What Makes a Good Life?

05/18/16

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Two weeks ago I was on an airplane flying to the East Coast. I have my most profound creative and emotional moments on airplanes. I have come to learn I am not alone — that many people experience intense emotion and feelings of clarity while suspended in air. I have my deepest ponderings on airplanes. I have had some of my most weighty AHA! moments on airplanes, and come up with some of my greatest ideas.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the question, What Makes a Good Life? and on the airplane that day two weeks ago, I was thinking about it deeply (of course). So I took my pen drew the question in my sketchbook (top image, above) while we were flying over the United States, somewhere between Seattle and Washington, DC.

The next day in Rhode Island, our first stop on the trip, I photographed the spread, posted it on Instagram and asked my followers what they thought made a good life. You can see the results here. I also explained underneath the photo that I have been thinking a lot about this question lately, mostly because I am experiencing a new level of weariness in my life, which has lead to more labored attempts at creativity, less motivation and an almost constant state of anxiety about getting things done.

I need to come out of the closet and admit it: Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m fried. 

I have a thriving career, a solid, loving relationship, a close circle of devoted friends and a loving family — all markers of my own idea of some of the things that make a good life. I’m enormously grateful for all of those things. But lately I have also been experiencing unprecedented fatigue and malaise. That fatigue and malaise are, ironically, the result of the thriving career I mentioned earlier. I have spent the past six years working long days and with feverish devotion to build my illustration and writing career and take advantage of every opportunity that has come my way. And I have done it with energy, love and enthusiasm. And all of that work has paid off. But, as a result, I am now really tired. The kind of tired you can feel in your bones.

The #1 question people ask me is some version of this: You do so much in your career and you seem to have so much energy! How do you do it? I have never really known how to answer that question, and my answer is usually some version of sacrifice! discipline! long hours! taking the best possible care of myself that I can when I’m not working!

But lately, I’ve been wanting to say, I work too much! I’m burned out!

Truth is, it’s time for me to work less, create space around the projects and travel I do commit to and begin to slow down. My happiness, health and quality of life depend on it.

Okay, back to the question I posed on Instagram. I got over 90 responses in the comments. So on my way back home (also on an airplane) over last weekend, I drew in my sketchbook the most common responses to the question What Makes a Good Life (as proposed my my Instagram followers). You can see a photo of that sketchbook above too.

What people didn’t say was working long hours! success! to-do lists! 

What they did say was relaxation! curiosity! mindfulness! rest! family! friends! (and on and on). I couldn’t agree more.

I would not change anything about the past six years of my life and the sacrifices I made. I am gratified by and grateful for my career, following, books, clients, opportunities, travel, new friends, everything I’ve learned — all of it.

But it’s also time for me to make a shift. I will be writing about and documenting that shift here. I am not sure it’s going to be easy. I am not sure I really know how to relax anymore. Or that I won’t want to fill up my new “free time” with more projects. So, this should be interesting! And probably a little bit funny. And I look forward to sharing my thoughts about how it’s going here.

Stay tuned for more, soon.

Happy Wednesday!

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Seattle Book Event May 24!

05/17/16

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Seattle, I’m coming your way on Tuesday, May 24 for an event at University Books. I’ll be sitting down with local Seattle journalist & personality Tracey Conway for a conversation about swimming and the creative process, followed by an audience Q&A and book signing for my latest book The Joy of Swimming. The event starts at 7 pm. Get there early — seats are limited!

More info here!

This is the FINAL stop on my book tour & I’d love to see you there!

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Experiments in Blue // Week 20

05/16/16

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This week was another travel week for me (there are many of them coming up over the next few months!) and so my Experiment in Blue this week is another sketchbook spread! It’s made with a good ole Sakura of America gel pen (this color is my favorite). And I literally drew it while I was flying up in the clouds.

Hope everyone is having a great Monday!

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MCAD Commencement Speech

05/16/16

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This past Saturday, I had the honor of giving the commencement address at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. This was a really amazing (and somewhat surreal) experience for me. That’s mostly because I never went to art college — not at MCAD or anywhere else. I am self taught, and didn’t begin my career till I was in my late 30’s. I am, for all intents and purposes, an outsider to the academic world of art and design. So it was such a privilege to be invited to speak at one of the top ten art and design colleges in the country. I am still pinching myself and feeling enormously grateful for everything that has happened in my life in the past 15 years that has led to this point.

The transcript from the talk is below.

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First of all, congratulations! What you have accomplished is profound!

I would like to thank everyone at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design for inviting me to speak to you today, in particular to president Jay Coogan and his staff who have been truly wonderful to work with.

It is really quite an honor for me to be standing here in front of you today. For one, I never graduated from art school. In fact, I never went to art school. And so for me to be here in this academic gown, dispensing wisdom, is the honor of a lifetime.

The path I took to become a successful working artist was unconventional, and I am grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had over the past 15 years since I began on this journey. I somehow managed to figure out how to make it as an artist. It took me a few solid years – likely much longer than it will take you.

And that’s because you are starting with a few things I didn’t have — enumerable skills, tools and relationships that will help you to build your careers with fantastic swiftness. Remember to cherish and take advantage of all of those things as you leave here today.

But also remember that the greatest challenges you will face starting tomorrow, have little to do with your talent. Sure, talent matters. It matters a lot. But I like to say that 10% of your career is your talent and ingenuity. And the other 90% rests on your energy and enthusiasm, your humility and perseverance, your professionalism and dedication to pushing through every bump in the road you will encounter.

