There’s Only One Of You

Shimokitazawa Sticker Detail

In our creative quest we face two challenges. On the one hand, there is the tension between the me I see in the mirror and the imaginary ideal me waiting to be unlocked in some distant, tantalising future. On the other, there is the pressure to present some refined, or authentic version of ourselves to the world.

When I talk to friends in the corporate world, they talk about a heightened version of this tension, in the way their workplaces ask them to think about their weaknesses. I’m no expert here, but even a cursory glance across the Inter- net reveals plenty of horror stories about opportunities for growth or development needs. Why do businesses love this kind of language? A more cynical view might suggest these say less about employee potential than the work they do as tools for managing career expectations, slowing people’s advancement, and making it easier for an organisation to plan its future.

It’s not that we don’t all have limitations that might need to be addressed. But, the notion we need to be com- plete and well rounded before we can achieve our potential feels inhumane.

Artists are often demanding people because vast areas of their lives don’t need to be optimal. They spend more
time giving freedom to their creative work than fixing what is wrong.

“One puts into one’s art what one has not been capable of putting into one’s existence. It is because he was unhappy that God created the world.”
– Henry de Montherlant

The path to mastering our craft involves building up our skills and often requires us to address the areas where we lack ability. But the path to artistry involves embracing our imperfections (and the angst and frustration they generate), while still managing to feel liberated enough to create.

If we are not careful, an imbalance can easily take us over. We might end up investing much of our energy trying to improve the skills we will never be good at, while not focussing enough time and effort on the things that make us unique, not opening up a large enough space for our biggest strengths and abilities to shine through.

This is an extract from my new book No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance. You can pick up a copy a paperback copy on Amazon for U$11.52 (also available in Amazon UK or Amazon EU), or order the Kindle version for U$6.79 (also available on all the global Kindle stores, check your local price), if prefer and there’s even a digital multipack available for U$10 through GumRoad that includes the pdf, mobi and epub versions (use the code “abundance” for a 25% discount till the end of the month on this version). Finally, there is a numbered, limited edition, hardcover version, printed in Japan available for U$65 direct from my studio in Tokyo.

Clarity And Completion

TokyoIsYours

Whatever kind of work you do, completion is essential, not just to your success, but to your basic survival. From being getting noticed to getting paid, completing the projects you undertake sends the message that you are trustworthy and reliable, the kind of person who delivers, who gets things done.

Completion also has some surprising, hidden benefits as well.

1. Completion Validates Your Competence

All of us struggle, from time to time, with feeling inadequate, as if we lack the skills or experience needed to stand out, get noticed, or stay in demand. The “imposter syndrome” is the name we use to describe this fear of being “found out,” the feeling we are just faking it. Every successful creative and artist I know has struggled with this – it’s a universal dilemma.

We can seek validation in all kinds of ways, from likes on Facebook and Instagram, to try and combat the imposter syndrome, but nothing really beats completing a big, important project (then another and another). This momentum won’t quell the demons forever, but it will shut them up long enough to let love and inspiration speak to us and remind us of how much we are already able to accomplish.

2. Completion Clarifies Your Relationships

This is a big one. Every major project I’ve ever completed, from courses of study, booking major music gigs, putting on a photo exhibit or publishing my first book has been a chance to rethink relationships. Some folks behave fine; sending in encouragement, getting the word out of just being good about it all. Others go strangely quiet, they can’t seem to offer an unqualified word of congratulations, or for some reason refuse to promote or even talk about your work. Then, others surprise you, come out of the woodwork so to speak, to offer thanks, show their gratitude or even shout from the rooftops the merit of your achievements.

There’s something about completion that teases out people’s real feelings about you and brings them to the surface. It reminds us of the people in our lives who think well of us and our work. And, it also highlights those who might possibly be dragging us down, holding us back, or trying to keep us in a box.

