Friday, March 28, 2014

Words of Wisdom: To Artists From Artists

By Jean-Michel Basquiat

"I know that a 16 x 20 painting takes 10 - 15 hours to paint and 1-1/2 months to deliver.  So, if I have a show coming up, I make sure that my time is focused for meeting the deadline for that show.  New marketing always takes a back-seat to the commitment of showing paintings.  This also means that, if I've got 3 shows going up, I don't schedule more shows than I can produce paintings for. I have a list of all of the tasks that I normally need to do. I will split those tasks over a reasonable amount of time. " - Doug Hoppes

"For those of us trying to make it as professional artists, sales are important.  And sometimes we hit upon a winning formula that generates consistent sales.  Now what do we do?  Do we take the "safe" road and stick with the formula?  Or do we keep pressing on and trying new things?  Realistically (and ideally), our best course is to do both.  Realistically, we need the sales: sales mean supplies for future paintings, a psychological lift, and maybe even bread for the table.  But if we don't leave time for experimentation our work will stagnate and devolve into predictability and mediocrity." - Fredric McCormick

"To excel we must learn our craft, know where we are going and communicate with others. There is no substitute for knowledge. Without written goals, we won’t know we are there when we do arrive. Make short term, mid-range and retirement goals. Make changes along to way to fit your life. Finally, it’s up to you to let others know what you make. Aviate, Navigate and Communicate!" – Jack White

"I know that there are been several times in my life that I was ready to give it all up.  Be like everybody else.  However, it's like an addiction. There's always that moment where you are just doodling on a piece of paper and then you start working... and working... and working. Next thing you know, you start getting out the books and reference images.  Then, you start pulling out the paints.... then you're fully back into your "addiction". – Doug Hoppes

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Figuring it Out With Three Questions

There is a lot going on with me right now, but I shan't neglect you. I came across this little gem this morning from Craig Ballantyne. In his essay titled, "Three Questions from a Small Town Billionaire," he seems to be basically sucking out the juice of a book called The Winning Investment Habits of Warren Buffet and George Soros - giving you all the best stuff without all the extra. Not sure. I guess we'll just have to read it for ourselves to see.


Three Questions from a Small Town Billionaire
By Craig Ballantyne

It sounds like the set-up from the latest Hillbilly reality television show.

The star of the show likes to drink Coca-Cola, play bridge, eat See's candies, is buddies with a talking British lizard, and has lived in the same modest house in the same Midwestern city for over forty years.

Dull Dynasty or The Real Boring Billionaires of Omaha is what it might be called, if you were to have a reality show about Warren Buffet.

That's the way it seems on the surface. Deep down, of course, it's much different. There's a lot going on in his razor sharp mind, even as he and his equally intelligent business partner, Charlie Munger, advance into their 80's.

Shares of his company are worth almost $200,000 a piece. And while he didn't beat the market last year - but who did? - Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway continue to roll on like an 18-wheeler across the Midwestern plains on a clear spring day.

This May, thousands of Buffet-fanatics (Warren, not Jimmy) will trek to his annual meeting to ask the Oracle of Omaha a stupid question. What? Most of them probably ARE stupid questions, at least to him.

Fortunately, Warren once asked me three smart questions that led to one of my greatest investments. These questions made me a lot of money and have saved me a lot of trouble. So let's share them with you...

Years ago I read a book that took all the stress out of investing.

The book was called, "The Winning Investment Habits of Warren Buffet and George Soros", by Mark Tier (a friend of my friend, Tim Staermose).

This book struck a nerve with me, and I wrote down their 23 investment priorities and 12 criteria of a good investment, and for several months I reviewed one each morning during my "Daily Documents" readings.

But what really mattered most was the simple "Circle of Competence" that Buffet and Soros use to guide what they invest in.

All you have to do is ask yourself 3 questions.

1. What are you interested in?
2. What do you know now?
3. What would you like to know about and are willing to learn?

First, I answered those questions about stocks.

