What’s The Best Thing That Happened To You Today?

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Friday, 8.40pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired – you quit when the gorilla is tired. – Robert Strauss

I won’t lie to you – it’s been a hard and tiring week. Like millions of others we’ve been trying to balance work and home schooling, helped by a side of winter weather.

I’ve written a lot about management and strategies and all that sort of stuff over the years but these days we’re going through are the ones that make theory – the experiences that eventually show you what you’re really like, as a person, as a family, as a community. Even as a nation. It’s all very well talking about what you should do but we all should be documenting what we’re going through now, what happened and how we acted because it’s going to tell you more about how you react when things are hard than all the reading in the world.

And we don’t have it hard – not compared to the millions out there who either don’t have enough or are giving much more than the rest of us to keep things going.

But today, at the end of the week, it was nice to find an unexpected bag of chocolate at the back of the store cupboard, something that had been forgotten.

And it was just what we needed.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

This Is The Only Way To Get The Balance Right

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Thursday, 7.15pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A fixed deadline and a flexible scope are the crucial combination. – Jason Fried

It’s been one of those days. Like millions of others we have had to balance home schooling, work, sledging in the snow and the myriad other things that make up our everyday lives. And it’s exhausting like the memes circulating show. And while the videos show us the funny side of things they’re not very useful in telling us what to do.

And what should be doing is less.

The fact is that we have a fixed amount of time each day and working harder now is simply going to lead to burnout later. You might deliver and keep up for a while but eventually you’ll struggle and the fallout will be worse.

The answer is to keep the total amount of weight you’re carrying the same but do less of each thing so that the total weight stays the same. This means that you should reduce the scope of what you’ve got to deliver in the time you have by focusing on only the important, the crucial, the things that are necessary. And the rest can wait until things are back to normal.

Drawing is a good example. I might want like to draw a complex and nuanced piece but I don’t have time and a line drawing on an index card will get the point across. And that’s ok.

Well, that’s all I have time for today. See you in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Are Our Options To Resolve Conflict Situations In A Group?

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Wednesday, 8.46pm

Sheffield, U.K.

He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. – Thomas Paine

Today seems the kind of day to talk about conflict and how it works – from between siblings at home to the highest institutions of government taking in social media on the way.

I’m not a big social media user but what I see on my feeds patterns of activity – some promotional, some attention getting and quite a lot that’s criticism. The promotional stuff I don’t have much of a problem with. People should talk about what they do and what they’re interested in because that’s how we learn about their point of view and the contribution they might make. The attention getting stuff is sometimes entertaining but mostly uninteresting. And then there is the criticism – an approach that is really quite counterproductive.

You probably know about the four signals that tell you that a marriage is breaking down – the four horsemen of relationship Armageddon. These are criticism, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness. If you see those happening in a relationship you know things are going to end poorly. And I see a lot of that online – open contempt and criticism. Of course, when you’re trying to appear strong and appeal to your fan base then these are the tools you use to attack your enemy – which works great when you seem invincible. But when you’re wounded then everyone piles in, eager to get rid of you as soon as they can.

What can you actually do if you want to look at conflict resolution? I wanted to point to a paper but can’t find it right away but the essential idea is simple and you can set it out using a logic table. If you have two parties then the outcomes that can happen are: win-win; win-lose; lose-win and lose-lose. We talk about win-win being the ideal outcome but in many cases a win-lose or lose-win is the only outcome. You don’t get an equitable solution in a boxing match and you don’t get to share being the top person.

In addition to the list above though, you have a few other options. You can avoid the issue, flatter people and change the subject or just not turn up when it’s being debated. There are many ways to play the game and when you do that the point is just to stay in the game rather than a win or lose being declared. The one who wins is the one that doesn’t lose.

What’s my point here?

