Five Ways to Benefit from Embracing Spontaneity and Disorder

Five Ways to Benefit from Embracing Spontaneity and Disorder

The section of Martin Luther King’s iconic 1963 speech that everyone remembers – where he begins “I still have a dream…that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” – that’s the part where King listened to the emotion of the audience and spoke from his heart. “Without notes, without a script lovingly prepared and committed to memory, his words began to trickle out and then to pour forth freely,” writes author and columnist Tim Harford in his book Messy, which celebrates the value of spontaneity and disorder. “It was a duet with his audience.”

These days it’s hard to avoid the admonishments of self-titled productivity gurus that we should take more control over our lives, our calendars, and in-boxes. We’re told we must reign in our wayward minds, rediscover the art of focus and plan, plan, plan.

But Harford provides countless examples of creative and entrepreneurial minds soaring to their greatest heights through the exact opposite approach, via thinking on their feet and an avoidance of over-planning: from the jazz pianist Keith Jarrett who recorded his mega-selling The Kohn Concert album when forced to improvise on a small, out-of-tune piano, to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos who left Barnes and Noble and other corporations flat-footed when he seized the moment and gambled on the potential of online selling.

Without wanting to be overly orderly about it, we’ve drawn on Harford’s book and our own archive to show you five key areas where you could benefit from allowing a little more extemporaneousness and disorder into your work.

Do juggle multiple projects

For a study published in 2009, Robert Root‐Bernstein, the author of Sparks of Genius, and his colleagues, set out to discover what distinguished scientists who consistently made a huge impact from those whose work was less relevant. Based on interviews and tests with 40 scientists (including Nobel Prize winners) over two decades, Root‐Bernstein and his team found that a key factor was that the high impact scientists maintained simultaneous involvement in numerous research areas.

The fact is, working on multiple projects allows you to cross-pollinate ideas from different domains, meet people with diverse perspectives (see below), and when you’re taking a break from one challenge, it allows your brain time to incubate the problems in that area, increasing the chance that you’ll come up with solutions.

Don’t bother tidying your desk (or in-box)

According to the lean space philosophy, a minimalist, tidy desk and office is the foundation of efficiency and professionalism. But research that’s compared filers (who like to sort and store all their paper documents) and pilers (who leave piles of documents on their desk) has found that actually filers are less efficient: They struggle to deploy an effective ordering strategy and waste time storing low value documents.

Pilers, by contrast, waste less time on organization and are particularly adept at finding documents relevant to their current work (because they’re usually the ones nearer the top). “For the senior manager, the lesson is simple,” says Harford. “Resist the urge to tidy up. Leave the mess – and your workers – alone.” And it’s a similar story with email: An analysis, published in 2011, of hundreds of workers’ attempts to locate emails found that those who simply used the search function were substantially quicker than those who relied on a sophisticated system of folders (17 seconds vs. nearly 60 seconds, on average).

Do embrace the discomfort of strangers

When you need to collaborate, it’s tempting to go back to the tried and tested players who you’ve always got along with. But time and again studies show that group decision-making can benefit from a range of views and diverse perspectives. A relevant study from 2003 asked groups of friends to solve murder mysteries, either with or without a stranger also on the team – the participants in all-friend groups felt more comfortable and believed they had performed better, but actually it was the groups that included a stranger who excelled, even though they felt less comfortable, presumably because the strangers brought a fresh perspective and reoriented everyone to the task goal rather than to simply getting along.

“It is the ill-matched social gears grinding together than produce the creative spark,” says Harford. The same principle applies when you’re networking. At a conference or party, it’s natural to want to seek out the people you already know – in fact research shows that’s what we do even when we say our goal is to make new contacts – but to truly network, you need to embrace the discomfort of strangers and give yourself the chance for some random encounters.

Don’t keep a daily planner

No one will thank you if you’re forever late for appointments or missing project deadlines, but when it comes to planning goals and tasks ahead of time, there’s a good case for allowing plenty of room for maneuver. This means daily planners – where you schedule ahead what you plan to achieve each and every day – are usually not a good idea. Psychologists actually tested this back in the 1980s when they asked university students to either keep a daily planning calendar, a monthly planner, or none at all. In terms of completed work, the monthly group achieved nearly twice as much as the daily planners who managed to do worse than those with no plans. To paraphrase Harford, the reason daily planners don’t work is because stuff happens, like colds and computer crashes. “With a broad plan or no plan it’s easy to accommodate these obstacles and opportunities,” says Hartford.

Do improvise

As someone who has had to overcome a dislike of public speaking, I’ve definitely learned the benefits of preparation – nothing beats nerves better than knowing your stuff and feeling confident in your presentation. But I’ve also experienced the downsides: I mastered my script for a recent TV appearance but then was thrown after the presenter went off piste.

Harford gives his own example, of the way that Marco Rubio – the one-time favorite to become the Republican party’s candidate for president in 2016 – was mocked after a presidential primary in which, robot-like, he was unable to depart from chunks of over-learned rhetoric. The best solution is often a compromise – a mix of learned passages (I’ve found it especially helps to master the opening of a speech) and improvisation. Crucially, when you improvise, you are more likely to be original and creative – your brain literally stops censoring your words so carefully. “A script can seem protective, like a bullet proof vest, sometimes it is more like a straight-jacket,” says Harford.