3. Completion Affirms Your Place In The Universe

We all like to dream. If we are disciplined and organised, those dreams might even be organised into a plan or mission we set ourselves, based on our place in the universe. Nothing affirms that sense of mission better than completion. That’s why completion figures in the closing thoughts of No Missing Tools.

“We have an unprecedented freedom to move from complaining to completion. There are many things to love about creative work, from the freedom to express ourselves to the wonderful people we bring into our lives. But, if there is one thing we perhaps need to learn to love above everything else, it is the feeling of completion.

Completion is not just about making something, delivering something, or even selling and shipping something. Completion is connected to the bigger process of fulfilling your mission, rounding out the circle that begins with your motivations and travels through your inspiration to your place in the world and challenging that place.

Completion confirms your place in this universe is, as much as it is possible, the one you have chosen and the one you are meant to inhabit.”

No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance is available now. You can pick up a copy a paperback copy on Amazon for U$11.52 (also available in Amazon UK or Amazon EU), or order the Kindle version for U$6.79 (also available on all the global Kindle stores, check your local price), if prefer and there’s even a digital multipack available for U$10 through GumRoad that includes the pdf, mobi and epub versions (use the code “abundance” for a 25% discount till the end of the month on this version). Finally, there is a numbered, limited edition, hardcover version, printed in Japan available for U$65 direct from my studio in Tokyo.

The Good Life

Unlocking The Good Life
I want to open up a topic we creatives are often hesitant to talk about – the idea of living well. Often, when we think back to what motivated up to pick up a guitar, a brush, or a camera, there was some idea of who we wanted to be and how we wanted to move though the world that went along with it. As we get older, we like to think the vision of our creative life becomes more mature, but we are not immune to the visions of good living that bombard us online, in print and through broadcast media.

The Thomas Crown Affair

I’m a big fan of The Thomas Crown Affair. The 1968 original with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway was cool, but I prefer the 1999 version with Pierce Brosnan as Thomas Crown, the high-flying executive and occasional art thief and Rene Russo as Catherine Banning, the investigator whose job it is to recover priceless stolen paintings on behalf of their owners. It’s a stylish, non-too-serious crime caper with some great set pieces, wonderful locations, Brosnan at his charming best and Russo burning up the screen in a great wardrobe from designer Michael Kors.

There’s a scene that always gets me, the morning after some illicit and rather athletic love-making, Crown and Banning are enjoying a very elegant breakfast in the indoor garden of Crown’s New York townhouse. Crown’s home would not out of place in Architectural Digest and the couple, seated around a perfectly presented breakfast setting, could easily be gracing the pages of Vanity Fair or Vogue. Banning turns to Crown and purrs, “you live well.”

The Artist’s Life

Don’t we all wish we had our lives “together” like that? Picture perfect, sexy, relaxed & damn good-looking? We use the word “lifestyle” to describe not just the way people live, but how attractive and envy-inducing the environment they live in happens to be. And, this moment, like many in The Thomas Crown Affair, is all about lifestyle.

But, is living well simply a matter of perpetually looking like we are on the set of a high end magazine photoshoot?

I’ve been fortunate over the past year to “break bread” so to speak, with some amazing artists, filmmakers, photographers, designers, writers and entrepreneurs. Over coffee or beers, tacos or tapas, the conversations have always moved freely between the craft and business of creative work and the life we hope live as creative souls. While holidays on remote beaches or well decorated homes and studios occasionally come up in conversation, very little of the focus is on the kind of stuff that fills the pages of “lifestyle” magazines.

Almost always, the decision to do creative work is accompanied to a desire to live in a distinctive way, which often involves some kind of rejection of social norms. Those with “day jobs” talk about not wanting to be defined by the corporate life, or the 9-5 routine for the rest of their lives, and everyone talks about craving personal freedom, self-expression, uniqueness and a sense of choosing one’s own values.

Living well, in this sense, has much less to do with what is visible, or on the surface, than it does with inner feeling, emotion and state of mind.