I suppose it’s that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to believe that there is an ideal solution and there is always a win-win. That’s naive. A win-win is more likely to be a special case when you aren’t playing a zero-sum game, one where one person’s loss is the other’s gain and vice versa. At the same time we play win-lose games when the situation isn’t a zero-sum one at all – when we’re supposed to be on the same side.

For example, what should you think when a community of practice tears into other ideas? Is it important that you contradict everyone that has the wrong idea (as far as you’re concerned) on social media? Well, for some people it might give them a sense of satisfaction but in the end I suppose what matters is the peer review process. I’ve just realized, as I’ve written this, that peer review exists all over the place. It’s not just for scientific papers and Google. The ideas that float up and persist over time are the ones that are probably worth holding on to. In most economies what you should probably be is some kind of conservative democrat – someone who believes in individual freedoms while helping society as a whole be better. You don’t have to rail against “wrong” ideas – you just have to talk about the right ones. And if they are right and people agree with you you’ll outlast the ones that are wrong.

I suppose what it all comes down to is that engaging in conflict is easy. It’s easy to fight. It’s easy to pick a battle with your sibling, your parents, your co-workers. What’s hard is having self-control, restraint, the ability to compromise. And when we’re stressed or overwhelmed we do what’s easy. But it’s doing the hard stuff that makes a society work or a community hang together.

What we have to believe is that we need to try and resolve conflict through dialogue and debate in our communities. And we have to hope that bad ideas may hold sway for a while but that the rot in them will eventually hollow out the bad ideas and leave a space where new, better ones can take root again.

That leads to the question of how do you contribute good ideas, what sort of responsibility do you have to help out? Let’s look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

p.s. After a few weeks of angstiness I have restarted the Community book project and I’ll try and work through that over the next month or so.

What Sort Of Attitude Should You Have Towards Investing These Days?

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Tuesday, 7.06pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Investing should be more like watching paint dry or watching grass grow. If you want excitement, take $800 and go to Las Vegas. – Paul Samuelson

So… the price of crypto is at a high again and it’s all over the news. I wasn’t really going to talk about it – I haven’t written about investing for a while but I should probably make a comment just so it’s in writing when I wonder what I thought at the time.

The reason I haven’t written about investing is that there isn’t much to write. The answer is to buy the S&P500 and get on with your day job. But I read Howard Mark’s latest memo (pdf link) and it is a good summary of the state of play for investors these days. If you don’t want to read all eighteen pages the TL;DR version goes like this.

Once upon a time investors had to work hard to get information about company performance so if you looked in the odd corner you’d find something cheap that everyone had overlooked. So you bought it at a low price and sold it when others realized its value and the price went up. More people started to get interested and it became easier to just buy good companies with great long-term prospects and hold them. The post-war years were boom years and big companies grew and grew as markets around the world opened up and as long as you held on to stock you could make money. Then the Internet came along and, after a false start, changed everything. Having an information advantage evaporated entirely with ubiquitous and free market data. Now, anything that can make more money out of providing a product or service than its cost of capital is worth an infinite amount of money. As long as it survives… So all you have to do is consistently pick winners. Or buy an index tracker and own the whole market. Your choice.

Back in 2018 when Bitcoin fever was kicking off I wrote a couple of pieces about building a trading system and buying crypto. Over a short period I bought into the market, saw it fall and sold at my stop-loss. I left my money in cash mostly because I didn’t know how to get it out and then reinvested it some time later. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

Mark’s memo is notable because it’s almost a conversation between him and his son, a distinction between an older generation and a new one. Marks plays the elder and talks about portfolio management, why the price you buy at matters and why you should take some money off the table when the price goes up. Things are different, the son argues. I’m going to buy something I believe in and hold it forever. And I’ll buy things that look expensive because they’re worth it.

But here’s the thing. The approaches don’t sound that different. Basically, set out your case and buy it if you believe. We’ll know in time if things work out for you. The chances are that you’ll go for the big companies, the ones that have made it. Or maybe you get lucky and pick that one company that goes on to dominate. But that’s not easy either. You’re looking for value, however you define it.

