A Photo Timelapse: Month 3 at Upgrow, Inc.

I cannot believe it has been three whole months out of my six-month apprenticeship at Upgrow. It’s so cliche to say this, but I have honestly learned so much, grown so much, and become (it feels like) a totally different person.

Because, as the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m posting pictures of this ridiculous journey, in honor of this halfway point.

On top of living in an absolutely gorgeous city and taking pictures with my phone that could go on postcards, I have published nearly ten blog posts to clients’ blogs and edited hundreds of web pages to optimize their SEO. I’ve learned more about marketing within three months than years of college classes could teach me. And I live in the universal locus for technology, where everyone is smart in the very specific way that means they will be excellent connections for my career path.

I can only hope my life continues to be awesome going forward – for the next three months of my apprenticeship as well as in the more distant future.

The Last Enemy That Shall Be Destroyed Is Death

His wand rose into the starting position for the Patronus Charm.
Harry thought of the stars, the image that had almost held off the Dementor even without a Patronus. Only this time, Harry added the missing ingredient, he’d never truly seen it but he’d seen the pictures and the video. The Earth, blazing blue and white with reflected sunlight as it hung in space, amid the black void and the brilliant points of light. It belonged there, within that image, because it was what gave everything else its meaning. The Earth was what made the stars significant, made them more than uncontrolled fusion reactions, because it was Earth that would someday colonize the galaxy, and fulfill the promise of the night sky.

Would they still be plagued by Dementors, the children’s children’s
children, the distant descendants of humankind as they strode from star to star? No. Of course not. The Dementors were only little nuisances, paling into nothingness in the light of that promise; not unkillable, not invincible, not even close. You had to put up with little nuisances, if you were one of the lucky and unlucky few to be born on Earth; on Ancient Earth, as it would be remembered someday. That too was part of what it meant to be alive, if you were one of the tiny handful of sentient beings born into the beginning of all things, before intelligent life had come fully into its power. That the much vaster future depended on what you did here, now, in the earliest days of dawn, when there was still so much darkness to be fought, and temporary nuisances like Dementors.

On the wand, Harry’s fingers moved into their starting positions; he
was ready, now, to think the right sort of warm and happy thought. And Harry’s eyes stared directly at that which lay beneath the tattered cloak, looked straight at that which had been named Dementor. The void, the emptiness, the hole in the universe, the absence of color and space, the open drain through which warmth poured out of the world. The fear it exuded stole away all happy thoughts, its closeness drained your power and strength, its kiss would destroy everything that you were.

I know you now, Harry thought as his wand twitched once, twice, thrice and four times, as his fingers slid exactly the right distances, I comprehend your nature, you symbolize Death, through some law of magic you are a shadow that Death casts into the world.
And Death is not something I will ever embrace.
It is only a childish thing, that the human species has not yet outgrown.

– Eliezer Yudkowsky, “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality“; Chapter 45, “Humanism, Part III”


I already talked about why HPMOR is my favorite book on the planet. (Which is why I tried very hard not to spoil anything terribly important with the above excerpt, while still having it convey the intended meaning. I would love it if you’d read it.) Now, here’s an oil painting inspired by it. The title of this post, and of the painting itself, are inspired by a thematically similar section later in the book.

I had a bit of trouble finding decent reference pictures for ‘earth from space’, funnily enough. It’s difficult to distinguish high-quality photographs from digital art. The references (yes, plural) I ended up settling on were taken from NASA and the ISS. Even so, maybe it doesn’t matter, since I ended up using a pretty impressionistic style anyway.

I’ve actually never drawn space or planets before. I would absolutely not trust myself to be non-detail-focused enough to do this in markers, hence the painting. (Also, since this is my warm happy thought as well as Harry’s, I want to hang this on my wall, and oil paintings are better for that.) It was an interesting experiment to try and loosen up enough to draw something from such a high level, especially when my brain was busy making me think thoughts like “okay just remember that if you move your brush in slightly the wrong way you’ve erased the entire state of Texas”. As you zoom out more and more, you have to suggest more and more stuff with subtle brush techniques, and when the things you’re suggesting are on the order of entire states or countries… it gets moderately stressful.

