The Most Interesting Books I’m Reading (Summer 2020)

June 4th, 2020

What’s in your reading stack for Summer 2020?

This summer, I’m reading about personal growth, art, the business of art, and parenting.

If you’re like me, you’ve set book-reading goals every January. Well, in 2019, I actually hit that goal for the first time. I said I would read twelve books, and I read thirteen. I was elated. So of course, I doubled my goal for 2020.

I got off to a good start, but I wasn’t counting on a pandemic to make reading simultaneously more available and harder. I have way more time to read now that I’m home all the time, but less motivation to read. That said, in the first few weeks of the shutdown I finished The Lord of the Rings trilogy after starting it two years earlier. But once I finished that, it was time to move on to some other books that have been on my list for a while.


I compiled this list a few weeks ago, when my biggest concern was getting back to work after the pandemic is over. Then I learned that being “not racist” is not the same as being anti-racist, so this summer I’ll be adding some other books to this list to further educate myself as a white man who needs to come to terms with the impact of racism and how to teach his own kids to be anti-racist. I’m looking to add some books to this list such as White Fragility (which I looked for at my suburban library last summer and it wasn’t even in their system, which was not entirely surprising) among others that I’ve seen recommended lately. I want to hear your recommendations.

So, here are seven books I’m going to try to knock out this summer.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck

My friend Cory Huff (who has mentored me through The Abundant Artist) recommended this to me some time ago, and it’s all about two major mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. In a nutshell, the fixed mindset says that there are limits to what you can do and either you’re born with gifts or you aren’t. The growth mindset says that all things are possible. I’ve come to realize that I have a growth mindset when it comes to my creative effort, but a fixed mindset when it comes to my business. I subconsciously limit myself, and that’s something I’m working to change.

52 Things Sons Need from Their Dads: What Fathers Can Do to Build a Lasting Relationship, Jay Payleitner

I forgot I had this – I found it when I was cleaning out a few weeks ago. As a father of two boys, this sounds like something I need to read. I read Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters when my daughter was little. Things are definitely different for boys nowadays than when I was their age. I want to prepare them for the challenges of growing up to be men who love the Lord.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey

This is another book I found while cleaning out. I didn’t know I had it. Maybe it was my wife’s before we got married. I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that I will be listening to my friend Jeff Brown’s podcast episode with the author’s son Stephen M. R. Covey. Because this book has made such an impact over the last 30 years, I have no doubt I’ll come away with some new habits to put in place.

Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Wassily Kandinsky

I read this one about twenty years ago, and it was such a great read. So much food for thought from one of the pioneers of abstract art a hundred years ago. What has really stuck with me is the illustration of society riding on a large triangle pushing through advancements, and the front edge of the triangle is the forefront of knowledge and consciousness. It’s strikingly similar to an illustration in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where the forefront of consciousness is at the nose of a train, and everything else catches up to it.

How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself without Selling Your Soul (7th Edition), Carroll Michels

A few weeks ago, my friend Beth Inglish texted me asking if I could use some books and art supplies as she was getting ready to move several states away. One book was How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist. I actually read the 5th edition of this over a decade ago. It was great, but I don’t think it had much to say about selling art online. I knew I was due for a re-read, especially now that I have other books like How to Sell Your Art Online and Art Money Success, but I predict this 7th edition will be a fantastic update.

Start with Your People: The Daily Decision That Changes Everything, Brian Dixon

Brian Dixon is one of those people who knows a lot of the same people I know, which tells me he’s somebody I can trust. So when he started showing up more and more in my online circles I began to follow him, and when he came out with this book last year, I had to grab a copy. I’m only now getting around to reading it, but it has been incredible so far. The premise is to serve those immediately around you first, before trying to puff yourself up and make yourself great.

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The curious Economics of Contemporary Art, Don Thompson

Another book that Cory Huff recommended to me, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark is about how the economics of the contemporary art industry works. To be clear, this is about the upper tier of art gallery and auction sales. It’s astonishing how much money some people have, and how much they will pay to prove they have good taste. If you’ve ever wondered how expensive art gets so expensive, this book explains it.

So that’s what I’m reading this summer.

What’s in your reading stack for Summer 2020? If you have any great fiction recommendations, just drop them in the comments below!

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Behind the Scenes: How I Got Started As An Artist

September 20th, 2018

Being an artist is like breathing to me. I can’t imagine not making art. I never had a lightning bolt moment where I realized I was an artist. There was no sign from heaven or anything like that.

It’s something that has always been a part of my life by default. But I wasn’t born with a sketchpad in hand. Being an artist is something that has taken me years — decades, even — to realize.

Starting the Gold Swoop Painting

The Beginning

See, I was born early. I was a premie and got sick a day or two after I was born. The medicine they used to treat my infection saved my life — for that I am thankful. But it did extensive damage to my auditory and olfactory nerves. I have 80-90% hearing loss. I can’t smell very well, either. (I’m always asking my wife if my shirts smell okay enough to get one more wear out of them before washing!)