Anyway, back to crypto.

Let’s look at the bitcoin chart, updated from the heady days of 2018.

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In case you’re not familiar with this chart it’s a Point and Figure chart, the X’s are increases and the O’s are decreases. And if you can read this chart you can go in and out of trades when you see certain signals.

What the price history is telling you is that the price went down and up for a while, mostly down, and then shot up quite recently – which is when it made the news again. A pattern not dissimilar to what we saw in December / January 2018.

Would I have made money if I had traded this position? Well, my first reaction when I saw the chart was probably not, there were quite a few points where I might have bought and sold over the period. But I wasn’t sure what the returns would have been. Well, rather than theorize I modelled the position. Now, the way I’d have done it is by committing a fixed amount at the start. I’d have then traded in and out without adding any new capital – just seeing if I could increase my starting stake. If I had done that I think the positions would have ended up something like this.

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If I had invested a thousand dollars back in 2018 and done the trades as in the table above I’d have made $27 in profit, a return of 2.7%, less than a percent a year.

That’s not a great return but it makes sense to me. A crypto currency is worth nothing other than the belief people have that it’s worth something. You could exchange it for a burger if someone would sell you one or you could exchange it for dollars. If it were used for burgers, the chances are that it would behave normally. But because you can exchange it for dollars the greater fool theory kicks in and everyone buys it hoping to find a greater fool who will pay more to take it from them and that drives the price up. Over time, however, that results in pretty random behaviour and when you try and trade it you make naff all because of that random quality of the thing.

But I didn’t trade the way I would have done. What I did was buy the S&P500 and a few other cheap index trackers and get on with the day job. Since 2018 the S&P500 has gone from somewhere around 2,600 to 3,800 – an increase of 46% or so. But you know what – my investment provider tells me that I’m doing a very bad job. My investment rating is zero, the report card says “could do better” and apparently the funds I have are not rated “high quality”. That the S&P500, the 500 most valuable companies in the US, are not high quality. Which should tell you something about investment research. High quality funds are the ones that make them the most money, not you.

Ok. Stop ranting. This is about crypto.

What I actually did with that tiny crypto position was reinvest it in 2019. I didn’t write about it but I really did invest it and to prove it here’s the portfolio chart.

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This is an Ethereum position chart and the few wiggles in the front are when I bought and sold in 2018. Then I stayed in cash – which is the flat line – and then I bought again in March 2019 ish. And then I left it and forgot about it.

That position is up, at current prices, by 566%. Brilliant, right? I should have put more in, shouldn’t I? No… not really. It’s a tiny fraction of my portfolio and it should be a tiny fraction. If it grows, then great. If it doesn’t, I haven’t lost much. Although maybe if I get another low I’ll go in again.

I don’t understand the crypto market – no one really does. But I don’t understand the S&P500 either. The point is that you won’t get a return unless you own a tiny bit of the world and the world includes crypto and so you should get an exposure to them, either by owning a company or owning some directly. Just make some good choices about how much money to put in each pot, pay as little as possible in commission and things should work out ok.

We’ll go back to interesting topics (for me anyway) from the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Manage Your Energy Or Someone Else Will

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Monday, 8.35pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Energy conservation is the foundation of energy independence. – Tom Allen

I’m a little low on energy today. Maybe it’s a biorhythm thing – the charts that I look at when I think about this sort of thing show everything at a low. Maybe biorhythms don’t mean anything but electric circuits do and I think they have something useful to tell us about living well.

Tom Allen’s quote has to do with energy, power, the stuff that comes out of a generator. But it could be applied just as well to whatever else you do. I’m starting to think that life is a zero sum game, where every unit of energy you give someone else is a unit of energy you don’t have for yourself. And that makes managing your energy really quite an important thing to get your head around.