Still, I think it came out alright. I’m pretty happy with the color of the ocean, and the general texture of the clouds. The space was both the easiest and the most fun part, starting with a black gesso and painting over it with blues and purples. I may touch this up later, but it’s good for now.

As a final note: Unlike the rest of my paintings on this blog, this one is not for sale. I’m happy to make a copy if you’d like one (which includes making modified versions, ex., with the U.S.S. Enterprise in the foreground); for details on making commissions, visit my Commission Me page.

How To Bake Industrially

Got a big baking spree coming up? Be it a Christmas dinner, a local bake sale, or anything else, if you need to do a lot of baking in a short amount of time, this post will tell you how to do it. Even if you have a more moderate amount of baking to do, following these tips will make the entire process that much more effortless, so you can make perfect, delicious cookies every single time.

Here are my baking credentials. First, I worked in a restaurant for three years, and during that time, I baked more pies, cakes, and cookies than most people will probably ever bake in their lives. Furthermore, every year, my family bakes an absolutely absurd number of cookies for Christmas. I’m taking 12+ batches, each of which makes multiple dozen cookies. We give bags of assorted cookies to coaches, teachers, and instructors of all varieties, then have enough left over to feed our household of seven for over a week.

To start you off, here’s your minimally adequate amount of equipment for any industrial baking spree. You can always have more than this, but here’s what you need to get started.

  • Electric mixer
  • Two sets of beaters for it, optionally also a whisk but you can whisk almost anything except meringue by hand without much difficulty
  • Four cookie sheets: at any given time, there should be two in the oven and two out of the oven being prepped with more cookies
  • At least two of each measuring implement (cups, spoons, etc.)
  • Sifter
  • Large bowls, a few of which are microwaveable
  • Other miscellaneous kitchen necessities: plastic and rubber spatulas, wooden spoons, oven mitts, cookie sheets, etc etc.

For any large baking spree, preparation is of the utmost importance. You need to make sure you have enough of all the ingredients, preferably on only one grocery store run. In order to do this preparation efficiently, run through every recipe you’re making (being sure to double, triple, quadruple, etc. the recipe as you’re planning on making it), note down every ingredient in its correct amount, and create a comprehensive tally. Then, take that list and check it against what you have in your house. Making conservative estimates, subtract the amount you have from the amount you need, and note down the delta. Create a shopping list from all those deltas for the ingredients, then shop from that list.

Great! You’ve prepared your ingredients, now prepare yourself.

First, make sure you have the right attire. You’ll want a short-sleeved shirt, a decently sized apron, and close-toed shoes. Here’s why, in order. You don’t want batter on your sleeves and you don’t want sleeves in your batter. Flour always makes a gigantic mess and there’s nothing you can do about that, also, it’s more convenient to have a place to dust off your hands. You will absolutely spill something or other on the floor and you don’t want to have the impulse to wipe off your feet, thus dirtying your hands.

After you’re wearing the right stuff and you’ve washed your hands, consider putting on some kitchen gloves. If you’re making multiple hands-on recipes (that’s any recipe that requires you mould dough with your hands), it’s way easier to change pairs of gloves than to wash your hands thoroughly.

Finally, set out all the ingredients for your first recipe. Organize primarily by the order the ingredients are used in the recipe and by what tools are required to complete that portion of the recipe. For example, all the ingredients which need to be sifted together should sit together next to the sifter itself; all the ingredients which need to be directly mixed together using the electric mixer should sit next to the mixer and the outlet it plugs into, and all the ingredients for the icing should sit off to the side with the piping bags.

I’m not being so anal about all of this for no reason. You’re going to run out of both time and counter space really fast, so it’s important to be hyper-efficient with both while you still have the mental bandwidth.

We’re ready to start baking now! Here are a few tips for preparing your recipe, before it goes in the oven.

