Browsing Category


Books, Creativity, Inspiration

Jealousy, Curation, and Fear

Tonight I had the pleasure of going to see a talk by Danielle Krysa, aka the Jealous Curator, who has recently published a book for blocked creatives, aptly titled The Creative Block.

I’ve never met Danielle, but I’ve enjoyed her blog throughout the years. I even included it as a recommended creative resource in my last book Hoopla, unaware that we were living in the same city. Through her website The Jealous Curator, Danielle sifts through the murky content of the internet, and her blog displays a wealth of art and design discoveries. I’ve often been jealous of the jealous curator – why didn’t I find that amazing thing first?

One of the highlights of Danielle’s talk was that she finds great reward in using the internet to provide others with opportunity. A simple mention of a work from the Jealous Curator can result in a significant career boost for the artist – connecting them with galleries, curators, and licensing opportunities. This is an enviable position to be in as a curator of visual culture, and one that I would imagine holds great responsibility.

Creative Block cover - Jealous Curator

Danielle was inspired to write her book on creative blocks when she discovered that artists of all levels of experience suffer from having ‘internal critics’, those internal voices that discourage one from expressing oneself fully. And, despite her status as an online curator who is venturing into book writing and gallery curation, she spoke candidly about fear and the worry about being perceived as an imposter. She encouraged the audience to think of these anxieties can become more than something that holds us back, but rather, universal merit badges; badges that make us all belong to a larger club of people who may ‘feel all the feels’ of anxiety and being stuck, but choose to go ahead and make their work anyways.

I think it’s a nice sentiment – and one that I’ll try to remember the next time I encounter a creative slump.

Books, Cities, City, Creativity

Choose Your Own Adventure: The Active Fiction Project

Image from The Active Fiction Project

The Active Fiction Project brings active narratives into city streets. Very short stories are written by local authors about specific city streets so that the public can experience their narratives on the very city blocks where the stories take place.

Begun by a group of local residents living in the Riley Park area of Vancouver (Main and 24th) with writer Nicole Boyce at the beginning of May, the Active Fiction Project will continue throughout the summer with a variety of writers contributing stories that will allow participants to ‘choose their own adventure’ (a style of beloved tween novels from the 1980’s, I’ll admit that I had more than a few) with details left on bulletin boards and lamp-posts.

More walks created by writers will be announced later this year, but in the meantime, you direct a self-guided tour of the first Active Fiction Walk by following instructions left at the community bulletin board on East 24th between Main Street and Ontario Street.

Active Fiction Project Map

I’m planning to take my own self-directed walk this weekend, and I’d love to compare notes with fellow ‘readers’. Learn more about the Active Fiction project via their website at

Don’t live in Vancouver, but know of a story project in your city? Please tell me about it in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.

Cities, Creativity, Street Art

View Finding: Thoughts on Real Life Instagram

A few days ago, I stumbled across this post by DesignMilk of the Real Life Instagram. Bruno Riberio has created ‘real life’ Instagrams by creating a series of posters that look the interface of the app. Each poster contains a photographers names, the location, a number of ‘likes’, the hashtags, and of course, a colour filter to influence end viewer’s experience.

There are layers of meaning Riverio’s project – one, just like Instagram, the posters guide one’s eyes to a cropped  vignette that shows us a detail or angle that would have ordinarily have gone un-noticed. Two, he uses a traditional camera – quickly forgotten by most of the Instagram set – to capture the area outside the frame and his poster. Three, he captures people with their smart phones taking a photo through the posters frame to create their own image, most likely to end up on Instagram. I couldn’t pass by this on the street and not be tempted to take my own photo to Instagram, could you?

To view The Real Life Instagram on the web in the context of art and design websites gives me some pause for thought and questions arise that probably wouldn’t occur to me if I encountered these posters on the street. In ‘real life’ I’d have the impulse to capture this interesting thing, but in seeing his photographs online, they make me question myself – How am I using my time? What am I contributing to? What is in our human nature to want capture all this? How are we living our ‘real lives‘? How are we showing them to the rest of the word? Why do we even want to do this?

As we move further into a human history where more and more of us live with smart phones, new apps, digital devices, and social media –  how we choose spend our time online is often criticized. There is a growing dissent around the demands that social media is taking from our time. Our digital apps are intrusive; information is being regurgitated, weakened and lacks quality; we simply don’t need one more photo of your lunch (unless you are a successful food blogger, that is); and a phenomenon of injury has started to emerge because people can’t look up from their smart phones long enough to safely walk down the street. Riverio’s project will make you question your own behaviour.

I was a late adopter to Instagram, and I use it in the most pedestrian of ways – to capture vacation photos, friend’s kids, my cat, and little oddities that I experience in the city. I too am contributing to an over-abundance of images, half exchanges by hashtags with friends, ‘likes’, and what could be perceived of the hyper-saturated, over-edited, over captured milieu of the social web.

But the longer I process these thoughts, they matter less to me. It is easy to be dismissive of our love for technology, now that we’ve gotten so used to our digital devices in such a short period of years. It is easy for someone to say ‘I don’t DO Facebook’ in a dismissive tone or to say that we don’t need a million photos of breakfast, or lunch, or graffiti. I say that we do.

“Charles and Ray Eames praised the use of a finder in their teachings. A finder is a small piece of cardboard with a one inch square hole cut out of the middle. Viewing the world through this hole greatly forces you to lose context and content, and to greatly shift your perception” – Keri Smith

You don’t need to be using a social network to appreciate the fact that everyone has a unique perspective to be shared. Instagram provides people the tools to do this, as does a guerilla poster campaign, as does an artists who provokes us into hyper-awareness of our online activities. What Real Life Instagram say to me, is that we are a million people with ‘artist viewfinders’ in our pockets. Some of us know our strengths, some of us have yet to discover them, but each of us have a unique voice. To generalize a collective activity dismisses the real life intentions behind each snapshot.

