Our Interview with Austin Kleon



I'm in awe of Austin Kleon. He makes awesome art/poetry by redacting words from newspaper articles.  It is creative and cool and at risk of being obscure. Austin could have been one of those artists who creates beautiful work that no one ever sees. But Austin knows how to "show his work". He's written three New York Times bestselling books on creativity in the digital age and how to share your creative output and be discovered. "Steal Like an Artist" and "Show Your Work" are books that every person in a creative field should read and reference often (I personally have them right next to my desk). Even if you aren't in a creative field, Austin's books will encourage you to be more creative in general. I'm a firm believer that being creative in your every day life regardless of what you do is a key to fulfillment and happiness. Read below for our exclusive interview with Austin Kleon.


1. One of my favorite pieces of advice that you give in Steal Like an Artist is "Don't wait until you know who you are to get started". Why is this important?

 If I’d have waited until I knew who I was until I started writing, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure out myself instead of writing! Most people think you have to know exactly who you are and what you’re about until you can start making things, but it’s really in the act of making things that we figure out who we are.  2. Why do you think creative people are so hard on themselves? Most of us are drawn to our work because we’re inspired by the example of people who did the work before us. Ira Glass talks about how when you first get started, your taste is really, really good. But your skills are still really, really low. So there’s this big gap in between your skills and your taste that you’re trying to fill, and you just have to get comfortable with not living up to the standards of your taste. But even when you get good, you still rarely feel good enough. It’s a never-ending process.

3. Your second book, Show your work is totally dedicated to helping creative people sell themselves and their work.  Why do you think creative people have such a hard time promoting themselves?  How can we think about it differently?

 A lot of us are taught, “The work should speak for itself.” But the work doesn’t really speak for itself! Anybody who’s ever been in a client meeting or tried to sell a piece of artwork knows that. The way to start selling yourself without selling out is to start talking openly and honestly about what it is that you do. People really do want to know how the sausage is made. Start telling them how you work, and more importantly, why they should care.

4. You talk a lot about finding your scenius.  What are the steps to building a scenius?

I think the easiest way to start your own scenius is to share the stuff that you’re passionate about — if you sort of share your interests and invite other people to share along in them, people tend to show up. For a writer, that could mean starting a blog where you write about your favorite books, or it could mean starting an in-the-flesh writing group, etc. You can also join a scenius that already exists: the best way to do that is to pay attention to what everybody’s doing, and then figure out what they’re not doing, and what you could contribute to fill that void.

5. One piece of advice you write about in Show Your Work, is to "Think Process, not Product".  This is especially relevant to our maker community. How would you suggest they leverage this idea?

Become a documentarian of what you do. Look at your process, how you actually go about your work, and think about what goes on behind the scenes that might be useful and/or interesting to the people you’re trying to reach. Think of a way to build sharing into your routine — if you were making a movie, what would happen if you shared the deleted scenes, the director’s commentary, and the bonus DVD extras while you were making the movie? How can you take people along on whatever trip you’re taking?

6. How can those of us who don't create a physical product "show our work"?

Think about how you can shape your process into little bits of media that you can share: writing, pictures, movies, etc. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Blog. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process. Shoot video of you working. Once you start simply keeping track of what’s going on around you, you’ll probably find that there’s more to show than you think there is.

7. One of your chapters in Steal Like An Artist is called "Step away from the Screen" which is about untethering ourselves from our computers. How do you feel about our crazy attachment to our phones and social media?

I think technology is great when it’s used for a purpose. Too often, though, it becomes a distraction. So the game is to constantly make sure that you’re using the technology as a tool, and not becoming a tool of the technology. The only way for me personally to do that is to schedule dedicated time with it and time away from it. For example, I’ll give myself 20 minutes to blow on Twitter, and then it’s time to head out to the studio.

8. Why do both of your books say "10 things...." when there are far more than 10? :)

People love lists of ten, going all the way back to the Ten Commandments. Blame it on Moses!

- Kena Paranjape, Co-Founder & Crafter of Brand, BRIKA.com


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