When I worked as a prep cook in a restaurant, I had a tiny room—about the size of a home kitchen—to prepare nearly every dish that went through the restaurant. This is what I had. A counter along two walls with a sink and a gigantic electric mixer, a shelf containing dishes and measuring implements, and two 1.5*2.5 foot tables. I got really good at space efficiency. The biggest thing I learned, in addition to what I said earlier about grouping ingredients together, was that no matter how many recipes you have going at the same time, whether it’s one or ten, organization matters. If you’re not using an ingredient, put it away. I don’t care if you’re getting it right back out in an hour for your next set of recipes. Put it away.

Make sure you follow the recipe exactly. If it says to put the eggs in one at a time and mix well after each addition, you had better do that. The recipe isn’t telling you to do it for no reason. Note that I’m not trying to say you can’t experiment yourself and change the recipe—actually, you should absolutely do that, because what works for everyone else might not work for you, and further, the person who made the recipe might have some kind of an agenda (the recipe for chocolate chip cookies that you find on bags of Nestle chocolate chips requires far more chocolate chips than you should justifiably put in, because that’s what they’re trying to sell you). I’m trying to say that your reason for changing the recipe should be something better than “eh, it can’t be that important”. I make the best chocolate chip cookies anyone I know has ever had and the only reason is because I follow the damn recipe.

To conserve measuring implements, measure out dry ingredients before wet ones. Measure baking soda before vanilla extract, flour before milk, etc. As a special rule, if you’re measuring molasses for your recipe (ex. if you’re making ginger snaps), swish a bit of vegetable oil around in the cup measure before you put the molasses in. It will make the molasses stick to the cup measure less.

Here’s my final prep tip: take a sizable swath of counter space and lay out some parchment paper. If you’re like most normal people, you have nowhere near enough counter space for even a few dozen cookies on cookie sheets. Further, you probably don’t have enough available cookie sheets for that. However, if you snug the cookies up next to each other once they’re cool enough to scoop off the cookie sheet, you can fit a ton more in the same amount of space, and you don’t use up your cookie sheets.

While the first batch of cookies are in the oven, prep the next two sheets. I promise, the bake time is long enough for you to be able to do this. I’ve made two sheets of cookies in less than six minutes before. See, nobody cares what the cookies look like so long as they’re tasty, so you can be fast. Your literal only constraint is to make sure all the cookies in the oven at any given time are roughly uniform in size.

When you take a batch out of the oven, cool them on the racks for only a few minutes, then scoop them off and stick em on that parchment paper you laid out earlier. They’ll cool the rest of the way there, and you’ll have the trays freed back up to put more cookies on.

The baking is always the hectic part, since the perpetual cycle of bake-cool-transfer-prepare takes up every available moment. If you’ve done the previous organizational and preparation steps correctly, though, you can minimize the hecticness.

That’s it! My comprehensive list of steps for industrial baking. May your endeavors be successful, and your cookies be sweet. Good luck!

r e l a x


At last, another art post. I was listening to some data analysis lectures to add data science to my repertoire, and since I need something to do with my hands when I listen to audio, I doodled this.

Since motivation unfortunately never comes pre-packaged with inspiration, I needed some of the latter. In my search, I came upon this excellent prompt site. If you so happen to be an advanced artist looking for inspiration, this may be for you. I selected an “elaborate” prompt; these seem to give you not only ideas about subject and/or situation, but also hints about color schemes and/or art style. I’ve never seen something so cool (or useful!) from an art prompt generator before. Anyways, the prompt I was given went something like this: “Reflect the emotion of rolling thunder in the distance. Use a Renaissance art style.”

Well, for the emotion, I’m honestly not sure how I went from “distant rolling thunder” to “rooftop swimming pool at dawn”, but heck, they convey the same emotion to me, anyway.

For the art style, though, I’ve never tried to do anything “Renaissance” before. My standard art style is vaguely Impressionistic but mostly anime, so I was wondering what the hallmarks and techniques of Renaissance painting were. After I figured that out, I’d figure out how on earth I was going to do that using markers.