Embracing a little chaos and spontaneity in your work isn’t a license for laziness – of course success depends on ambition and relentless dedication. Rather, it is about not wasting time on ineffective, unrealistic planning and not cramping your style through over preparation. Leave space for the magic. “Real creativity, excitement and humanity lie in the messy parts of life, not the tidy ones,” says Harford.

from 99U99U

Turning Hand-Painted Ads into Social-Media Magnets

Turning Hand-Painted Ads into Social-Media Magnets

If you’re walking the streets of Los Angeles, New York, or a major city somewhere in between, and your attention is drawn to a surprising image painted on a building, there’s a pretty good chance the artists at Colossal put it there. Vinyl billboards and digital displays are far more common in today’s cityscapes, which makes Colossal undeniably “old-school.” Or so you’d think. Although their workers still dip paint brushes into plastic buckets to get the work done, Colossal’s innovative projects consistently generate millions of hits on social media.

Colossal teamed up with BBDO and Gillette to take over one side of a five-story SoHo building with hand-painted images of former Yankees star Derek Jeter sporting a five-o’clock shadow on day one, slathered with shaving cream on day two, and clean-shaven on day three. The cycle repeated for an entire month, drawing crowds of puzzled New Yorkers who shared photos on social networks, ultimately tallying 23 million impressions from sports outlets catering to Gillette’s target demographic: men. For Snickers, Colossal gradually turned a smiling Marcia Brady into a snarling Danny Trejo over the course of two weeks, playing on the candy bar’s “You’re not you when you’re hungry” theme. The campaign earned an Obie Award for best OOH campaign while racking up 1.5 million YouTube views and 50,000 organic likes on Instagram.

We spoke with Colossal co-founder Paul Lindahl to find out how the company gets so many people to point their smartphones to the scaffolding.


Tell us about Colossal’s beginnings. When did you open? And what was the initial thinking behind the company?

We started Colossal in 2004. I had already been painting murals at other companies for around 10 years, and at that point digital advertising had taken over and the industry couldn’t wait to kill paint. Colossal has never been about joining anything; it’s actually the opposite, I’ve always done things I like regardless of popular opinion. I don’t need the majority for confidence or direction. Colossal is a part of who I am, it’s not my livelihood; it’s my life.

How do you get most of your work? Do agencies come to you with a client who might be right or do clients come straight to you?

We have a full-time mega-talented sales staff who work with advertising agencies, creative agencies, and with brands directly. Our aim is to impress: We’re painting more than 400 murals a year at this point, and 100% percent of those murals need to be perfect. We get the work because we do good work.

You’ve been amazingly innovative in terms of social media, to the point where you’re clearly partners in the ideas, not just following a client’s lead. What was the first project that went beyond just painting a sign and calling it a day?

Back in 2008, we painted every single step of the Stella Artois “perfect pour” ritual on one of our SoHo walls. Stella Artois created an online journal that took consumers along on the journey with daily updates on the production, then produced a documentary film solely focused on our story, the craft, and the history of hand paint. Each day there were events at the bar across the street from the wall, and they even installed old-fashioned viewfinders on the corner so passersby could see our guys up close and personal. The best thing about it? They celebrated our art, not beer, and that really made people pay attention.


Can you take us through a recent brainstorming process for one of your favorite recent projects?

We created a proper in-house creative department more than a year ago. The team, along with the entire office of passionate thinkers, has been delivering some incredible concepts for our clients. One recent idea involved painting original art on a majority of our Bushwick locations. Each wall has been custom designed by local, emerging artists, many of whom were hand-selected from Colossal’s network of creatives. The brand, Adidas, is foregoing traditional advertising in favor of bringing this art into the community. The campaign just launched on May 15, so New Yorkers should get out to Bushwick to check out the Colossal-curated outdoor gallery of art.

What makes a great client?

A great client is one who’s curious, excited, and has a budget. We’re definitely not the typical Times Square media company. If you want your ad on one of the thousands of signs flashing in people’s faces or a real-life company mascot forcing value-meal coupons on tourists, then you’re probably better off working with someone else.

Sign painting is a classic art form, and in many cities, you can still see “ghost signs” that live on for decades. But you’re often painting images that last no longer than 24 hours before you replace them entirely (see Snickers, Gillette). Does it ever feel painful to “erase” something you’ve just created?

It’s a shitload of work but for us it’s more about the journey than the destination. Going to work when it’s dark and coming home when it’s dark, day-in and day-out, pushing through countless obstacles to make something that’s next to impossible is the fuel for our fire. A ghost sign is beautiful, but it’s also a tombstone.

How do you create the work itself, at such a huge scale?

The artwork is formatted at one inch to one foot and scaled up to the size of the wall it’ll be painted on. We draw contour lines that break down the image inside a grid pattern that’s placed on top of the art work and then projected onto templates which are applied onto the wall. (See some of the process in this video featuring murals for High Line Park.) From there, it’s all about doing our best to keep the paint on the wall and not on your car.