Since my hearing was damaged, my visual sense makes up for it. I learned how to draw to accommodate my hearing loss. This isn’t unusual for other deaf people. Many other deaf people I know are more finely attuned to visuals than the rest of the population. Since I couldn’t hear or speak well, I expressed myself visually. It wasn’t until I was two-years-old or so that my grandfather on my dad’s side — Papa Stan — figured out that I wasn’t hearing. So we had my hearing tested at Bill Wilkerson in Nashville. We lived in Kentucky at the time so it was a little bit of a drive.

I remember the waiting room at Bill Wilkerson. It had couches and chairs and those childrens’ toys with the wooden shapes on the wire that you push back and forth. When we went to have me fitted for hearing aids, we sat in the waiting room for some time, and someone gave me a sheet of paper and some drawing utensil. So I drew the toy fish in front of me. Of course, I don’t remember any of this. But apparently I drew such a remarkable expression on the fish that my family took notice. From then on, my drawing was encouraged.

Drawing Was My Life

My parents encouraged me to explore whatever I wanted. I did all sorts of things, from swim lessons to art lessons (which actually bored me) to Cub Scouts to running track and cross-country. I even took piano lessons. But the thing that was most consistent was I was always drawing. I drew constantly the first 18 or so years of my life. 

In elementary school, I dreamed of becoming an animator for Disney. I was fascinated with the artists at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando. I thought it was cool that they studied real bears for Brother Bear. Even if the character they were drawing was a talking animal, they would make the same expression in the mirror and draw themselves as that animal. I was particularly fascinated with matching mouth shapes to sounds. I would film myself with the family VHS deck so I could study the shapes my mouth made and practice drawing them.

In middle school, I discovered comics via Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I found a graphic novel adaptation of the 1990 movie, and it was drawn in the same style as the original comic books from 1984, not the rounded cartoony style used in the animated TV show. From there I got into other comic books such as Spider-Man and Wolverine and Batman. I got really good at drawing superheroes and drew a few issues of my own comic book, which featured my two best friends and me. We were time travelers who transformed from skinny kids into muscle-bound heroes. I had a lot of fun drawing comics and it was my dream to work for Marvel Comics or Image Comics.

In high school, my aspirations grew a little more practical. I was on the yearbook staff, and learned how to lay out pages and spec type. I actually did layouts on grid paper and cropped photos with a wax pencil. Midway through the first year, we got a computer with Aldus PageMaker on it, and I learned how to do layouts that would have been impossible to specify on the grid paper. I learned this was called graphic art. Hey, I could do this for a living. And in the real world, it wasn’t called graphic art anymore. It’s graphic design. So when it came time for college, I majored in graphic design and got a BFA.

A flat brush will apply a long, smooth line.

Then I Fell in Love

In the Fall of my sophomore year of college, I took Painting I as it was required for my major. I was in love.

It was magic to feel the paint run across the canvas under the brush. To feel the give and take between me and the canvas. The buttery feel of oil paint between the thumb and forefinger. To do more than just draw something, to create a world with color and brushstrokes. It got even better once I took color theory!

I fell in love with painting and I never looked back. It still took a while for me to realize this was what I was supposed to do.

One More Story from the Family Lore…

My grandfather on my mom’s side — “Granddaddy”  — dabbled in art and loved painting in watercolor. He would bring me along to his watercolor classes at the Centennial Arts Center in Centennial Park (check out the Parthenon if you are ever in Nashville). When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I was at one of these classes with him. I was working away on whatever it was I was doing in watercolors, and the instructor, Hazel King, came by and looked at what I was doing and said, “Well Brad, you’re going to be an artist someday!”

I looked up at her and said, “I am an artist!”

Of course it might have sounded rude or disrespectful but everyone laughed and my family told that story for years. Looking back, I realized: I already was an artist. Nobody had to tell me. I knew. I wasn’t trying to be an artist. It was just what I did. You don’t have to tell a child he/she is an artist. The kid already knows. The kid just is an artist without even trying to be. I was right all along. It just took me 25-30 years to realize this.

Brad Blackman "McGavock" 2003. Oil on canvas, 40 x 20 inches

I Am An Artist

That’s why I never “got started” as an artist. Being an artist has always been a part of me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t make an effort at it. Believe me, it’s easier to just binge something on Netflix than make a new painting. Being an artist is a daily commitment. I have to listen to that call that is within me. To not listen to it is to avoid that which I was put on earth to do.

Another thing I’ve realized is that an artist is never truly “there.” You’ve never “arrived.” You’re always striving toward something. Maybe it’s a way of using color, or a texture, or a composition, or a poetic form, or a new instrument or some other thing. Again, it’s a daily commitment to the craft, a lifestyle of making art.

So how about you?

What is it you’re called to do? What were you put on this earth to do? I believe we are all here for a reason.

