Friday Inspiration: Lisa Congdon

Lisa Congdon Birch Trees

In many ways I feel as though Lisa Congdon is the heir apparent to Maira Kalman‘s throne. I’ve followed Lisa’s development as an artist for the last few years. I was late coming to the two projects that have fueled her career momentum, the first of which was ‘a collection a day‘ and then more recently ‘365 days of hand lettering‘. Lisa has a new book out ‘Art, Inc.‘ which describes the practical aspects of making a living from your art. Peppered with examples from her own transition from teacher to working artist as well as interviews with a number of other artists this is a great resource for any visual artist thinking about making the leap. What I realized from working through Art Inc. is that Lisa Congdon’s success hasn’t been a matter of luck but rather a result of showing up and doing the work everyday and most importantly sharing what she’s been doing with the world.

Check out the recent interview that Lisa had with Dane Sanders here, discussing her new book on creative live here and some additional videos of her describing her work below.

On Being Minimalist, Or Not

I’ve been using Chris Brogan’s system of three words this year instead of goals or intentions or what have you. I would argue that I’ve actually been quite successful for the most part using this approach to direct my focus for the year.

My three words are healthy, minimalist & creative.

For healthy, I altered my diet, have daily mobility exercises that I do, I go to the gym a few times a week and as a result I’ve lost 50lbs and feel a whole lot better. As an aside if you want to know exactly what I’m doing send me an email. I’d be more than happy to help you guide you through the first month or so.

While it can be difficult to measure creativity I’ve been tracking the number of images in my lightroom catalog, the number of images finished and imags submitted to exhibitions. By these measures I’m on track to easily surpass the equivalent numbers for last year. All good there.

Minimalist? No so much. I knew this would be a tough one for me but something that I needed to get a handle on. I’ve revamped my financial accounting systems, so that I actually have them now, and would at least say that my spending is intentional and aligned with the things that are important to me but I’m still accumulating stuff.

I was reminded about this when I was thinking about the basics of the GTD system last week. While we dealt largely with how to sort and process collected items there are five steps that provide the foundation for GTD.

Capture – the collection phase, corral everything both physical and electronic that has your attention
Clarify – preliminary processing, what does each collected item mean? Is there an action associated with it?
Organize – parse out the actions onto the appropriate lists
Review – don’t let your lists become stale. Check in with them as often as needed to ensure that they are remaining current.
Engage – work the system to do the work.

What I’ve been finding is that having become healthier I have more energy and that funnels into being more creative and generally curious. What about this and what if that, questions that usually result in reading and the accumulation of more reference material. I’ve taken over the largest room in the house for my reference material and support materials for image making. Not exactly the behavior of a confirmed minimalist.

I’m almost ready to give up on the idea of being minimalist and instead ready to settle for being intentional and aligned with my larger goals. What about you? How are you doing with progress towards annual goals? Any that you’re ready to throw in the towel on? How are you dealing with that?

Developing Projects

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I’ve been going back through the archives looking for images that could be used to extend exisiting projects and identify themes to be developed for new projects. It can be a nice surprise to find images that were previously overlooked, a little bit like finding money in a coat when you wear it for the first time in a long time.

One of the things that I’ve been doing while I look through my images is to set up smart collections in lightroom that will be populated when certain criteria are met. I have a simple color scheme that I use to label my photos – I mark images that I’ve worked on green, ones that are to be worked on yellow and ones to be deleted red. All the photos labeled green (the keyboard shortcut to do this on the mac is simply by pressing the number 8) will then appear in my smart collection folder ‘selects’. I’m in the process of refining this collection using keywords that will then put images into project folders – ‘coast’ captures the images at the coast that I like so much, ‘trees’ is my tree project that is slowly coming along and ‘water abstracts’ is a project that came to light as I was going through the archive. The image above is one from the water abstracts collection. A screen grab of this collection is below.