Can you give us some idea of how much paint you go through?

Last year, we spent $50,000 on the color red.

Colossal works in a lot of different cities, but there’s something about New York City that seems like a real fit for your work. Do you agree?

New Yorkers are hustlers, always have been. I’m not originally from New York, and almost nobody is—that’s what makes it rad, that you come here to do your thing with the best. The city is in a constant state of change and it’s never the same thing for that long and so you gotta stay on your game, that’s why Colossal fits here.


from 99U99U

Todd Hido: Finding Joy in the Process

Todd Hido: Finding Joy in the Process

New Wave master Jean-Luc Godard once said “The cinema is not an art which films life: the cinema is something between art and life.” The same can be said about the work of the singular American photographer Todd Hido.

Hido’s haunting images of lone houses at night put him in the pantheon of American artists for whom the road is home, or at least the only way home. Beginning with his masterful debut House Hunting in 2001, Hido has elevated the monograph to a cinematic art form whose sequential images reveal compelling narratives among themselves, yet, like whispering children, keep the darkest truths under wraps. We spoke with the Ohio native turned Oakland resident about his craft, his inspirations, and where his work is taking him now.

Looking back at your six monographs, is there one that stands out as being the most meaningful to you. If so, why?

I think there are two that are the most meaningful. Obviously, the first book always has a place in your heart because it’s that book that you’ve been turning around in your head for years and years as a young artist, hoping that you might get to make it one day. The book that I feel is the most significant is Excerpts from Silver Meadows, and the reason is that all my other books prior to that had, I think, a maximum of 35 images. I remember hearing something Bruce Weber once said: “It’s much harder to do a book with 32 pages, as opposed to 100, where nobody will notice the clunkers.” If you have it honed down to a very small set of images, then every image has great significance in that book. I always remembered that, and I followed that method for a while.

When it came time to doing Excerpts from Silver Meadows, I was at a place where I had formed enough of a sophistication with sequencing and editing that I was ready to let it out, because I’ve always been a person that arranges pictures. It’s almost like this obsessive habit I have. Even in my studio, there’ll be pictures laid out on the table, and I’m constantly shifting and shuffling them around. I’d come home from a darkroom and put pictures down, and then it would start the shuffle again. When it came time to do Excerpts from Silver Meadows, I feel like I had a lot to say, and I did a book that had 130 images.

For me, it has this super-cinematic quality to it, because there’s such a mixture of things going on in there. I was also able to incorporate in that book my love and selection of found items, sometimes from my own personal family’s albums, like my father’s scrapbook from when he was in high school. And then all sorts of things that I would find that threw a wrench into a sequence of pictures, like a car crash or a picture of a crashed car. You could throw that image next to a bunch of other pictures, and it really puts a wrench into that story in some way.

It sounds like it was liberating in a way to have the book be bigger and more openly autobiographical, and include stuff that you didn’t make, but that made it into the book. You’re sort of repurposing everything.

Absolutely. Something I found exciting is that I would make things that looked like I didn’t make them, which was fun. The first time I got out a can of spray paint and spray painted a heart on a picture and let it drip all over a punk rock poster was liberating as a photographer. Like, “Hey, I can’t believe I made that.” It opened the door to experimenting more.

Did you have any say in the format of Intimate Distance, the Aperture monograph? What was it like for you to see photographs from many or probably all of your books all in one other book that in a certain sense wasn’t your book?

You’re right, Intimate Distance, my 25-year mid-career survey. Is different than any book I’ve ever made. The reason it had to be different was because my approach in the other books was that I basically took the pictures that I was most interested in working with and I would sequence them into something that made sense to me. That was largely driven by pure intuition and there was that narrative thread. When it came time to do my mid-career survey, we all kind of knew that we had to have a different structure, because if I just went and did my narrative, intuitive mix, then we would end up with a book that was like my other books. So we decided on one of the simplest approaches ever, which is to organize the pictures in chronological order.

I’ve always studied photography; I’ll be a student of photography until the day I die. The process is something that’s fascinating to me. My hope was that it could be enlightening for people that are interested in my work to see the actual order I make things in, because I think what happens a lot with students or people starting out in photography is that they think, “Oh, this person just arrived at this great idea. They ran out and executed it.” That scares a lot of people away thinking that they couldn’t do something like that. But I wanted to show how all over the place I am. One day I’ll shoot a portrait, and the next day I’ll shoot a landscape, and then that night I’ll do night photography. I wanted to show that I’m like anybody else that goes out and shoots what’s around them and follows their interest.

“I’ve always studied photography; I’ll be a student of photography until the day I die. The process is something that’s fascinating to me.”

It’s interesting that your publisher gave you so much input.

I wouldn’t have worked with them if I hadn’t had input. There are many different kinds of photographers, but sometimes they fall into two camps. Some photographers just shoot and shoot and shoot. Somebody else ends up saying, “Hey, let’s make this into a book” and the photographer gives them the pictures and the publisher makes the book. But for me, as soon as I realized that books were a way for me to sort out my work and organize my thoughts, I went to see my publisher, Chris Pichler of Nazraeli Press, and he realized that I wasn’t the kind of photographer that was going to hand him a box of pictures and say, “What do I do? I don’t know what to do.”