The Artist’s Table

James Victore is a brilliant New York based artist and designer I’ve asked to mentor me for this year. I’ve written so much about the importance of mentors that I thought, after finishing No Missing Tools, I needed to find one to help me prepare for the next season of work. Recently James announced the latest in what he calls “The Dinner Series,” which is a workshop for creatives which uses shared meals as part of the focus for learning.

Dinner Series 2014 from James Victore on Vimeo.

Sure, the styling looks great here, like a food blogger’s paradise. Good food and drink is great and can provide encouragement to share stories, but there’s something more at work here. For the artist, the generous and hospitable table is also a safe place, made secure by like minded souls. It’s a place that allows us to tell the truth about the kind of life we want through the work we do; freedom, pleasure, self-expression, beauty, community and things we desire to leave behind, fear, conformity, self-doubt, regret.

I may be projecting a lot here, but my own experience is that the artist’s table, if we can call it that is a very special and important place. It’s where we learn to stay authentic to our creative goals.

Living Authentically

Authenticity is such a marketing buzzword these days. But, for the artist, authenticity is essential, not just as a way to package and sell art, but because the work itself demands it. The best, often the only way to stand out is by creating something that connects emotionally with the viewer, listener or reader. To do that we need to feel deeply, open ourselves up to experience, reveal our passion and perspective and channel that emotion into what we offer the world.

A great example of how demanding this is can in found in a recent piece on Brain Pickings, entitled, F. Scott Fitzgerald on the Secret of Great Writing.  Fitzgerald was responding to some writing sent to him from a young, budding author. His response is just as true for any kind of art as it is for writing.

“I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.”

If we want to tap into these emotions and open them up to expressed in our work, there are few more powerful things we can do than learn to share openly and honestly with people who understand our struggle. The artist’s table, in whatever form you can find it, is one of the best ways I know to unlock our creativity and find the courage to do our most unique and distinctive work.

Putting Our Fears Into Perspective

Arkaba_Stars

Let’s be honest for a moment – the internet can be a scary place.  Every time we publish a post, write a tweet, upload an image or share some work online, we hope for positive feedback, but fear the opposite, rejection, criticism or even hate.  Maybe, this isn’t even a digital problem. Haven’t we all experienced thoroughly analogue forms of disapproval or contempt at some point in our lives?

Fear And The Total Perspective Vortex

Amongst the notes of congratulations as No Missing Tools was released last week, was an email from an old friend and fellow musician. My friend was summing this fear – a fear that holds many of us back from sharing our creative work with the world.

“It’s a brave move putting stuff out there – the internet (indeed, the world) can be such a brutally ‘total perspective vortex’.”

In Douglas Adams’ humorous Sci-Fi series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, The Total Perspective Vortex was the ultimate torture device, the joke being that if anyone really, truly understood how small and insignificant they were in perspective to the size of the universe, they would surely go mad.

“When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation,
and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, ‘You are here.’”
– Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

My friend cited The Total Perspective Vortex without realising there are several pages devoted to it in No Missing Tools. What if, instead of fearing insignificance, we embraced it? I agree the Internet can be like The Total Perspective Vortex, but I also believe this is a good thing that can liberate us to be bold and brave in our creative endeavours. As I said, in the book,

“I’m constantly talking to creatives who complain no one is paying any attention to their work. My reply is, “Great! If no one is listening, you are free to do anything you want!” When audiences are tuned into us, there are expectations; there is resistance to moves in new directions. But if you are isolated, why not just be bold and crazy and make your version of a giant stone statue in the Pacific?
No Missing Tools, pg117″

A Better Perspective

It might feel like the whole world is waiting with baited breathe to hate our work, but actually, the total opposite is true, the whole world is largely going to ignore everything we do. So, that photo you posted on Instagram got 20, or 200 likes. There’s another 200 Million Instagram users who didn’t even know your photo existed!

The true madness is being obsessed to the point of anxiety over what a tiny slice of humanity thinks of us. It’s not just that we become crippled with fear, we also lose perspective on the significance of the things we make and the work we do.