Am I interested in them? - Kind of.
Do I know anything about them now? - Not a bit.
Am I willing to learn about them? - Well, in theory, yes. But as my bookshelf will tell you, in practice, no. In the past 10 years I've ordered more than ten books on investing, and I've yet to even crack one open.

Listen, if I were to do my own investing, I'd be the guy that bought at the top and sold at the bottom.

I'd get fleeced.

But, when I answer those questions about other business opportunities, I was quickly reminded of where I should invest my money (and time and energy).

1. What are you interested in? - Information publishing.
2. What do you know now? - Quite a bit.
3. What would you like to know about and are willing to learn? - I live for this stuff.

My passion for information publishing (online and offline) lined up with Buffet's obsession with stocks.

In fact, one of Buffet's 23 investment priorities is, "Live and breath investing 24 hours a day".

A few other ones on the list I liked are:
- Love what you do, not what you own
- It's not about the money
- Create unique investment philosophy
- Focus on after-tax ROI
- Invest in what you UNDERSTAND (emphasis mine)
- Refuse investments outside your criteria
- Passionately avoid risk

To Buffet, investing is NOT a risk, because he is an expert in it. He lives it, and lives for it.

The best analogy in my life is information publishing.

And so that is what I've decided to invest in – information publishing.

In the past year I've put a lot of money into companies that I know are going to be winners, because that is what I know. I turned one of them from a $150,000 investment into a $250,000 return in less than 12 months. There's simply no way I would ever have been able to do that in the stock market.

Information publishing has turned me into the eccentric multi-millionaire that I've dreamed of becoming ever since I was a little boy. I knew that I could do it too, once I found my Circle of Competence, and learned, as Buffet teaches, to build a moat around my business.

"If you have a castle in capitalism, people are going to try to capture it. You need 2 things – a moat around the castle, and you need a knight in the castle who is trying to widen the moat around the castle," Buffet said.

"How did Coca-Cola build their moat? They deepened the thought in people's minds that Coca-Cola is where happiness is. The moat is what's in your mind. Railroad moats are barriers to entry. Geico's moat is low prices. See's Candies creates a moat in the minds of consumers. It is a more effective gift on Valentine's Day than Russell Stover. See's Candies has raised its price every year on December 26 for 41 years. BRK bought See's Candies for $25 million in 1972. Today it earns $80 million. Snickers has been the number one candy bar for 40 years.

"Every day we try to widen the moat."

What is the moat that you can build around your business?

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Letter for the Arctic

I received a letter over the weekend from Gustavo Ampugnani, a Greenpeace Arctic campaigner, who is trying to stop future drilling in the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean. I edited out the links in the letter but I thought this was an important one.

I also read in an article in the Alaskan Dispatch today that stated in part:

"The coming of Big Oil to southwest Alaska puts big and expensive burdens on municipal services, and representatives of local governments want federal policy changed to give the communities money to pay for impacts to their roads, schools, hospitals, and airports."

"The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference wants 37.5 percent of the royalties from future offshore oil lease sales to go to coastal communities, the same percentage that benefits Gulf of Mexico towns. In 2008, offshore lease sales in the Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas would have provided $900 million in royalties, the Feb. 22 resolution said. While it’s too late to benefit from the 2008 sales, future leases of rich underwater petroleum reserves are set for 2016 and 2017. Alaska’s Arctic Ocean holds an estimated 25 to 27 billion barrels of crude oil, the resolution said, citing a study by the U.S. Geological Survey."

Here’s the letter I received:

25 years ago today, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil, impacting miles of Alaska’s coastline, and killing millions of animals.

And we still haven't learned our lesson: today, heavy crude that was spilled in a barge collision is close to shore and a bird sanctuary near Galveston, TX.

Now history may repeat itself yet again. Shell Oil wants to drill in the fragile and remote Arctic Ocean, and the Obama administration may let this happen.

The impact of the Exxon Valdez spill was truly horrific. Alaska Native Chief Walter Meganack was later quoted as calling it "the day the water died." Today, 22 of the 24 impacted species have still not fully recovered, including animals like orca whales, sea lions, and dungeness crab.

