Using Inspiration

Pro Tip

This is a list of people I’ve been inspired by, and photos of what I’ve created with that inspiration. Skip down to the pictures if you’re not the read-a-blog-post type.

Prologue

This year one of my biggest goals is to create more.

I’d love to be able to say my goal is to create more than I consume, but let’s not get carried away here; let’s keep it attainable.

All the pros say if you are serious about attaining them, you have to keep your goals measurable and to write them down so you can keep yourself accountable. You can also tell lots of people about them (in person or digitally) so if so that you are more motivated to achieve your goals, or at least avoid failing as epically.

Logistically, I just need to share more blog posts than I did last year, (which was 3) so let’s get into it.

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Creativity

I want to spend more time doing what makes me happy, and less time doing what drains me, which means I need to make more stuff, not because I’m getting paid to do it, not because I need to share it with the world, but because I enjoy it.

One of the funny and frustrating things about identifying creativity, it that it’s much easier spotting in others than finding it within oneself, I’ve found.

every-new-project

The most recent chapter in my relationship with creativity has been one of building confidence, forging on past that overwhelming feeling at the beginning of every new project and rediscovering the joy of simply making things.

Following are a few creators that I’ve been inspired by, and what I did with that inspiration.

If you don’t know my story very well, my friend David can give you a good idea of my journey with an interview he did with me me last January. (Not a lot has changed since then, I’m still making stuff, or making excuses).

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Sean Woolsey Atelier

Woolsey is a self-taught product designer in Costa Mesa, California, who is constantly reimagining furniture, side tables, even ping-pong tables. I’d describe his style as mid-century modern meets chic-surfer-cabin style. but don’t take my word for it, check out more on his website.

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instagram.com/thewoolsey/

Inspired by Woolsey’s aesthetic, I customized a magnetic knife rack for my own kitchen. You can follow along with step-by-step instructions and see more pictures published on IKEAhackers.net if you’re a nerd like me and get excited about DIY how-to’s.

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Austin Kleon

Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist was given to me by a gracious peer in college. It is full of simple tidbits that provide encouragement, calm, and confidence for anyone who considers what they do “creative.” I’ve since passed along the book, as everyone should do with good books, and I follow Kleon on Instagram, a great way to get that daily dose of inspiration.

One of my favorite practices he calls “Newspaper Blackouts,” a simple and effective way to re-appropriate something so ordinary into a piece of poetry. I highly recommend everyone try this out, regardless of your confidence in the realm of “being creative”, it’s so easy, and so satisfying:

kleon-insta

instagram.com/austinkleon/

Here’s my go at making poetry with a sharpie. (Note: best practiced in a well-ventilated environment):

furiously-digging-your-salvation-copy

more-snow-fell-copy

a-restless-writhing-of-purpose-copy

Caption:

“a restless writhing of purpose. It was his mission to draw things that work the spirit, Sweat dripping, covered in soot, you got to work that spirit, his father told him. There was no model for the type of man he wanted to become. He scrutinized men frivolous and worthless, no inspiration. If you weren’t a little dirty at the end of the day you weren’t a man.”

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Seamus Heaney

When I studied abroad in Ireland a few years back, I did a bit of reading from local writers, and was most captivated by the works of Seamus Heaney, one of the country’s most beloved and respected poets, and Nobel-prize winner, who passed away earlier that year. Here’s one of my favorites,”Digging”

Inspired by his style, I wrote the following poems about my own experiences in rain-soaked Cork, and the surrounding treks in the countryside. Images my own, taken during my 2013 Ireland trip.

ireland-bog-hiking
Hike
Boots scrunch on heavy grass
Squelch and suck in bog.
Cautious feet find grip on granite, brush, in fog.

river-lee
River Lee
The Snake gorged itself swollen
Slurping dreams and mud
Brown froth around its lips
Laps and chews its cud.
kerry-sensuous
Kingdom of Kerry
Her curves and hills could be
Sensuous. But
Around the bend, her jagged bones expose
Torn open, reveal flesh and craggy rocks
Both lovely and violent.

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Next steps

I’ve been working on doing more illustration and simple sketches, so I’ll be sharing those next (subtle accountability cue: see what I did there?).

What are you inspired by?

And what are you going to create with that inspiration?

You got this. Now go, make something.

 

Local Status Pending

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I’ve been wondering,

How long does it take to become a local?