Creativity, Publishing, Strange Material, Writing Life

On Making Time to Write

The manuscript for my new book Strange Material is due in exactly one month. While I’ve been stealing away to coffee shops on my lunch hour and turning down plans with friends over the past few months in order to write, nothing works better for me than having long stretches of time to mentally meander, run word-counts as a mark of my progress, and simply write without a time constraint. I learned long ago that if I promise to go somewhere at 8 pm, my mind takes a unwarranted vacation from the hours of noon until 8 pm just because I know that I am going somewhere later. Likewise, if I’ve promised myself that I’ll write, but instead find myself out for drinks with friends – I’ll end up being angsty (and a sheer joy to hang out with) because in the back of my mind I’m thinking about what I should be doing at my desk. So, ever so often, I need to go into hermit-mode. This week, I’ve taken four days off of my day job to do nothing but write.

With each of my books, I’ve been lucky to have weeks of time away from the world in order to think. I’ve house-sat for my parents. I’ve stayed in friends’ guest rooms. And I’ve made myself stay home. I’ve tried to ignore Facebook. I’ve spent less time on Twitter. I’ve even ignored email. I’ve forcibly stopped myself from playing with Pinterest, or dreaming up apartment decor ideas from DesignSponge, or fantasizing that I will one day live in a fabulous loft and collect abstract art for sale at I’d like to be planning something crazy for Halloween or sewing the latest Colette pattern, but for now I’m content with writing. I keep a list of these diversions to be my reward when the project is over.


I often find myself asked how I take on long writing projects – especially while working full time, and my first answer is ‘I don’t know’. But really, I rely on a couple of simple tools:

  1. The eloquent and classily named ‘butt in chair’ technique. Frankly, if you want to write, you have to sit in the same place for a certain amount of time. I set myself a goal of how long I plan to write most days. I also set myself a word-count, usually 500 – 700 words a day when I’m working on a long project.
  2. Lunch hours – I often eat at my desk while working so that I can go to a coffee shop and write for during my lunch hour. I find I can accomplish a lot in 45 minutes when I know I have to be back at the office.
  3. For days off and long stretches of time alone, I’ve found the Pomodoro Technique is life-changing. I’m not usually one to prescribe to others methods of working but this one works for me. You work for 25 minute increments, you take a five minute break, and then you start again. On my ‘writing retreat’ dates, I set myself goals of four 25 minute writing stretches with 5 minute stretch/tea making breaks, a one hour lunch break, and then four pomoderos to follow. You can use a kitchen timer for this technique, but I prefer a free app called Focus Booster on my mac which turns colour as my time is winding down. I wrote my entire last book using this method.
  4. Rest. Some days, no matter how hard you try – nothing comes. This is when I turn to things like a long walk, a bike ride, cooking something healthy, or napping. Some days I get to my goals in a matter of hours, some days I know that I’ll procrastinate for several hours until I start to feel the fire of getting down to things. This is part of my process, and no matter how much I try to resist, I’ve realized is just better to accept that this is the way that I work.

Interested in learning more about the process of craft book writing? Last year I wrote this post on how to pitch a non-fiction DIY title.

Cities, Creativity, Street Art, Yarn Bombing

Spidertag at 5 Pointz Long Island

Not another nail in the wall (of fame) / New York 2013 – Spidertag

“If I like it, it feels like magic. I jump for joy. And if I don’t like it, I forget about it.”

Every couple of months, I’m dazzled by a new video by Madrid-based artist/sculptor Spidertag. If I’m not enthralled by him jazzing up old cabins in the European countryside, he’s causing geometric distractions on the mean streets of NYC.

Watch Spidertag in action at 5 Pointz here:

Read an interview with Spidertag on his work with the mammoth graffiti site StreetArtNYC:

“These days nails have a hold on me”

Cities, Creativity, Writing Life

Where’s Your Cultural Homeland?

My friend, the brilliant poet Laura Farina, and I had a conversation once about the idea of a ‘cultural homeland’. She said that a cultural homeland is not the place that you were born, or even the place that you may want to live – but it is a place that you return to creatively again and again, if not in person, in your mind. It is a place that sparks your creativity and makes you feel emotionally sated. Your creative homeland opens you up to a bigger life.

There are places that I’ve never been to that I think could easily be my cultural homeland, such as Santa Fe, New Mexico; Savannah, Georgia; and Haida Gwaii, BC.

There are places I’ve visited that inspire me, where I’ve had fun, but they don’t linger much after I leave: Monterey, California; Tofino, BC; and Portland, Oregon. I think they must be someone else’s cultural homeland.

Central ParkThen there’s New York City, a entity that’s been lurking in my subconscious and has been teaching me about dreaming, channeling itself through books and movies to me since I was a small child. I’ve dreamed of building tree forts in Central Park; hiding out in the New York Public Library, and writing all night in a brick-lined cafe. In the three visits that I’ve had there; I’ve found all of the legends that NYC promises seem to be true. It is a city where skyscrapers and parks co-exist, the rich and poor mingle, where graveyards remain quiet on busy streets, and where the impossible seems to happen on a daily basis – New York is everyone’s cultural homeland. It belongs to all of us. There’s a reason locals call it, so matter-of-factly, ‘The City’. It is a place where history and the present day walk together hand-in-hand.


This year I decided that New Orleans –  a city of beauty and resilience; twisted tree roots and broken sidewalks; feather masks and painted houses; loud jazz and light rain; is my current cultural homeland. It is under my skin and I return to it in my thoughts over and over again.

What about you? Where’s your cultural homeland?