And now Shell Oil has permits to drill in the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean, off the coast of Alaska. This amazing area is home to Alaska Native people who rely on the health of the sea to maintain their traditional way of life, as well as polar bears, walruses, and hundreds of species of migratory birds.

Our movement of millions of people has already stopped Shell from drilling for three years in a row, and we can do it again. But we know Shell will fight hard to be able to drill in America’s Arctic, and so we need you to speak up once more.

Even the U.S. government says that there is a high chance of an oil spill if Shell’s plans go forward. This would be disastrous. The Chukchi Sea is 1,000 miles from the nearest U.S. Coast Guard station, and the high winds, subzero temperatures, and tumultuous weather of the Arctic would make cleanup extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The people and wildlife of Alaska will feel the impacts of Exxon Valdez for years to come — but it’s not too late to spare America’s Arctic from this fate.

For the Arctic,

Gustavo Ampugnani
Greenpeace Arctic Campaigner

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Push to Collapse: Dan Gable

The following essay was written by Craig Ballantyne and I’m only posting it on The Wrighter in part. I cut and pasted it so that it had the juiciest and most relevant pieces for you.

Before you read this I must first disclose that I AM NOT a sports fan, however, this piece talks of one athlete and his journey to greatness and is a fantastic road map on how to get there.

The title of the essay is "Push to Collapse" and briefly recounts the life of Olympic wrestler Dan Gable.


Push to Collapse
By Craig Ballantyne

Gable grew up in Waterloo, Iowa with an obsession for wrestling. He started making a name for himself in high school, and was living a relatively normal life of a small-town American boy. That was until tragedy tore apart his family during a weekend vacation.

While Gable and his parents were out of town, his older sister was brutally raped and murdered. Dan Gable was devastated by these events and blamed himself for what had happened. The tragedy seems to have haunted Gable for his entire life, and at that young age he turned his rage inward and became obsessed with training and for redeeming his sister's life through his performance on the wrestling mat.

His training habits became legendary. He was the first one into practice and the last one out. Workouts were performed with the mantra of "Push to Collapse," Each and every session was dedicated to working so hard that he would have to be physically carried off the wrestling mat by the end. One by one he exhausted all of his training partners on his high school and eventually college teams.

While he was never able to truly break himself, his training led to a high school championship and an undefeated record in college that spanned several years. That was until the unthinkable happened.

Wrestling in his final match at the NCAA level, just before Gable was expected to go on and win the Gold medal at the 1972 Olympics, Dan Gable's unbeaten record came to an end in a shocking upset in the finals. The world was stunned. In tears, Gable left the mat in utter disappointment, feeling that he had let down the memory of his sister. But he soon returned to training his Push to Collapse approach.

Eventually he would have his redemption. Gable went on to win the Gold medal at the '72 Olympics by dominating his competition, no doubt in large part due to his training philosophy and dedication to working harder than anyone else in the world.

He told of one practice where he would drag his teammates out of the locker room one by one at the end of a session with the hopes that they would push him to the brink of exhaustion. But still, it never happened. He was never able to push to collapse, but this attitude of pushing through the dark days surrounding both his sister's death and his devastating loss in the final match of his college career was what allowed him to become the best in the world at what he did. It allowed him to become a legend.

* * *

As [Gable] wrapped up his speech, he recounted a story with tears in his eyes and voice cracking. Recently, while away giving one of his many speeches, his daughter participated in an 800-meter race against the state champion. Gable's wife delivered the play-by-play commentary via cell phone.

It turned out to be a remarkable day for his daughter. She started strong, not only keeping pace with the highly-favored state champion, but eventually taking the lead down the home stretch. Two hundred meters to go, then one hundred. Her daughter was still in the lead. She was on the verge of a massive upset victory.

Suddenly, the line went silent. At first he thought he had lost the connection. Then moments later, in shock, his wife began to speak again.

Gable's daughter had literally pushed to collapse. Within meters of the finish line she had given everything that she could and her legs had simply given out. She fell down within site of the finish, physically unable to go any further.