You can’t change where you grew up, but how long must you inhabit a city before you say with confidence that you’re a local?

I conducted some highly scientific research by asking 3 friends, and heard a range of opinions; 5 years, 10 years, until you buy a house, and so on. I have decided that Local-Status is not something that happens to you by default, it is instead, something I believe you have to earn.

Following is an activity scorecard that I have assembled (drawing from a vast < 3 years of expertise) that will get you nearly to local status in San Francisco. The last few steps you will have to figure out for yourself.

 


Note:

You may read this list and assume that it is a biographical account of the author’s time in San Francisco, but please: that would not only be correct, it would be against the author’s intent, unscientific, and out him as a petty narcissist. Show some decorum please.


 

Stuff I’ve done in SF

Crap that’s happened the last few years

How to become a local (San Francisco edition)

  1. Become addicted to award-winning bay area podcast The 99% Invisible, listen to every single episode and rant about it to everyone, all the time. +10 points
  2. Try every ice cream shop in the city. +10 points
  3. Discover you are lactose intolerant. -10 points
  4. Listen to the Serial Podcast like everyone else, and get tired of listening to Sarah Koneig’s voice, like everyone else. +5 points
  5. Subscribe to SF’s “Editor of the Internet’s email newsletter” Nextdraft, justify it as your new aggregator and read their emails religiously so you have current/ interesting/ intelligent-sounding trivia to tell people. +5 points
  6. Confuse the Oakland city crest with the tree of Gondor. -5 points
  7. Entertain the idea of starting a black market avocado pipeline from Santa Cruz (four for a dollar!*) to San Francisco with the help of your friend and their company car. +5 points
  8. Meet a denim-head at your local coffee shop who happens to be working on his own startup, and makes you a pair of custom jeans from scratch. +15 points
  9. Listen to your friends discuss their coding strategies for building their own personal web applications for tracking your church’s year-long Bible reading plan. Understand nothing. +10 points
  10. Talk about going camping for 2 years. Purchase expensive, locally made camping gear. Never actually go. -5 points
  11. Internally judge everyone who doesn’t know how to stand on public transportation** but then stumble epicly in a train full of people. (Repeat 1x per week) -5 points
  12. Discover $1 donuts in the city. +5 points
  13. In your few conversations with your pastor, make fun of his footwear. Feel like a terrible person***. -10 points
  14. Become alarmed by the increasing rate of Peter Pans**** in the city. Fear you are becoming one. -5 points

 

*Tragically, not Hass.

**The key is to plant your feet sideways, like you’re snowboarding.

***He has Yeezy’s. It’s okay, I already know I’m a sinner.

****Term used to describe men who live in large cities and are averse to growing up and assuming the normal responsibilities of commitment within relationships, instead choosing to prolong the collegiate-like bromance period of life. (See also: ‘Basic’ and ‘YOLO’)

Phone Dies, Owner Thinks

Arch St down

My iPhone died last night and I had an existential crisis.

I’m serious.

My iPhone died right as I reached the bus stop outside the house I just moved into on the way to meet friends for dinner. So naturally, I took the wrong bus.

Clarification: I took the right bus, but in the wrong direction.

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This isn’t the first time I’ve made this mistake (believe it or not) but what happened next was curious. I got off the bus, fuming with myself, and started walking toward the next bus stop, figuring that was better then sitting and waiting in the cold.

As I walked, I fiddled with my phone and discovered a stroke of luck– it wasn’t dead after all! Only frozen, screen blank, on the last application I had opened: a podcast.

I hit play and was immediately engaged by Tim Ferriss’ voice, settling into a rhythm of walking, listening, and starting to enjoy the city around me, forgetting my frustration as I began accepting my fate.

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As I took a seat on the next bus a few minutes later, it struck me how quickly I was able to distract myself from my situation by the little piece of technology in my pocket.

See, my journey last night didn’t lead to anything spectacular or out of the ordinary, just a dinner with friends. A good dinner with good friends, but still, the journey was so much more enjoyable with the distraction of a bit of entertainment.

Nothing new so far, commutes are boring, right? Then I was struck by a frightening thought:

 

So it doesn’t really matter where we’re going, as long as we’re distracted or entertained along the way?

 

That shook me. I started thinking, what other areas of my life am I eager to distract myself from, so I don’t have to address what’s really going on? Am I quick to listen to little bits of trivia (podcasts) or turn to the mirror of my own predispositions (social media) instead of facing hardships at hand, or the possibility of disappointment?

