There’s a Korean man who lives in Brazil. His grandchildren are in South Korea. He misses them and wants to do something to reach out to them in a special way.

So he does something unconventional.

An amateur artist, Chan Jae, took to Instagram. He started an account called Drawings For My Grandchildren. Every day, he posts something.

They’re digital love letters, and they’re strikingly beautiful.

There’s legit aesthetic value to his work, but the beauty runs far deeper. It’s his motivation that really sucks you in. I’ve been following him for a while, and he delights me every time I look at his feed.

It speaks to the essence of the nature of art. Motivation. Why do we do what we do? If it’s for love of almost anything, it’s going to be good.

Maybe it’ll make you money, and maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll become famous, and maybe only a handful of friends will delight in your creativity. It really doesn’t matter. What makes art powerful is connection.

And there’s no greater foundation for connection than love.

Always root your art in that fundamental truth. Don’t get sucked into trying to make a name for yourself or make bank. That stuff is great if it happens, but it’s not the core of what makes art art. Instead, know why you create, and stay true to your most basic, authentic motivation.

Said another way, do it for love.

If you want to read more about Chan Jae and his journey to becoming an Instagram artist, click here. If you want to see or follow his account, click here.

If you feel like giving your ego a nice, solid punch in the gut, check out the following article.

15 Words You Need to Eliminate From Your Vocabulary to Sound Smarter
Jennie Haskamp  |  The Muse

Newsprint is on life support, emojis are multiplying faster than hungry Gremlins, and 300 million people worldwide strive to make their point in 140 or fewer characters.

People don’t have the time or the attention span to read any more words than necessary. You want your readers to hear you out, understand your message, and perhaps be entertained, right? Here’s a list of words to eliminate to help you write more succinctly.

Read more…

I included the link, but I’d actually encourage you not to “read more,” and I’ll tell you why. Any advice aimed at artists that begins with “never” or “always” should be regarded with extreme suspicion from the onset.

Sure, there are some solid “most of the time” rules that are good to know. Grammar is a key example if you’re a writer. You should almost always follow standard grammatical rules. But there are times when it makes sense to break them.

Like with fragment sentences. You know, for punch.

Forgive the trite phrase, but artists should be outside the box thinkers. The moment you start paying attention to rules, you’re limited. Held back. Enslaved.

Don’t do that to yourself.

Standards are good. Yes, yes, yes. There are best practices worth adopting. But never push back from an artistic impulse because someone (even one of your heroes) said to “never” or “always” do something.

Fuck that.

Find your own way and let your art shine through.

This week, I’d like to point you to another article. I do that from time to time, and not always because I’m being lazy. Today, it’s purely because I like the cadence and content of this interview.

If this article is any indication, Detroit artist Sydney G. James is a dynamic individual. The way she describes and deals with the tension between financial success and artistic fulfillment, for example, is both inspiring and practical.

Give it a read. Even if you don’t agree with everything she says, I think you’ll find it informative, interesting, and maybe even enlightening.

‘Be dope every day’ declares renowned artist Sydney G. James
Porsha Monique  |  Rolling Out

Chances are, if you drive down any given street in Detroit, it’s very likely that you may see the amazingly beautiful, larger-than-life artwork of Sydney James. Perhaps you may see her work in mural form on several buildings in the city’s historic Eastern Market area, or maybe at an intersection while driving through the city, or maybe in what appears to have been a vacant lot, turned into a field of dreams and beauty with the help of James’ magic touch. One thing is for sure, once you spot a James masterpiece, you’ll be in awe of her remarkable gifts.

Read more…

That quote is true and powerful. It’s also ridiculously easy to blow off.

It sounds like a nice sentiment, every person is an artist, but it also sounds like the kind of thing you’d find on a greeting card or decorative knick-knack. You know, a throw-away piece of pseudo-wisdom that makes you feel good but is easily forgotten.

It’s so much more.

There’s art in all of us. I say that without an ounce of reservation or insincerity because of how I define art.

In this, I’m going to take the easy way out. I’ll use the words of Leo Tolstoy:

“Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”

A means of union. We can all understand that. We all seek connection, and in doing so we all produce art.