“Life is not about finding our limitations, it’s about finding our infinity.”
– Herbie Hancock

The real gift of engaging in creative work, in any kind of work really, is dipping our toes in eternity, making something that, however small, misunderstood or flat-ignored in this moment, might live on long after we’re gone, or connect with people we have never even met. We will never really know how far our work can reach across the universe, so why not just make our biggest, boldest most authentic selves known, especially since our place in time and space is so small, so fleeting and so tiny?

“…every day we do things that could live on for years, even longer than the few years we have on earth. The tree we plant, the wall we paint, the song we record, or the furniture we make could still play a role in someone’s life 50 or a 100 years from now! I love that the music of Willie Johnson – a blind son of a preacher, born in 1897, who started playing on street corners with a homemade guitar as a child – is out there, drifting through space on the Voyager probe.
No Missing Tools, pg118″

No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance is available now. You can pick up a copy a paperback copy on Amazon for U$16 (also available in Amazon UK or Amazon EU), or order the Kindle version for U$6.79 (also available on all the global Kindle stores, check your local price), if prefer and there’s even a digital multipack available for U$10 through GumRoad that includes the pdf, mobi and epub versions (use the code “abundance” for a 25% discount till the end of the month on this version). Finally, there is a numbered, limited edition, hardcover version, printed in Japan available for U$65 direct from my studio in Tokyo.

No Missing Tools – Out Now

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As children we experience the world as an inherently creative place. Any old box can become a train, a spaceship or a house. With just a few colouring pencils we can create the next artistic masterpiece, or bang out the greatest drum solo ever. But, as we enter adulthood, creativity becomes more challenging and we soon start to doubt whether we have what it takes, either in terms of talent or tools, to make a creative mark.

But, what if there were no missing tools? What if we could tap into those early impulses that motivated us to create with so much freedom and confidence? No Missing Tools is my attempt, through stories, examples, suggestions and a little hard research, to try and piece together a way to be more creative and to understand our creativity better.

It’s now over ten years since I came back to creative work full-time and No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance is the distillation of everything I have learnt in that time. Experiences I’ve had, books and research papers I’ve read and most importantly, conversations I’ve had with literally hundreds of creatives, everywhere from dusty fields in the Himalayas, to boutique cafes in Hong Kong.

I’m really proud of this book. I’ve spent the better part of a year working on this and had the chance to collaborate with some great editors and designers to make something that I feel will be helpful to a wide range of readers, not just photographers and musicians. And, although I’ve been blogging for a long time now (nearly 14 years) No Missing Tools is also the most revealing and personal thing I’ve ever written. There’s a lot of stories in the book’s 282 pages that I’ve never shared before.

No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance is available now. You can pick up a copy a paperback copy on Amazon for U$16 (also available in Amazon UK or Amazon EU), or order the Kindle version for U$6.79 (also available on all the global Kindle stores, check your local price), if prefer and there’s even a digital multipack available for U$10 through GumRoad that includes the pdf, mobi and epub versions (use the code “abundance” for a 25% discount till the end of the month on this version). Finally, there is a numbered, limited edition, hardcover version, printed in Japan available for U$65 direct from my studio in Tokyo.

No Missing Tools – Limited Edition Version

This week my first book, No Missing Tools: Creativity In An Age Of Abundance, goes on sale through Amazon, Kindle and digitally via GumRoad. I also want to let you know about a special edition of the book I’m currently putting the finishing touches on.

No Missing Tools _LE

I’m a book lover. It’s not just that I like to read, I love to savour the fine details of how a book is made; the paper, the typefaces, the binding, the cover art. I’m proud of the paperback and digital versions of No Missing Tools. But, I also wanted to indulge this book-loving side, given that I know so many of you are also fanatics about type and design, by making a special version of the book.

The Joy Of Japanese Paper

Particularly since Japan is such a special place when it comes to paper and printing. Back before I lived in Japan, I would always spend some of my time when visiting Tokyo, in bookstores pouring over the local books. The design, the varied sizes, the cover ideas and the paper always felt so fresh and appealing. The book-lover in me yearned to play in this field.