Sometimes we just have to dig for that reason, and we realize we had it all along.

What Taylor Swift Taught Me About Scarcity, Abundance, and Tribes

October 14th, 2014

A few weeks ago I wrote about how artists have to pay attention to their tribe, because their tribe, as it were, has changed over the last couple hundred years. We don’t have a gallery system like we did fifty years ago. You can’t just hope to “get discovered.” You can’t wait on an agent to do all the legwork for you, putting your art out in front of potential buyers.

You Have to Build Your Own Audience

I think of Taylor Swift. Sure, she has an army. She has professionals working for her. But there is so stinking much she does herself. She got where she is the hard way, by working hard. Say what you will about her and her music, but she works hard and she takes care of her fans. She was criticized recently for her op-ed in the Wall Street Journal where she talked about the future of the music industry.

While I won’t go into detail about her article, I will say that T-Swizzle knows her audience. She knows her fans, and she knows how to treat them. She knows her tribe, and she speaks with an attitude of abundance, not scarcity. She is confident they will be there, and they will, because she is good at what she does.

Listen to Your Tribe and They Will Take Care of You

And that’s what I want to get at. Not only do you have to understand your tribe, you have to have faith in them. I touched on this briefly when I was on the Dispatch podcast, about how you really have to listen to your tribe.
“You can observe a lot just by watching.” — Yogi Berra
Let me give you an example. In a recent edition of my newsletter I wrote about an artist friend of mine who listened to her tribe.My friend Mandy asked on Facebook, “Why am I writing thank you notes on notecards with somebody else’s stock photos?” Somebody chimed in and said, “If you put your art on postcards, I’ll totally buy them!” Sure enough, she went and added some new postcards to her Etsy page.

And when my mom saw this in my newsletter, she told me, “you need to do that, too!” And she’s right. There’s an opportunity that I should jump on.

That’s an example of listening to your tribe. There are a lot of opportunities there that you’ll miss if you’re not by paying attention. You learn a lot that way.

You’re One in a Million and That’s a Good Thing

My friend Jeff Goins put out a video recently advertising his online course Tribe Writers. He says, “you know how your mom always told you  that you’re one in a million? If that’s true, and there are 7 billion people in the world then that means there are 7,000 other people just like you.”

If you’re “one in a million”, and the world is full of seven billion people, that means there are seven thousand people just like you.

And that’s not a bad thing, because if you get your message in the right place, it will totally jive with 7,000 people.That’s a pretty good-sized army right there. If you can get half of those 7,000 people, you’ve got more than your 1,000 True Fans.

1,000 True Fans is an idea that says that you really need a tribe of 1,000 people who will support your work and keep you financially viable. If you are a musician, they will go to all your shows, buy all your CDs and t-shirts. The number isn’t the point. The point is you need a relatively small tribe. You don’t need to sell millions of copies to make it. 1,000 people is only 0.000014285714 percent of the world’s population. You don’t have to be a household name to be a success. Only about 1-2% of the population even watch the most popular shows on television.

You know how Andy Warhol said that in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes? Sometime back in the early 2000s, I heard somebody say that because of the Internet, everybody is now famous to 15 people.

Except there are plenty of people out there to be famous to.

However, we live in a society whose economy is built on scarcity.

Our whole culture is built around scarcity. Now, scarcity is a real thing. Resources are finite, dollars are finite, and in reality there really are only so many potential customers. I’m not trying to get into a discussion of economics and government models, but the truth is that scarcity is a fundamental part of how we operate as humans.

But. There is enough to go around.


And I know this will sound kind of “woo-woo,” but if you approach life with an attitude of abundance instead of scarcity, it will open up so many new avenues, not just for business, but for friendship and your life!

Be Generous

If you approach life with the attitude that life has a lot to offer, you will become increasingly generous, and people will be generous back.

It’s one of those things that once you start doing it, it can’t help but spread.

Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

That gives me a lot of hope.

I’m not saying you have to give everything away in the hope that someone will buy something, but be generous because it is the right thing to do.

Abundance = Faith

If you live life from a point of abundance rather than scarcity, it will allow you to have so much more faith that God will take care of you. That’s really what it’s about. Having faith and believing that God will provide for you.

And you know what? God is the source of it all. Who’s to say he can’t provide everything? And he will!

My logic says that if you have a scarcity mindset, you’re not having enough faith in God. I’m not trying to belittle anybody, but that’s what it really comes down to!

I have to admit that it’s very easy for me to give in to the scarcity mindset. I have to intentionally practice abundance. I have to listen. What about you? What are some things you can do to get around this mindset?

(Here are some tips Michael Hyatt has shared on this very topic: Perceived Scarcity in a World of Outrageous Abundance)

Photo Credits: Sky Lanterns: Jirka Matousek via Compfight cc Gallery scene: Dom Dada via Compfight cc Andy Warhol: MEDIODESCOCIDO via Compfight cc


August 12th, 2014

Taste, along with talent, is what usually gets you into art in the first place. You probably have a knack for what looks good, what doesn’t, what sounds good, what flavors go together and so forth.

