8 Lessons From an Artist


A great book makes you want change things and do stuff.
I read one of those recently, the author is Austin Kleon and the book is called Show Your Work!.


I recommend you read the book. But in the meantime, here are my 8 things I learned.

1) Teach now

You should not wait until you master something to teach it.


When I was learning to make a website all the tutorials took a lot of things for granted. As a novice I felt like there should be 10 more bullets between every step in the guides.


The guide would be like “Write X in the terminal”. And I would go “What the hell is the terminal?” and then “Why can’t I type X into it?!”. It was unbelievably frustrating, a rabbit hole of stack-overflow tabs.


A good teacher would have been a recent student. Not someone who have worked as a web developer every day for the past 10 years.


There is quote in the book that reads.


“The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago he has forgotten.” –  C. S. Lewis.
And another one.


 “I saw the Sex Pistols,” said New Order frontman Bernard Sumner. “They were terrible. . . . I wanted to get up and be terrible with them.”


2) How to start sharing your work

Austin writes:
Make a public commitment to learning something infront of others. – Austin Kleon
I like that. That is exactly how I started this blog. It also pairs up nicely with the first point. Be an amateur and write about that. It’s unique lens from which you can view a field. After a few weeks of studying something, you loose the touch reserved only for an amateur.


3) Don’t “build your CV”. Build things. 

When I started university my dream was to get a job at McKinsey or some similar firm. I did a ton of research. I made a list of things they wanted from applicants.
  • Excel skills
  • extra-curricular activities
  • Hot internships
  • Case-cracking abilities
  • 4.2+ GPA
  • Leadership experience

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the list. It’s an okay list. What’s wrong is trying to blindly chase things you think someone else wants from you, which I’ve done a lot.

“You have to make stuff,” said journalist David Carr when he was asked if he had any advice for students. “No one is going to give a damn about your résumé; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers.”


4) 90% of everything is crap

It’s hard to know what’s good. Business ideas, art, blog posts, books, you name it. No one knows anything. A lot of people like to pretend like they do, but they don’t.


Harry Potter was rejected 19 times – by people who make a living FINDING GREAT BOOKS.


A lot of PROFESSIONAL INVESTORS said no thank you to AirBnB.


Michael Jordan got cut from his High School basketball team.


Okay maybe the last one is not really the same thing, but it popped up when I googled. And still, MICHEAL JORDAN CUT FROM A BASKETBALL TEAM. Common.


So the lesson is, make a lot of stuff and ship it. Put your work in front of people.


Don’t worry about everything you post being perfect. Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once said that 90 percent of everything is crap. The same is true of our own work. The trouble is, we don’t always know what’s good and what sucks. That’s why it’s important to get things in front of others and see how they react. “Sometimes you don’t always know what you’ve got,” says artist Wayne White. “It really does need a little social chemistry to make it show itself to you sometimes.”

5) Start out small 

You don’t have to know the context for everything you do. If it’s exciting and fun – do it. It does not have to fit into a master plan. You connect the dots looking back.


This book started out as tweets, which then became blog posts, which then became book chapters. Small things, over time, can get big. – Austin Kleon

6) What to share

Don’t know what to write about?


Austin shares a great list.


  • Where do you get your inspiration?
  • What sorts of things do you fill your head with?
  • What do you read?
  • Do you subscribe to anything?
  • What sites do you visit on the Internet?
  • What music do you listen to?
  • What movies do you see?
  • Do you look at art?
  • What do you collect?
  • What’s inside your scrapbook?
  • What do you pin to the corkboard above your desk?
  • What do you stick on your refrigerator?
  • Who’s done work that you admire?
  • Who do you steal ideas from?
  • Do you have any heroes?
  • Who do you follow online?
  • Who are the practitioners you look up to in your field?
Any of these things can be interesting and valuable. They can turn into blog posts, books and businesses.


7) Quality, quality, quality

Austin writes:


Stop worrying about how many people follow you online and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you. Don’t waste your time reading articles about how to get more followers. Don’t waste time following people online just because you think it’ll get you somewhere. Don’t talk to people you don’t want to talk to, and don’t talk about stuff you don’t want to talk about.
“What gets measured gets done” is an old management saying. In the world of social media quantity is measured more than quality. Number of followers, number of likes, number of shares.
People rarely talk about WHO these mysterious followers are and WHY they are following you.
Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple. – Austin Kleon

8) Avoid vampires

Vampires steal your energy and kill you. Don’t hang out with them.


[The vampire test] is a simple way to know who you should let in and out of your life. If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire. Of course, The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc
This might be the single most important lesson. If you don’t follow it you wont be able to follow the other advice. You’ll be dead from all the vampire people and projects in your life.


Entreprenur, musician and author Derek Sivers puts it plain and simple:
“Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.” – Derek Sivers
Those are my lessons learned from “Show Your Work!”. Now go read the book.

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