It seems to me that the end result was vaguely Impressionistic, mostly anime, and with a hint of Renaissance. Some of the hallmarks of Renaissance paintings are strong dark/light contrast and several layers of glazes to create fuzzy outlines around things. I tried pretty hard to use a consistent color scheme but to use contrast as much as possible. The subject is mostly light-colored, with the exception of his hair and eyes, which are dark. A strip of light, washed-out yellow contrasts the warm greys of the surrounding pool deck. The opaque glass in the railing contrasts with the dark rails. Then, those rails contrast with the bottom of the sky (light), which itself contrasts with the top of the sky (dark). Even the water, which might otherwise be uniformly colored, contains shades from pure white to prussian blue. (Note: I used no black in this piece, just very dark greys, blues, and browns. This is in keeping with the style of most classical painting.) Lastly, for the fuzzy outlines, I simply didn’t bother to outline each form in pen (technique for cartooning called “inking”). I allowed the marker colors to bleed lightly into each other.

The end result was a kind of post-modern realism with a charming conflict of light source. Enjoy.

The Painter On His Way to Paint

For this piece, I copied this Van Gogh painting for the most part. However, I decided that I would add in Van Gogh himself, on his way to paint the piece.

To properly represent both Van Gogh’s painting and likeness, I wanted to do a copy not only in subject matter but in art style and technique. As such, I painted this in oils using a palette knife (like the one on the right in this pic). In total, I only used two tools for this: a palette knife, and the small paintbrush I used to sign it.

I worked back-to-front: I painted the sky first, followed by the distant landscape, then worked forward until I finished with Van Gogh himself. Since things in the back are overlapped by things in the front, I painted the things in the back first and painted the closer things over top of them.

Painting Van Gogh in there was hard, but not for the reasons you might think. I’m very solid at figure drawing, so drawing a human was pretty easy. The problem arose from trying to paint Van Gogh in his own style, when he wasn’t a central part of the piece. He did self-portraits (actually he did tons), but he painted himself as the center of those pieces. Here, I was trying to paint him small, as almost an afterthought.

As such, I tried to copy Van Gogh’s style of drawing figures, with not a lot of success. At first I did him in the style of his self-portraits, but it was too detailed and realistic. I was very happy with this first version artistically, but it didn’t fit so I scrubbed it out. I tried to get some vibrant highlights and shadows in the second version, but that still didn’t quite fit stylistically. Finally, I just blocked in some color and gave it an immensely simple white outline where the light was coming from. That seemed to do it, so that’s the finished version.


This painting is for sale! Get it now for $250 plus shipping. If you’re interested, contact me!

View From the Bicycle Café

Bicycle Café, North Park, PA

For my painting class, I had to go around town and do five “thumbnail sketches” of landscapes. Only one of those sketches would be used to do a landscape painting, which was the next assignment.

This came out of one of the sketches my professor rejected.

Why You Should Mix Your Own Black

Mix your own black what? Mix your own black paint.

 

You can buy black paint from a store. It will be just about the purest possible black, the exact color of “black as the pit”. But here’s why you shouldn’t do that.

First of all, what black you use is important. You’ll use it as a base for all your darkest colors. Since without dark tones, light ones don’t stand out, what color you use to mix those shadows is going to be one of the most important parts of your painting.

A lot of artists like to talk about the “soul” in a piece of art. That seems confusing, but here’s what it means. Each person sees the world differently, so what you choose to paint (in terms of both the subject you paint and what colors you use to paint it) depends on how you see the world. How exactly you choose to make your black depends on how you see the world, too. So, if you mix your own black, it will fit in better with the rest of your painting. They both have your “soul”.

One of the apparent downsides to mixing your own black is that it will never be consistent. But this is actually an upside in disguise. For example, for this painting, the black I made was tinted purple. However, the black on my palette above (which is for a different painting) is tinted brown. A purple-black suited the former painting more, where a brown-black suits the latter. If I’d used store-bought black, I wouldn’t have gotten to make the decisions which led to blacks suited to their respective paintings: they would all be banal and generic.

Could I have mixed one single color into store-bought black to attain a tint? Yes. But in that case, I as the artist would only have chosen one color; the paint company chose the rest of the colors to make the black for me. For me to have the most control over my own painting, I choose instead to mix my black.