A hunch?

You have a knack for pairing things, really, based on hunches but sometimes theory understood intuitively. Other people may not come up with it on their own, but they are pleasantly surprised when you do it.

Then of course there is the problem of “bad” taste. Combinations that disappoint. And sometimes what looks bad now might look great tomorrow, dated next week, yet beautiful and timeless a hundred years from now.

The definition is slippery, but taste is a real thing for sure.

While I’m certain taste starts with liking things (or disliking them, even), it goes beyond that.

I think good taste can always quantify and explain itself given certain principles that have been proven time and again. What we have to be careful of is that we don’t confuse taste for personal preference.

In short, it’s a sort of pursuit of excellence.

Ira Glass and the Gap

Ira Glass (the guy who hosts This American Life on NPR) has talked about the gap between a beginner and his taste. In short, you have good taste, but your skills don’t always match up. And that’s frustrating.

Video: THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel (aka frohlocke) on Vimeo.

Also, don’t miss the Zen Pencils comic-strip version of Ira Glass’ talk.

What’s been your experience with taste and the struggle in getting your skills up to the same level as your taste? Or do you even worry about it at all?

Photo Credit: visualpanic via Compfight cc

Small Victories

July 22nd, 2014

I’m ambitious. I want to paint something huge and monumental. Maybe something like one of Motherwell’s Elegies. In fact, I like to paint large.

As an artist it is so easy for me to get hung up on the fact that I haven’t done anything big or that I’m not working on something giant right now. It’s easy to get discouraged by that.

Then I get frustrated by the clutter in my bonus room studio and I feel blocked by the junk that has accumulated that prevents me from doing my work.

I have a goal for how many paintings I want to do between now and the end of the year, but I can’t because there is too much junk in the way. I want to get up at 4 in the morning and do the work I desperately need to do, but I can’t. There’s too much clutter.

Or so goes my thinking.

What I can do is get up that early and — gasp! — clean up the bonus room.

I bet I’ll have the studio ready in a week or less. You can do a lot with just an hour a day.

Here’s the point: there are lots of little things I can do to move the needle.

Tiny, incremental progress is still progress.

What are some little things you can do to get where you want to be?

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Image credits: Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 70, 1961 Robert Motherwell (American, 1915–1991) Oil on canvas; 69 x 114 in. (175.3 x 289.6 cm) Snail: 55Laney69 via Compfight cc

I Like It.

July 15th, 2014

All too often this is what I hear from people regarding art or design. They have an either/or response: they like it or they dislike it.

I suppose this is natural and a fundamental part of our humanity. If something makes us uncomfortable or unpleasant, it’s probably a good idea to stop doing whatever that thing is.

Yet what makes art “good” isn’t necessarily what makes it pleasant or even likable.

Nowadays the creative process or the theory behind it is what makes art compelling.

Not what it looks like or even how beautiful it is. While beautiful art is making something of a comeback, there’s still a lot of 20th century art sitting around that isn’t necessarily fun to look at, but it has some strong concepts and processes driving it.

But back to liking or disliking something: when you say this, it sounds like you haven’t given it further thought. Sure, you may be going on your instincts, and your gut is often right, but simply liking something makes it sound as if you haven’t critically observed whatever it is you’re looking at.

I want to hear more people qualify what they are liking or disliking. Picasso’s Guernica (1937) isn’t pretty, but it is important, because it makes some pretty bold statements about how ugly total war is.

It is both personal and impersonal: the impersonal war obliterated a town not far from the place Picasso grew up. There’s nothing pretty about it and there isn’t supposed to be. It’s brutal.

The painting moves you because it tells you how terrible war is. Everywhere Picasso turned, the newspapers were full of death and destruction of people, animals, property. He was overwhelmed and outraged and it shows.

And you want to say whether you like or dislike “Guernica”?

That’s about as dumb as saying whether you like or dislike the war that prompted it.

Look deeper.

Not just at art, but the world around you.

We’ve become so dumbed down by a simple thumbs-up. Life is far more complex than that. Develop a vocabulary to talk about it.

The Secret to a More Creative Life: Choosing the Right Influences

May 20th, 2014

Living a creative life is one of those things that is easy and hard at the same time.

Being creative is relatively easy. We do it by default as children. Watch how children play. For a child, anything can be something fun. A straw can be a spaceship, a sword, or a magic wand.

That is our default mode. But it gets trained out of us as we grow up. This is what makes it hard. Because being creative makes us different. It’s scary. It’s outside of this “box” that we talk about, that we say we have to think outside of but we are terrified to do so. It’s outside our comfort zone. Our nature desires a certain level of safety and comfort, so being creative takes us outside that. It scares us. It’s classic Lizard Brain stuff.