For example, your creative energy can be used to work on your projects or work on your employer’s projects. If you use them to work on “work” projects you just won’t have enough energy left to do your own stuff. How many graphic designers go home and paint for the fun of it? How many chefs cook? How many writers write? I suspect those who do are careful not to give their all work, saving some energy, conserving it, so that they have some left when they get home and want to do a bit more.

I think that’s what’s happening today. I’ve spent a long time on a particular project and it’s just drained the energy I have left over. So, you might say, that’s ok. Take the day off. No one will notice if you don’t do what you want to do because that’s what you want to do. But that’s a dangerous argument, once you take a day off, it’s easy to take another day and then another one and before you know it a few years have passed and you don’t feel like you can do anything any more.

So, even if you’re tired you need to do the work. You need to get on and put something out that’s what you want to do. And that’s where the way to break out of a zero-sum game lies. It lies in routine and leverage.

First – you can keep going with muscle memory, just momentum from routine and the previous day’s work can keep you going even when you’re running on empty. Sort of like a flywheel that stores just enough to get you over the hump.

The second is to use leverage. Tools that help you do more quickly. Tools are amazing and if you get your toolkit working for you it’s going to help you out most during those times when you have little left to give. The tools will look after you if you look after them.

And then you’ll have another day behind you and time to recharge and start again.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Get Better At Doing The Right Things Fast

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Sunday, 7.55pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The primary factor in a successful attack is speed. – Lord Mountbatten

I have always believed that doing things fast is important. That’s because people are usually willing to give you a small amount of time to try something out but balk at giving you long periods. So, if you’re the kind of person who needs to get it right then you’re best off doing it the way that you know works – following the recipe exactly and honing your ability to get it right every time. I imagine that’s the state of mind a master sword maker has – someone who follows a sacred routine that’s been perfected over generations of practice.

I’m not a good recipe follower. Instructions tend to bore me and I find it very hard to pay attention when I have to do things in order. I like trying new things and if I have to do something – I’ll probably approach it in a way that’s quick and easy and dirty and hacky and see what happens. This has been a useful approach professionally – because I get given tasks that people find hard because I’ll figure out ways to get them done while the people who are good at doing the job do the things that we know how to do. So I end up doing things that are innovative – or at least different.

The flip side of being innovative, however, is that you can end up never doing anything well. That’s ok when it comes to business because the whole point of being part of a company is to work with people who have complementary skills so that you do more as a team than any one of you can do individually. But when it comes to doing your work – the work of your life which is the same as the art of your life then you need to take a different approach. Fortunately, I’m finding out that the way you do that is a refinement of my “speed is best” approach rather than a choice between fast or good.

But first, let me talk about a few people who are on YouTube and who I’ve been learning from over the last few days.

Christopher Hart and Terry Moore are well worth checking out if you want some brilliant tutorials on drawing cartoons. What’s great about watching professionals draw, rather than reading their books, is that you get to see their pencils move and, in particular, the sort of processes they follow. It’s one thing reading a book that says rough out your picture and then fill in details and a completely different thing watching someone who knows what they’re doing work through their process. It’s a funny thing but people who know what they’re doing tend to forget how to do it and make terrible teachers. I remember this vividly when we first had children. You forget what’s its like and advice from mums and dads was pretty useless and even people who were a few months or years ahead seemed to forget the details of how they did what they did.

Anyway, this point, about first roughing something out and then working towards a finished article is the opposite of what I do – back to that speed thing again. I get on, at full speed, get it done and then move on. And it probably shows, in my writing, in my drawing, in the material that’s on this blog.

And when you start doing it the slow way it’s painful. For example, in the image above I started with an idea and then realized I had to draw a particular kind of figure so tried to work it out and then had a go at the piece again. Now, if you know how to draw you’ll find all kinds of mistakes I’ve made. The ones I can see, given my lesser knowledge, include an inability to work out which limb goes where and the fact that you can smudge your work if you try and erase pencil lines without waiting for the ink to dry. Paper is unforgiving in this respect, when compared the to the digital approach I’ve taken for the last four years. Digital is fast but has not made me any better. Paper and pen and sketching have made me more aware of what needs to be done and where my limitations lie and where I need to improve.

