Eight Questions: Interview With Austin Kleon

Austin KleonAustin Kleon is the New York Times bestselling author of three illustrated books: Steal Like An Artist (Workman, 2012) is a manifesto for creativity in the digital age; Show Your Work!  (Workman, 2014) is a guide to sharing creativity and getting discovered; and Newspaper Blackout (Harper Perennial, 2010) is a collection of poetry made by redacting words from newspaper articles with a permanent marker.

His work has been translated into over a dozen languages and featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, PBS Newshour, and in The New York Times and The Wall Street JournalNew York Magazine called his work “brilliant,” The Atlantic called him “positively one of the most interesting people on the Internet,” and The New Yorker said his poems “resurrect the newspaper when everybody else is declaring it dead.”

He speaks about creativity in the digital age for organizations such as Pixar, Google, SXSW, TEDx, and The Economist.

In previous lives, he worked as a librarian, a web designer, and an advertising copywriter.

He grew up in the cornfields of Ohio, but now he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Meghan, his son, Owen, and his dog, Milo.

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What is your daily creative routine like?

I wake up slow, have breakfast and coffee with my wife and kid, then we go for an hour walk around our neighborhood. Then I shower up and hopefully get out to the garage by 10AM or so. Then I’m out there until around 5 or so. I try to adhere to John Waters’ routine: make stuff up in the morning and sell it in the afternoon.

What does your creative space look like? What are some of the must-have devices and apps that make up your creative toolbox?

I work out in my garage. I have three desks:

1)  Analog desk: nothing electronic is allowed on this desk, just pencils, paper, markers, etc. This is where I go to get most of my ideas.

2)  Digital desk: this has my computer, my scanner, etc. This is where I edit ideas, Photoshop, answer emails, etc..

3)  Reading desk: this is my attempt to recreate a study carroll at the university library. It’s where I read do research.

The day is a dance between these desks.

The other half of the garage is storage and music equipment, which I’ll noodle on if I’m procrastinating.

Austin Kleon's desk

Austin Kleon's creative workspace

You blog a lot about what other artists are creating. What sorts of tools do you use in the blogging process to both keep track of what artists are doing, and then to write posts about them?

I don’t have much of a process — whenever I find something interesting, I usually just blog about it on my Tumblr as I’m researching it. My Tumblr is sort of an open scrapbook. You can click on certain tags, click all the way to the last page, read it in chronological order, and see one of my books take shape.

What role do journals play in both your life and your creative process?

I have what I call a logbook, which is just a little book I keep next to my bed where I list everything that happened that day, including books I read, tv shows I watched, people I had lunch with, and stuff like that. It’s pretty boring, but I have a terrible memory, so I like being able to go back five years ago and tell you exactly what I was doing March 25.

I also keep a notebook, but it’s way more relaxed: I keep it in the studio for ideas and phone calls, then I bring it in the house when I’m not working in case I get ideas. I’m actually better at keeping a notebook when I’m traveling, because when I’m in the studio or in the house, a lot of times I’ll just write on looseleaf paper or just go ahead and make the thing I’m thinking about.

Austin Kleon logbook

 

What are some of your biggest creative challenges and how do you overcome them?

Sheer laziness is my biggest creative challenge. I’m a professional writer so I can get away with being a professional reader. If someone would just send me a check every month, I could sit around all day reading books and never write another word again. People think I’m joking when I say that, but I’m really not. Reading is so much more pleasurable to me than writing.

 

Who are some of your strongest influences?

12548242605_26b63ff559_zLynda Barry, Kurt Vonnegut, Saul Steinberg, Charles Schulz, Edward Tufte, Wayne White, David Shrigley… basically a bunch of people who are interested in communicating with both pictures and words.

 

What is the best creative advice you’ve ever received?

My creative writing teacher, Steven Bauer: “APPLY ASS TO CHAIR.”

If you sit down in the same place every day and try to make something happen, something will.

 

How do you strike an ideal balance between work/creativity and family life?

I try to treat it like a 9-5. As my wife says, “If you never go to work, you never get to leave work.”

 

What’s next for you?

I have no idea. Not joking.

 

What do you want your legacy to be?

I want my sons to grow up to be decent men.

Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon

CHECK OUT MORE INTERVIEWS WITH ARTISTS IN OUR 8 QUESTIONS ARCHIVE.

 

About David Wright

Dave is the co-founder of Collective Inkwell, in which he and Sean Platt re-invented serial fiction. Hailing from the quaint town of [REDACTED], Dave's renown for putting children in jeopardy (in his fiction, anyway) has made him world famous.

Comments

  1. Johnny B. Truant says:

    So… anyone else going to comment on Dave’s affection for an artist who’s known for redacting things?

  2. I haven’t read any of the books yet, although I really want to read “Steal like an artist”. I hadn’t heard of “Show your work”, but that’s added to my TBR list too now. The newspaper blockouts were new to me, but they are quite clever.

    The logbooks are great! Love the way they’re done. Short and sweet. If they are saved, wouldn’t that be a treasure for kids and future generations to go through some day?

    Love the separated desks. I have three desks too, but not to have such order in my life, more like:
    1: Everyday printer and coffee machine
    2: iMac and Cintiq + everyday mess
    3: Fancy printer

    I’ll soon ad #4: Desk island on wheels, that’ll be my analog desk. I hope that’ll prompt me to draw and paint again outside my Cintiq. If not, I’ll use it for board games and stuff.

    Btw, I could easily never work a day more in my life, if someone just would sent me a check. There’s so much to read and learn, that my days would be filled with awesomeness anyway. I don’t get how people get bored. If I had 48 hours each day, I would still not have time to be bored! So many interesting things to do. Most of them don’t give me an income though, so gotta work until that magic check will appear by itself 🙂

    And I can’t help but notice that this is yet another creative person, that lives in Austin. Is Austin the Bermuda Triangle for creatives, but instead of dissappearing, they all get to be awesome when they move there? If Barney Stinson would have created his own city, I’m sure it would have been Austin.

  3. I really like the idea of having an analogue desk and a digital desk. But, if I implement that, I’ll need to move into my garage too. 🙁

    Also, love the John Waters routine.

  4. I’m charmed by your idea of an analog desk. And, even while you frame everything as accidental and experimental, it’s obvious that you are very deliberate and very intentional about your creative process and workflow. You’re a great example of going pro. A great example.

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