Creativity is a Choice

I think what it really boils down to is intention. If you want to live a creative life, you have to be very intentional about it. You have to do it on purpose. A creative life doesn’t happen by accident. You might stumble into some things that are fun and stimulate your creativity, but to see real long-term results, you have to choose to embrace it. Seek out creative opportunities instead of just letting them fall into your lap. You’ll find more that way.

Part of this requires that you take a hard look at what is holding you back from living a creative life. What isn’t working? Don’t be afraid to eliminate what doesn’t really help you out.

Watch Who You Hang Out With

This is important but it’s scary. It makes you feel selfish and wrong. But at some point you have to decide to stop spending time with negative people who can’t or won’t support you. People who criticize or belittle you and/or your ambitions. People who are fearful of your creative efforts because it terrifies them. Unfortunately they have to find out for themselves just how stuck the Lizard Brain has gotten them.

It’s hard to let go of some “friends” because you want to be nice. Instead, you feel like a jerk, flat-out rejecting someone. You feel selfish. You’re not hanging around Joe Smith because he doesn’t think you should pursue ballet? The truth is, you can’t hold yourself back like that. Think of it this way: you’re getting rid of weeds to make room to plant something new.

Keep in mind that I’m not advocating that you only hang out with people with the same views as you. That leads to extremely insular, naive and narrow-minded thinking. Be open to a wide range of perspectives and attitudes, but don’t hang around jerks who drag you down.

Watch Your Inputs

What is your mental diet? The things you watch, read, and listen to. The things you put in your mind on a daily basis. What magazines do you have lying around the house? What podcasts do you listen to? What TV shows are on in the background while you work? What books do you read? Pay careful attention to these.

Balance the “snacks” with the solid stuff carefully. Constant snacking is bad for your appetite and your body. Mental snacking is just as bad. How often are you hitting refresh on Facebook? Maybe it’s time to #unplug. I’ll be honest, I’m talking to myself here. It’s easy to allow yourself to be distracted by useless things that don’t get you anywhere. Again, this is a Lizard Brain thing keeping you from what scares it the most. Avoid things that derail a positive mindset, such as constant negative news.

You can be sure this topic will come up again on this blog!

Does Any of This Sound Familiar?

At its core, this is not much different from other lifestyle changes. If you’ve successfully quit smoking or drinking, chances are you no longer hang around other smokers or drinkers. And if you got fit, you probably found a workout buddy or a friend who is already into fitness to inspire you. If you have learned to cope with depression, you probably quit listening to songs by Rage Against the Machine. Maybe you sought out a mentor. The bottom line is it requires intention and a commitment to living a certain way and being a certain way.

If you want to live a life of creativity and creative effort you have to really try, and have a dedicated dissatisfaction with the status quo. Meeting the status quo won’t get you where you want to go.

What are you doing to create a more creative life?

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Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight cc

The problem with self-directed work

May 13th, 2014

The problem with truly working for yourself, working on self-directed projects, is you feel like you are playing and not working. There is a sense that you should be taking orders from someone, that everything has to be driven by profit, that you can’t just make art and enjoy what you are making for the sake of making it, even if it might never make any money.

I imagine this is a societal thing. I don’t know if there has ever been a society in which self-directed work is truly accepted, since individualism is highly frowned upon in most cultures. Cultures last because people stuck together in the first place.

Yet while in America we say we admire “rugged individualism,” there is a tendency to look down on things that aren’t “for hire” or immediately “useful,” as hobbies and therefore as a waste of time.

Prove ’em wrong. Nobody will take you seriously unless you do.

Photo Credit: Pulpolux !!! via Compfight cc

Unplugging for Lent

March 4th, 2014

Last year I read an article by Baratunde Thurston about how over the December and New Year holidays he unplugged from the Internet for 25 days.

I thought it was a neat idea. Then I put it away in the back of my mind for a while.

It wasn’t until I heard Eric J. Fisher interview Baratunde on Beyond the To Do List that I gave it more serious thought.

Then, cleaning up my home office right after Christmas, I found the issue of Fast Company that I had misplaced. Baratunde’s head was on the cover, kind of small and toward the bottom, with big letters floating above him: #UNPLUG.

So I re-read all the articles about unplugging. Baratunde had been living like he was running for President of Planet Earth, going from one speaking engagement to another, promoting his book and checking in all sorts of places online. By the end of the year, it had burned him out and made him cranky, and he needed a vacation.

He considered going to some remote island paradise, but that wasn’t what he wanted. What he needed was a vacation from the Internet.

He stayed in his adopted hometown of New York, but he completely disconnected from social media and email. He did a lot of socializing — offline.

This was the holiday season, so business slowed down anyway. Yet I’m sure he was tempted to check in on Foursquare and say he was at such and such a restaurant with these friends at a Chrismtas party, and post a picture of himself and said friends at said restaurant. Like anyone else with social media habit would do, right?

But after the first couple of days, he says the itch went away.