So let’s talk about Ivan Brunetti. There are a couple of YouTube interviews with him and they are going to leave you conflicted on whether to admire him or pity him. This is a person who has done covers for the New Yorker, who has a legendary status in the comics arena and knows all the big names in the field. He is also someone that talks about suffering from a clinical level of depression that leaves him unable to pick up a pencil.

His experiences echo what the theory tells you. Should you go for the safe secure job or follow your heart? Is it important to work hard and push yourself or do something every day that accumulates over time? What does getting old do to your ability to produce – do you speed up or slow down?

We all need to work out our own approaches to these things. On the one hand technology can make us so much better at doing things. If you use computers in the right way they will augment you. If you use them in the wrong way nothing changes. Back in 1993 a Microsoft memo talked about how the world “writes with PCs” and how spreadsheets have replaced the columnar pad. But, even in 2021, people write in the same way they’d have written with a typewriter. The way you should write using a computer has been around for forty years but it’s never going to catch on because the tools most people use don’t support it. What most of us read, however, webpages written using html, does.

The thing about starting with a rough structure and then refining it – that fundamental process is actually the fastest way to get to a drawing that works. It’s also the best way to build a business that works or a business plan or anything else. And when I talk about doing things fast it’s pretty much the same thing. If you’re doing something new then you’re not going to get it perfect the first time you have a go. You’re going to have to feel your way to it, with initial exploratory work, finding the boundaries, the outline and then starting to work on the detail.

There are a number of reasons why doing this is hard in business. People don’t like to admit that they don’t know what the right answer is. Or they’re too scared to contradict the boss. There’s lots that happens in organizations and bureaucracies and companies that happens because we’re not willing to work towards a solution, preferring to work instead on what the top person wants. The two may not be the same thing.

After all, you’re going to get somewhere whatever you do. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it when you get there. But the thing you can definitely do is enjoy the journey.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Figure Out What You’re Trying To Do

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Saturday, 7.45pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There is always another way to say the same thing that doesn’t look at all like the way you said it before. I don’t know what the reason for this is. I think it is somehow a representation of the simplicity of nature. – Richard P. Feynman

In my last post I looked at how children approach art and how their relationship with with it changes over time, starting with unselfconscious “making” and then stopping when they start to realize that what they’re making is “not good”. And that’s a feeling that doesn’t ever leave us and, for many of us, we grow into adulthood not being good at the arts – not being able to draw or sing or dance and perhaps never going back to it again.

One reason we don’t go back, perhaps the biggest reason, is that it takes time to get good at something and, as we get older, we have less and less time. By the time we reach the ripe old age of eight the chances are that we know what we’re good at and what we’re not good at and know where we should spend our time. This probably has something to do with the 10,000 hour rule – if you start playing the violin at age 2 and practice three times a week until you’re 8 for 2 hours at a time, you’d have gotten in just under 1,900 hours. If you grew up in a household of musicians you’d have been exposed to music all that time. So, when it’s time to pick extracurriculars you’d probably go for music and when it’s time to get picked to play – that’s probably going to be you and the rest of us are going to stand in the background and hope no one see us.

Now, while there’s the whole thing about the 10,000 hours being about world class performance – it just so happens to be the amount of time you’ll spend on stuff you like doing all the way through school and the time you’ll spend on the career skills you learn in those first few jobs and you’ll end up being pretty good at that thing you do. But at the rest, not so much. So you stop.

But, of course, the point is that you don’t have to be world class at everything. You don’t even need to be good. You just have to be able to do stuff that makes you feel good and being able to do things like draw and sing and dance make you feel good but they are so scary to learn when you’re an adult and want to be good and, more importantly, hate to be seen as being bad. According to Josh Kaufman you need around 20 hours to be able to do something to a reasonable standard. And if you follow Tim Ferriss you can be world class if you play the rules rather than playing the game.