No Missing Tools _LE-2

So, I’m working with a local artisanal printer to create a special edition of No Missing Tools. These will be covered in red linen (actually it’s “Shrimp Brown”), with gold lettering (the photo is above is a draft version). The text will be printed on gorgeous matte, ecru paper. It was a lot of fun to compare paper weights, printing densities and binding techniques before deciding on the right combination of elements for this book.

How To Order

The print run will be short, with only 50 signed, numbered copies available for U$65 each including postage anywhere in the world (plus a free copy of the digital pack, which includes pdf, mobi and epub versions). After the early announcement a few weeks ago, the limited edition is already almost halfway to being sold out.

If you would like to reserve a copy then please get in touch via the contact form. The limited edition version of No Missing Tools will reach you in early May and I hope you enjoy the book as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together.

No Missing Tools _LE-3

The Cold Pizza Problem

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“It is better to create than to be learned, creating is the true essence of life.”
– Barthold Georg Niehbur

We can start to understand the role of creativity in our lives by looking at our deepest, longest held motivations. This is why our personal stories are so important. Un- derstanding the development of our biographies and the context around them allows us to find focus and direction in our creative lives.

Let me explain this by reference to what I call the cold pizza problem.

All of us have food we turn to when life is too much. For me, it’s cold leftover pizza (hey, don’t yuck somebody else’s yum). For you, it might be chocolate, corn chips, sug- ary drinks, or alcohol. Maybe it isn’t a food at all. Maybe it’s checking your Facebook page, or daytime soap operas.

One fundamental problem in life is figuring out how not to spend all day in bed, eating cold pizza and watching daytime soap operas.

All of us have potential motivators in our lives; things we should be doing. The problem is these should-dos don’t always leap out from our soul or address our innermost desires. These should-dos don’t always drive us to live a creative life. They sometimes drive us to cold pizza and daytime soap operas instead. It’s a way of seeking comfort through simple, unchallenging pleasures.

Getting in touch with our own biographies can allow us to find motivators that do address our innermost desires and thus, keep us away from cold pizza.

Effort, passion, drive, and commitment are all part of the motivated life. Having them will help you overcome the cold pizza problem. But, there’s also another aspect connected to the word motive, and that can help us understand the rhythm of creative living. It’s the idea of a motif.

A motif is a recurring theme or idea found in a work of art, maybe a series of memorable notes in a piece of music, a pattern in a visual artwork, or a phrase or pattern in literature. In our life stories, there are often motifs that bear the seeds for our best creative work, provided we give them enough space to grow and flourish.

Self-help books typically start with an assumption and a promise. The assumption is there are, in fact, two ver- sions of you. First is the tied-down, overworked, stressed, underachieving you. Then, there is the sexy, liberated, fully realised, soaring-with-the-eagles version of you. (Self-help books call this the real you, as if the things you have to do every day—work at an office, food, sleep—aren’t real at all.)

The promise is that if you can dare to dream of a future, a vision, where the real you is let loose, then you can somehow work backwards from there to change your life, typically through a series of clearly signposted steps you write for yourself.

This dualism is attractive. Life certainly can, at times, push us into a box, where our existence feels like a poor match for either our skills or our potential. But the dualism can also be unhelpful, since there’s nothing stopping us from imagining an idealised version of ourselves we will never be able to realise.

This is similar to the holidayer’s paradox Alain De Botton describes in The Art of Travel. De Botton had been considering a holiday to Barbados and recalls the joy he felt poring over brochures filled with tempting images of white sandy beaches and exclusive bungalows, set in a secluded jungle paradise.

Once he got to the island, of course, he found his physical self totally unsupportive of his desire to enjoy the holiday, as he suffered from a sore throat and headache from the flight over, insomnia from the heat of the island, and an upset stomach from bad hotel food.