He noticed immediately that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and exactly how I wanted to do it, and he had the faith in me to basically say, “Well, here’s a dummy. Why don’t you go ahead and come back when you have it sequenced and organized?” That worked out perfectly, and that’s been our relationship ever since. I feel lucky to have that relationship with him, and because of that, I’ve grown, too. I’ve learned a great deal about bookmaking, sequencing, and editing. It’s one of the things that are, I think, my forté.

Looking at your photographs, I sense the use of film but could be wrong. Could you talk a bit about your choice of equipment and techniques, and whether they have evolved much in the past 25 years?

They have evolved greatly, and it’s been by need. For the first three quarters of my career, everything was shot on film and made as an analog print in a darkroom. And then those materials started drying up and the darkrooms started closing down. Mostly working in color, having no access to a darkroom, and becoming frustrated with how complicated it was to work analog, I needed something to change. I’m an adjunct professor at California College of the Arts, where they had closed the darkroom, and one of my students would come in with some C-prints, and I was like, “Where did you get those C-prints?” He got them online and the quality was amazing.

He started working for me after graduation. The main thing he did was to introduce me to the photo software Lightroom. As soon as he showed me Lightroom, it all clicked, because it’s such an intuitive and amazing program that I was able to change the because I could use a little lamp and have that light up a model’s face and make a picture that looked like it was taken on a tripod. One of the things I often go for in my work is I want to make pictures that are believable. I don’t want to make images that look super staged or highly improbable. I want them to feel like they just came from the continuum of daily life or nightly life.

Tell me a bit more about why you chose to focus your work on people at one point.

I always photographed my friends and made portraits, but it wasn’t something I would consider to be a primary strand of my work. It was way I work. I came to understand that I could take a picture with a digital camera in the dark, handhold it, and it didn’t look terrible. I’ve been using digital cameras ever since as my primary tool.

Did you find that using a digital camera in some way changed your process and/or your actual images?

Yes and no. The no part is that one of my conditions for utilizing digital images was that I would be able to make pictures that looked like they were my other pictures that were made with film. Because of my desire to be able to match my other work, because I had 20-some years of work going already, it was important to me that it wasn’t like a line in the sand, where you could say “There’s the new digital Todd I know and like” or “For all of you analog lovers, you’re out of luck.” I needed to be able to make pictures that looked like you couldn’t identify exactly how they were made. Again, Lightroom gave me the functionality to be able to do that. I sometimes quiz people, like, “I challenge you to find the digital pictures in here,” and they can’t.

Then the yes part is what’s changed in my work because of using digital. It’s opened up a much more cinematic quality to the work because of that ability to handhold the camera in lighting situations that I used to have to be on a tripod for. It opened up the world of light even more to me because something that occurred when it occurred. Then there was a point in time – it was my fourth book, I believe, called Between the Two – when I all of a sudden started becoming interested in photographing nudes. Because I’d done two night photography books and then my next book was something where I challenged myself to focus on landscapes during the daytime, because I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into being the night photography guy. After that I shifted my attention toward the genre of portrait nudes.

Do you feel there’s a distinct difference between photographing landscapes and setting up a shot as a kind of tableau, or is the process more alike than different?

It’s totally different. Since I’m not a street photographer, all the pictures of people that I’ve done have been something that I’ve set up. The environment that I shoot in is as important as the person. The environment creates a mood, so I want to have the right backgrounds. A lot of times I would use a motel room because it was a room that was a clear, blank room.

You mentioned about how in Roaming you wanted to not photograph houses or photograph at night, so you weren’t continuing an earlier body of work. Has that ever happened again or was that kind of a one-time thing?

A lot of the work that I’ve done prior to now has been largely autobiographical. But now I’ve been doing something completely different. It’s mostly landscape-based, and I’ve been photographing in places like Iceland and the Sea of Japan. I’m about to go to Death Valley to photograph. Those are all places that couldn’t be farther from the suburbs, and they’re all environments that are not the kind of things that I’ve been shooting in before. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious change, but after wrapping up a mid-career survey, it was a perfect shifting point to move to something different.

That’s exciting. Is that going to be a book or perhaps more than one book?

I know it will be one book in September of 2018. I’m shooting the parts still, and I haven’t even begun to edit, because that’s what I do: I shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot until I feel like I have that critical mass. Then I start to put together the pictures, and then go out and round out the holes.

“I was bad at everything in school, but once I started being interested in photography, I wanted to go to school.”

Much of your work evokes the sense of an apparition or a vision, not exactly visionary but something that stops the viewer in his or her tracks with something otherworldly and at times even apocalyptic. Do any of these themes resonate with you or is this pure projection on my part?