So basically, you should mix your own black because then, it fits with your painting better. You made them both, and not only that, you made the black to suit the painting.

There’s one more reason to mix your own black: you get better greys. When you use store-bought black, your grey turns out as a very lifeless, generic, neutral grey. But the problem is that most greys are not generic neutral: they’re tinted with something. The tablecloth on my dining table is a light grey tinted with yellow. The paper of my Oxford Classical Dictionary is a light grey tinted with orange. The surface of my electric keyboard is a mid grey tinted with blue. If I were painting these things, I would want my greys to reflect all these differences, which is why I would mix my own. Store-bought black will not give you interesting greys.

Now that you know why you should mix black, let me briefly tell you how.

To mix black, just take your darkest colors and mix them in different proportions, depending on what you want your resulting black to look like. When I mixed my purple-black, I took ultramarine blue and crimson in equal parts, then mixed in a bit of dark green and burnt sienna. By contrast, when I mixed my brown-black (above), I replaced the crimson with burnt sienna and vice versa, and added proportionately a lot more of the dark green. Same colors (I only own nine total), but the different proportions produced a different result.

That’s all there is to it! Now, go forth and mix yourself some black.

11pm, First St.

A selection from a recent painting of mine. WordPress wouldn’t let me upload the full photo so I had to crop it 🙁

I met my fiancé at a convention in Baltimore, at one of the last events of the second day. After it was over, we couldn’t find anything else to go to or do, so we walked through the rooftop garden. Eventually we ended up sitting on a concrete bench at the edge of the sidewalk, looking into the cloudy sky. We sat together and talked until it started raining.

This is painted mostly from my memory and partially from the few photos I found of the Baltimore Convention Center rooftop garden (it’s a shame there aren’t more; it’s beautiful). Originally I tried to draw this with markers, but it wasn’t working the way I wanted, so I decided to pull out the oil paints and paint it instead.

So You Want to Draw

Learning to draw seems to be one of those items that a ton of people never check off their bucket lists. I’ve met a lot of people who say they’d love to learn to draw, but very few who’ve actually done it. It’s not like they tried and failed, they just didn’t try.

What is it about art that makes this the case? There are a lot of people who’ve never tried to program, because they think it’s too hard, or because they subconsciously think of technology as magic, or something, but these people aren’t wandering around telling me they would love to learn to code. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who say they’d love to go to Europe, but they usually have a definite plan to achieve that goal.

But art is this weird middle-ground; why is that? Maybe, it’s because nobody knows where to start. I’ve written already about how nobody really knows how art works, and I think that’s a lot of the reason for this problem. Still, I haven’t given an explanation of how exactly to get started. So that’s what I’ll be doing today.

The physical components to learning to draw are infinitely easier than the mental ones. In terms of physical actions, all drawing involves is picking up a pencil and a piece of paper and putting one against the other. Mentally, it’s not that easy.

The first mental hurdle you have to get over is to stop worrying about how exactly you’ll bridge the gap between stick figures and portraits. The actual answer is incremental improvement based on iterative comparisons between your art and reality, but you’re never going to get around to doing that if you worry about it.

Think about how you go about getting stronger. You go to the gym. You lift whatever weight you can handle and do as many reps as you can. You go home. You come back to the gym. You lift whatever weight you can handle and do as many reps as you can. You go home. You do this every single day for years. Art works the same way.

That’s really all there is to it. Incremental improvement by putting in a small amount of effort every single day. Here, look at the difference in my art over five years.

The next mental hurdle is getting over the assumption that your art needs to be perfect. When a kid starts drawing, they don’t have that problem; they just don’t think about it. When I started drawing, I wasn’t trying to impress anybody, I just wanted to get better for my own personal benefit. But as adults, we’re a lot more self-conscious than that.

A great trick to help you get over that self-consciousness is to think, “well, that didn’t work.” When (not if, when) you mess up a drawing, or you do something with it that you didn’t like, don’t beat yourself up. Here’s a very recent example. Two weeks ago, I did a watercolor painting of the scene from my back porch. There were supposed to be some hills with trees on them and a house. And oh my god, was it awful. I put way too much paint on my brush, and as a result, the colors were blotchy and the textures and depth vanished entirely. It looked like a shitty backdrop for a childrens’ school play.