As delightful as the idea of a holiday always is, the problem is that once you get there, it’s actually you that is there. We look at a travel brochure and see beautiful people enjoying a carefree holiday. We picture ourselves doing the same, but we aren’t those people in the brochures; we have the same stresses, physical ailments, and other concerns that we had in the other time zone at home.

We run into a much larger problem when we try to dream up better futures for ourselves. From the comfort of our sofas, it’s easy to play the “if only” game. (If only this was in my life, then everything else will sort itself out.) But everything is interconnected; changing ourselves is seldom, if ever, possible through one big act. Big changes require thousands of small decisions over a period of time. This is even true when circumstance or catastrophe force changes upon us.

Rather than look forward, to some idealised future, I’d like you to consider looking back, to the good in your
past. Creating a path for our creative work is not unlike sketching a map, we draw from the paths we have travelled, we mark out the contours, the hills and valleys we have travailed.

This is at the heart of understanding our motivations, the process of identifying and understanding the urges and impulses that fuelled our previous creative endeavours.

Partly this will include an inventory of our successes, along with taking stock of our failures, as well as the things we tried to do but either couldn’t complete or simply put off because we lacked the confidence or skills.
These inventories are doubly important in our current times. We no longer live in a world of limited tools and limited access to information, ideas, and education. Rather, we live in a world of abundance. For anything you want to do, the resources are there, often free and almost always easily accessible, for learning what you need to create what inspires you.

Oftentimes the biggest limitation to our creativity is the outdated belief that access to the skills and information required for creative work is difficult to find, costly and hard to understand. Once we let go of that belief, a whole realm of possibilities, things we have tried and failed at, things we have only imagined, suddenly opens up.

This is an extract from No Missing Tools, my new book, which will be released on April 14. You can pre-order the paperback version for U$16.00 from Amazon, or the Kindle version for U$6.99. There’s also a full digital pack, with PDF, ePub and mobi versions available from GumRoad for U$10.

No Missing Tools – Available For Pre-Order

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We’ve made it! My book, No Missing Tools: Creativity in an age of abundance, is finally available for pre-order.

About The Book

No Missing Tools is partly a memoir, a way to tell my creative story. But, it’s more than that, it’s a reflection on what it means to be creative in this digital age, when we are swimming in so many ideas and so much information. I wanted to write something that discussed how creativity has changed and also, gave us some hope for the ways we can make the most of this unique moment in history.

At the start of last year, my calendar kept throwing up reminders; ten years since I left academia to go back to music full-time, ten years since I started this blog to document that process of change in my life. I thought it might be fun to mark that with a little eBook, pulled from blogposts written during those years. But, cutting and pasting old articles written over many years isn’t the best way to write a book, much less to tell a story. And, I felt after all this time, I had a story to tell.

It’s a story about how we find and sustain our creativity. No Missing Tools begins by looking at our earliest creative experiences, before focussing on the often misunderstood cornerstone of creativity, inspiration. Then, after considering our place in the universe, the book considers how we approach our working days, before ending with some reflections on the process of rest and recreation.

How To Pre-Order

No Missing Tools will be released on April 14, but it’s available for pre-order today. You can pre-order the paperback version for U$16.00 from Amazon, or the Kindle version for U$6.99. There’s also a full digital pack, with PDF, ePub and mobi versions available from GumRoad for U$10.

About The Limited Edition Version

In addition to the paperback and digital versions, there will also be a traditionally bound, hardback edition of No Missing Tools, which is being printed here in Japan (on gorgeous paper) and will be limited to 50 signed copies. I’ve mentioned this a few times over the past months and with orders already coming in I’m expecting it will sell out fairly quickly. The price is U$65 including postage anywhere in the world. If you are interested in putting your name down for one, please get in touch.

