creativity

Reader Question on Style

Hello Dave. I just recently created an account on Tumblr and stumbling through different photography blogs I’ve noticed that many people post pictures that have a certain style to them, one I haven’t really seen before. The style I would be referring to I noticed in your pictures “Sunrise on the Mill Pond – Concord, Michigan” and “Catching the Dew – Albion, Michigan”. I was just curious as to how you achieve this look, if it is achieved through Ps or Lr, or if it depends on the type of camera.

Those two (catching dew, and the sunrise photo) are two of my favs from the fall, and really a product of the right time of year, the right sunrises, and a healthy dose of custom VSCO editing in Lightroom. The macro lens helped, too, to really get in there and capture the details on the dew shot. And don’t quote me, but I think I used VSCO Film 03 for both. Thanks!


What You Might Build

Turn off those notifications, turn your phone over, turn on your favorite music, stare at your blank slate and consider what you might build.

The Builder’s High – Rands in Repose

This is increasingly why I’m spending less and less time on certain social media sites. Why consume others’ experiences when you can be busy making your own?

I like to make things. I like to be busy, and creative, and knee-deep in a photo or writing project.


Trying to talk somebody out of the stuff that they enjoy in life is like trying to talk them out of their faith or their sexuality. It’s a pointless exercise that can never be anything but acrimonious and will only highlight unnecessary amounts of difference about things that ultimately don’t really matter. Buy the steak you like, worship the god you love, neck with the people that you treasure and don’t worry about the numbers.

Merlin Mann // Taken from Episode #91 of Back To Work (1:07:00-1:07:24)

(via pantsformation)


AaronMahnke: Memories of Writing, or Why

Aaron Mahnke:


Amateurs

I’m an amateur soccer player, an amateur cook, an amateur skier, designer, racecar driver, and flyfisherman. And I’m happy to be an amateur at all of those things. Actually I LOVE being an amateur at all of those things – it allows me to dabble, make a ton of mistakes, goof around, drop the ball, not care when something else might be distracting me etc.

Being an amateur at those things means I can be comfortable. It’s safe. There is no fear of success or failure.


The weird go pro

Seth Godin:

Laying out the design of a page or a flyer so it looks like a pro did it takes about ten times as much work as merely using the template Microsoft builds in for free, and the message is almost the same…

Except it’s not. Of course not. The message is not the same.

The last ten percent is the signal we look for, the way we communicate care and expertise and professionalism. If all you’re doing is the standard amount, all you’re going to get is the standard compensation. The hard part is the last ten percent, sure, or even the last one percent, but it’s the hard part because everyone is busy doing the easy part already.

This is what makes what I do paradoxically enjoyable and frustrating. I love concentrating on the stuff that no one else cares about because I care intensely about it. Things, little things, do matter.

On the flip side, I encounter people who are template humpers and think good enough is good enough. They have no respect for, or are totally ignorant of, that last 10 percent – and have no interest in it. It’s the interest part that’s frustrating.

For some, Microsoft Word is good enough, and Times New Roman is good enough, and an photo stolen from Google Images is good enough. For me, the fun is in tackling the good enough and making it even a tiny bit better.

Even if I never approach something a tiny bit better (and often times I don’t), the pursuit is, in of itself, a worthy goal.


We were watching TV

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don’t? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn’t posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it’s not, and that’s the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it’s worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

Something is better than nothing, says Clay Shirkey, especially when “in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads.”

I don’t hate TV. In fact, there’s a lot about it I love. “The Office,” “Mad Men,” football – I don’t get much done when these programs are on TV. Sometimes that’s great. My mind can stand to have a few minutes of down-time each week. So can yours.

But more and more, I find myself using that leisure time (the “social surplus” of time, Shirkey calls it) to do something productive: write a blog entry, or make a web site, or help out my recycling group, or just goof off on something creative. It’s all entertainment.

Sometimes, my heart aches at the silly YouTube videos people gobble up, or the hours spent managing a fake farm. But then I think about what’s going to come out of all this – how we’re all just goofing off and creating a new and vibrant culture.

Before, TV execs told us what to watch, and when, and we voted with our remotes. Now you and I and all of our friends make all this stuff and tune in to what we want, and vote with our mouse clicks and encouragement. My roommate can star in a video, and I can share an article that I read, and we’re having just as much fun. Plus, we’re using our brains way more.