But I think the first thing to get clear on is whether you want to make money doing this other thing or not. If you already make money in one way – from a job or a profession or whatever – then you should keep doing that. The definition of work, as I understand it, is doing something that you would rather not do. So, make that thing bring in as much money as possible, preferably taking up as little of your time as possible and spend the rest of your time thinking about your art. And get clear that you’re not doing it for money – that helps. Eventually, if you’re lucky, your art may bring in the money but you need to be clear that it’s not about that. The rule to remember is this – if you do something and you get paid right away then you’re doing it for the money. If you do something and then some money maybe turns up, much much later, then you’re not doing it for the money.

Now, once we’ve got that straight, and this is me talking to me as much as it is to you, we need to look at the thing we want to do – and for me that thing is figuring out this whole drawing and writing thing because there’s something in there that intrigues and interests and excites me. The title and subtitle of this blog weren’t there from the start, they’ve emerged over time as the elements that persist in my work, using handmade artifacts – yes, words and pictures are handmade – to make sense of first the business of business and now the business of living.

And I’ve got to feel my way into a position of balance. And I won’t get there by thinking but by doing and making and the more of that I do the more what’s important will become obvious. Why do I think that? Well, it always has. When you pay attention to something then you start to see more and that seeing seems to make stuff visible. Stuff that was there all along but that you didn’t have eyes to see yet.

There’s something here that has to do with the story you tell yourself. Stories seem very important. After all, your basic biology lets you figure out the really important stuff – whether to stay where you are or run away. But the human part of you, then, is all about the story. The changes are that right now if you had nothing else you had to do you’d sit back and immerse yourself in a story, a book, a film, something that took you over. A business plan is a story. Your own goals, life plans, motivating messages are all stories you tell yourself. Science is a story that you can check out for yourself.

What’s the best way for you to tell the story that matters to you? I started yesterday with a child’s drawing. At the other end is a photo – a picture of reality that is as detailed as you could probably want. You could tell your story just using words or you could use a movie, a hyper-realistic graphic novel – any kind of media that you’re qualified to use. Unfortunately for me I’m not qualified for any of those other than perhaps typing out words. But maybe cartoons will help, cartoons that help me work through ideas rather than just relying on words. Perhaps one like the image that starts this blog – maybe that’s a form of representation that can work with the limited skills I have to get me where I want to be.

So… as I carry on do I look at the technicalities of cartooning and writing or do I try and explore a space by asking questions and seeing if cartoons can help me. There are lots of people who are much more qualified for the former activity – so perhaps I stick to the latter. Or I can try one approach and change later… there are no restrictions, after all. Maybe we just have a chat and see where it takes us.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Can Children Teach Us About Art

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Friday, 10.02pm

Sheffield, U.K.

When children draw or do rudimentary painting, the whole human being develops an interest in what is being done. This is why we should allow writing to develop from drawing. – Rudolf Steiner

I have been thinking about art and drawing and images for a few weeks now and realized that I should park my other book project and have a go at a new one – because there is lots to learn and uncover about the world of the unwritten – the not-word.

And the place to start is the beginning, the way children draw. I always learn most when I work with my children and as the latest lockdown has enforced home schooling again, this seems like a good time to watch and learn from them. So, what kinds of things do we see?

I am fascinated by the way kids work with colour and ink and paper. My younger one is at the upper end of the age range where one draws unselfconsciously. On the 27th of December, 2020, he drew a picture and, for the first time, said, “It isn’t very good,” and scratched over it. I rescued the image and put it in my files because that was the point, that is the point, for all of us, when we start to worry about making good art, rather than just making. And when we worry about whether we make good art or bad art then the easiest thing to do is stop making art at all and that is what happens to most of us.

