conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘sketch

Suhita Shirodkar: Sketching The Everyday

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Seeing for the first time again

I’ve made a dumb sketch every day so far in December. Maybe I’ll continue the discipline through 2015. My hope is that these dumb sketches progress from “negative” to at least “0”: from “dumb sketch” to just “sketch.” But if nothing else, sketching provides a few moments of seeing things in a different way. I am inspired by the work of OneDrawingDaily (a regular commenter and daily sketcher). I am also inspired by the work of , a sketcher in San Jose, CA.:


Sketching the everyday makes me look at it closely and appreciate it more than I otherwise would.
Lots more little everyday sketches here on flickr,

–Suhita Shirodkar

A sketch catches something different from a photo.


Written by kirkistan

December 30, 2014 at 9:44 am

What skill will you grow in 2015?

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I write and I want to draw and take photos. And write.

I’ve been trying to sketch lately. My son and I started a blog called Dumb Sketch December where we try to produce one sketch a day (inspired by OneDrawingDaily). I enjoy sketching more and more and I am less and less happy with the results. Unlike writing where I have a growing sense of being able to say what I need to say, sketching seems to have plateaued at capturing very little of real life.

I’m at the point where I don’t even know what I don’t even know.

My stapler rocks. My people don’t.

My stapler rocks. My people don’t.

Other kindly sketchers and drawists chime in with encouragements like “Keep going!” and “Huh.” Of course, I’m committed to the dumb sketch approach to life, and I can find a bit of joy in a well-capture shoulder, or when I drew something very similar to that woman’s posture or her pony-tail. I am increasingly drawn to the very black carbon laid down to hint at a clear edge. I’m trying to take lessons from Edward Hopper, though I think he would have given up on me long ago:

I think we can guess what fascinated Edward Hopper.

I think we can guess what fascinated Edward Hopper.

But all this to wonder aloud at skill-building. There is something about the intentional action—committed in public—that has a way of squeezing us forward. NaNoWriMo used that force, our more successful diets use that force, weddings are a celebration of the force of intentional actions publicly committed.

What skill do you want to grow in 2015?

How will you make it public so we all can take courage from your actions?


Kirk Livingston, Edward Hopper via The Walker Art Center

Edward Hopper: How to Talk to Yourself

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Can a conversation result in art?

The answer can only be “Yes!”

Not every conversation, mind you. But some will.

Last weekend Mrs. Kirkistan and I (plus our art-student daughter) wended our way through the sketches and drawings by Edward Hopper currently on display at the Walker. As a nation we’re quite familiar with Mr. Hopper’s drawings and paintings—today they seem perfectly obvious explanations of life in America. But I was intrigued by how he got there. What was his process for producing such enduring images? How did he see what he saw?

His sketches look like conversations with himself. Look how he developed the frame for his (well-beloved, much parodied) Nighthawks at the Diner. His sketches add layer to nuance to layer. It’s almost as if he were explaining something to himself with one approximation and then another and then another. Sort of like conversations with our best friend where we allow each other to say it wrong even as we pursue saying it right.


Hopper was a man given to observation and keen on interpreting detail. With quick strokes he captured form and mood and motion. And there’s no question he had an eye for the ladies:


Hopper seemed to never stop observing and capturing. Again and again and again. He spent hours sitting at favorite locations and sketching and perhaps waiting. This quote from Mr. Hopper hints at his process:

My aim in painting is always, using nature as the medium, to try to project upon canvas my most intimate reaction to the subject as it appears when I like it most….

I’ve been a fan of sketches for some time because they give a behind-the-scenes picture into how someone’s mind works. The Hopper exhibit at the Walker does not disappoint. And I cannot help but think how sketches provide such a rich analog to our collaborative conversations.

Image credit: Kirk Livingston photos taken at Edward Hopper exhibit, Walker Art Center

A better way to set goals

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1000 words: from goal to discipline


Revisit and add detail as you go forward

Mrs. Kirkistan and I talked up goal-setting with our good friends over New Year’s Eve. Goals get a bad rap these days and I know why.

Looking back at my 2013 goals, I see they were too ambitious and without proper milestones. Even so, they served as directionals that propelled me forward as I revisited them over the course of the year. Mrs. Kirkistan and I will take an hour or so and talk through and pray through our goals before the weekend. Then I’ll post them on the back of the door into Suite 102 of the Livingston Communication Tower (high over Saint Paul).

As I labor to expand and then trim back my personal, business and spiritual goals, I realize more than ever this is not a static process. Much like the sketch above, I’m sort of blocking out broader desires and expectations while adding in definite dates and details for only a select few. But some of these goals fit better as disciplines than goals with timelines attached. For instance, the discipline of writing 1000 words a day has served me well over the past few years (thank goodness I never stipulated they had to “good” words—that kind of pressure would gum the works). That goal has turned to a discipline, which is great—the day feels wasted if I’ve not written 1000.

I have a goal of publishing ListenTalk: Conversation is an Engine early this year (that’s right, Juxtapose: How to Build a Church that Counters Culture is back to the original title, for those who follow such things), and I have a few milestones with dates attached to help make that happen. Last year’s goal helped me finish the book and get it to and back from an editor, though I severely underestimated how much time it would all take.

But some things just work better as disciplines, like ongoing exercise and the daily ground-breaking conversations with colleagues and potential collaborators.

How does goal-setting work for you? Rather than give up on goals because they are too hard, is there some useful piece you can take and make work for you?

By The Way: Check out this meditation on goals from The Pietist Schoolman: I like his challenge to focus out, rather than just in, on personal goals.


Image credit: via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

January 1, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Stop-Action Living & How to Pay Attention

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Jean Laughton’s Mythic West Borders Her Real West

Put a frame around the scene before you and the scene changes. The frame creates distance from the action, which is both useful and off-putting.


Useful in that the frame helps you stop and see what is going on. Moving parts fall (momentarily) silent and you are released to think critically about the action. Note that critical thought need not be negative or a complaint or a sardonic aside. Critical thinking can result in even more whole-hearted agreement with the action. Critical thinking can also lead to backing away from the action.

Off-putting in that the frame truncates the scene and isolates it from everything else. Off-putting because the people in the scene see the camera and note you’ve switched from action to observer, which most of us find discomfiting. Pick up a camera or sketch pad and you’ve suddenly marked yourself as something other than what is happening right here and now. Pick up a camera and watch people freeze or back away.

Edmund Husserl (that 19th century mathematician/philosopher/phenomenologist) talked about leaving the “natural attitude” and bracketing his experience to come to fully understand/appreciate the experience. Actually, Husserl advised breaking with the natural attitude and bracketing experience to get on with his phenomenological work. Henri Cartier-Bresson always used a 50mm lens to capture the surrounding action, so his audience could see the central action in context and form stronger conclusions. Damon Young, in his Distraction, cites Henri Matisse in explaining how art became his way of looking at the world:

“I am unable to distinguish,” he wrote in 1908, “between the feeling I have for life, and my way of expressing it.”

Any way you cut it, paying attention and making your experience available to others are somehow linked. In Jean Laughton’s work, she takes her camera in the saddle and documents life as working cowgirl. The images she creates are mythic and telling and honest.

Walk through a few of Jean Laughton’s images and you’ll be glad she is paying attention. Laughton seems to have found a way to live in the scenes even as she brackets them. Her frames seem to not take her away from the action. The result is both memorable and accessible.



Image credit: Jean Laughton via Lenscratch

Written by kirkistan

September 18, 2013 at 10:03 am

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