As Gable explained with great pride in his heart and tears in his eyes, "My daughter did what I could never do. She pushed to collapse."

No matter how dark the day, no matter how deep the dip in your life, when all else fails all you can do is keep on pushing. It's what you must do no matter what life throws at you.

Never lose your drive and determination. Never give up on something that is important to you. Keep on pushing through anything and everything. No matter what.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Engine Behind: Odd Donkey

      I'm VERY excited to  feature the brains and talent - the tag team couple behind the blog "The Odd Donkey."  We've never featured another blog here before and never two people at the same time.

     The Odd Donkey was created by Benedeta and Marzio Mariani out of Bologna, Italy.  Marzio is TOD's artist and Benedeta functions as author/blogger and curator on TOD's Etsy shop. The two have graciously taken the time out to respond to my probing questions about personal and professional aspects of their lives.

     What is the story behind the name "Odd Donkey?"

 Odd Donkey was born a little by chance and a bit from the way we approach life. We wanted the name to sound funny and sincere but also a bit crooked and irreverent. One evening an old book just jumped to my mind, Platero and I, by Juan Ramón Jiménez. My father used to read it to me when I was a child. It tells the story of a donkey and his master .... Donkey! Here is an animal that could represent us, I thought. Donkeys, for centuries the emblem of ignorance could be in fact the most Socratic animal of all since they know only that they know nothing. Odd Donkey symbolizes the very essence of the doubt: the humility of the quest, not the vanity of the artistic outcome. The process, not the result.

Marzio, when did you start getting into caricatures?  What drew you to this form of art?

In second grade my teacher gave me a punishment (actually smiling under his mustache) because, in his absence, I had drawn two caricatures of my teachers on the blackboard. One was made only with circles and the other was made with squares.

In high school I practiced a lot on portraits and faces. I was always trying to infuse my mood into my works.

At the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera, the word “ART” was investigated, misinterpreted and often misused. I spent more time philosophizing than practicing painting. I remember hours of discussion on where is the line between an illustration and a work of art. There, I have mastered sculpture and video making. My main concern was my works being true to me and to my way of looking at things, the outcome had to be the fruit of my research, not a mere virtuosity. I was seeking the likeness even when I wasn’t making portraits or caricatures!

Only a few months ago I started focusing again on caricature, I realized that is the thing that gives me more satisfaction. If only I had listened before to my inner second-grader voice! I’m at the beginning stage and there is still a lot of room for research and study. Thanks to social media I discovered many excellent artists approaching caricature with professionalism and rare profundity. I feel great satisfaction studying the different features of a face, balancing the distortion with the resemblance. This also applies to the art of portrait, but when dealing with caricatures the acrobatics becomes extremely fun.

Benedetta, after you graduated from Boston University, what made you decide to move back to Milano?

Family matters and homesickness. Don’t get me wrong, my years at Boston University were the best of my life, I had a blast I learned so much but I felt I couldn’t live forever there and that I belonged to the old continent. Anyway, I was even offered a job at Ogilvy in Manhattan and turned it down. I often take decisions more with my guts than with my brain…for many years I wondered if I made the right choice, but now I know that it was meant to be and I am happy with my life. Milano was the perfect city for Advertising since it’s where all the big Ad Agencies are based.

How did the two of you meet?

We both worked for Leo Burnett in Milano. I was a freelance Visualizer and Benedetta was an Account Executive. We both felt unforbearing with many fashionable and yuppie things around us. Things that looked so skew to us were perfectly normal to the young advertising executives we were hanging out with. Benedetta and I were always in tune and laughed and fought over the same things eventually realizing that we didn’t belong there, that we were in love and that we wanted to flee away from that shallow world.

What is your favorite activity to do with your spouse and two children?

We love nature so we go for long walks in the hills, we spend time at the beach, and we enjoy traveling together. Our kids adore listening to stories and we love reading books to them. And of course modeling, drawing, painting, crafting…

You guys live in Bologna now.  What do you love about Bologna?