On Getting Here

Putting together 60,000 words wasn’t easy. The project took the best part of a year and I’m extremely thankful to my family for being patient with me, especially through the autumn of last year, as I put in very long, occasionally emotionally charged days, getting the manuscript finished. I’m also extremely thankful to Matt Gartland, Yi Shun Li, Dustin Tevis and all the team at Winning Edits for the work they did on the editing and design of the book. And, I’m also deeply grateful to the early readers who volunteered their time to read and comment on the drafts of the book. Finally, I have to thank my community of friends, around the world, who kept showing an interest in the book and sending messages of encouragement and support. Thank you!

How To Decisively Move On After A Major Project

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Right now I feel empty, like I have nothing to say. It’s a natural feeling at the end of a big project.

I’ve spent most of the last 12 months of my life working on No Missing Tools and now that it’s nearly ready for release I’m facing that big black chasm we all confront at the end of a major project – what to do next.

Having been here before, I know how easy it is to get stuck after a major project. So, here’s some ideas for how I tackle the gap and how you might be able to move more decisively from one major creative project to another.

Reward And Celebrate

It’s only fitting to tie a bow around completed projects. If they’ve gone well, we should celebrate the achievement, before parking it in the trophy cabinet of experience. And, if things didn’t go smoothly, then it is always a relief to say goodbye. Either way there are toasts to be made and thank yous to be said or written.

And, whether the project succeed, failed or went on to something in between, this is the moment to reflect on the lessons we learnt.

When the production schedule for No Missing Tools was decided I booked a little weeklong ski trip while the layout was being done. It was a week when I knew there was little for me to contribute. That time away was the perfect opportunity to get some distance from the project and make notes about how I might approach my next book. You might want to codify what you’ve learnt into a blogpost, a video, a manifesto or some other tangible thing you can share with others (I’m planning an epic blogpost on independent publishing).

Open Yourself Up

In order to complete a project our focus always ends up becoming narrower. When I started writing No Missing Tools, I was thinking about every aspect of creativity, but by the end of the writing, I was mostly deleting things that were not relevant to the main themes of the book. Along the way, I was spending less and less time making music or photos as the editing and design of the book took over all my time.

But, creativity is about being open to the world. At the end of a big project, it’s time to open the windows of our soul and let in some fresh creative air.

Give yourself permission to soak in whatever kinds of experiences fuel and inspire you. I’ve literally got it all over the next few weeks; travel, films, books, galleries, exercise, shopping, time goofing off in the studio – everything I’ve been putting off or doing less of in order to get the book done. Whatever you’ve been denying yourself in order to finish your project, now is the time to order a double serving!

Engage With Smart Creative People

If you want a really transformative tip at the end of a big project, this is it – go find really smart creative people and hang out with them. I don’t mean hang out in a social media, water cooler sense. I mean find a way to deeply and meaningful work with them, learn from them or in some fashion, let them into your world.

Nothing will kick start your creativity faster than adding some fresh good quality faces to your roster. We naturally feel stale and shorn of ideas at the end of a big project. So new collaborations, especially ones with people who have a sharp creative process, will liven up your transition to the next big thing. For example, right now I’m bringing all these new people into my creative world.

Mentor – in No Missing Tools I develop some of my previous thinking about the importance of mentors. After that, I had to take my own advice and find someone to fill that role for me. I’ve been fortunate to secure a respected artist, who is a creative and commercial success, from outside the worlds of music, photography and writing to help me be more bold and adventurous in my next projects.

Web Designer – I’ve DIY’d my websites since the 90s. Back in the days of HTML frames I was a core contributor to the King’s College London site and I’ve built a few commercial WordPress websites over the years. But, the last redesign of this site three years ago, took me most of a month and honestly, I was never happy with the result. Now I’m working with a great designer and already thinking more sharply about how I want this site to work in the future.

Copywriter – for years now I’ve been complaining about my inability to write a good bio or about me page. It’s a struggle for most creatives. But, rather than continue to whine about it, I’ve found a copywriter with great major agency experience, to coach me on writing better explanations of my work and projects.

Photo Editor – I’ve benefitted a lot in the past from image critique sessions with photographers and gallery owners. Now I’ve booked a session with an experienced photo editor to go through 200 of my best images from the past 5 years and whittle those down to a small section of 25 or so images I will highlight on the new site.