Amazing what an evening without a phone can give you.

These past few months I’ve been trying hard to enjoy the moment, savoring each day as it comes, being attentive to those around me, and what is before me in the present. It’s so easy to get caught up in dreams of what the future could hold, and regrets or longings for what the past held. In the end, it’s only taking away from this moment.

 

This moment right now.

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m thankful for the recent reminder that life is not a destination, it is most certainly a journey. And it’s a journey we can savor as we wish: with eyes on screens, earbuds in ears, heads in the clouds, or feet firmly planted on the ground in front of us.

Here’s hoping you’ll join me on the ground.

 

Create > Communicate

I still remember the conversation I had 2 years ago, interviewing for my first job.

It was for my first big boy job, a junior accounts position at a big advertising agency in San Francisco that any recent graduate would be excited about.

I remember my interviewer asking about some of my student work and I explained why I wasn’t pursuing a creative position, saying that “I would rather my job be dependent on my communication abilities rather than my creative execution abilities.”

A year later I left that job.

You see, I thought I was a good communicator. It turns out that I’m not that kind of communicator. I found it takes a handful of skills to be a successful accounts person, and while I possessed a few of these skills, others were really not strengths of mine. Over time, I realized the work I was doing simply wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I’m sure all recent graduates learn a lot and go through growing pains in their first job. Honestly it took me a long time to get over the frustration and shame of not understanding why I wasn’t “getting it.” After leaving the job I knew wouldn’t make me happy, it took time to sort through all I had been challenged by and know to be true about myself, and figure out what it all meant.

The main thing I learned, is that I need to make things.

I thought I liked making, creating; thought I could hang it up for awhile and go be successful at being a communicator for a time, but even when I came home from work and closed my computer for the night, I was making little trinkets—you should have seen the presents my friends and family receivedwallets and keychains and cutting boards.

See, I missed the creative work. The brainstorming and open-endedness of it all, owning a tangible part of the work, and using my communication skills to defend the work and collaborate to make it better.

So I figured out I need to make things, now I’m working on what I want to make, and I’ve got a pretty good idea.

I think I’m realizing what they mean by “fail faster,” because if you’re failing, you’re learning. I think we ought to change the definition of the word “failure” to mean something we can embrace and learn from instead of something that can paralyze us with fear.

Each of us is a work in progress, friends. Maybe if we admit that to ourselves it will be a little easier to fail, and fail forward.

Thanks for listening, let’s talk again soon.

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See some of the things I’ve been making here

Important Lessons

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Things I’ve learned I’m learning, 2015 edition:

1. It doesn’t take much to make me cry

I don’t remember ever seeing my father cry, besides maybe at funerals. My mother is almost equally stoic. I used to think my family just weren’t ‘feelers,’ but now I know the truth: we feel all right, its just that sometimes it goes much deeper than skin-deep, and feelings take time to process at that level.

I’ve learned that tears are normal and healthy and not weird. And for me, the sappiest movies can bring them to the surface.

2. To truly love others, I must first love myself

A big part of growing up is learning how to be comfortable in your own skin. Internalizing that old mantra,

“Those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”

To do this, you first have to like yourself. I know, easier said than done. I’ve found that when my relationships with others are most strained, it is because I haven’t taken the time to take care of myself first. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs applies to emotional health too; only after I care for myself can I actually care for others. So in some ways, caring for myself can actually be the opposite of selfish. Huh.

3. I am capable of only what I first allow myself to imagine

I will only succeed in achieving what I give myself permission to believe is possible. No matter how biting or uplifting the praise and criticism of others can be, the most influential voice I listen to, is my own. I am my most important cheerleader and biggest enemy — only I can decide which voice I will listen to today. Giving myself space to believe is the first step in achieving my goals.

4. My only competition that matters, is me

Knowing what others are up to can be inspiring, but it can also lead to comparison and insecurity. I need to remember that I’m not keeping pace with anyone but myself.

5. Reality is grittier than they tell you

The important moments in life, so far as I’ve witnessed, are not picture-perfect, captured on Instagram or Disney-esque with dramatic swells of music (although those do happen every now and then), they are much less romantic. The really important moments are about learning how to deal with pain. Hurt feelings, hurt pride, loss of self-respect, emotional, psychological, physical scars – we all have baggage. Every one of us.

Life is about learning how to bind our own wounds, help others heal from theirs and find ways to move forward, into the sunlight.