While challenges are ahead (and that’s good news because without challenges, life is exceptionally boring), I have some very good news for you.

You are leaving one of the country’s greatest art & design colleges and entering the professional world of art & design at a time unlike any other in history.

There has never been a better time to be an artist.
There has never been a better time to be a designer.
There has never been a better time to be a maker.
There has never been a better time to be an innovator.

Never in history have there been more tools, more opportunities, more platforms, or more resources for creative people to build and sustain a career and to give back to the world.

Never in history.

The Internet has changed the landscape of opportunity for artists. How you make your work, how you share your work with the world, who will employ you, how you sell your work to feed yourself — all of that is vastly different than it was even ten years ago.

Ten years ago, I decided to leave my job and become a working artist. Unlike most of you, I was already in my late 30’s. I was self taught and had little idea what I was doing. I remember telling my parents that I was going to leave my career as a director inside a non-profit organization to pursue a living as an artist. They looked at me like I was absolutely nuts.

But with discipline and a commitment not to give in easily, over time I made a successful career for myself. The Internet was at the time becoming a space for artists to share their work and build connections. I began to use the Internet as my marketplace, my testing ground, my community, my publicity hub, and my feedback loop.

When I was launching my career, the barriers which once held artists captive until they landed the right job or gallery show, won a prestigious award or fellowship, or secured the right agent or promoter, were beginning to fade. Those barriers are almost invisible now, except at the highest echelons of the art world, and even there, they are growing dimmer.

Gone now are the days of needing an agent, a gallerist, or a handler to make it as an artist. Yes, galleries and agents are incredibly useful and important, with enormous history, knowledge and support. They are simply no longer gatekeepers for success.

Also, gone are the days when you had to move to a specific place — like New York or Los Angeles — if you had any hope of making it or finding a decent creative job.

Gone are the days when you had to choose between being an illustrator or a fine artist. An editorial illustrator or surface designer. An animator or a graphic designer. Today you can choose to pursue and thrive at any number of creative pursuits.

The Internet has created a space in which brave people have forged new paths that previous art, design and illustration paradigms never would have allowed. The rules that once dictated whether a person would leave art or design college and become successful are becoming obsolete.

Instead, the Internet has created a space in which you have the freedom not only to create, but to market and grow your art or design practice however you like –without needing the permission or hand holding of someone with more clout or experience.

This freedom is enormously exciting. I am sure many of you are feeling that right now. The excitement that comes with the vast potential of a creative career in which you can make a difference in the world? There is absolutely nothing like it.

But as with most things that leave us feeling exhilarated, it is also likely leaving you feeling frightened. Some of you are frightened of failure. Some of you are frightened, conversely, of success – of your own power. Some of you are frightened of being ignored. Others of you are frightened of attention. Most of you are frightened of competition, criticism, or not being able to keep up the pace.

And, if you are not careful (and I am certain that most of you have learned this already over the past few years), all that fear can leave you feeling paralyzed or creatively blocked.

The fear cycle can be vicious.

So you must learn to confront your fear. And part of confronting your fear is understanding on a deep level that everyone is scared.

Every single one of you, on some level, is scared.

Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

Legendary artist Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

I would hazard to guess that O’Keefe’s terror was connected to her deep commitment to putting new ideas and work into the world, not once or twice when it felt safe, but every single day she was alive.

As part of this next phase of your creative journey, part of your job when you get out of bed every single day is to tell your fears to piss off — or as the Buddhists might do, give your fears a giant bear hug.

You may even imagine that someday after you’ve got some years under your belt you will wake up and not feel scared anymore.

I’m sorry to tell you: that won’t happen either.

And that’s actually good news. Your fear makes you human. And fear is an integral part of the creative process. It’s an integral part of greatness. Of becoming great at something. Of being a great human being. Of becoming a great artist or designer.

And that’s because we cannot make a difference in the world without taking risks, without moving into new, uncharted territory, without forging new trails, without rubbing up against the status quo. Fear means you are doing all of those things. Fear means you are doing something right.

Develop a healthy relationship with your fear, and do not allow it to stop you from doing great things.

What a shame it would be if you hoarded all your ideas! What a shame it would be if you did not use your gifts!

It is, as writer Maya Angelou pointed out, in fact, your obligation to share your gifts. Fear, she said, “is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself – for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.“

You leave here today with a rich education, you are entering the world of art & design at the most exciting time in history.

These are enormous privileges. Use those privileges wisely, and do not become complacent.

Show up every day.

Show enthusiasm.

Bring energy to your work and your working relationships.

Remain humble.

Grow the strength to persevere through every hardship, rejection or criticism.

Conduct business with professionalism and integrity.

Use your superpowers for good.

And last of all, be patient with yourself.

I hope you will each leave here today ready to let yourselves shine brightly, to share your tremendous gifts with the world, to be brave, to make a difference.

There has never been a better time to be an artist.
There has never been a better time to be a designer.
There has never been a better time to be a maker.
There has never been a better time to be an innovator.

I can’t wait to see what you create.

Thank you.

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Portland Book Signing May 17!

05/12/16

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Hello to my hometown of PORTLAND! Join me this coming TUESDAY, May 17 at Broadway Books for a book signing for my latest book The Joy of Swimming (and any of my books they have in stock)! I’d love to see you there. Event goes from 7-8 pm. Broadway Books is located at 1714 NE Broadway. Come say hello! Kids welcome! Hugs! High fives!

Optional RSVP here. Event is free and open to the public. You can check out all of my book tour events here.

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