But, on the whole, there is still that childish desire to make marks and when I watch him draw the lines are bold and go over each other and have jagged edges and the bad guys are clear and the point is clear and I wonder what is it that a child has that we adults don’t when it comes to the paper and the marks they make.

And that’s not a new question, but it’s not one that appears to be very well answered. For example, there is a chapter in the book Understanding Children edited by Robert Grieve and Martin Hughes titled “Children’s pictures.” What they say is that children seem to develop about the same way through the ages – there is an age-stage thing happening. You have a range between random mark making, on the one hand, and exact representation on the other. Children start off by trying to represent what they see and they focus on the characteristics that are most prominent – the ones they notice. They are less worried about getting the image right than getting the thing they want on there. For example, in my picture above, things like a sword or a cape or a red face are the elements that are important, not wrinkles or shadows. Recently, cute eyes have been a feature of drawings, though…

They get better at representing as they get older, with perspective entering the picture. But also, along the way, we have the entry of symbols, representations of what we think rather than what we see. So you have the inclusion of stick figures to represent people rather than the main features of a particular person. For example, in early pictures you will see the exact colour of your granny’s jumper but later, it might just be a granny like person.

Eventually, the symbols become a more compact and efficient way to represent meaning. The logical conclusion of using symbols is to end up using written language and much “visual” thinking these days is really a symbolic representation of complex concepts in the world. We’re not really thinking visually but instead taking advantage of a different symbolic language to capture elements that are harder to show in normal language patterns, most significantly relationships between things. For example, you could create a numbered list of things but it’s easier to show interrelationships between the elements on that list with a flow chart.

So what does it mean when an adult tries to draw like a child, like I’ve done with the image that starts this post. Is it doing what Lynda Barry was asked if she did – being faux naive – faking naivety? Is it simply poor representation of a child that hasn’t learned how to either draw something so it more closely approximates reality or replace the image with words? Or is there a child-like way of seeing – something that sees what is there rather than what you expect or hope to be there. A kind of seeing that points out that the Emperor has no clothes?

If children draw in a way that sees what is there – that looks at reality unblinkingly then what can we learn from that as adults? We know the world is not simple, that isn’t all about goodies and baddies and that baddies sometimes win and get away with it and goodies sometimes lose and are forgotten. And in real life who is good and who is bad depends on who you are and what you think and what your point of view and history happens to be.

So, we’ve looked at art as a form of representation and as a form of symbolic language and sort of as a way of seeing what’s actually there but we need to try and not miss the most important point, the one staring us in the face and stamping the floor impatiently, waiting to be noticed.

Art is fun.

It’s fun playing with colour and paint and paper and getting it messy and not worrying – and it makes everything more interesting.

For example, no one wants to do maths or English home study, I don’t and my child doesn’t. The small person had no intention of doing any work – which included writing a story and doing some exercises. So, rather than argue we got the paints out and suggested painting the words for the story and painting the numbers and when you get pot of water and a brush and get some colours and start painting fractions they get a lot more interesting than doing it with a pencil and neatly getting it all down. The homework is a riot of colour and that’s not how it would have been done at school but it’s been done, the child will probably remember it better for a whole host of reasons and I enjoyed it more as well.

So there’s something there – something missed in all the talk about representation and symbols – something about the raw power of making to invigorate us as human beings. I’ve filled three quarters of a composition book in the last week with stuff and flipping through it the image above just feels more alive somehow. And I want to figure out why.

Maybe Ivan Brunetti’s method has a clue somewhere.

Let’s look at that in the next post.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

You Don’t Have To Keep Doing Things The Same Way

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Thursday, 9.36pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The child in me wanted to try out new things and do something different. – Krystle D’Souza

Children can be brutal.

The small people who live in the house with me tolerate my drawing and writing with some bemusement, sometimes with interest.