But I didn’t beat myself up. Actually, when I came home from class that day (I did this painting for an art class which I’m using as a humanities elective for my degree), I grabbed my terrible painting and I systematically went and found every member of my household so I could show it to them. “Want to see my awful painting?” I asked. Everybody said yes, and everybody laughed at it. I laughed too. It was funny. My brother told me the house I had painted looked like a boat. I laughed harder at that. And the next week, I went back to class, I painted the same scene using oil paints instead of watercolors, and it looked much better.

 

If you can do these two things—draw every day and don’t worry about messing up—I guarantee you will become a good artist. Still, I’ve got a little bit more info for you today. Here are some Art Tips™ that I’ve learned over the years from fellow artists.

#1: Draw what you see, not what you think you see. This one comes from my dad, one of my art role models growing up. He has this astonishing ability to say things that seem completely useless, but are actually incredibly crucial. This phrase is one of those.

Basically, it means “don’t let your brain, which knows how an object is shaped in three dimensional space, mess with your eyes, which are seeing things in only two dimensions at the moment, since seeing things as they are in two dimensions is crucial to drawing on a two-dimensional piece of paper.” You know that the door is a rectangle, whether it’s open or shut, but don’t let that mess with the fact that when it’s open and facing you, it looks like a trapezoid.

To help you actually implement this advice, try to take your pencil and hold it up in front of reality. Trace the outlines of the thing you want to draw and note the movement of your pencil. It may turn out that the thing you thought was flat is actually not, the thing you thought was long is actually short, etc.

#2: Draw, trace, draw again. I don’t know a single artist who can draw everything with no effort. Every artist has things they’re good at and things they suck at. To help you out with things you suck at, try this.

First, find a photograph of the thing you suck at drawing. Look at the photo, then try to draw the thing. When you’re done with that drawing, put it aside. Next, print out the photo and trace it, in as much detail as you want. When you’re done, put it aside. Finally, do the first step again. Now compare the three drawings. The third one is probably way better than the first.

The act of tracing from reality let you figure out where everything is in relation to everything else and gave you a better understanding of the two-dimensional shape of the thing.

The only thing I’d like to note here is that you shouldn’t use this as a crutch if you’re a beginning artist: there are way more things in the real world around you that you can draw than there are photographs on the internet, and if you really want to practice drawing you should learn to draw from life.

#3: Utilize tutorials. One of the best ways to get advice from artists who you can’t talk to personally is to read and watch tutorials. It helps you to incorporate other artists’ drawing styles into your own. The only problem with art tutorials is that some of them suck, and this can really screw up beginner artists.

Here’s an example of a good tutorial (source: Tumblr). Look at how this tutorial is structured. “Backgrounds generally work like this. Here’s some advice about drawing characters with and without backgrounds. Here are some tips about coloring. Here are some examples from my personal portfolio.” Overall, this artist leaves a ton of the actual art up to you, and simply communicates something they think is important and relevant.

Here’s an example of, if not a strictly bad tutorial, a very mediocre one. Do you see the difference? Instead of providing a loose structure and some advice, this tutorial marches you in lock-step through a pre-defined set of steps. The absolute best thing that can happen with a tutorial like this is the artist comes out of it knowing how to draw one single character in one pose with one expression, with no clue how to generalize that knowledge to anything else. But even that doesn’t happen very often: frequently, a beginning artist gets stuck on one or more of these predefined steps (for example, the eyes or hair, both of which are complicated), and comes out with a mediocre drawing that they don’t like, and with no real knowledge gained.

When you begin drawing, try to avoid lock-step tutorials in favor of loose advice-giving tutorials. You’ll learn more, and you’ll be less frustrated.

#4: Don’t worry about developing an art style. You will develop an art style. It is not optional.

This is because each person views the world (not philosophically, but with your actual eyes) differently: we notice different things, perceive colors differently, etc. And since you view the world differently from everyone else, your art will be different from everyone else’s. Nobody else could create your art because nobody else sees the world exactly like you.