I did something similar last year for Lent.

And I’m thinking about it again this year. Last year, I gave up Facebook for Lent. However, I stayed on the other social media sites.

But this year, I will be off social media from March 5 to April 20. That’s six weeks and four days. 40 days.

40 days of no Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Netflix.

I might check off books I read on Goodreads, but that may be it. I know Netflix isn’t really a social network but it sure eats up too much of my time.

A lot can happen in 40 days on the Internet. Then again, on the Internet, not much changes in 40 days. There’s always sensational news about this or that celebrity. The weather is too hot or too cold. People complain about the government. People share pictures of funny cats and their kids or grandkids.

But 40 days is a good time to set aside to focus on something important. To cut down on the noise and listen. To really form a new habit. It takes 21-30 days to form a new habit, depending on who you ask. It seems to me that 40 days would really cement it in place.

I’ll keep blogging and emailing. I still have to pay the bills so I’m not in a position to shut down completely, and I have no assistant to notify me if there is a fire I need to put out. So I’ll still be checking my email every day. But I won’t (and don’t) live in my email. (Never have, never will.)

I’m not Catholic. I grew in a household that’s about as evangelical as it gets. So the idea of Lent or fasting was never really brought up. But a few years ago, I started hearing of “tech fasts.” And I got it, seeing how things like email can overwhelm a person. And then social media got popular. And social media overwhelm became a thing. Slowly, the idea of tech fasting started to grow on me. Now that I’ve done it in smaller increments, I’m ready to do it more fully.

The whole point of the exercise is to take a break from all the noise that happens online, and focus on reading, writing, making art, and spending time with my family.

Do you have plans to give anything up for Lent? I’d love to hear about it.

PS: For those about to #Unplug, here’s a bonus freebie.

I’ll be changing my social media profile pictures to one of these just so people don’t think I’ve disappeared off the face of the Earth. If you want to use one, feel free. Just click on the image you want and you’ll be taken to the big version.

Photo Credits: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc eflon via Compfight cc


January 16th, 2014

As I’ve mentioned before, Intention is one of my words for 2014.

The idea is to do things purposefully. It’s about structuring my activities and habits in such a way that I’ll achieve a certain result. I should not be surprised at where I am six months or a year or five years from now.

Intention is very important for the artist, especially if said artist wants to thrive and have a long career.

There are a lot of artists who make a big splash and then fizzle out, burning out in a blaze of glory. It sounds romantic, but it’s sad, hopeless, and pathetic.

Living fast vs. living intentionally

This is most visible in the movie and rock-and-roll industry, where the “27 Club” has a certain level of notoriety and a promise of posthumous fame. You’ve heard of superstar actors and musicians who died at the young age of 27. They accomplishmed a lot in a short time, living by the motto, “live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.” The most notable examples off the top of my head are Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, and most recently, Amy Winehouse. It’s probably a combination of pressure to perform, fame, boredom, an addiction to drugs or alcohol, not to mention adrenaline, and depression. Sometimes it’s suicide, but more often it is overdose or reckless behavior.

If you want a long career, you have to be intentional about it. You can’t just do the first thing that pops into your head and give it up when it gets hard. You have to be disciplined. Seek to do more than just create entertainment. Create something with a long vision, something for the generations after you. I’ve said it before: there IS a place for entertainment, but entertainment almost never achieves “high art” status. Entertainment often appeals to the lowest common denominator. No wonder comedies often resort to crude, cheap laughs. No wonder high art rewards the patient viewer.

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy

That’s not to say you should only work hard and never have any fun. Ecclesiastes 2:24 says it is good for man to eat good food, drink good wine, and enjoy the fruit of your hard work. And often, good food and drink are considered entertainment, since they go beyond basic bread and water. So there’s a place for it.

The problem is that in today’s world, we live for instant gratification. I can pull up a movie or a funny cat video on the mobile phone in my pocket. Social media has made us shallow. Lots of breadth, but no depth. It doesn’t have a long memory.

Artists are just as susceptible to this impulse as anyone else, maybe more susceptible. We want instant success. We want to be the next Damien Hirst or whoever the latest rock star artist is, and we want it to happen overnight.

The irony is that if we as artists want to be remembered, we have to be okay with being unknown now, working for something that you may never see come to bear fruit. It’s a lot like planting a tree. If I plant a tree now, I may not see it produce any fruit, but my children and their children will.

Thank you

November 27th, 2013

Here in the U.S. it is the week of Thanksgiving, a holiday in which we eat way too much food, take a nap, then watch football, then get up ridiculously early the next day to go shopping and score insane deals.

But really, it’s about being thankful for reaping a generous harvest from the work of the previous growing season. The first (United States) Thanksgiving was held in the fall of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, when Pilgrims had had a good harvest and celebrated with the natives, spending several days feasting and giving thanks for the good harvest. The event is poorly documented, but the tradition remains.

