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This post was written for my work blog, Read @ MPL. If you want to read all of my Read @ MPL posts, click here! Also, cross-posted at Happy Bodies!

February is still the time for self-improvement, so here are some books for anyone who wants to be more creative and who might need some inspiration for the New Year. Let these books be the kick in the behind you might need to get started.

The Artist in the Office by Summer Pierre
Artists often have to work day jobs to make ends meet, and even people with no aspiration to be a professional artist might need an artistic outlet. This book provides artistic ideas about how to use your surroundings and the materials at hand to create small projects and incorporate creative thinking into your daily/weekly routine. A lot of the exercises in this book focus on helping you examine your priorities. What are the obstacles to you making art? What are the obstacles to you enjoying your job? How are you spending your time? How do you want to spend your time? This book is a supportive guide to figuring out the answers to those questions.

Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon
This is another great book for figuring out how to be creative in your daily life. Kleon outlines 10 principles for making creativity a priority. Filled with some amazing quotes about creativity, Kleon draws from tons of fields to make some interesting points about making stuff. It doesn’t all have to be miraculous artistic genius, sometimes you just have to do something and keep doing something until things start to click. The tips in this book are particularly relevant because they focus on creativity in the digital world. Etiquette, putting your work out there, and citing your sources (in the often anonymous internet ether) are all covered.

What It Is by Lynda Barry
I think Lynda Barry is the absolute greatest, and this book is no exception. Simply put, it’s a book about writing and how to write. Barry is very encouraging and open, mixing stories about her life with instructions for writing exercises. Most of her comics and collages are on lined yellow legal paper, making it clear that artistic expression doesn’t have to be fancy and special. Art can happen anywhere! She talks a lot about how children create so much and without scrutiny, and when we get older we fall prey to judgment and the idea that we’re not really artists/writers/creators. This book is meant to help you see that the freedom and creativity we experience as children isn’t off limits as adults. We can create! We can dance! We can write! We can draw! We just need to get off our butts and do it.

And if you need a further inspiration, you should read Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. What’s that about? Just go back in time and read the review!

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 17 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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I was looking at a gift guide on Miss Moss (whom I lovelovelove. Not to be confused with Swiss Miss, whom I also lovelovelove) and she included this stripes cup from Rennes:

Rennes stripes cup

I was salivating instantly. Look at those stripes! Look at that exposed clay! Look at the speckles! It has so many lovely beautiful things I want/love. Their ceramics collection (pictured below) is beautiful and subtle: matte glazes, simple colors, clear forms. Even though the cups, mugs, and jars are minimal, there is a lot of complexity there too. On the mugs, the handles have squared edges, extending pretty far off the surface and connecting symetrically close to the top and bottom of the form. The speckled matte glazes are another beautiful touch. The speckles let you know that the glaze isn’t uniform, that it doesn’t behave the same way on every cup in every firing. I love the squared off edges of the handles because the glaze doesn’t sit evenly there. It makes a line, emphasizing the curve of that handle, letting a little more of the clay body show through. Boy howdy, do I ever like this collection.

Rennes ceramics

Rennes, I learned, is a design studio based in Boston. They are named for Rennes-le-Château, a chateau in southwestern France that is apparently the center of some conspiracy theories about the Holy Grail! They comically note that they “were into [it] way before the Da Vinci Code.” Their ethos is to make things, close to home, with beautiful details and excellent craftsmanship. Their (too small! Gimme more!) ceramics collection fits right into that. Rennes also means reindeer, and you know how I feel about antlers.

Note:
Photos from rennes – Ceramics.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 200 books in 2013!
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As usual, this post was originally written for my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman

If you are an artist or a creative type, Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman will
likely appeal to you right off the bat. Originally given as an address at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, the speech was adapted to this playful little tome. I say “playful” because it was designed by Chip Kidd (if you don’t know who he is, I think there is a good chance you’ll recognize his design work. Ignore what I said before.) and it is certainly not mere words on a page. The text is often layered, angled, colored, sized or otherwise altered to convey or emphasize part of the message. Some pages are stark white with a bit of text, where others are boldly colored and filled to the brim with information. Part of the beauty of this reading experience is that it’s so short; meaning that nothing has time to feel superfluous, extraneous, or annoying. I can’t imagine reading a novel like this, but this speech is ideally suited to a comical, light-hearted format.

