It is what you do not yet know that is yer friend most.

My buddy Ray and I only got lost once while walking the Coast to Coast trail across England earlier this month.
Our solution was to follow a compass direction hoping to get back on the map.
(there was also a road we could have followed that would eventually have given us a clue where we were but we didn’t take it)
This is the field we were standing near when we decided what to do. Nice eh? Notice, however, that there’s no path through it.

3 weeks after getting back, it’s this field and being lost and figuring out how to not be that seems like the best memory from the trip.
Not the idyllic meadows we crossed in sunshine.
Or the steep climbs.
It’s the conquering of the unknown.
I bring this up because our brain’s default position in every situation we face is to angle for the way that gives the most comfort, or is the most efficient, or hippest or cheapest.
The brain is rational. The brain aims to keep the status quo until something more comfortable comes along.
The brain needs tricking.
To create at a high level you must trick your rational brain into sitting down and letting the rest of the grey matter work.
I’ll go into tricking the brain in detail in an upcoming post about using the workbook. All i’m aiming at here is to point at a small thought:
In your quest to make interesting work you must not choose the comfortable way.
You must not do what is efficient or logical or what satisfies someone sitting next to you.
You must overrule your brain.
You must march out into the field you don’t know.
Anyone can follow the road. Dig?

The first day of school is the hardest.

You don’t know who you are.
You don’t know who’s sitting next to you.
You don’t have any clue if you’ve chosen the right track to study.
You don’t have much more than a guess whether or not you’ve got talent.
(and how much talent you do have, as you will discover, has little to do with success)
I’ve thought about what it feels like to sit in my class on the first day.
I’d taught for 10 years before this nugget of wisdom came to me.
It sure ain’t much, but it’s all i got.

Welcome to what you’ll never stop wishing you could go back to once you leave.
Welcome to graduate school.

In order to create at a high level you must feed the machine that’s doing the work. Having a workbook and relentlessly pounding into it ….

This is something i drew in a workbook a few years ago.

I’ve had a workbook going since about 1985. I doubt my brain would work if i didn’t. I’m surprised i ever did a lick of any kind of good work before i started keeping my work with me. I used to work on yellow legal pads. I’d throw ideas i didn’t like in the trash. I was ignorant.
i didn’t start with the idea i’d make a cartoon. i remember thinking/writing the idea of the guy with a sign protesting being rich. The idea came first, then the image of the guy with a sign, and then i revised the words to go on the sign.
After i looked at it i thought a line was needed underneath to explain the joke. i thought it was funny in a dark way i like things to be. Now i think it works better without the explanation. (when is that not true?)
Most of what you put in a workbook goes nowhere. But you have to, have to, have to put everything in. You’ve got to pound it in. Because you never know what is going to come out of the process your brain does.
Looking at the bit now what i like is different from what i liked back when i did it.
Now i like the offhanded lean against air of the guy with the sign. I’m no drawer, but i like the accident that happened. It suggests how it should look on film.
Money is like computers. Doesn’t do anything people say it will, but ain’t nobody trying to get rid of theirs.

What goes into the workbook. It’s not sacred. It can be a silly thought like this one here.

Don’t treat it like it’s anything. It’s not. It’s hay for the horse your brain is willing to work like.
Even more likely, your workbook will be full of undramatic pages with lines & thoughts & unbaked ideas scribbled all over. Like this:

Good. Get it all out. It’s work, not art at this point.
It needn’t be written. I fancied myself a naive painter for a few deluded moments. I worked with cheap paint and charcoal and easy stuff. All i did was make lines look different than the typewriter could. Silly. Looking at it now, though,

and pulling out maybe this one from a hundred pieces of crapola, it’s a look I don’t mind. It seems to serve the thought of the line. I don’t paint this juvenile stuff anymore. With some years remove i can see that it’s what the words mean that i care about and have some interest in moving around.
When i’m working on a real project i’ll have different approaches to the same headline plastered into the workbook (wood-glued, actually, i like the crinkle effect it has on the pages and it doesn’t seem to add as much bulk as tape, although that’s likely not to be true by the laws of physics now that i think of it) This is an ad idea from 1996 or so done for KFC.

I doubt we (Steve Luker & myself) were thinking of it as a print ad. We were just getting ideas down on paper. No, wait, i think the idea was to make a book of sorts introducing these characters we’d made up & their philosophy.

Anyway, just get the stuff down on paper and look at it different ways.
I should own up, in defence of Mr. Luker who is an extraordinary art director and would choke himself to death if he thought for a moment that anyone had been given the impression he art directed the roughs in my book shown here, that i probably stuck these headlines on these pictures myself.
But that’s the point. Get whatever you think or see down in the book. Don’t waste time putting it down or critiquing it in your head, get it down in the book.
Don’t think about it being final. Don’t worry yourself, just hurry yourself. Your brain will keep up with your hands. Get stuff down.
I could go on and on.
I won’t.
Let me stop here with a final encouragement about workbooks.
The job of a copywriter or art director isn’t fun and it isn’t easy.
Jackasses often get the final say about whether our work runs or is even presented to a small group of people.
Genuine hacks often are given free rein to edit our work.
There is no honor in the advertising business.
Although you cannot create high level work without approaching it as an artist, you will not find yourself treated as an artist.
In short, you will not be able to love the job of advertising copywriter or art director as you would like to.
Do not fear.
Your desire is not muted.
Only misdirected.

