July 20, 2009

Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire): Austin Kleon, Writer who Draws

The Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire) is a Design Feast initiative. In contrast to the Designer’s Quest(ionnaire), the focus here is on those engaged in the blog medium—why they do it and what tools they use. This fifth installment features Austin Kleon, Writer, Cartoonist and Web Designer. A collection of his “Newspaper Blackout Poems” is forthcoming from HarperCollins in February 2010 was published in 2010. He’s drawn cartoons for clients such as Austin City Limits and South by Southwest (SXSW). He works a day job designing Websites, and lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife Meghan and their dog Milo. His sustained experience with blogging may help your entrance into the blogosphere or further inform your current work in it:

Why did you create a Website of regular entries?
When you’re a writer in college, you have the ultimate luxury: a captive audience. Your teachers get paid to read your writing and your classmates pay to read your writing. And then, suddenly, you get out of college, and nobody gives a crap anymore. So you start a blog!

What Web-based solution did you select and why?
I use WordPress for my blog, because it’s free and endlessly hackable. I use Tumblr for an online scrapbook, because it’s effortless to use, and hackable enough that you can make it look like the rest of your site.

What is your definition of a good blog 
and what are three good blogs that you frequently visit?
Author David Foster Wallace said that his nonfiction pieces were “occasions to watch somebody reasonably bright, but also reasonably average, pay far closer attention and think at far more length about all sorts of different stuff than most of us have a chance to in our daily lifes.”

The same could be said for good blogging: Someone reasonably bright, spending a lot of time thinking and posting a lot about their obsessions.

I had a teacher once who passed out our mid-term papers to the class, walked up to the blackboard, and wrote in big chalk letters on the board, SO WHAT?

Then she said, “Ask yourself that next time you write something.” Good blogging passes the So What? test!

Three amazing bloggers:
  1. Roger Ebert—The man writes as though he doesn’t have a lot of time left, which means he writes about the important stuff that he can't cover in a movie column. His post on Death (who else blogs about death?) was one of the best pieces of writing I’ve seen, period.
  2. Steve Brodner—A cartoonist of the highest caliber: you can see his thought process alive in his drawing.
  3. Hugh Macleod—A no-B.S. cartoonist. His blog is a perfect mix of words and images. He has helped me figure out how to go about life as an artist more than any other blogger (Hint: Keep your day job).
How do you create content for your blog?
Almost all the content on my blog comes from a non-digital source:
  • I’ll make one of my newspaper blackout poems and scan it into the computer
  • I’ll draw in a sketchbook or on an index card and scan it into the computer
  • I’ll be reading a book or a magazine, and I’ll illustrate it with a mind map, or it will spark an idea about something I want to write about
This might be blasphemous for a blogger to say, but I don’t like spending more time in front of a computer screen than I have to. The good stuff comes from your hands and your head. (The cartoonist Lynda Barry says, “In the digital age, don’t forget to use your digits!” A blog is just a delivery system—a way to get eyeballs looking at your stuff (and minds thinking about it).

How do you stay organized and motivated 
to contribute to your blog?
I recently hacked my WordPress template to show a Visual Archive of my posts throughout the year. After a number of posts, your output can get kind of abstract, so I like being able to look at my output visually as a little kick-in-the-pants to make something new.

For those aspiring to make a Website composed 
of regular thoughts and/or images, what is your advice?
I drew a cartoon once called “How To Blog”:
  • Step one: wonder at something
  • Step two: invite others to wonder with you
You should wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about. If everybody’s blogging about apples, go blog about oranges.

Aspire to be the blogger who is linked-to, rather than the linker.

And for crying out loud, don’t do it just to make a buck. Do it because you love something and you want to share it with the world.

What is your quest in blogging?
To win friends and influence people. ;-)

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Photograph courtesy of Austin Kleon.

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Read more of the Design Feast series Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire).

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