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Entries in Creativity (23)


My Little Commonplace Book

The Commonplace Book

I've had the itch lately to capture ideas, quotes, images and other tidbits in something dedicated to the task. I had a little book years ago for this purpose, and just found it again.

I've revived my Leuchtturm1917 pocket-sized commonplace book by adding a few new quotes and drawings to it.

I'm making an effort to add more artwork and capture whole chunks of text or images I want to keep. Most of all I want to stop being so precious about what I put in that little book. Having to be perfect didn't work before, so it's time to loosen up.

Years ago I'd pressured myself to make every quote perfectly fit into book, with beautiful, error-free lettering. That mindset killed its usefulness, and it got lost on my bookshelf.

Now I have started scribbling, playing, and using this thing, so it can have value, imperfections and all.

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A Year of Daily Logging

Logbook 2014

THIS YEAR I decided to keep a logbook, thanks to Austin Kleon.

At the end of 2013, I ordered a one page per day Large Moleskine diary in yellow, starting the process of logging on January 1st, 2014. Now that the year is over, my weathered logbook as a treasured item, full of memories.

I've already started a new logbook with a Hobonichi Techo from Japan, with a slightly smaller size and thinner paper than the Moleskine. I'm loving it.

Techo vs moleskine

Hobonichi Techo vs. Moleskine.

A Logbook is Not Necessarily a Diary

Trying to sustain a year-long logbook was a bit of a risk. I’ve never been great at consistently keeping a traditional "dear diary" book. I’d start hot for a few weeks or months before flaming out.

The shift away from a "dear diary" to fill at the end of the day, to a book where items are logged as the day unfolds is a key difference. My logbook is a living document. I fill it as the day progresses, rather than working to create a narrative of the day from memory.

Of course that doesn't limit me from adding thoughts after the fact. I’ve made use of empty pages to sketch out concepts and ideas. On one occasion, I sketchnoted a TV documentary as an experiment as I worked on The Sketchnote Workbook — it worked great!

Logbook ss titanic show

Sketchnote of a TV show: Titanic's Final Mystery.

A Space for Tasks and Ideas

Along with logging daily activities, I use my logbook to set key tasks for the day, using hand-drawn checklists. Sometimes I'll add icons with notes and comments to log entries. I manage my detailed tasks in Things, but it's helpful to keep 2-3 key tasks in my logbook as a reminder.

Logbook sa trip

Sketchnote Travelogue of San Antonio, TX.

I'll often sketchnote experiences, like visits to restaurants or cities. It's great to freely use pages to capture whatever strikes me.

Capturing ideas is another great use for my logbook. I use space to draw something I'm thinking about to work out the details, like this image of a pinewood derby car my son wanted to create.

Logbook baconator

The Baconator Pinewood Car concept sketch.

That's the beauty of a logbook — it's your space to capture whatever you'd like. There is no correct way — whatever you want to log is fine.

Logbook nathan 2014

My son Nathan's favorite things from 2014 page.

Try a Logbook!

Experimenting with logbooks has been an enjoyable and valuable experience. I challenge you to start a logbook, even if you're starting late. Think of all the free pages in January you'll have for sketching ideas!


Interview: Tobias Gutmann & Face-o-mat

LAST YEAR, I saw Tobias Gutmann and his Face-o-mat mentioned in my friend Dave Gray’s weekly newsletter, so I reached out for an interview.

What is a Face-o-mat? Here's a video overview:

And now, here's my interview with the Face-o-mat's creator, Tobias Gutmann.

Hello Tobias! It’s a wonderful honor to interview you!

Hello, nice to hear from you!

Tell me a little about yourself. You are a Swiss citizen born in Papua New Guinea. What’s your back-story?

tobiasWell, I did grow up in Papua New Guinea, walked barefoot all day long and had a tree kangaroo as pet.

They say I’m Swiss, but about half of my life, I lived far from the country with white mountains, chocolate and cheese.

In Berne, Switzerland I studied my BA in visual communication, then worked in Tanzania for 6 months, before moving to Sweden.

You now live in Stockholm, Sweden (one of my favorite cities) how did you end up there and what are you doing in Stockholm?

I was looking for a new environment, that could inspire me. I have never been to Sweden, so I decided to move to Stockholm and study my MA in Storytelling (Graphic Design and Illustration).

I love the idea of this hand-made portrait machine, the Face-o-Mat you’ve created. How did you come up with the idea?

I found some cardboard, glued it together and painted Face-o-Mat on it. I just felt like drawing portraits, so I tried to make a fun experience out of it.

I thought it would mainly attract kids, but then the hipsters, whole families and even old people with grey hair wanted to have their portrait done. I was surprised to see how many different people were attracted by the social machine.

What led you to building the machine? Were there any technical challenges?

The first Face-o-mat was for a christmas market at Konstfack.

I did not plan to travel with it from beginning. It was quite a struggle, when I started traveling with the huge box on busses and subways in Stockholm.

When I got invited to Milan, I decided to rebuild the Face-o-mat. I collaborated with designer Pål Rodenius to develop the new machine, which had to be smaller, lighter and easier to set up. The new box out of MDF survived long distances and bumpy roads.

In Tokyo Face-o-mat’s wheels fell off. I was tired and the Face-o-mat was heavy, then the guys at Idée Garage made a brand new skateboard for Face-o-mat. That was awesome!

Tell me how your Face-o-Mat process works, especially with just 3 minutes per portrait!

(little interview within the interview)

Tobias: Welcome to Face-o-mat.

Guest: Eeehm, what is this?

Tobias: You get your face on a paper, with an optional „Facelift“ and you also choose if it should be „Classical“ or „Avant-garde“. Do you wanna try?

Guest: What is Facelift and Avant-garde?

Tobias: Facelift transforms your face into whatever the machine decides. It can for example be an animal or a chair. The „Avant-garde“ setting visualizes what Face-o-mat sees behind your face.

Guest: Ok, let’s try with a slightly avant-garde Facelift. After 3 minutes...

Guest: Goodness!!! I look like my sixth grade teacher!!...

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How do you determine how to draw a person? How much do the selectors and talking with them influence in the portrait process?

The settings people choose is a starting point, but then anything can influence the drawing; how people act, what they say or even the background music.

I don’t have time to think. I just draw, then something happens on the paper.

How do you charge for the portraits and do the people pay before or after the portrait is done?.

There is a small slot, where Face-o-mat swallows money.

Sometimes people don’t have money, then I draw them for free and sometimes people pay more than expected. In Face-o-mat I try not to create a hierarchy.

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Do most people choose a standard portrait or facelift? Why do they go one way or the other?

There is a high risk that something unpredictable could happen when choosing to get a Facelift. Some people like that kind of adrenaline, others go the safe way and choose Classic.

Actually, the choice they make, says a lot about the character of a person. I encourage people to be bold in their choices. I mean, it’s just a drawing on a piece of paper.

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How do people react to the Face-o-mat? Are they generally excited and have fun?

Some are shy and some are nervous. Many people are curious and ask questions, they appreciate the talking part of Face-o-mat.

I’ve had some really interesting conversations about life. Lot’s of people smile, laugh and are very positive. That is the fuel, that Face-o-mat is running on. Without all the lovely visitors, Face-o-mat would be very sad.

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Has anyone ever become angry or upset with a portrait you’ve done of them with the Face-o-Mat?

Possibly. They usually don’t tell me. Sometimes I am afraid, to give away the illustration because I don’t like it. Face-o-mat never deletes or starts over again. What happens in the moment, is what people get.

I had customers who where not satisfied with their face-illustration, so they came back and tried again with different setting. Maybe with a bit more Facelift.

You’ve visited other countries with the Face-o-Mat. Why did you choose to go international and where did you travel to?

I didn’t actually plan to go international, it kind of just happened. I spent the summer in Tanzania, then received emails from Tokyo and London. I thought it would be exciting to test the concept in different cultures, so I followed, where Face-o-mat got invited.

Were there any language barriers in your international travels?

It’s a different experience, when visitors can not express themselves through language, but language barriers are not always negative. It doesn’t always need to be words. Gestures or facial expression say a lot and in the end the illustration is the language of Face-o-mat.

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Any future travels planned for you and Face-o-mat?

I have many new ideas and projects that I am working on, but if I get invited to a place, that would add an interesting new chapter to the Face-o-mat story, I will say yes!

Thanks so much Tobias for a little of your time. Any parting words of wisdom you would like to share?

If I would build the next iPhone, it would not have a screen, just a frame with a little window, to talk to your neighbor.

Learn more about Tobias and his fabulous Face-o-mat:

It's fun to scan through all of the photos of people and their Face-o-mat portraits. If you like what Tobias is doing, reach out and let him know!


Fitness, Energy, Creativity and a Better Life


BY THE END OF 2011 I was tired. I was dragging and I was in need of rest from a busy, fun yet draining year. During the week between Christmas and the New Year, I pondered ways to increase my energy, knowing another intense year of projects was on the horizon.

I began thinking of my fitness level as a missing piece in becoming a more effective professional, after reading Haruki Murakami's book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. In the book, Murakami describes the positive, critical impact running has had on his creativity, his writing career and his life.

Reading Murkami's words reminded me of early morning bicycle rides I used to take years ago. Rising at 5am to ride country roads with my friend Dave was a great way start to my day and served as a significant source of energy for my creativity and my life at the time.

I've missed those rituals and the energy. It was time to get them back.

Hiring a Trainer

For much of last year I'd been considering hiring a personal trainer to help get a workout habit established for my specific needs — but never acted on the idea. With 2012 arriving and establishing positive habits on my mind, I made the decision to contact the local YMCA and set up a free meeting with a Y-approved personal trainer.

The first meeting went very well. My trainer listened to my past successes (cycling), challenges (busy work and family life with small children) and my goals. He asked more questions, then suggested a simple plan to begin forming a workout habit to suit my life and schedule. It's been working well.

Our second meeting was a chance to refine the details of my plan — adding new stretches, activities and goals to my routine — along with a challenge to keep my momentum going. Next week I'll be challenged again and I can't wait.

Why a Personal Trainer?

It would seem easy enough to just head to the Y and start working out — but I'd always felt unsure of where to start or if I was doing things properly. When working with Y staff, never felt I ought to pester them with all of the questions I had. However, with a trainer I'd hired with my own money, I felt obligated to make the most of our time together by asking all sorts of questions.

My perspective on hiring a trainer changed when I thought of a trainer as someone I might hire in business — a front end developer, an accountant or an attorney. They're experts at what they do, just as I am at design, so it would be foolish not to take full advantage of their skills in advancing my goals.

Finally, having a neutral person to help establish my workout habit, provide accountability and offer guidance in exercise details has been great. In-between our sessions he remotely checks my workout progress, can suggest new activities and I can ask questions, all via email.

Two Weeks In

As I write this, I've reached the 2 week mark of making regular exercise a priority, I'm feeling the best I have in years. I'm feeling more energetic than ever before and have found myself getting caught up on a few projects that had become dormant at the end of 2011.

I've established an earlier bedtime, so I get up early for workouts, before my wife and kids wake up. Oddly enough, this entire morning routine has become a great time to think and ponder, a side benefit I hadn't expected.


Exercising 4 mornings a week has had another positive side effect: watching what I eat. Since I was tracking the time and calories burned in exercise, it made sense to get back into using Lose It! on my iPhone to keep track of the calories and foods I'm eating.

It's fascinating to capture what I'm eating each day, watching the weekly trends and comparing the impact food I eat has on my energy levels. Having a place to easily record food and exercise wherever I am has been a huge benefit to my awareness. I especially love Lose It's barcode scanner for fast food entry.

Long Term

The outlook for the long term is encouraging. Ultimately my goal is to lose weight, gain strength and stamina to power my professional and personal life.

As I get older, I'm realizing any advantage I can gain in improving my life and the length of it is worth the small daily sacrifices. Feeling great in the process is the encouragement to keep on keeping on.

Another important mental approach has been to think of this as building a positive habit first, understanding that other benefits (feeling better, looking better) would naturally come as a by-product. I know that when I own a positive habit I will stick to it long term.

I'm totally owning this.


Connecting the Dots

THIS WEEKEND, Steve Jobs and his Stanford Commencement Speech from 2005 reminded me how important it is to realize we often only connect the dots of our lives looking back. Like Steve, I can see now how the more difficult moments have shaped me and my future for the better.

Thanks Steve for your inspiring leadership and example for all of us.