While I can’t say I’ve harvested much at this point in my life — I am still young, my children are young, and I’m still very much starting things — there is a lot I am thankful for.

First, I want to thank you for joining me here on this little website as I try to figure out just what in the world I’m doing art-wise and why. I treasure each and every comment, connection, Like, tweet, Facebook message, and email with you guys. You’re awesome.

I’m thankful for my family. I’m especially proud of my children and my wife who bring me so much joy each day. It’s wonderful to watch my children grow and my wife be their mother and train them and teach them and be my partner in life. I’m of course thankful for my parents and my sister who have made me who I am, and my in-laws who do so much for my children as well.

I’m thankful for my artistic talent, my own way of seeing and filtering and presenting the world.

Most of all, I’m thankful to God for the salvation I have in Christ Jesus. I don’t know how it works, just that I’m broken and He loves me because I am his child. And I get that now that I am a father myself. I love my children’s merits, but I love them regardless.

Image: Trying out Oggl

God Wants You to Make Better Art (Uncovering My Own Story Made Me Realize How Much Work I Have To Do)

October 11th, 2013

Last month, I attended a multimedia webinar hosted by Blaine Hogan, Creative Director at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. “God Wants You to Make Better Art” was on a Wednesday night, just after when I would normally have been at mid-week Bible study. So I skipped church, put the kids to bed early, and attended the $10 webinar that Blaine hosted. Hope had a meeting of her own, too.

(You can find a version of his presentation here on his blog: Move More People and Make Better Art.)


Blaine’s overarching theme was that of story. I thought this was pretty interesting since last year our congregation studied from The Story, a Bible study that puts everything in a continuous narrative from the framework of viewing the Bible as God’s story.

Blaine’s angle was that we look at our own stories, and search for the themes that connect us with those around us.

His own story can be viewed as tragic, starting from sexual abuse as a child, moving to pornography and alcohol addictions as an adult, while following a career path as an actor. “At 18 I had become a professional actor and by 25 I had become a professional addict as well.” But it doesn’t end in tragedy: he wound up finding healing at seminary.

Blaine’s story is one of constant redemption, a testament to God’s amazing grace: He redeems us no matter what we’ve done, what we will do.

God redeemed us once, for all time. I think it has taken Blaine many reminders over the years to understand this. (I need to be reminded of this frequently, too.)

Themes & Metaphors

For the 2012 Christmas event at Willow Creek, Blaine explored this theme of redemption and wanted to make it relatable to people from all walks of life. He saw Christ’s coming as a salvage mission. So the stage set for the multimedia presentation had reclaimed materials such as found wood, and the Christmas story was narrated as one where God was coming to earth to rescue the people he loved.

(Hogan said the challenge for making it accessible to everyone was to avoid dumbing it down or devolving into kitsch.)

Clearly, Blaine’s own experiences cause him to vividly experience the theme of redemption in Scripture. And that’s important. You can’t downplay that. It just might be the most important theme of the Bible other than love — the motivation for redemption.

Newtonian Physics and Art

Hogan talked a little bit about Isaac Newton. Newton’s first law of motion maintains that
An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
The application to art is that if you want to make art that moves people, you have to make moving art, and to do that, you must deliver a moving pitch, and to do that, you must develop a moving idea, and before that, the artist must be moved first. So, to do any of that, you start with stories. And that’s where Blaine’s own story comes into play, and how he found his themes and put them to work in his own art.

How can your art move people to Christ? Of course, before knowing how to do this, you must start with your own story.

What are the themes and metaphors I can draw from my own experiences to inform my art and make it accessible to everyone so that they are moved to Christ in some way?

So, I set out to uncover my own story.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Some say that to find your own story, you should journal a good deal and find your themes that way.

Thing is, I’ve been actively journaling about ten or eleven years now. It started out as Morning Pages (as outlined in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) but I got away from that and currently use a journaling template somewhat like Michael Hyatt’s.

It has been a long time since journaling has uncovered much of my themes (and I really don’t want to go back and re-read and re-live the bad parts where I whined a lot a decade ago.) So I’ve been stumped.

I’ve let this percolate in the back of my mind a few weeks, and on a lunchtime walk, it hit me: my biggest theme is one of loneliness and anger and resentment.

This might surprise you. Then again, it might not. Depends on how well you know me.

I’ve long resented my hearing loss, and the way that has held me back in numerous ways. It makes me angry on some deep, vague level. I think this is the root of everything for me. And on some level I’m an angry person. Most of the time I’m neutral. Sort of. Definitely not as mellow as I thought of myself when I was a teenager. I guess the anger and resentment started to surface in my 20s, once I was out of college. I put my fist through a pantry door once. I’ve been to anger management classes but that was 11 years ago, and a lot has changed in my life since then.

My hearing loss has made me angry, resentful, and above all, lonely. I think on some level I’ve been angry at God about this, resenting my hearing loss for at least thirty years.