6. We are all works in progress

Above all have grace for others, for we all make mistakes. Learning how to have patience with myself, how to forgive myself, has helped me extend the same to others.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Rev. John Watson

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Thanks 2015, I’m better because of you.

  1. It doesn’t take much to make me cry
  2. To truly love others, I must first love myself
  3. I am capable of only what I first allow myself to imagine
  4. My only competition that matters, is me
  5. Reality is grittier than they tell you
  6. We are all works in progress

 

Growing Up Feels

About two weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating in one of my best friend’s engagements. He surprised his girlfriend and a gaggle of friends and family hid nearby. He bent his knee. She said yes. We cheered. I snapped photos. Phrases like “…so excited for you,” and “…pick a date,” floated above the clamor of congratulations and embraces.

Stephen York pre-engagement profile

Here he is, pre-question. Dapper dude.

The weird thing about this time is that I was, honestly, excited for them. This was a new feeling for me; in the past when I’ve attended such events, I couldn’t help but think,

“Are they really ready?”

“Do they know what they’re getting themselves into?

“Gosh they’re young..”

And I would be gripped with fear for my friends, because I just couldn’t see things from their perspective. I guess my point of view has changed a little.

When I was younger, I used to think of marriage as this lofty, intimidating institution. Words like “lifelong commitment” and “sacrifice” rang with a foreboding tone, and I saw it as a too-far-off-to-comprehend achievement that solidifies one’s acceptance into adulthood.

(If you aren’t already a confirmed adult, getting married to another person is like an auto-upgrade: it guarantees you’ll never have to sit at the kid’s table again. Or so I thought.)

I’ve seen a few years roll by, watched more couples walking down the aisle, and my tune has changed. Now when I think words like “lifelong commitment,” I hear, “lifetime adventure buddy.” “Sacrificial love” doesn’t sound so scary when I realize it is the most powerful kind of love—The same love Christ has for us—that when properly administered to a relationship, is a fertilizer with the power to transform lives.

Okay. Wow.

I don’t know what caused this perspective shift. Maybe it is witnessing my grandparent’s steadfast devotion to each other over the years (however begrudging at times) like a great redwood with roots deeper then you can see on the surface. Or my parent’s genuine, heart-warming laughter when they share a corny joke. Or seeing my peers getting married, having kids and rearranging their lives, because it isn’t about them anymore.

That’s probably what marriage is really about. Realizing it isn’t about you anymore, because there is this breathing, feeling human being next to you who you’d do anything for.

With this changing mindset, seeing my friends who know they are ready to take that journey together, that makes me giddy, and I can’t help but be caught up in the magic of it all. Yes, maybe they are a little on the young side, and no, they probably don’t fully know what they’re getting themselves into. But who really does?

The magical and encouraging and inspiring part is, that they know themselves and each other well enough to know that they want to embark on that journey together. That means they’re ready. And that is truly something worth celebrating.

Hello San Francisco

SanFranFist                                (not to scale)

The great thing about SF is, it is a densely-packed peninsula, about 7 miles by 7 miles, and the public transit is excellent so getting around is easy. It’s shaped like a fist as you can see. My model is a little shrimpy but pretend that forearm is a little thicker and you have a pretty accurate map.

One Oregonian-turned-San Franciscan told me,

“It takes about a year for the moss to burn off.”

I see what he means. There are not really seasons here. Its a bit freaky actually.

I guess I can’t complain, I’m working at a great agency and when I get home I’m a 20 minute walk from the beach.

More on that later. If you’re reading this, come visit sometime, and we’ll eat the best burritos you’ve ever had. I promise.

 

 

 

DIY Wallet

I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with leatherworking recently, and I wanted to share a successful recipe, to save you the heartache of wasted material that I’ve gone through.

This will make a simple card wallet, with one side dedicated for ID/credit cards, and one side capable of holding folded US currency, and/or more cards.

Tools you’ll need:

  1. Sharp utility knife
  2. Center Punch
  3. Stitching Awl ( I use Speedy Stitcher) or thick sewing needles and a nail and hammer
  4. Ruler

Materials:

  1. Leather around 1/16 an inch thick
  2. Wax linen thread

Cut your leather into three pieces:

3 x 4 inches

2 1/2 x 4 inches

2 1/4 x 4 inches

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If you want to curve the edge of the cardholder layer like I did, now is the time to do this, before attaching the pieces together. You can also round off the edges of the wallet. I left the corners sharp.