I’ve noticed that a lot of beginner artists look at the styles of artists they admire and they worry about how they’re going to develop their own art style. This partially goes back to “don’t worry about how to get there, just put in the reps every day”, but they also don’t realize that they have an art style by virtue of having eyes and a brain.

If you really want to work hard at developing an art style you like, though, try this. Occasionally, imitate the styles of artists you admire. Because you have no choice but to draw in your style, by imitating their style, you’ll be incorporating both styles together.

Alright, that’s it for today! A lot of these tips are things I wish I had known when I started drawing, so I hope they were helpful to you.

The War of Art: Review, Notes, and Doodles

Recently, my pals at Praxis sent me a book called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. I read it through in an afternoon, because I have exactly zero impulse control when it comes to good books.

It was both brilliant and stupid. There were several pages in a row during which I chanted “yes yes yes yes” aloud. There were also several pages that left me thinking “is that really necessary?” And then there were the rest of the pages, which all pretty much left me going “yeah, alright, that makes a lot of sense.” Overall, it’s a good book.

One of the biggest reasons that I think it’s a good book is because the things I liked and didn’t like have much more to do with me than with the book. My general life philosophy is heavily based on two things: the WYSIWYG rationality Eliezer Yudkowsky lays out on his blog Less Wrong and in his book Rationality: From AI to Zombies; and the cheerful, playful discovery one understands immediately upon reading anything written by Richard Feynman.

Given that, you can pretty much predict the parts of this book that I especially like: they’re the ones about the difference between humanism and fundamentalism (found on pages 34-37 of the print copy). For example: “[The artist’s] faith is that humankind is advancing, however haltingly and imperfectly, toward a better world. The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. … The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed. The word of God has been spoken and recorded by His prophet, be he Jesus, Muhammad, or Karl Marx.”

You can also predict the parts I kind of dislike: mainly, the assumption in the third section that all things that happen subconsciously are due to some outside force, higher plane, etc. For example: “What Blake means by ‘eternity’ [when he wrote that ‘Eternity is in love with the creations of time’], I think, is the sphere higher than this one, a plane of reality superior to the material dimension in which we dwell. In ‘eternity’, there is no such thing as time (or Blake’s syntax wouldn’t distinguish it from ‘eternity’) and probably no space either. This plane may be inhabited by higher creatures. Or it may be pure consciousness or spirit. But whatever it is, according to Blake, it’s capable of being ‘in love’.”

But the thing is, if you’re a different kind of person than me, you’ll prefer different parts of this book. That’s what marks it as good. Every person can get value from it.

That said, here’s what this book does.

It shatters you into a million pieces, names the pieces, and teaches you how to interact with each one for optimal creative productivity. One piece, the author calls Resistance. Another, the Ego. Still others, the Self, the Unconscious, angels, muses. It’s an extremely intuitive explanation, and when interacting with your own brain, objectivity is less important than subjectivity. Regardless of whether or not you are a mere conduit for creative forces which mostly exist outside of you, thinking that way will help you both be more humble about and distance your ego from your craft.

This book doesn’t tell you what’s true. But it does tell you how to think about yourself and your work. That’s just as valuable.

In case you’re still not convinced to pick this up and read it, here are the opening words of the book, where he describes the primary enemy, not just of artists and creatives, but of people everywhere: Resistance.

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

“Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? … Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”

Now that (I hope) I’ve convinced you to go read this, let me share one more thing with you before I leave off for today.

Some time ago, I read an article about why you should write in books. I can’t find the article, which leads me to believe that I probably read it for the SAT and that’s why it’s so damn obscure, but regardless, I read that article and now I always read with a pencil in hand.

Because I’m an artist, I don’t just write in margins, I draw. If I’ve got a verbal thought, I put a note down; if I’ve got a visual thought, I put a drawing down. Some books don’t have enough white space for my margin doodles to be any good, but the structure of this book means it has a lot of white space, and as such, a lot of margin doodle room!

Alright, that’s it for today. Till tomorrow, ciao!