Notice how my nails go with the color scheme of the book. Very classy.

Notice how my nails go with the color scheme of the book. Very classy.

In addition to the visual appeal (which is great), the book is very engaging. Neil Gaiman gives some really dynamite advice; which might be advice you’ve heard before, but it’s also likely advice you still need to hear. He talks about his life as a creative person, and the perils of doing a job just for the money. Even if you’re not creative for a living, “what do I want to do with my life?” is not a question you answer once. It’s a question you ask, answer, or are confronted with constantly. Frankly, good advice is good advice.

As a bonus, you can also watch the original speech online:

Super bonus: an interview about the book with Neil Gaiman on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Note:
Cover photo via Goodreads.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
completed her goal of reading 200 books in 2013!
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

Have you ever lost a pet? Did that pet ever waltz right back into your house like nothing ever happened? That has happened to me, and it is also the premise of Caroline Paul’s book Lost Cat: a True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology.

Tibby & his view of the world

The book begins when Caroline Paul gets in a terrible accident where she breaks the tibia and fibula bones in her leg. That part is awful but also funny because her two cats at the heart of this book are also named Tibia and Fibula (or Tibby and Fibby for short). She’s home on the couch, feeling depressed, and attempting to heal when Tibby, the fraidy cat of the two, runs away. She feels this is literally adding insult to injury. She searches her neighborhood wailing for Tibby, hanging up posters, and feeling utterly worried about her beloved cat’s safety. She even enlists the help of a psychic, to no avail. Then after five weeks gone, Tibby walks back into the house. Not only that, but Tibby looks great! He isn’t underfed or dirty, he is just Tibby.

This is where Caroline Paul goes off the deep end. She becomes engrossed in a quest to find out where Tibby went. She wants to know who took care of him. Who heard her yelling for her lost cat and neglected to bring Tibby home? Clearly this person is some king of cat-napping monster. She uses cat-tracking GPS, a tiny cat’s-eye-view camera, and a cat communication class to deal with all her feelings of jealousy and betrayal. In addition to Paul’s sincere prose, the entire book is illustrated by her partner, Wendy McNaughton, whose work is truly excellent. She’s maybe best known (at least on the internet) for her series Meanwhile on the Rumpus.  Her drawings beautifully compliment Caroline’s ongoing neuroses (and prose). They are on this weird, purposeful journey together; and over the course of the book Tibby becomes their cat, not just Caroline’s cat.

Tibby, equipped with GPS.

Things happen in the second half of the book that I didn’t expect, and, be warned, not all happy things. But this story was so heartfelt and earnest, and so unlike what I expected from a book about cats. I definitely recommend this if you have cats or have had cats in the past, but I think it’s mostly a heartfelt story about a woman becoming obsessed with why something got lost.

+++++
N.B. The pictures came from an interview with Wendy MacNaughton & Caroline Paul on the Rumpus.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 187 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL and cross-posted at Happy Bodies.

Allie Brosh, author of the new book Hyperbole and a Half: unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened, and I are soulmates. I am absolutely sure of this. Not just because both of our names are Allie (spelled correctly), but because she gets it. She gets pets, she gets depression, she gets cake, she gets procrastination, adulthood, and spider fear, and she gets me. This book gives me all of the feelings.

This book is a collection of her writings and drawings from her website Hyperbole and a Half that cover just about whatever she wants. Her drawings are some of the best things to come out of MS Paint since the programs invention. She represents herself as a stick-ish figure with a pink dress a tuft of yellow hair that kind of looks like a party hat. It’s not high art, but it is hilarious. There is a bunch of stuff in there about her dogs, who are quite dumb but very very sweet. She also tells a hysterical story about a childhood run-in with some cake. Her stories can be incredibly funny, but also tender and meaningful.