I always say that the meaning of the image resides in the viewer. But I definitely loaded the deck, and that is something that I would say is true about my work, that there’s something like an apparition. Is my new work apocalyptic? Oh, I would say it kind of fits that mode. Plus, the times we’re living in. It’s like I’m absorbing this into my process, the darkness. For my next book, the working title is Bright Black World. It comes from a description that a writer named A.S. Byatt had. She made a book of Nordic mythology. It talked about the Fimbulwinter, which is their version of the Myth of the Endless Winter. When it got dark, started snowing, and it never stopped. That’s her description of that darkness, and it’s where I got that title.

Was there one decisive moment when you realized you wanted to be a photographer?

It wasn’t necessarily a moment, but it was more of a progression in my life, because I used to race BMX bikes and was the state champion of Ohio four times. So I picked up a camera and would photograph my friends doing stuff, like any kid with a skateboard today who would want to photograph their friends doing tricks. Your natural impulse is to record it so you can share it – if you don’t record it, nobody will know it happened. In high school I also had a great teacher, Mike McGlure, who said to me, “You are different from the other students in this class. You have a special talent.”

He encouraged me and would enter my pictures in contests. I remember I got some State Governor’s Award for Photography, and it was from him entering me into the contest. I was bad at everything in school, but once I started being interested in photography, I wanted to go to school, because that’s where the darkroom was and I found something that made me excited about being there. Ever since, all I’ve ever done is photography. I’ve never done anything else. It was 1986 when I graduated, and so that’s how long I’ve been focused on photography on, I would say, a daily basis.

This image and the following photos are by Todd Hido and have been made available for use in this interview.

Photo by Todd Hido. Courtesy of Todd Hido.

Photo by Todd Hido. Courtesy of Todd Hido.

Photo by Todd Hido. Courtesy of Todd Hido.

Photo by Todd Hido. Courtesy of Todd Hido.

from 99U99U

A Real-Life Education in Protecting Your Creative Work In a Digital Age

A Real-Life Education in Protecting Your Creative Work In a Digital Age

Syd Weiler’s Trash Doves sticker pack turned into an internet phenomenon earlier this year. And they almost didn’t make it out of her notebook.

“I wasn’t even going to post them. They were just four-minute little sketches [of pigeons] I’d done sitting in a park in Minneapolis,” Weiler says.

One day, she tweeted the pigeon drawing and the next morning it had a couple thousand likes and retweets. “I thought ‘oh cool, people like those pigeon drawings, but whatever.’ It’s always the little stuff people take and run, not what you’ve worked hours on,” she says. 

Then Apple went and released a new iOS, and allowed independent artists to make “stickers” – basically drawings similar to emojis – as part of the update. If you’re wondering what a sticker pack is, think of the narrow, shrink-wrapped packages you might have found at a gift or craft store and stuck on your notebook or Trapper Keeper back in the pre-internet days.

So Weiler and a friend decided to make a weekend out of each creating a sticker pack and uploading it to the App Store. This happened in September. For $1.99, you could buy a pack of 25 (37 thanks to an October update) pigeon stickers for your, as Weiler described it, “cool conversations.”

The stickers, showing a purple pigeon in various situations, like eating a baguette, a doughnut or sliced bread, can be inserted into iMessage conversations on the iPhone. One pigeon lies atop a loaf of bread with the caption “loafin’ around.”

It was “a little, fun, weekend project,” that “made people happy,” until she figured out how to put the stickers on Facebook. That happened in late January, and within a couple of weeks, people all over the world had heard of and seen the Trash Doves.

Sure, they were being inserted into Facebook messenger conversations and people were getting a kick out of them, but they also started showing up on coffee mugs and T-shirts without Weiler’s permission. The purple pigeons were appropriated as the mascots of some unsavory neo-Nazi groups.

Someone also mashed-up the image of a head-banging trash dove and a dancing cat. The lewd 22-second animation received over three million YouTube views in just a few days. The trash dove officially became a thing.

Why did it happen like that? Weiler thinks people just want something cute and fun when the world seems like a confusing and scary place.

“So much of what you see online is negative, when something happy, cute and funny comes along on your feed, that’s what you latch onto,” she said. “It feels like a life raft, at least for me. I think that’s what happened to these. They were simple, they didn’t have a larger meaning. It was funny birds with funny bread puns that they could use to send to friends to make their friends smile and laugh.”

But when the doves started showing up all over the place, Weiler decided it was time to protect her property. She spoke with 99U after spending a couple of months and thousands of dollars with a lawyer trying to protect her images.

“It was pretty much my entire February,” she says.

While the income from the stickers has paid her rent a few times over, it has also paid some of her legal fees. She knows she couldn’t have sold the stickers on her own, but if she had never done them in the first place, she also would have been saved some serious hassle.

“We’re talking about a positive but it kind of made February the worst month of my life. People don’t understand copyright law or IP law,” Weiler says. “They assume that because a sticker is free on Facebook, they can take it and put it on a T-shirt, but that’s not the case.”

It’s something most art and design students are just not equipped to deal with, especially if some trifle catches fire in the online economy.

Sarah Burstein is a law professor at the University of Oklahoma. She is an expert on copyright and intellectual property and also has a bachelor’s degree in art and design from Iowa State.

