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Posts Tagged ‘dumb sketch

Hey—You Can’t Say That

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On Students Subverting Form

Some of my copywriting students were eager for more direction on how to use the forms of communication. Some were eager to go species-by-species and list out the formulas for producing them: How to write a print ad. How to write a direct mail. How to script a broadcast ad. How to write and then say the magic words that get you hired.

I taught that class a few years back. It was all about working through the various forms of corporate communication and learning to write in just that style and toward just that end. I taught it for years until I realized everything inside me was shouting for students to run, to break with the form and find a new way to say what they need to say.RarelyFollowedRules-20160506

For today’s copywriting students I was able to point to my beloved copy of Alastair Crompton’s The Craft of Copywriting (long out of print, I believe). Mr. Crompton offered lots of rules that probably worked well in 1979 and some of which still apply. Various copywriters have offered sets of rules over the years. Some stick. Some don’t. Bernbach, Burnett, Ogilvy and Reeves all visited our classroom from time to time in written and oral form. They each had a golden rule or two. And, of course, James Webb Young’s old Technique for Producing Ideas.

In truth, there are some general notions and guidelines and, well, forms (if you must) that apply. But over the years I’ve thought of those as only the receptacle of the really important thing: the idea. It is the idea I’m fixated on and I tried to communicate that to students. Ideas come from grappling to combine something old and something new, something borrowed (from an audience need or desire) and something that can woo. As far as I can tell, there are no formulas for producing ideas, only the setting up of conditions that may lead to ideas.

But, you know, no guarantees.

As many of my students said, “You can’t manufacture ideas.” To which I would always respond, “Or can you?”

Forms and formulas are there and they can be useful. But forms and formulas don’t carry much life. And mastering the forms and formulas, for a beginning copywriter, seems like a starting point. But is it a good starting point? I don’t think so.

The writer’s task is to breathe life into an old form or subvert it or discard it. The key is always and forevermore to put life on a page.

Forms and formulas will always bow before life on a page.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

May 6, 2016 at 8:01 am

How to be an Object of Pity

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Hint: Grow a gray beard and present folding-money

Twice now young women have bought me coffee at the coffee shop on the campus where I teach. Just standing in line like everyone else—minding my own business—I pull out my $2 (cash-money) and the young woman in line behind me says, “Just put it on my card.”

I resist: “No! I wouldn’t hear of it,” I say. “You can’t. You must look after yourself with that—or at least spend it on your friends.”

I went on in that vein, until the cashier reached past my $2 (cash-money) for the woman’s card.

“She’s not going to spend it all anyway,” said the cashier, repeating what the woman said.

So. Free coffee. Thanks profusely offered.

Yesterday: same thing. I pull out my $2 (cash-money) and the young woman behind me says, “Just put it on my card.”

I resisted. This time with less velocity. Free coffee. Thanks profusely offered.

WPRMug-2-03022013I’ve puzzled over this phenomenon. What I know for certain is that the students here are some of the kindest people you’d ever hope to meet. And earnest. Looking around I also see that I have landed from the planet “old guy.” Though I know even recent grads feel that way when revisiting their alma mater. Still, it’s been a long time since I was an undergrad.

But I think it’s the folding money that triggers the pity. What kind of a person uses cash-money on campus? Clearly someone in need and, frankly a bit out-of-touch. We all use cards.

You must not be from around here.

“Let me help you.”

The other day a student reflected on her community-building work in our social media marketing class:

“It’s also important to create a presence that encourages interaction,” she said.

I can’t get her comment out of my mind, partly because of getting two free coffees and partly because of the riddle of how to write in a slightly-unfinished, slightly-needy way. columbo1-20160205Like how Columbo conducted investigations: you pity the unkempt, needy fellow until you realize he is canny like a fox.

I’ve long puzzled over the magnetism of a dumb sketch. Stepping up to the white board and drawing something badly as a way of explaining an idea is a sure-fire way to invite others in. And they step up—not to correct, just to collaborate.PlaceByRiver-2-20160121 Because it’s sorta fun to draw badly and without the pressure to create art. And it can be fun to think together. And, like presenting folding-money in debit card economy, you clearly need help.

What are you willing to leave unfinished to draw others in?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston, The-Toast.Net

Drill or Disperse?

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Teachers Know: Why stop to tell what you are doing?

Researchers just want to research. Inborn curiosity drives that desire, though other incentives likely add to curiosity. The research is the key work and the satisfaction of curiosity is its own reward.

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So why would anyone stop to tell about their research? Why not just keep at it? What reward is there in stopping? And if there is financial reward for research, there is even less reason to stop and talk about it.

I’m working on a few thought pieces with a client: small, pointed communication tools that paint a picture of a particular bit of knowledge they are expanding. These smart people have a particular niche and they want to let others know so they can move faster into collaboration with their customers and partners. But the people with the detailed smarts don’t want to stop to communicate because they are busy inventing and satisfying their curiosity. Plus, they are likely paid to invent, not to talk about their inventing.

In a smaller, less acute way, I feel the inventor’s pain. Writing ListenTalk opened new ground for me and answered questions I did not know enough to ask, even as it unearthed entirely new categories of questions. I’m not alone in this: writer friends and artist friends (and wood-working friends and welding friends and mechanic friends) just want to push forward with their projects. Why talk about it when you can do it? You may face this dilemma too: you don’t want to explain what you are doing. You just want to keep at it.DrillOrDisperse-10082015

I get that.

