativity because I was too much of a perfectionist and too afraid of failure. It wasn’t always this way, but somewhere along the line I developed these traits. I was afraid I wasn’t talented, afraid someone else had already made the art I wanted to make (and made it better), afraid that someday I’d look back on all the time I spent making art and feel like it had been a waste of time. I had neglected creativity for so long, I was afraid we’d never connect again. 

Gilbert really hit home when she addressed two common anxieties of artists; being afraid that your art isn’t 100% original, and being afraid that your art isn’t perfect. When I look for inspiration and brainstorm ideas for a new project, I always worry that the end result will look like something that has already been done. You don’t want to be told your ideas aren’t original, and seem like a copycat. Sometimes it’s really hard for me to get past this because it’s seemingly impossible to come up with completely original ideas. Gilbert (to the rescue) reminds us that yes, your ideas probably won’t be 100% original because most things have been done. But – they  haven’t been done by you. Everything reminds us of something, but when you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours.

My level of perfectionism is unhealthy and leads to fear. I give up really easily when things don’t turn out perfectly. This has been the case with almost every hobby I’ve ever had. If I’m not amazing from the moment I start out, I give up in frustration and move on to the next hobby. It sounds really stupid, because we all know that no one starts out being amazing at everything. Practice makes perfect, and over time, you improve. But it’s been stuck in my head for years that if I’m not good at something, it probably means I’m not a ‘natural’, and so I should move on. I’m realizing how toxic this is, and that it keeps me from making and doing wonderful things.

Gilbert (to the rescue once more) says that no matter how hard you try to make your art flawless, there will always be someone who will find fault with it. At some point, you need to stop caring about making it perfect, and stop caring what other people think. You have to finish your project and release it into the world, so that you can move on to the next project. We all try to avoid making mistakes, and that is normal. But imperfection is part of being human. And even though perfectionists are often praised for their abilities, being constantly anxious about details can hold you back and keep you from reaching your full potential. At the end of the day, create what you want to create, because you like doing it. It doesn’t matter if you create something for fun or for profit. It’s ok if your work helps heal you, or fascinates you, or if it’s just a hobby that keeps you from going crazy. It doesn’t matter if your finished products suck, because what you create doesn’t have to be perfect.

Now that I understand some of the anxieties that keep me from creating, it’s time to do something about it. I need to tell these anxieties to go away, I need to push forward. I need to apologize to someone…

…Creativity, I’m sorry I gave up because my art wasn’t perfect in my eyes. I let fear keep me distant. But I’m starting this blog for you, and I’m done letting fear and perfectionism get in the way. I’m going to re-build my relationship with you by writing again, designing for fun again, creating again - just for me. If what I create turns out to be less than perfect, screw it. I’m not going to let that stop me from moving forward.

I hope this blog will help me dig deep within myself to produce raw and personal art. I want to create intuitively and find connections to things that make me happy. I want to welcome imperfections instead of fearing them. Rebuilding my relationship with Creativity is going to be a process, and it will take time. I have to be patient and I can’t give up when things get tough, if I want to live a creative lifestyle once again.

Photography tag-teamed by Jeff Carpenter and myself.