One of the best things she does is talk honestly about her depression. On her site she addresses how she used to post a lot more but slowed down because she was depressed. It’s not something she dealt with and now it’s gone, it’s something she deals with all the time. She told the Guardian, “It’s sort of like a thing that is maybe a tunnel, but also maybe a giant tube that just keeps going in a circle. And you can’t tell which one it is while you’re in it. There might be light, but there might just be more tube.” YES. She doesn’t gloss over it; she dives in and brings you with. But it’s not all sad, and there is some truly priceless comedy in those stories.

You can read an excerpt on NPR. Let it be known, I like this book alot.

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 182 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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This post was originally on my library’s blog Read @ MPL.

The Dark is the story of Laszlo, who is quite afraid of the dark. The dark lives in his house, in the basement, where it belongs. Laszlo greets the dark every morning in the basement hoping that by visiting the dark, it would never visit him in his room. Of course all it takes is a burnt out bulb for the dark to visit, invited or not.

The illustrations by Jon Klassen are astonishing. His stock has risen considerably in 2013, and with good reason: he was the author of the Caldecott Medal-winning This Is Not My Hat and the illustrator of the Caldecott Honor-winning Extra Yarn. The images in this book really stand out – clean lines, textural colors, and beautifully designed spaces – but the most important and most extraordinary part of the illustrations is the negative space. Klassen uses the changing light as the sun sets, ambient light spilling from other rooms, and the beam of Laszlo’s flashlight to illuminate what is seen, but also to contrast against ever-present lurking dark. The dark isn’t a scary villain; it is a necessary foil to the light.

In an interview with NPR, Lemony Snicket likened writing the book to being on a lifeboat: he had to keep jettisoning words in order to keep the text from being redundant. Words are very important in Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events books, and I tend to think of him as quite verbose (which here means using quite a lot of words when only one might do, although more words can be nice as well).  This text uses simple motifs that echo the clarity of the images and gently nudge forward like a hesitant little kid. The final book is stark and minimal: it is a tender little story about a boy and his fear. He doesn’t conquer the dark in the heroic, majestic, storybook sense; he just talks to it, follows it, and then isn’t bothered by it.

Extra bonus: if you have read and enjoyed Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, I definitely recommend a little slideshow he did for the Guardian called “How to draw… a bear thinking about something.”

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 130 books toward her goal of 200 books.
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I cannot imagine my brain without Lynda Barry.

In January I started reading Blabber Blabber Blabber Blabber: Everything Vol. 1 Collected and Uncollected Comics from Around 1978-1982 and I LOVED it! My absolute favorites were Rita and Evette, twin sisters who are so totally weird. It’s not just the weird comics, but also how she draws and how her comics started and where they are now. The characters are weird, but also the style is weird and imperfect. I see a lot of beautiful, pristine drawings and comics but what I really love is the weird stuff. The stuff that looks almost like it could be done by anyone, but not quite because there’s this magical sensibility that fits so perfectly and is so lovely and abnormal. Barry fills the backgrounds with patterns, my favorite is bobby pins. Now all I want is some fabric that has bobby pins all over it. I’d make bobby pin dresses and maybe a coat. Definitely some linens too.

The second book of hers I picked up was Picture This. Holy WOW!! It’s part comics and part autobiographical musings on drawing. The near-sighted monkey appears throughout, making a mess in the kitchen and smoking a lot of cigarettes. Arna and Marlys are also all over this one, goofing off and sketching, sometimes hanging out and sometimes antagonizing each other. The book is divided into seasons, my favorite (and the first one in the book – i.e. I fell in love before I knew it was divided by season) is winter. She makes observations that I recognize in myself but I’ve never given a name to before this. Like sometimes in winter you just have to paint everything blue. That happens to me! Not just in winter though. When I get sad, everything in my sketchbook turns blue, almost because it has to. I draw, yes, but my drawings aren’t necessarily governed by me or my conscious brain. This book is so sensitive and perfect. She talks about insecurities about her drawings and her life. She talks about keeping brush to paper because she needs to; maybe because the drawing is keeping her there or because if she’s not drawing then what’s she doing anyways?