She can appreciate the situation Weiler found herself in without much preparation, but she says artists can protect their drawings and animations, and that is to register them with the U.S. Copyright Office.

“It’s a pretty quick and easy process,” Burstein says. “But you do have to take that small and important step.”

Until you’ve registered, you can’t sue someone. And that’s important.

A good designer with a lot of work out there for the public to see may need a good lawyer. But it’s not something many creatives think about while in school.

“No one ever talked to me about IP in my design classes,” Burstein says. “The only things I learned about IP or copyright came from a media law class. So certainly there’s education that could be done. Teaching people how to register their copyright certainly wouldn’t hurt. That would be a nice, basic start.”

Weiler agrees.

“I learned how much I did not learn in art school from this experience,” she says. “I knew basics but I didn’t know the nuance.”

Burstein suggests that artists think about what they want to get out of chasing down individual copyright violations.

“I’m not sure you could go and sue every person that used your sticker on Facebook or make them get a license. Even if you had taken the proper steps, the question is: What does that get you? Or what do you want? Most designers and artists actually want attribution. ‘You like my sticker, that’s great, come to my website and buy my other work, or hire me.’”

After all, no one wants to spend $100,000 on legal fees just to net $50,000 in damages.

But Burstein says there are still ways for artists to gain financially from work that goes viral in the way the trash doves did: Look for “ancillary commercial exploitation opportunities.”

“My sense is that the money might be in other merchandise. What I would want to do is register the copyright and then say: ‘Come get the T-shirt, or the print.’ And copyright would certainly protect that right.”

Weiler calls the experience “soul-sucking,” but thinks the hard days are behind her. If she had one thing to do over, she says she would not have licensed the images and animations to Facebook. “I didn’t have the inkling that any of this would have been possible in this short amount of time.”

And she is working with some online retailers to make the trash doves more widely, and legally, available.

In the end, Weiler walked away with some extra cash, some headaches, more legal knowledge and about 120,000 new followers on social channels like Twitter and Twitch. While she would not wish what she had to go through over the winter on anyone else, she does feel in some way it has been worth it.

Much of Weiler’s work is social and she streams her creative process on her Twitch channel. The more people who know about her, the better, and it can only help down the line. She has both a property a lot of people know about – the Trash Doves – and a larger audience she can educate about what it takes to protect that property.

There are worse ways to double your audience. And if all of it came from trying to protect her work (“You can’t steal from an independent artist and you can’t just make a mug out of it,” she says), all the better.

from 99U99U

Aoi Yamaguchi: Breaking From Tradition

Aoi Yamaguchi: Breaking From Tradition

Japan has five main islands, and Hokkaido is the northernmost island. It’s known for its distinctive four seasons, beautiful landscapes, snow-covered mountains, rolling hills, and huge farms boasting fine dairy and cheese. In comparison to Tokyo, Kyoto, and more central areas of Japan, Hokkaido has a slower pace of life. Japanese calligrapher Aoi Yamaguchi was born and raised in Hokkaido, and trained under renowned Master Zuiho Sato from age six to age 19. Her mother holds the Shihan level of mastery in calligraphy, which certifies her to teach, and was eager to expose Yamaguchi and her younger sister to the craft from an early age.

Yamaguchi’s father was a high school teacher, which required the family to move every two to three years for new teaching assignments. In all, Yamaguchi at tended three elementary schools and two high schools. Regardless of how far Yamaguchi’s family moved from Master Sato, they consistently made time to continue advancing her calligraphy skills. And when Yamaguchi attended four universities in California before graduating, her calligraphy practice was the one constant in her life.

Since she moved to California in 2004, Yamaguchi’s work has blended traditional art forms with modern aesthetics. She merges calligraphy with live visuals for music festivals and down runways at New York Fashion Week. Yamaguchi also teaches calligraphy workshops, creates conceptual calligraphy installations and exhibitions, mounts live performances, and takes on custom logo design and commissioned art works.

Yamaguchi launched her studio in Berkeley in 2010, thanks in part to receiving an O-1 visa, which is given to people who possess extraordinary ability: typically actors, athletes, and musicians – not calligraphers. Here, she discusses what it took to become a master calligrapher, how she collaborates in the live performances, and the ways in which calligraphy bridges languages and cultures.

Yamaguchi photographed in and around Berkeley, California.

What activities did you enjoy as a child? And, how did you begin studying calligraphy under Master Zuiho Sato at age six?

My parents didn’t allow us to play video games, so my sister and I spent a lot of time outdoors. Growing up, I enjoyed hiking in the mountains and wearing tall boots to walk in the river. I started skiing when I was three, and was an active child. I also enjoyed listening to music, dancing, drawing, writing short stories, and took piano lessons after school. When I was six years old, my mother enrolled me in Master Zuiho Sato’s calligraphy school. She had been practicing calligraphy since junior high school, as Japanese calligraphy is a mandatory class in the public school system. I didn’t know anything about calligraphy until then, but it was fun, and I picked up the skill quickly.

“Calligraphy is like karate until you get the black belt, you have so many ranks to move through.”

Walk me through a typical day studying calligraphy with Master Sato. And how many times a week did you attend class?