But do we push forward in a slightly new way as we stop to tell others? I wonder. Teachers and professors understand this—especially those teachers and professors who are also practitioners of their art and craft. In stopping to explain, we suddenly realize some brand new thing. We realize something we would never have come up with on our own, sitting at our keyboard/bench/laboratory. It’s the interaction with another that stimulates that.

John Stepper gets this in his notion of Working Out Loud. Social media offers an opportunity for this. It turns out that customers and communities and friends and colleagues and collaborators—even academics—respond to sharing of insights.

What would happen today if you shared an insight or two with someone tuned in to that question? Not present. Not monologue. Not preach–just share it.

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Image & Dumb Sketch credit: Kirk Livingston

Make mistakes as fast as possible

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And get yourself a steadfast interlocutor

As the crane slowly lowered the casket-laden truck into the hole, the widow leaned over and whispered “He loved that ’58 Chevy Suburban more than anything or anyone.” And then, quietly, “That should hold him.” [Excerpt from a short story in progress.]

As the crane slowly lowered the casket-laden truck into the hole, the widow leaned over and whispered “He loved that ’58 Chevy Suburban more than anything or anyone.” And then, quietly, “That should hold him.” [Excerpt from a short story in progress.]

Making mistakes is the point with Dumb Sketch Daily. And it is the point with writing every day. And it is the point with moving forward quickly with client work. Progress happens only as we make mistakes. And often we only realize it was a mistake—or at least somehow fallen short of our dream—when we present our rough sketch to someone else. That’s why it is important to have steadfast interlocutors in our lives. Those ongoing conversations with people we trust help us see what is what, which helps us see how to do something differently, which is what progress looks like. Teachers and professors and authors (and spouses!) can be great conversation partners as we stumble toward some goal.

I am learning to make mistakes in more media. Yesterday I commented on some quick sketches by an artist in Quebec, how simple they were and how definitive.

“It’s easy,” she said. “Just sketch the people you see on TV.”

“Not so easy,” I replied. “I do that as well, but my sketches turn out fussy and juvenile. And ugly. And sometimes I despair at how bad they remain.”

“Well, I do 12 sketches before I get the one I really like.”

I found that encouraging because she is quite accomplished. And of course we all know this is true. One need only think on Philip Glass or Hemingway to gain a bit of perspective.

The more time we commit to the thing, the more mistakes we make, the more we progress. But mistakes are part of the process. As far as I can tell, making mistakes in pursuit of our passion is the only way forward.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 3, 2015 at 9:22 am

Find Work Where You Can Draw Your Own Lines (Shop Talk #10)

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Color inside your own lines

I’ve had several conversations lately with people looking for ways to bring writing into the rest of their lives. Some want to make a living as writers. Others want to flesh out a particular passion that been dormant behind the demands of their day job.

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In each case I suggest drawing their own lines.

What I mean is to look for opportunities where you can define the problem yourself (or in collaboration with a few). When you define a problem yourself, you set the focus and you begin to take ownership. Then your brainpan starts spinning in a fresh orbit that lets you locate resources to help solve that problem. Defining the problem is a way of looking at the topic of your passion and finding what about it that excites you and where that might be a problem/solution for others. Inevitably you want to send your topic out so others can begin to care as well—or perhaps you send it out to find those other few who care.

Writing something is a way of drawing your own lines.

I know this from (literally) drawing lines of definition: over at Dumb Sketch Daily (currently at dumb sketch #152) I’ve been trying to learn to draw. I’ve found that an ink pen does a kind of definition work that my eye longs for. Sometimes I wonder if ink is a crutch: outlining before filling in detail with color or graphite. Do I really need those lines? But then I think

I don’t care.

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I’ve got your precious Brussels Sprouts right here.

Because there is something about the crisp line that yields a bit of loony joy. Yes, it is true, that line does not exist on the edge of my Brussels Sprouts. Not really.

Still.

Seeing something clearly feels worth that particular fiction.

What definition work will you do today?

Where will you draw lines?

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

See also: “Can 78 bad sketches change your life?”

Written by kirkistan

June 1, 2015 at 9:41 am

Editorial Cartoon vs. Rough Sketch

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Pique a place to begin.

Charlie Hebdo meant to disrupt and paid dearly. That is what every editorial cartoonist wants, well, not so much death as to disrupt. I’m a fan of Steve Sack at the StarTribune, who every day tips some social issue on its ear.ows_143276862691410

The contribution of the editorial cartoonist is to change the status quo conversation by putting forward an opinion in whatever outrageous way that gets attention and is instantly understandable. Most of their work is an image that evokes a passionate response. The editorial cartoon is typically polarizing, immediately dividing those in violent disagreement from this in violent agreement.

In contrast, the rough sketch is presented to people who are already with us. They may not agree with our nuanced vision of a project, but they at least have the project on their radar.

We use the rough sketch to present our vision for the project, to show more precisely what we mean and to invite discussion.  The whole undone sketchy ethos of it can accomplish all those things.

TableSketch-05282015Sometimes we need a rough sketch to present our idea in the easiest possible way—so our friend or client cannot misunderstand us. And sometimes we need to disrupt a status quo conversation and risk passionate ire.

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Image credit: Steve Sack, StarTribune

Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

So. We all agree.

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What does collaboration look like to you?

We’re having the same thought, yes?

We’re having the same thought, yes?

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

May 11, 2015 at 12:40 pm

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