100 Demons (also called One! Hundred! Demons!) is up next. OH MY GOD. First, this 100 demons drawing exercise is something I really want to do. My life is governed by a lot of demons, big and small. Lynda Barry said that at first it was really difficult and awful but it became good after a while. Her demons, from girlishness to dancing, were so poignant and relevant to my life. Maybe it’s because she’s a redhead too. She was (is?) a freak loner, I am a freak loner! She draws a lot, I draw a lot! Everything she shares in her books is so honest and raw. These are feelings and demons that might be 30-40 years old but they are still very fresh. While I was reading I thought a lot about how I was (still am sometimes) both bully and victim. Hurt people hurt people is a phrase I first heard in the movie Greenberg, but I think about it all the time. It’s a good summary of how I was raised, and something I have to constantly think about to keep me from continuing the cycle.

The most recent Lynda Barry book I’ve read is called What It Is. This one is about writing like Picture This was about drawing.  There are cluttered parts and clear parts, and so much terrific advice about writing and creativity.  It was definitely my least favorite of these, but seriously I still absolutely love it.  The parts I like best were the autobiographical parts, which were less numerous in this book. The great thing about this one is that there’s an activity portion! It’s at the end of the book and it is a bunch of exercises to help loosen you up and start thinking creatively again. I think every adult could use an activity book like that, be they an office drone or a CEO or a teacher or an artist!

I know I came a little late to the Lynda Barry table, but I can’t imagine my brain without her. Everything she says, everything she draws makes so much sense to me in a way that is indescribable. I am genuinely at a loss for words when talking about her to other people, because I can say all the good stuff I like about her work but the most beautiful perfect thing is stuck in my brain.

You should listen to this interview she did with Talk of the Nation in 2008: Genius At Work: Lynda Barry, AND an interview on Talk of the Nation from 2010 Doodle Your Way Out of Writer’s Block. And a Review, What It Is Plumbs the Depths of Creativity.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie has
read 134 books toward her goal of 150 books.
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This is a memoir about breast cancer, drawn in simple cartoons by self-taught cartoonist Miriam Engelberg. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 43 and, sadly, died at the age of 48.

The good: I LOVED that she wore a blue wig, and that was the wig that was most “her” despite being nothing like how she looked before she had cancer. I loved her observations about  support groups and people’s varied and ridiculous reactions to her diagnosis. I love that she watched a lot of TV, did a lot of crosswords, and read a lot of tabloids. She seemed like a really rad lady.

The not so good: I really wanted to like this more, but so much about it fell flat. I really really support people drawing comics just because, even if you aren’t super good at it. But I also feel like the more you draw the better you get at it, even if it’s just a teeny tiny bit! You don’t even have to try! You draw a lot, you get better at what you’re doing, even if what you’re doing is speech bubbles or repeated patterns or aliens or oncologists. I love atypical drawing/cartooning styles (like Lauren RednissEsther Pearl Watson, and sometimes even Maira Kalman falls into that category); drawings that aren’t your typical comic style, nor are they necessarily realistic or strictly representational. I think it’s weird that Engelberg read a lot of comics (she referenced my favorite person, Lynda Barry!) and drew so often, and this is her final product.

There were parts that I liked because she is relatable, but when she tried for jokes it was a lot like watching a multicam sitcom with a laugh track (really asking for the laugh), except it’s a book and there’s no laugh track! I loved when she approached the subject with humor not with comedy. Those observations were poignant and interesting, not gunning for a laugh.

I was just generally disappointed with this book. I wanted to like it so much more, but it just didn’t quite do it for me.

 

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Allie hasread 94 books toward her goal of 150 books.

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