I would attend elementary school until 3 p.m., then I go to calligraphy school on Wednesdays. Master Sato converted part of his home into a calligraphy school that could house 30 students. Class was held from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., depending on the student. Each week, you were given one assignment. The textbook, which is provided by the International Calligraphy Association based in Sapporo, gives you a set of words, like spring or cat, and you write them in Japanese calligraphy. Master Sato would also write other words for you.

All of the kids would gather around the teacher to watch how he moved the brush. Then you’d go back to your seat at the long, wooden table to practice. When you felt confident about your work, you’d take it to the teacher for review. Based on Master Sato’s feedback, you’d go back to your seat and practice further. You would stay until you completed it correctly.

At the month’s end, you would choose your best work with Master Sato and submit it to the International Calligraphy Association. There are 30 or more master calligraphers, like jurors, and they review your work and decide if the student passes or not. In the calligraphy world, there’s a ranking system, and you go through a total of 14 levels throughout the year to see how far you can rise. If you achieve the highest rank six years in a row, you will be become a master student or student master. I received this title when I was 14. Calligraphy is like karate. Until you get the black belt, you have so many ranks to move through.

Thinking back to your six-year-old self, what did you enjoy most about studying calligraphy?

Studying calligraphy is really physical, and I was a perfectionist. I would look at my master’s work and try to write it exactly the same, following his brushstroke. My work wouldn’t come out the same, so I’d get frustrated. However, I’m really persistent, so I would strain my back over a sheet of paper, practicing for hours until I could write something nearly identical to my master. I found this process very meditative. To this day, I love the smell of the sumi ink.

Was there ever a moment when you wanted to quit pursuing calligraphy?

Never. I envision myself being really old, listening to the birds chirping, feeling the sun and wind on my face, and I’m quietly writing calligraphy. I know masters who are age 90, while others start in their 60s or 70s. It’s never too late to start, and you can always quit anytime.

What sacrifices have you made for the craft?

School and life could get busy, but my mother always tried to make time for me and my sister to practice calligraphy together. Although we moved frequently, I continued studying with the same teacher for 14 years. When we moved three hours away from Master Sato, we continued our studies remotely. This was definitely a special case. My mother would teach me how to write a word, and then I’d practice the word and send my work in an envelope to my master. He would correct my work, and send it back to me. Sometimes, my mom would drive me three hours for a private session, and then we’d drive home. Every month, I continued turning in my work to  the International Calligraphy Association for review.

Of calligraphy, it’s been said that, “the brushstrokes cannot be corrected, and even a lack of confidence shows up in the work.” Can you talk about the art of trying to achieve perfection in calligraphy?

The calligraphy you work on is the mirror of the self, and your mental state or emotion appears in your work. First, you have to know the movement and remember what comes next. Where is the start? What comes next? And where does the character end? You have to practice until you don’t even think about it. But if you are thinking about other things, like, “Oh, I have to go to the grocery store” while you are writing calligraphy, that unstable mind state shows in your work. It’s hard work to make yourself fully present.

My process is to take a deep breath, meditate, and really focus on the present moment. I’ll just sit there and the only thing I’m doing is thinking about the meaning of the character, and envisioning what kind of strokes I need to write. If I’m writing the character for “ocean,” then I have to become the ocean. Then I see a gray shadowy line appear on the paper, and I trace this in the moment. My mind and body become a conductor of that vision.

How did it feel when you represented Japan at the Fourth Hokkaido Elementary and Junior High Students calligraphy exchange sessions at the Palace of Pupils in China?

I was 14 years old when I went to China as one of 30 master student calligraphers with the chairman of the International Calligraphy Association leading the troupe. It was a weeklong trip where we participated in a calligraphy session with local Chinese students. The session opened my eyes because I didn’t speak Mandarin, and I was paired with a Chinese student to exchange calligraphy work. I realized that beyond our language barrier, art could connect people, because just watching the way he wrote taught me a lot about his culture, his upbringing, how he perceived art, and how he perceived calligraphy.

After the trip, we kept in touch and tried to communicate, but didn’t have the language skills. This was a pivotal experience, and made me think, Wow! This is beautiful and what I want to do when I grow up–be a bridge between cultures, through the arts and through Japanese calligraphy, to transcend language and cultural barriers.

“The calligraphy you work on is the mirror of the self, and your mental state or emotion appears in your work.”

What brought you to California in 2004?

After I graduated from high school, I applied to universities in the United States with my parents’ blessings. I wanted to step outside of Japan to see my country from an outsider’s view, and experience a multicultural environment. I actually attended four different schools in California as I explored majors. I eventually graduated from San Francisco State University in 2009 with a Humanities degree with an emphasis on cross-cultural studies.

Beyond adjusting to university, what was your experience like getting used to life in the United States?

I definitely experienced culture shock. Japanese culture is very reserved and mindful toward others. We are community-oriented and try to harmonize with others. In contrast, America is really individualistic, so if you want something, you have to speak up. In Japan, I was a naive girl who didn’t know how to say no to things. And saying something really straightforward could be perceived as rude in Japan. However, in America you have to be straightforward; otherwise, people won’t understand you or they’ll think they can take advantage of you. I had to learn how to be vocal about my own thoughts and ideas.