Photographer – the last time another photographer took my photo was 2011! Since then I’ve been reusing the same old images, most of which are self-portraits (is it a selfie if you use studio lights?). So, I contacted a Tokyo based portrait photographer I admire, who only works with natural light, to shoot some fresh new images for this site and my social media profiles.

All these people are not just giving me services I need, they are making me think in fresh dynamic ways about the style and substance of my work and helping me clarify what I should do next and what it should look like. They are people who’ve travelled a good way down the road and have great stories to share.

Find Your Next Big Thing

The space between delivering on our last big announcement and finding the next big project to announce can be a little dangerous. It’s easy to get stuck, spending too long either coasting off our last success or, wallowing in defeat and despair.

I hope these three ideas, Reward and Celebrate, Open Yourself Up and Engage With Smart People can help you navigate this space well. The examples I’ve given are the way I’m doing it after a really big project, the biggest one I’ve tackled in years. I’m sure if you give yourself some time, you can fill in your own ideas for look back, look out and look up as you embark on your next big creative adventure.

Chinese New Year 2015

Chinese New Year
Today marks the Chinese New Year and the start of the year of the Ram (or sheep, or goat, feel free to debate that one in the comments section below). For seven years I lived with Chinese New Year as the major holiday on the calendar in Hong Kong and Singapore, but the truth is, growing up with such a large and vibrant Chinese community in Sydney, the festival has always been top of mind at the start of every year.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Kung Hey Fat Choy!

Of course, Chinese New Year is hardly a small, regional event. With over 100 countries holding celebrations (roughly 1 in 6 people in the world) and as The Guardian pointed (Chinese new year 2015 – in numbers) in China citizens spend more than double what Americans spend during Thanksgiving on shopping and food. Fitting when we consider that more than double the population of the US will be on the move in China over the weeklong holiday, visiting family and home towns, not to mention the huge numbers across the rest of Asia, especially Hong Kong and Singapore who will be taking international breaks at this time.

Despite the increasing ambivalence towards organised religion in most developed countries, major traditional celebrations are not going away. This is not a bad thing. Celebrations like Chinese New Year might be open to political exploitation, especially as state-run Chinese media try to wrap the festival up in nationalist propaganda, but the celebrations also mark important ways in which individuals connect with family and community.

Red Packet Reality

The traditional giving of red envelopes with cash, (lai see), was a fascinating and humbling experience. The notes in the envelope should be new (or fresh and near new) which usually means a special trip to the bank. Parents give lai see to kids, bosses to employees, married couples to their single friends, but also you give lai see to others whose services you regularly rely on. I always gave lai see to the doormen and concierge at my building because they were such a helpful part of life and the staff of the restaurants and cafes I ate at every week.

In fact, the practice always made me reflect on the human relationships that made up my typical day. It’s easy to take for granted how many people help our day run well, but once all those coffee cups, postal deliveries, hailed taxis, meals and, appointments start getting measured out in red envelopes, it all starts to feel more substantial and interconnected.

Cleaning Or, Bringing In The Luck

Chinese New Year also marks a time to clean one’s home, to make room for good luck to come in, while dispensing with old and broken things that have no place anymore. And, while I don’t believe my good fortune it tied to when and how I tidy my home, there is something rather nice about starting the new year with a clean and organised home and workplace. In Japan, there is a similar tradition to cleaning before the calendar new year and it felt great to greet guests at the start 2015 in clean home and start the working year with everything in its place.

Of course, the language of “spring cleaning” is still commonplace, but I like the idea of fixing it to a date in the calendar. In a way, it’s liberating, as a household the custom of the big annual clean becomes less controversial, less of a thing to fight over or debate.

Truth is we need rituals that help us reflect on our habits of clutter and consumption. If our lives are too full of junk, then we simply don’t have room to be open to whatever the coming year has to offer us, we’ll be too weighed down either to respond, or to enjoy gifts life might have in store for us.