On being an advanced beginner

There was a time when I could hear a song on the radio, pick up my guitar, and strum it out until I got the hang of the song’s chord progression or riff.

In high school, after I picked up my first guitar for $100, I could sit for hours and learn my favorite songs. Over time, I built up a competency for guitar playing. No, I couldn’t hammer out solos like my friends. I didn’t have a knack for songcraft, either. But I had enough skill to play what I wanted to play, and to learn something I heard and liked.

I like to think I still have that skill set. Like riding the proverbial bike, from time to time I pick up my acoustic guitar and everything comes back to me. The time I spent in high school was an investment that pays off every time I play.

My guitar playing came to mind during Merlin Mann’s 37-minute-long video on expertise and fake self-help. Mr. Mann learned that there are several levels of expertise, ranging from novice to expert, and your placement on the gradient is proportional to the time and attention you place on whatever it is you’re studying.

A novice, the thinking goes, starts out knowing nothing, and learns by doing exactly what they’re told. Learn the basics. Simple enough.

My journalism professor, Dr. Dennis Renner, said that “rules are made for smart people to break.” That little maxim always stuck with me because it makes so much sense. Learn the basics before you go sprinting off to change to world. You have to know something before you can’t start messing around. You don’t get smart until you move past the novice level.

So the expert and the master, as Mann labels a sixth level, are free to break the rules because they know the rules inside and out. They know the rules so deeply and personally that the rules fade into habit.

It’s the step above novice, what Dreyfus calls “advanced beginner,” that has me thinking.

For years now, I’ve dabbled in many things and have become an expert of none. It’s the Renaissance Man Syndrome: know a little about a bunch of stuff, enough to talk intelligently during dinner hour conversations, but not enough to go out and change the world. Or get anything practical done. Just knowing is different from actually doing.

Take graphic design. I’ve been doing design work for almost seven years now, from my first design class in college, yet I wouldn’t call myself anything next to an expert. I know enough to get my job done, to dabble in freelance projects, and that’s it. Mostly, I think it’s because I never developed a strong enough foundation. No art training and little design sense handicap me, and prevent me from developing my craft to an expert level.

Writing, however, is something I know deep and well. My whole life, I’ve studied grammar and story telling and expository writing. It made English an obvious bachelor’s degree choice, and helped journalism come naturally to me. Writing isn’t easy. But I know enough to do well, help others, and critique bad writing when I see it. This comes from years of doing writing.

As Merlin says, every writing book on Earth has one shared piece of advice: sit in a chair and write. That’s the only way to get better.

Well, that and pick up a goddamn book now and again.

But besides writing, I don’t have a particular skill I can call my own. Sure, I can fix a computer – but I get the knowledge to do that from online searches and a bit of history. And yeah, I can take a decent photograph – but that comes from seeing how others have done it, not from any particular depth of knowledge.

I respect men and women who can work on cars so much. They have to know a vehicle deep and well or it doesn’t get fixed. It’s a skill I’d love to pick up (and it has me researching some ways to do just that).

Mann argues that so much of our knowledge about a particular subject doesn’t get much deeper than a Wikipedia search and a few how-to articles. We become beginners at something and never really advance beyond that. It’d be like Michaelangelo putting tracing paper over a painting he saw and transferring it the Sistine Chapel. From afar, it might look nice, but up close – well, anyone could do that.

That little bit of knowledge makes us arrogant. We end up thinking we know more than we actually know.

Renaissance Men and Women of old, especially some of our founders like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, knew a great deal about many things. They were deep and wide. Their lives were dedicated to learning and thinking, and – in all fairness – few of us have time for that today.

Instead, we take up hobbies and learn a lot about one or two subjects. But knowing something deeply doesn’t simply affect what we do in our free time. It also affects our prospects for employment and advancement.

And shucks, it makes us interesting people. Deeply interesting. Like, magazines-or-NPR-will-interview-you-for-your-expertise interesting.

That’s not for everyone. Some people (and you know them well) are comfortable with a mile wide and an inch deep. I respect that, and it’s naive to think that everyone will become an expert in something.

But man, wouldn’t it be great if we had more people who knew what the hell they were talking about when they open their mouth?

Wouldn’t it be cool if more of us moved past the “advanced beginner” stage?