Even though my English was strong before I came to America, deciphering California slang and body language was tricky, so it took a few years before I understood it. Thankfully, I love meeting people and pushed myself to make friends.

Throughout university, did you continue practicing calligraphy?

Yes! I always practiced calligraphy on my own and started doing Japanese calligraphy performance. I even organized a Japanese art collective in San Francisco, and we’d have 20 to 30 Japanese artists, designers, calligraphers, and filmmakers hold themed art shows at a gallery four times a year, in the spring, summer, fall, and winter.

Why are the seasons an important theme in calligraphy?

Japanese traditional art has always been inspired by the four seasons. Haikus often describe the beauty of seasonal changes. In springtime, the cherry blossoms are everywhere. In summertime, there will be lush greens, bright greens, and forest greens around. In fall, everything will be covered in yellow, orange, and red colors. And in winter, especially in Hokkaido, everything will be covered in white. As seasonal food changes, so does our lifestyle. There are many visual inspirations in nature that can be expressed in the arts. This is something that I strongly miss living in California, and I seek to share the core of Japanese spirituality and aesthetics with people here.

In recent years, you’ve merged your calligraphy with contemporary dancers, models, Japanese taiko drummers, and contemporary music producers. What has this process been like artistically?

Doing these shows with other people is a collaboration of different spirits and energies versus me sitting alone in my studio. When I’m alone, it’s all about listening to my internal voice. On the other hand, when I do shows with musicians and models, I’m taking different expressions and energies from my surroundings, and I connect that energy and use it as inspiration in my own work. For example, when I started putting calligraphy performance to music, it came naturally to me because when I write a character, I hear a rhythm with each stroke.

Starting from a harsh stroke to stroke one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, it is very musical to me. This breaks the very traditional, two-dimensional discipline of Japanese calligraphy, which is to write using the ink, and then write on paper. However, I wanted to go beyond that by collaborating with musicians, live music, taiko drums, or writing with models.

How would your performance calligraphy be viewed in Japan?

Any practitioner from a traditional art sphere wouldn’t call it blasphemy, but it’s kind of like you’re doing something that you’re not supposed to do in a traditional sense. For example, using colors or acrylic ink instead of using sumi ink when writing calligraphy could be seen as taboo. Or writing on a wooden panel instead of writing on paper. I questioned myself many times, and essentially came to the conclusion that I am who I am, and I’m here to express who I am and what I want to see. Also, living abroad gave me freedom to explore without thinking about how those traditional masters would view these collaborations.

Do you feel like audiences in the U.S. and around the world appreciate calligraphy?

I let audiences interpret calligraphy in their own way. Creating artwork is typically done behind the curtain, alone in the studio. You don’t get to see an artist’s process, and then when you go to museums and exhibitions, you see the finished work on the wall. Therefore, one of my intentions of doing performance calligraphy is to show the beauty and the art of the process itself. Japanese calligraphy is so connected to spirituality as well as how you prepare the ink, and even the moment you dip the brush into the ink. And the meditative moment that takes place before those five expressive seconds writing one character is the art itself, too, because everything contributes to the final work.

When you graduated from college in 2009, did you immediately start running your studio?

No. After graduation, I worked for an art gallery in San Francisco for a year while awaiting approval of my 0-1 visa [Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement visa]. It’s common for actors, photographers, musicians, professional athletes, and graphic designers to receive this, but less common for independent calligraphers. Americans are unfamiliar evaluating the value of calligraphy on society. However, I received many recommendation letters from Master Sato, teachers, and the chairman of the International Calligraphy Association.

With this amazing support, I was granted my 0-1 Artist’s visa, and launched my studio in 2010. The chairman of the International Calligraphy Association told me, “I’ve written recommendation letters for one of my students before who wanted to move to Europe to be an independent calligrapher, and they came back after a year. I see this glow around you, and you might be different.” His words of encouragement further fueled my fire.

“Americans are unfamiliar evaluating the value of calligraphy on society.”

How do you make your calligraphy business work?

It really varies from month to month. I’m a calligraphy artist who does calligraphy in various formats to make a living from teaching, doing logo work for clients and businesses, and commissioned work for personal collections. I also develop my own performances and am commissioned for performances at corporate events and conferences.

How does it feel to share your culture through calligraphy and pass along the tradition? Will you ever take on a calligraphy apprentice?

I feel like this is my life’s mission. I have no doubt about that now because I’m so committed to it. I want to be known as a person who’s going to keep Japanese calligraphy alive. I feel very responsible for what I do and what I share and teach to people. But at the same time, I also remain true to myself. This resonates with people like a ripple effect. A few people have approached me to become my apprentice, but it’s hard to dedicate the time right now because I’m busy touring the world. However, the chairman of the International Calligraphy Association told me, “Everything has an expiration date, and you cannot do performance calligraphy forever because one day you’ll become old, and your body won’t let you do it.” When that time comes, I will pass the torch to someone else.

from 99U99U