(Kate Flather, i think, art directed this for me–we were working on tshirts if memory serves)
This, i have found, is what can happen.
The process of creation is worthy of love and will return to you what you seek.
The workbook is both the repository of your work and the feeding mechanism for your brain in the process.
Do not waste your love on the business. It cannot meet you where an artist deserves to be met.
Love the process.
I’ve written here clumsily perhaps, but i hope only to encourage use of the workbook, not to explicate it prettily.

Chinese propaganda posters from a museum exhibition in NY

People want to know where ideas come from. i think they want to know because they’re afraid their ideas aren’t any good and they think if they knew where the spigot was they’d go turn it on and ideas would gush out.
i don’t know where the idea spigot is.
i’m pretty sure there isn’t one.
i’m pretty sure ideas don’t come out in one whole piece from anywhere. i think the brain makes up ideas out of all sorts of little pieces it takes from whatever it’s been feeding on.
i think ideas come in pieces.
Maybe you’re at a museum in NY. You see this poster. Your brain stores away something from what you see. Maybe it’s an impression of an aggressive protest.
Or, maybe you get taken over by the look of the whole piece on a page.
Or you hear a tiny voice calling to you in a typeface.
Maybe the piece itself does nothing more than make you think of something else and your brain stores away that little piece of what the poster made you think that catches you.
We have so little control over what catches us.
What you do have control over is what you do with the little piece your brain caught.
You have to keep it with you.
You must make it a part of your process.
If all you do is get a copy of it and hand it to a technician and say there, that’s what it should look like, that’s nothing. That’s copying/cheating/not art.
But putting what catches you into your process by storing it in your workbook where it has a chance of being seen & studied in the context of what you’re working on, then it goes into your brain and your brain will use of it what it can.
Sitting there on a page it kicks in a door somewhere in the corridors of your brain.
Later, some brain cell walks past that door and looks in.

Not everything that catches you shows up where you think it might.
Few of the things that catch you do anything at all, probably.
But all fuel the process.

i don’t think there’s such a thing as writer’s block.
I think there are times when we’re not in the process. When we haven’t fed the brain anything to get excited about.

“True and substantial wisdom principally consists of two parts, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves.” -John Calvin (1509-1564)

The opening sentence of “Institutes of the Christian Religion” by John Calvin is not only something i believe is fundamental to living, but fundamental to becoming a high level advertising creative.
I know i sound silly saying that.
I mean it nonetheless.
It will take me a while to write what i’m thinking.
Heck, it’ll take me a while to think what i’m thinking.
You’re invited to participate.
Let’s see if there is much to be gained by learning out loud in front of each other.
I’ll start:

My thought, in reading Calvin’s gigantic declaration is that ads don’t exist in a compartmented world. They live–like all thoughts and speech and vision–in the midst of everything going on within earshot & eyeshot & thought-shot of the entire experience of the human being in the world. And so our preparation to create ads must be as wide as the world and at the same time as individual as each human.
Since an ad about golf doesn’t hit up against only people thinking about playing golf, the most important way to prepare to write an ad about golf may not be to become a golfer.
If everybody thinks all day long about everything, wouldn’t it be important to prepare to write an ad about golf (or cars or deodorant) by making sure you were open to everything including golf rather than closed off to everything but golf? To write advertising–maybe to write anything–you must be coming from where the audience comes from. Who doesn’t know the agony of having to listen to someone talk who thinks they’re more important than you are.
To attract hold and be loved by an audience you must be preoccupied with what preoccupies them.
What i think people think about is love God sex and death.
Also food and driving, but for limited times.
Which means–and yes i’m simplifying here–to become a better creator of ads you need to study not advertising, but man and God.
(of course there isn’t much in life that’s a better study of God and man than the way i play golf, but that’s my swing problem, hopefully not yours)

That’s my thinking. What’s yours? Comments, including simply badmouthing me, are invited.

Rhino Records print advertising done by The Bomb Factory in the early 1990’s.

The Bomb Factory was a film production company/ad agency hybrid i ran in Venice CA from 1990 to 1996. Wonderful people worked there.

We didn’t think of it as an unusual place at the time. We wanted to work a lot & we wanted to control the quality of our work. That was all. In retrospect it’s apparent we were trying to be two things at once at a time when it was becoming a difficult world to make money at in either of them.
(creatives: Steve Luker, Rob Palmer, Mark Foster, Kate Flather & Susan Griak. all art directors, but i think they wrote a lot of the best headlines themselves)
(click on ad to open larger view)

I’ll post more of the work as it gets scanned & write more later about our experience, especially the reasons we’re not around today.

Progress comes from mistakes, not success. Pretty much all that comes from success is copying.

Calvin & Hobbes re: Advertising

The boy and the tigger have it right on for 97% of what our business creates.
If you make that kind of work you should be ashamed when you have to tell people you work in advertising.
If you do the other 3%, if you look for the truth & don’t talk till you tell it, you’re part of the most powerful art form on earth at the moment, i think.