I was born in Milano, a very big dynamic city but rather stressing because of its size. Benedetta is from Bologna. The city is small enough to get around easily on foot, or by bicycle. Miles of porticos (covered walkways) characterize Bologna city center. People can take a nice walk around even when it rains. Bologna is famed for the oldest university in the Western world and the presence of students gives the place a lively atmosphere. Bolognese cuisine is famous all over the world (tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagna, mortadella ....). The hills are a step away and the sea is an hour's drive. Does it get any better than this?

Marzio, you work with ad agencies throughout Italy, but do you ever exhibit at galleries or museums?  If so where?

No, I have never done any art show. I have no contact with galleries. Now that I have less advertising work I have more time to follow this path that attracts me very much.

Marzio, how do you decide which celebrity caricature to do next?  Is it based on current events?

I follow some groups on Facebook such as Caricaturama Showdown 3000!  and Traditional Caricature Contest. In these groups the winner gets to suggest a celebrity every week. It's a very fun way to learn because the contest attracts many artists and some of them are excellent masters.  I even started an interview series on our blog hosting one of them once in a while.  Sometimes I make caricatures of celebrities who gave me something and inspired me with their art, sometimes I am inspired by current events. Right now I'm working on a big project, a more structured series of caricatures to submit to galleries…

Benedetta, describe a typical day for you.

I usually wake up around 7:30 and take the children to school by bicycle. The three of us go together on the same bike! Then I keep the morning to myself usually I do household chores, paperwork, phone calls in order to plan our activity. I spend the afternoon working on Odd Donkey Blog and managing our social media profiles. At 4:30 I go to pick up the kids from school and I spend the rest of the day with them. After dinner I take time to talk to Marzio brainstorming on things, projects and ideas.

Marzio, describe a typical day for you.

After having breakfast with some good hay, I go grocery shopping at the local market and two or three times a week I go to the gym (I work as a weight for a huge bodybuilder). I spend most of my day behind a blackboard and I stay there with my long ears and a strange striped hat sticking out. In my little studio I draw, paint and work on the computer. The rest of the time is for my pack. 

Friday, March 07, 2014

A Nuler Poem for March 7th 2014


The Gray Day When A Middle Aged Woman Walked By My Car With Her Frumpy Friend In A Shopping Plaza Parking Lot Wearing Tennis Shoes, Velour Pants, And A Bright Fuchsia Jacket And I Couldn’t Tell If Her Stroll Was Meant To Be Sexy Or If There Was Something Wrong With Her Hip


*This poem first appeared in the book titled A Crime And A Simplification of Something Sublime by Kobina Wright and L.B. Lacey in 2008.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

More Words of Wisdom to Artists FROM Artists

Work by Dubelyoo

“Beautiful thoughts, imaginings, inspiration, and creativity released from your heart become beautiful passages of your art.   They are the beginnings of blossomings of the soul, so why not give these flowers to those who appreciate our art?  This is a way of doing something for others and bringing a bit of happiness and tranquility to their world.  Hearts and souls touching.”  –Sandy Askey-Adams

“We like to think that because we have language and can explain processes, as well as demonstrate them, that we have advantage over other animals. Perhaps we do, but we also have internal processes that can complicate a task with excuses and rationalizations that act as barriers to successful completion. These may be different for each person, and how we learn to move beyond these barriers, or if we learn to move beyond them, may depend on more than being shown the proper way to do something. We may have to remove the barrier before we can even see how the process is done.” –Donald Fox

The secret to creating a challenge is to make one that addresses the problem but is not too challenging.  There is a sweet spot between pushing yourself and setting yourself up for failure.  Making small value sketches is a useful and helpful tool in understanding simplicity in composition.  Insisting that the value sketch must be made directly on a 40x60 canvas without any forethought using phthalo colors is setting yourself up for failure.” –Vianna Szabo

“I don't want to jump through digital hoops in order to view your art. You, the artist, need to focus on pleasing art viewers instead of trying to impress tech trendy website designers. I can't stress this enough... Keep. It. Simple.” –Brian Sherwin