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Revisiting "Steal Like An Artist" by Austin Kleon

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

I just revisited Austin Kleon’s wonderful book Steal Like An Artist. At about the same time I received an email asking questions that I have been asked innumerable times. The questions and the book’s message were overlapping and timely, so I thought I would address both at the same time


The questions include:

  • Do you still take workshops?

  • Do you still try to learn?

  • Do you ever experiment?

And the big one.

  • How do you manage your painting time, and still find time to play or experiment?

The short answers are yes, yes and yes. I’m always learning, training, practicing and experimenting, however… there is a longer answer.


Artists are a curious lot. Creativity is in our blood. Some like pure creativity while others strike to seek a balance between formula and free will. It seems tough - once we get in a groove, we like to stay there, right? We start to understand what we’re doing so we follow and stick to that path. The danger with this is that we get all too comfortable in that comfy place. “A rut is just a grave with no ends” (Alan Lampkin)


Well, I still maintain that repetition is the key to learning how to paint and it works well in the early stages of learning, but once you get in the know, it’s time to move on and explore further. A little experimentation is always a good idea to keep your work and your soul fresh. One always needs a little free play time.


Once you have enough experience in your toolkit, and the well-oiled machine is humming along, problems can start to bog your creativity down. The safety net…the rut, the fear of change and all the other fears. Plus, the need to get work done. Whether it’s for upcoming shows, or you’re lucky enough to have gallery representation, you’ll need to be providing fresh work to keep your galleries happy, and this will also keep your nose to the grindstone. There are demands from all sides that pull, tug and guilt your full focus away from any fun. This means no time for play. But remember ….” All work and no play…. “


The bottom line here is, as Robert Genn says “Get off the assembly line and simply surrender to your intuition, and you need to be guilt-free about it,” more than once in a while


I use Mondays as my play day. I have had every Monday off for nearly 30 years. I don’t get the Monday blues, because I’m off on Mondays while everyone else is off to work and I make these a day of play. I regularly experiment on this day. No pressure. Nothing to produce, just paint and pitch. Try a new colour. Try an approach. Push things a bit further. What if? What might happen? If I was to….the list is endless.


Back to the Austin Kleon book...


I have done what he suggests and have set up an analog station in my studio. It’s just a sketchbook and all of my weird doodles, thoughts, gestures and musings. Heck, I even wrote a song the other day. No, I’m not singing it….ever… I just write a few things down. Thoughts, dreams, plans, ideas, annoyances and any other wayward thoughts just pop out of my head. Get more bran buds for breakfast…


The best part of all of this is I no longer take my phone into the studio. The phone, though I use it for tons of art stuff, belongs in a different room. The analog area is a no-phone zone. No computer no phone no piece of glass between me and my ideas. I have replaced the phone here with sticky notes. Reminders of how far I have come. How much there is to learn and to get more bran buds for breakfast… It’s in here that you need to have some time set aside for random thoughts. Ideas will just start to flow. Analog can set the brain free. Again, no pressure. Dance like no one is watching as they say… though, I tried that once and I’m pretty sure that’s why my hip is as bad as it is now.


It’s in here that you need to have some time set aside for random thoughts. Ideas will just start to flow. Analog can set the brain free. Again, no pressure. Dance like no one is watching as they say… though, I tried that once and I’m pretty sure that’s why my hip is as bad as it is now.


You need to program some play time in your routine. This free fun will creep into your daily work and keep things fresh. Watch your ankles when you jump off the work train, you’ll need them for when play time begins. Safety first, kids! ‘The closer you are to commerce the further away you are from creativity’ - Sergei Bongart.


Brrrring brrrring, Recess!!


Your friend in art,

Doug.






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Carol Lawrence
Carol Lawrence
2023年10月30日

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