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Using a pencil or the punch, mark your stitching holes, about every 5 millimeters, or 1/4 inch, about an 1/8 inch from the edge of the leather. If you have access to real leatherworking tools, an overstitch wheel makes this really easy.

 

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Once you have marked the holes, now you want use the punch to make the holes. Alternatively you can use a thick needle without thread on a sewing machine to carefully make the holes, or a nail and hammer if you have neither.

If you are using a punch or nail and hammer, be sure to place the leather on a solid piece of wood when you are punching out the holes, otherwise the leather will depress and it will be hard to keep the holes accurately spaced.

Once you have one leather piece completely punched, use it as a template for punching the other two layers, paying attention to which piece you want on which side. This punching process is always the most frustrating and time-consuming for me, but if you are careful it will pay off when you sew the layers together and they fit perfectly, so hang in there!

The final step is sewing all three layers together, and for this you will need an Awl (about $15). If you don’t want to spring for one, a few thick needles should do the trick, but you may have to adjust your stitching pattern. I would share the stitching pattern, but it will be easier for you to Google how to sew with two needles, or follow the directions that come with the Awl. If it’s your first time sewing leather, maybe practice on a few scraps of leather until you are confident.

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Depending on how thick your leather is, you could be sewing through over a ¼ inch of leather, so take your time!

And that’s it. I like to seal the thread by melting it with a lit match, you can also tie a knot. Either way, double back the last few stitches and the thread shouldn’t come unraveled in a hurry.

 Card side:

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Bill side:

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The triangle is a stamp that I ground out of a piece of aluminum, and there are plenty of other ways to personalize your wallet: sandblasting, carving, branding with heated iron, etc.

If you are looking for ideas there are loads of great leather companies you can get inspiration from, such as Portland’s Tanner Goods.

If you need help or found these instructions helpful, holla at me @eliouellette

Good Luck!

Home of the Brave

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I found this to be true:

The further you go from home, the longer you are away, the more proud you become of your roots.

No America is not perfect, but for all the work we have to do, we do get a few things right.

One of the hardest things to describe about my experience abroad has been my changing perspective of my home country. I’d like to think I have a more objective viewpoint of the US, but it is impossible to divorce bias, and I have learned that this is OK. As Human Beings, we naturally look for similarities, and point out differences between each other. (As long as we spend more time focusing on what brings us together, I think we’re on the right track.)

Early in my adventures I listed a few of the negative critiques of America: the superficiality, entitlement, obesity, and political shortcomings, but I heard plenty of positive observations as well.

Again and again, I heard my non-American friends and coworkers talk about the competitive nature of American, how hardworking we are. I guess if we have the reputation of the worst vacation/parent time  (see #6) then we better be hardworking!

I also heard how positive Americans are. In work or otherwise, the can-do attitude is encouraging and refreshing, and maybe more then anything else I heard, I embrace this aspect of my identity.

We also have some of the best food options. As much as my friends chided me for saying “… it needs a little more sugar,” after tasting anything they made, we really do have some of the best tasting food, at least compared to UK/Ireland standards.

I’m not going to try to write everything that I experienced, and you wouldn’t read it anyway! If you run into me or happen to have my phone number, let me know and I would be happy to share more.

Ultimately I discovered that for its strengths and flaws, this country is still my home, and I’m proud to be an American.

Cue Lana Del Rey

 

Keep up USA!

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4 things that the US needs to adopt:

User-friendly toasters:

The toaster in my apartment is awesome: besides the regular “toast” button, and dial to pick darkness, there is a button for reheating your toast, if you forgot about it and it got cold. Brilliant.

Expandable bus seating:

The coach bus I recently rode on a four-hour drive had this little lever you could push and -click- slide your aisle seat a few inches away from the window seat. Now with every seat in this position, walking up the aisle was no easy task, but it made the journey significantly more comfortable.

Water-friendly urinals:

Many bars and restaurants had trough urinals, basically what it sounds like (men’s only). Those that didn’t had toilets with two flush settings: for #1 and #2. I was surprised with how many establishments had these, as coming across ‘green’ toilets in the US is a depressingly rare occurrance.

Helpful driver signals:

Instead of flashing the brights to say “get out of my F***ing way,” as Americans do, Irish drivers use them to signal “there’s a speed trap ahead” so that everyone passing knows to slow down. Genius.