In college I discovered porn on the Internet. So for a long time, I tried to treat that loneliness with porn. But that only made my loneliness more intense. Which made me angrier. And magnified the resentment I felt toward anybody who seemed to have a connection with anyone other than me, so it spiraled deeper and deeper. This lasted over a decade.

Until last year, I realized what was going to happen to my marriage and my children if I didn’t do something about it. I made a conscious decision, breaking down into tears in the bathroom with my wife, promising that I wasn’t going to look at porn again. It’s the same as cheating on her. Wait. No “same as.” It is.

It hasn’t been easy. There are times I want to load something disgusting online for a quick thrill or simulation of intimacy without the effort. (But I know there is no reward for that.) I’m not about to damage my relationship with my wife and my children and even my parents for the next 30 or 40 years just from a half-second jolt to the lizard brain.

I’ve also got a lot of resentment toward the idea of false praise. There have been significant moments where I’ve displayed my art and heard, “Ooooh, Brad! That’s amaaaazing!” and it rang false. As a result, I have had a hard time accepting praise.

Yet I hungrily seek approval.

Nowhere is this more evident than on social media, where it seems everyone else has more clicks, pins, likes, plusses, or hearts than I. No wonder social media sends me into such a dark funk. I try hard to make a concerted effort to get likes and clicks and retweets, and then after a week or so I throw up my hands and give up, depressed and angry when I look at Buffer’s analytics and see what I’m sharing isn’t getting clicked on. Then I’m back at it again the next week. Again with the spiral, looking for a quick fix that makes me feel accepted.

• • •

Wow. This been cathartic. I don’t know where this came from, nor what to do with it. In many ways I’m still on this journey. As it turns out, my perspective is rather pessimistic and distrustful. There’s no hope or redemption. I’m shocked at my own pessimism. I’ve never looked at myself this critically or deeply. It’s depressing. I don’t like this.

And yet.

Somewhere inside me there is hope. I think my parents instilled some spark in me that is optimistic, that believes there is good in this world, that somebody believes in me.

I do know this: I want to give my kids the self-confidence that I didn’t have. Every day, I make a point to tell them how proud I am of them, and that I will always love them no matter what they do, for the sole reason that they are my children, and there’s nothing they can do to change that. It’s hard, being as preoccupied as I am with my art (or lack thereof) let alone deep-seated doubts about my own merit.

This is not the story I want. Looking in the mirror is difficult when I discover how apparently intrinsically negative I am.

I suppose now I should set about writing myself a better story. But how?

I don’t have any answers right now, but I’ll get there. I just know it involves forgiveness. Probably again and again and again.

See? There is hope. Even if it is just a tiny spark.

What’s your story?

June 18th, 2013

All of us have a story for our lives, but I think all too often, we coast along without some grand vision for what our story should ultimately be.

Sometimes a direct approach is the wrong path to take, so we take a lateral drift, coasting along until we figure out what to do next.

It’s okay for a while, but if you do it too long, you’ll end up completely swayed by whatever is around you. You’ll end up spineless and without any sort of conviction, blown by whatever is popular at the moment.

On the other hand, we can get so caught up in the moment that we fail to look at the bigger picture of our lives.

Angry birds of distraction

We get distracted by every day things like school, jobs, maintaining the car, the rent, the dog food, the bills, keeping kids clothed and fed, all the things that turn into a daily to-do list that we dutifully fulfill every day.When that’s done, we’re exhausted, so we plop in front of the TV for a few hours before bed. Right?

If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself in an existential tight spot, realizing you could’ve taken more advantage of those hours you frittered away playing Angry Birds instead of being more intentional with your time.

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun. “Time” – Pink Floyd, 1973
I’m not trying to get all Cognitive Surplus here (though that’s not a bad idea at all) but I do have a couple of quick suggestions.

Don Miller at the Bat

A few days ago Don Miller wrote a thoughtful blog post about how he sees himself as a baseball player at bat, and all these balls are being lobbed at him every day. Not just a few, but thousands, in the form of emails, phone calls, text messages, and more. He feels like his job is to only hit three or five of them really well, and knock them out of the park. Just those few. Because he is busy with his next book, an upcoming conference he is organizing, and a business he is running, among a couple of other things. So he winds up with a lot of unanswered emails, but he’s okay with that.

Blaine Hogan’s Wallpaper

Then I got an email from Blaine Hogan where he shared this cool wallpaper the other day that asks two questions:

  1. What story do you want to tell?
  2. How do you want to tell it?
Blaine admits that for a long time he put the HOW before the WHAT or WHY. He wanted to make movies that told great stories, put on killer productions that moved people, that sort of thing. He realized that’s backwards. The story comes first. The why is more important than the how. Once he changed his thinking, it started clicking better for him.

What about you?

What’s your story? Your big picture, what does that look like? And how are you going to make that happen?

Image credit: Desert Island sketch: Brad Blackman. Rollerball on copy paper, colored in Photoshop. Nothing fancy.