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There’s definitely a ‘one of these things is not like the others’ element to this collection that I will need to resolve at some point, either by punting the offending image or building additional images into the set so that it is no longer a singleton. Having a number of clarified projects percolating in the background means that I’m sensitized to the opportunities for adding to these projects which will hopefully allow them to mature more rapidly.

How about you? Are you thinking about the images that you make in terms of projects? Any approaches, tricks, techniques or thoughts to developing projects that you want to share? I’d love to hear them

Friday Inspiration: Maira Kalman

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I was familiar with Maira Kalman‘s work through the many New Yorker magazine covers that she’s done over the years. It wasn’t until I came across her a video describing her work recently that I connected the dots. It was fun to see that she had a blog for a while called ‘And the Pursuit of Happiness’ although it wasn’t through my dive into ‘what is happiness’ that I found her. Kalman has a unique painting style and her combination of words and images really works for me.

Check out more about Kalman in the videos below.

How to Develop a Bias for Action

Having used the GTD methodology for a number of years now, one of the things that I’ve come to realise is that, for me at least, I need something else in addition to the the well curated lists to keep my projects moving forward.

Starting very simply I asked the question what three things need to happen this week for it to be a good week?

It turns out that this time horizon is a good one for me. Asking a variant of this question daily leads me to struggling to fill the three slots – there’s usually one thing that I really need to do on any given day, other things are nice to get finished. Longer time horizons are easier since many of the projects that I’m involved with I have goals, gannt charts, and discrete milestones. Well crafted project plans make life very easy indeed.

What I’ve found to be crucial to make this system work is that I review my lists on a weekly basis, usually a Friday. This weekly review is an essential component of the GTD methodology and also provides an opportunity to see what of my three things I actually got done. For those things that I didn’t get done this is a good time to answer why not and take those lessons on board for future weeks.

How about you? What three things do you need to complete in the coming week to be able to consider it successful?

How the Right Software Can Recover Your Files

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When I’m on a photography trip I take all of the obvious precautions that I’m sure we are all taking with digital files. I have two card readers in case one fails, it will eventually and it can be a pain to replace depending on where in the world you are, I download the images to two separate places and have enough memory cards so that I don’t need to reformat cards until I get home.

What this system doesn’t account for is what happens when a memory card goes bad. This has happened in a couple of different ways for me. In one case the memory card wasn’t being read by the card reader but could be read by the camera. Easy fix – plug the camera in and download the images. Slower than it would be with a card reader but it worked. In the second case the card wasn’t being read by the card reader. The lights were on but no files appeared on my computer even after waiting for an age. It’s at times like this that the card recovery software that is often free when you buy the memory card is what you need to have. I foolishly always toss the unlock code for the software along with the other packaging materials from the memory card and so when I needed the software I didn’t have it. I ended up paying what felt like a lot to get a ‘free’ program. Fortunately this software worked a treat and I was able to recover all the images on the crashed card.

So the moral of the story is – if you haven’t done it already, the next time you get a new memory card make sure you download the card recovery software. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever need it but when you do it’s an absolutely blessing to already have it installed and ready to go.

Friday Inspiration: Arturo Chapa

Horse and Rider

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about, and continue to think about, book design. What are the elements of a good photobook? I have lots of photobooks to look at and I continue to work through them identifying the elements that work and don’t seem to work.

I was very interested to hear the discussion that Michael Reichmann had with book designer Arturo Chapa regarding the preparation of Reichmann’s 20 year retrospective book, the proceeds of which will be used to seed the charitable foundation ‘The Luminous Endowment for photographers’.

Chapa has a number of interesting things to say about his philosophy of designing books. The most pertinent for me was his assertion that you shouldn’t see the design. If the book is well designed you just see the images. You don’t see the design, you don’t notice the quality, you just see and remember the images. It’s all in support of the content. Check out the video below for more about how Arturo Chapa thinks about book design and manages the process of getting the book printed to the standard that he demands.

Making the Book: Michael Reichmann – a 20 year Photographic Retrospective from The Luminous Landscape on Vimeo.