Some art is beautiful, and some art is deceptively mundane. It’s not about the form, the aesthetics, or the technical skill involved. Yes, there’s something to be said for well-crafted words or breath-taking visuals. But that’s not the heart of what art is.

The essence of art is found in how it connects us.

And that’s why attempts to produce art for any other purpose will always fail. You can’t do it for the money or for renown. The minute you make art about something other than connection, it ceases to be art. A mediocre painting that pulls people together is more powerful than a masterpiece devoid of feeling.

Remember that, and remember to look for the art in everyone you encounter, from your artistic heroes to the clerk at the convenience store.

There’s art in everyone. When you can see it, the world becomes a much more beautiful place.

“Ignorance is not innocence but sin.”

— Robert Browning

It’s not my day to post fiction, but some readers may find the following to be a different kind of horror.

I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not.

I’m not sorry for weighing in. I’m not sorry for speaking out. I’m certainly not sorry for suggesting that truth matters more than some kind of poorly constructive alternative. And I’m not sorry for suggesting that we, as artists, should make our voices heard in every available medium.

Sometimes a celebrity, often an actor, will take advantage of their publicity to make a political statement. When that happens, there’s an inevitable critique. “Stick to acting. No one cares about your politics. That’s not what we pay you for.”


What good is art if all it does is entertain? Sure, there’s value in entertainment, but there’s a rich history of artists using their art as vehicles of a message. And we need that now. Badly.

Whether her sound is your cup of tea or not, Lady Gaga showed us that even pop music can deliver a punchy (if somewhat subtle) message. Her Super Bowl Half-Time performance wasn’t an overt political statement…but it so was. And it was beautiful.

Never before in the history of humanity has it been easier to verify truth. To call out liars. To know, with reasonable certainty, what is fact and what is fiction.

And yet, we live in a day when powerful leaders choose to distort fact, banking on the laziness and prejudice of the masses to mask their rather obvious lies.

I’ll say it again. Bull. Shit.

Look, if you don’t want your art, in whatever form it manifests, to be all about politics, I get it. I held off sharing my own views on marriage equality until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t want to drive potential readers away because they objected to my views. And besides, I write horror and fantasy. It’s not like it would be hard for those so inclined to casually dismiss my opinions.

But if artists are afraid to speak and speak boldly, we’re in real trouble.

I’m not telling you what your politics should be. You may well disagree with mine. That’s fine. What I am telling you, my fellow artist, is this: don’t shy away from talking about the stuff that matters.

Don’t run from truth in your art. Embrace it.

And this is where following my own advice gets dodgy. This isn’t a fiction piece. This is me, my voice, my opinion laid bare. But I’m the one who has to look myself in the mirror each day, and I sincerely feel it’s important to say what I’m about to say.

President Trump is a bully, and a powerful one at that. That makes him dangerous.

He lies frequently, sometimes for no reason other than his own inflated sense of self. He’s on record (as in, there’s a literal recording of him) bragging that he can and has gotten away with sexual assault. He doesn’t respond to critics in dialogue, but pushes to simply shut them up, even if those critics are respected members of the journalistic press. His pride is so overwhelming and so obvious that it distorts every single interaction he’s a part of.

We’ve seen world leaders embrace this style of command before. The results are never good.

I’d write a horror story with a toupee-wearing, orange-skinned villain, but it would fail to fully capture the very real terror that is his vision of America. Of the world. So instead, I’m speaking out against him here, now, in a very candid way.

Keep marching. Keep protesting. Keep fact-checking, and ranting, and talking. Discuss his power plays in the coffee shop, at church, and over dinner. Don’t stop. A rabid dog is only as dangerous as his leash is long.

Hell, even if you support him, surely you don’t want an America in which the president can do whatever he pleases, unchecked. That would be the downfall of our entire system. Even if you believe in him, I hope you believe in democracy more.

And if you’re an artist, find ways to embody messages of hope, love, equality and inclusion in your art. Those themes frequently pop up in my stories, even the ones that are full of blood and guts. Pull that stuff into your art, too.

In short, stand. Stand up and stand out for what you believe.

The world needs your voice, now more than ever.

“The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’ve been thinking a lot about optimism in the last month or two. Mostly, I’ve been grappling with how optimistic vs. pessimistic attitudes shape my own life. One seems to consistently lead to hope, courage, change, transformation and joy. The other is a black hole of despair.

I think you can guess which is which.

I’m convinced that the trick to optimism is something entirely internal. It’s what you tell yourself when things suck. Do you assume that all things will always suck? Do you take it personally, assuming the universe is out to get you? Do you see negative reverberations in every aspect of your life?

Or do you bounce back, resilient and determined to make even the crappiest situation better?

I’ve always been the resilient sort in that I don’t stop. I don’t easily give up. But, historically speaking, even as I fight to make things better, I fixate on the shittier elements.

That’s changing.

And the change is making me happier. It’s making me feel more whole. I’m learning, little by little, to reframe things internally. To reshape my self-talk because optimism starts inside me.

Yeah, I know that sounds like self-help mumbo-jumbo. I suppose if you’re inclined to think of “self-help” as “mumbo-jumbo,” it is.

But it’s also truth.

And it’s truth that can have a profound impact on your art. Art is expression. It flows out of what’s inside us. If you’re dark and brooding on the inside, you’ll produce cynical, hopeless art. Art that focuses on tragedy rather than hope.

There’s a time and a place for that kind of art. I’m not knocking it. I’m only asking a question.

Is that time now? Is this that place? Are you that artist? Or would you rather produce art that inspires hope and resilience in others?

There’s plenty to be cynical about these days. God knows, turning on the news can leave me in fits of rage or tears. Or both. It’s weird times.

We need hope. We need artists who inspire hope in others. We need optimists.

Will you be one of them?

“We of the craft are all crazy.”

– Lord Byron

If you’re like me, the above quote probably strikes you as whimsical.

I think of the Mad Hatter, his pinky extended, babbling on about tea time and riddles with no punchlines. I’ve known plenty of writers. It’s not unusual for us to exchange wily grins and proclaim ourselves a few sandwiches shy of a picnic.

And that light-heartedness makes sense. We talk about our characters like they’re real people. I write horror, sometimes dreaming up truly disturbing images. Yeah, I make the occasional joke about being crazy.

But there’s a darker side to Lord Byron’s observation, and it’s not the least bit funny.

For centuries, we’ve known there seems to be a link between creativity and some forms of mental illness. Depression, for example, is alarmingly common.[1] This is where we get the idea of the tortured artist.

And then there’s the research. There’s been plenty of it. One study even suggests a link between creativity and ailments like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia at the genetic level.[2]

See what I mean? Serious business.

In our culture, fessing up to struggles like depression is still tough for a lot of folks. Which sucks. Depression can be debilitating. It’s not something you can just blow off.

If you’re a creative type, that doesn’t automatically mean you’ve got the seeds of bipolar disorder or any other mental illness woven into your veins. Not at all. There are tons of artists who never even have a brief encounter with this stuff.

But, if you’re one of the artists who does deal with depression, I urge you to deal with it.

Don’t accept depression or any other mental illness as a part of the whole tortured artist shtick. You owe it to yourself, and to the people you love, to tackle that beast head-on.

I know. Weighty stuff for a Tuesday. My apologies.

Still, I really think this is important. The stakes are high. We’re talking about your happiness, your fulfillment, and even your life.

If you think you might be struggling with depression, here are a few resources:

Additionally, I can’t overstate the value of a good therapist. Even if your funds are tight, there are all kinds of cost-effective options out there. This article has some solid suggestions for reduced-cost therapy and other alternative: “What to Do When You Can’t Afford Therapy”.

    1. Adams, William Lee. “The Dark Side of Creativity: Depression + Anxiety X Madness = Genius?” CNN. Cable News Network, 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
  1. Power, Robert A., Stacy Steinberg, Gyda Bjornsdottir, Cornelius A. Rietveld, Abdel Abdellaoui, Michel M. Nivard, Magnus Johannesson, Tessel E. Galesloot, Jouke J. Hottenga, Gonneke Willemsen, David Cesarini, Daniel J. Benjamin, Patrik K E Magnusson, Fredrik Ullén, Henning Tiemeier, Albert Hofman, Frank J A Van Rooij, G. Bragi Walters, Engilbert Sigurdsson, Thorgeir E. Thorgeirsson, Andres Ingason, Agnar Helgason, Augustine Kong, Lambertus A. Kiemeney, Philipp Koellinger, Dorret I. Boomsma, Daniel Gudbjartsson, Hreinn Stefansson, and Kari Stefansson. “Polygenic Risk Scores for Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Predict Creativity.” Nature Neuroscience 18.7 (2015): 953-55. Web.

“I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just going to ask them where they’re going and hook up with them later.”

– Mitch Hedberg

Goals are good. Mostly.

Without any sense of where you’re going, it’s damn hard to know if you’re making progress. That’s where goals come into the picture. A goal is, in simplest terms, a target. It’s something to aim for. It’s a destination along the route of your life.

But take careful note of the wording of that last sentence. Along the route of your life.

Goals are not the end-game. They’re waypoints. Unless you’re aiming for death, not one single goal on your list should be an absolute destination.

That’s my first problem with goals. Too many folks think of them as conclusive rather than a part of the journey. My next issue is with how we make them.

“Be a better artist” is a fine goal, in a way, but not terribly helpful. I mean, what does that look like? How will you know when you’ve achieved it? Or do you just plan to dangle that carrot in front of yourself for a lifetime, ensuring that you never feel like you’ve made any progress?

Roll your eyes all you like, but this is one area where the corporate HR people have got it right. Goals should be (say it with me) “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based.” (Or SMART. Isn’t that clever?)

Goals should also be flexible. Here’s what I mean.

I was sick yesterday. Sinus stuff. Not fun. It threw off my whole week right out of the gate. And since several of my current goals are weekly, one sick day kind of messes with my metrics.

(Metrics?! Seriously, even I’m appalled that I used that word, but you get what I mean.)

Instead of fussing over a perfect track record for the week, I’m adjusting. I’m not going to get in a workout every weekday. I can’t. I was sick yesterday and working out just didn’t happen. And you know what? No biggie.

Because goals should be flexible.

Think of your goals as living things. That applies to all your goals—as an artist, a professional, a spouse, a friend and a person. Like all living things, goals should adapt and adjust. They should evolve.

You should never feel bound to them. They’re not tyrannical in nature, or at least they shouldn’t be. Rather, they should encourage you, bringing out the best in you.

The minute your goals feel like something that weighs you down, it’s time to reassess.

“You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”

Fight Club

I love that quote. It’s downright poetic, even though it’s a bit crass. And, as an added bonus, it simultaneously embodies an epic truth and a tragic lie.

The Truth
No one is as special as they want to believe they are. Sure, you snagged the starring role in the play that is your life, but guess what, slugger? You’re a background character on everyone else’s stage…if you’re on their stage at all.

It would be nice to think everything you say and do matters in a universal, transcendent sort of way. But it doesn’t. Them’s the breaks.

Oh, you’ll encounter plenty of contradictory messages. Even 30-second commercials for everything from cell phones to dog food will try to convince you that you’re oh-so-special. You know, to sell you shit. (Tyler Durden would love that observation.)

But you’re living out the same human struggle we’re all living out. You’re not that different from me or the 6 billion other inhabitants of this planet.

The Lie
And yet, you are so different.

Our struggles are universal, but our ways of meeting them are as unique as, well, damn. As unique as snowflakes. And that’s where your art comes into the picture.

The stories you tell, the images you create, the music you compose, all of it is your take on the human condition. We may share the same core struggles, but your opportunity to be unique, to be your own person, lies in your creative efforts.

There, you can take hold of something that is truly your own. And more than that. You can share something uniquely you with others.

That’s the magic of art.

The challenge of art is that it’s tempting to try to imitate the success of others. I urge you to give that up.

Instead, look to others, your artistic heroes, for inspiration, advice, and even direction, but find your own voice. Then use that voice to join the global dialogue. Speak to universal fears, joys, and questions because they are universal. Because they resonate.

And do it on your own terms, using your own voice.

Rise and shine, little snowflake. Time to show the world just how extraordinary you can be.