A while back the smallest one asked me how many words I’d written, and whether it was more than a thousand. So I said it was a little more than that, in the hundreds of thousands and paged through the words and showed how long it took to get from start to finish.

And the small person was impressed and then asked about the drawings, and said let’s see how much better you are and so I showed one from a few years ago and one from a more recent time and the small person said, “Not much…”

So this year I think I’m going to take it easier on the words and think more about images and stories which will make these posts shorter but probably increase the amount of time I spend working on stuff.

I’m going to use Lynda Barry’s books as a base to work from, with the exercises she has to develop your skills at noticing things and along the way I’ll document what I’m trying and learning and links to those resources.

Hopefully, at the end of the year, when the small person has a look I’ll get a better reaction…

The image above, by the way, is for anyone who has experienced an annual budget process.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Is The Slowest Way Really The Fastest Way?

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Wednesday, 6.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There is more to life than increasing its speed. – Mahatma Gandhi

I think this post is going to be an angsty one so I’m not sure how useful it’s going to be. Feel free to stop reading unless you’re intrigued by the idea of working out a conundrum in public. A blog is, I suppose, a form of therapy for the writer and every once in a while it makes sense to take advantage of that opportunity.

I suppose the general question I have, which repeats again and again, is what’s the point of it all. What are we trying to do here.

The first answer that comes to me is a cultural one – the approach taken in the part of the world that I come from can be taken to be essentially nihilistic. The world is an illusion, and everything in it a distraction. But, in such a pointless existence the answer is anything but nihilistic, anything but negative. The ultimate aim is to be free from the illusion and that comes through doing your thing, whatever that thing is. Do your thing and whatever happens you will be fulfilled.

The second answer comes from the culture in which I have spent more of my adult life. One of materialism and innovation and technology and deprivation. A world where you can do anything but where you can also be stuck forever. I’m not entirely sure what the point is here but it has something to do with growth and economics and prosperity and stuff like that.

What makes all this complicated is when you think about why you do anything and when you start to confuse cause and effect and I think that’s happening a bit in various places and I don’t know quite what to make of it all.

For example, I went to listen to a philosopher talk about work and I remember her saying that she had looked through all the definitions of what “work” was and had come to the conclusion that work was something you did that you didn’t want to do. I think that’s what she said anyway – this is from a decade or so ago. The reason this matters, she said, is because you have to figure out whether you work for work’s sake or you work for money. After all, if work something you do that you don’t want to do then you are probably not doing it for the sake of doing the work. If you’re doing it for the money then before you ask what you want out of work you have to ask what you want out of money – what is the money going to get you that is going to make up for the pain of having to do work you don’t want to do?

It’s at this point that I start to wonder what the point of it all is and then I draw a deep well and climb down to the bottom and practice drawing deep black with crayon and realizing just how hard it is to work with crayon. But its rewarding in its own way as a pointless activity that has nothing to do with work or money and everything to do with meaning. Because the well is a symbol of isolation and the kind of place introverts like me who like writing are very comfortable and the world outside is bright and distracting and even if we don’t want to we have to engage with it if only to get more thoughts in than just the ones that spiral around inside our heads.

And then I remember that there is no point – there is only practice. Things like points and purpose and money are emergent properties – they happen if you do something else with dedication and discipline or sporadically and with angst because as long as you “do” something will happen.

So, with my projects, which involve making sense of things through writing and drawing what I need to “do” is get better at that, better at working out what works and doesn’t work and practicing when I don’t know what else to do. And that means that my latest book project, which is at nearly 60,000 words and pretty hopelessly adrift, needs to be put to one side, perhaps abandoned, while I go back and figure out what the heck I should be doing and I don’t know this yet.

I’m going to have to slow down, I think, to make sense of it all – So we’ll see what happens then.

Anyway, if you’re still with me, I did warn you that this was an angsty post. But if you want to take something away here it is. However pointless it may all be, you will always have the practice – the thing you do. And you can get on with doing it.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh