Don’t work on your weakness

Kaizen is the Japanese word for “good change” or improvement. The word has been adopted worldwide as a philosophy focused on “continuous improvement.” Continuous improvement is what we all want for ourselves. KaizenIf you don’t, you’re a pessimist and I’m going to ignore you because your opinion doesn’t matter. For those of us who want to make a sincere effort to improve (ourselves or some activity), we need to change our behaviour to get better results. Whatever you do, don’t work on your weakness. It’s a waste of time.

It’s simple, really: focus on your weakness and you focus your entire being on negative pursuits. Focus on your strengths, on the other hand, and you focus yourself on positive pursuits.

There is a human tendency to self-criticize and exaggerate one’s own shortcomings. Sometimes we make up shortcomings that aren’t even relevant just to have something to focus on, attempt to control and beat ourselves up about. Teenagers will look with burning envy at somebody else kissing their crush and instantly compare themselves with their rival to find things wrong with themselves. Being teenagers, they usually pick some irrelevant physical feature and obsess over it.

What’s the consequence of this weakness obsession? Pointless activity that wastes time. You are human (presumably) which means you have a time limit on your life. If you are spending time doing something that doesn’t help you while you’re alive, and will mean nothing to anybody else when you’re gone, it is a worthless activity.

Realize that your “weakness” is a judgment that comes either from your own flawed human psyche, or from others who want you to behave a certain way. Both work on your insecurities. Any effort to satisfy your insecurities is a Sisyphean task. Trying to fix your source of insecurity is like trying to fill an in infinitely deep hole one shovel load of dirt at a time. No matter how much dirt you shovel, the hole is still infinite. Your insecurities are wrong, and anyone who makes you focus on your weakness is projecting his self-loathing onto you. Ignore your insecurities and they will just wither away.

The best reason for not improving your weakness is that it doesn’t exist. We only think it exists because we’re told there is a right and wrong way to do things. Why? Because we’re born into a world of rules made by people who came before us. Most of those people are dead. They tell us that a particular activity is important and it’s done using a certain technique, so you’re judged on how well you copy the technique. If you fall short in your performance, it’s blamed on your weakness and you’re told to improve upon it. Really? So, a bunch of dead people gets to dictate how I am supposed to do everything?

In this photo, Charles B. Tripp is using his toes to hold utensils because he has no arms. He has good reason for following the rules of stepdancing.

In this photo, Charles B. Tripp is using his toes to hold utensils because he has no arms. He has good reason for following the rules of stepdancing.

This is how a lot of silly etiquette rules come about and why Irish stepdancers don’t move their arms. Look, if you want to live your life that way, it’s fine. Go ahead and do that. I want to move my arms.

I don’t believe in weakness. As soon as I don’t believe in weakness, it doesn’t exist. And there is absolutely no negative consequence to this belief system. There is no right or wrong way to do anything. You choose a goal that you want to accomplish and you find your way to achieve it. Use your strengths to reach your goal. Find the way that works for you. The faster the better. Like I said, life, as you know it is ticking down and you don’t know when the final buzzer is going to end this game.

Besides, working with your strengths is a lot more fun. Don’t you want to have fun? If you’re going to embrace the philosophy of kaizen, I think it should include a lot of fun.


Confession through drawing

Dan and Jaime in photo boothThe online world can be a public confessional. There is something exhilarating and cathartic about letting everybody know who you are without shame. The master of confessional artwork has got to be Robert Crumb. Crumb rocketed to fame with the 1960s underground comic movement. So, when he draws scenes from his own life, they tend to look like comic book stories: they’re graphic narratives that reveal the artist’s psyche and motivations. What makes his confessional work so striking is the uncompromising depiction of Crumb’s own fragile, conflicted human state. He is relentlessly honest and does not censor or edit his thoughts. While Crumb has drawn a lot of attention to his sexual aberrations and self-admitted misogyny, he also has an amazing ability to depict banal, ordinary life. I like those moments. That is what I want to show and I’m not entirely sure why.

Dan and Jaime sleepingHalloweenBall of GreyIn March 2008 I started a personal sketchbook. I had the idea of telling my life’s story through photo booth photos and uploading them to Facebook as my profile photo. The photo booth is a place where we take staged photos, and I like the conversations that happen before and during the moment of the flash. So I’d make a drawing based on a photo and draw speech bubbles to flush out the back story of the moment. The only problem is that the traditional photo booths that use film were quickly being replaced by horrible, lacklustre digital booths. What tragedy! I tried the digital booths a few times and just hated the look of the photos. I refused to use them as drawing reference. Then I couldn’t find any film photo booths at all and my idea died. My heart sank at this cold, digital photo booth revolution. So goes “progress”.

My personal sketchbook also depicts scenes from my childhood, as well as current moments that I’d like to remember. In 2011 I started filming my drawings from blank paper to finished product. I’d edit the footage, add a song to the soundtrack and speed up the movie to fit the length of the song.

Looking at what I’ve filled the pages of my sketchbook with so far, I definitely don’t have any controversial Crumb-esque drawings. Maybe I’m not digging deep enough. While my intent has always been to show ordinary life moments, I’d like to be more confessional in my work. I’ve never truly voiced myself through my work before. It’s time.


Hour of the Wolf, with Mike Rooth

"Sabretooth the Barbarian" by Mike Rooth.

“Sabretooth the Barbarian” by Mike Rooth.

I love learning how creative people work. Sometimes learning how others go about their process makes me rethink my own.

Mike Rooth (far left) is completely at home at Toronto's recent Comic Con

Mike Rooth (far left) is completely at home at Toronto’s recent Comic Con

Mike Rooth is a friend and phenomenal illustrator who wrote on Facebook recently: “I’m way better at what I do at 3am than I am at 3pm. The Beast runs wild in my veins at this time, especially after drawing non stop all day and night…”

I’ve felt that. Anybody who’s hit a groove in their creative work has felt a surge of energy that just snowballs. I wanted to know more about what makes Mike’s illustrations better after working hours on end. So I asked him. Mike gave some great insights. He calls it the Hour of the Wolf. I’ll let Mike explain:

“When I’m on my second wind and pushing into the wee hours of the morning on a drawing I can feel those little electrical creative connections link up in my brain meat and send lighting bolts down my arm that blast out onto the page more fluidly and confidently than at 3pm, say. This is a very personal solitary business to work in, and usually at 3am there is no one around to bounce ideas off of or get feedback, so it’s all up to me.”

It’s clear Mike loves creating artwork, and submerging himself in solitude to work for hours on end provides an amazing opportunity to explore and innovate in his process. The freedom he feels to let loose empowers a creative drive within him that he calls ‘the beast’. Mike says it best:

“The Beast likes to run wild. I’m often surprised while working on something very specific – an image or composition that has been crystal clear in my mind from the get-go will often change or go in surprising directions whilst I’m working within the hour of the Beast – and it often does so with confidence, and so I just go where it takes me.”

There is an interesting flip-side to this. While working for dedicated hours without rest can lay the grounds for innovation, you might think that doing something completely unrelated for hours on end would kill innovation and weaken your skills. In fact the opposite is true. A few years ago, Mike took a job as a custodian/superintendent to help pay a few bills. He was not happy about it.

"F.O.R.D.O.K." is Mike's illustration of a well-known mayor.

“F.O.R.D.O.K.” is Mike Rooth’s illustration of a well-known mayor.

“I was worried that spending long periods of time out of the studio doing menial tasks would soften my drawing skills and syphon my creativity and motivation… but a surprising thing happened – my work got BETTER. While I’m outside cleaning up after filthy humans, sweeping up cigarette butts and trash, and scraping bubblegum off the sidewalk- my thoughts are already in the studio, and the Beast is sharpening it’s claws all day waiting for me to get back there… so the time I do get to spend drawing is much more impactful.”

Mike and I will be at the Comic Expo at Humber College this week at two campuses. The event will run Wednesday March 19th at Humber Lakeshore (3199 Lake Shore Blvd W, Toronto), and Thursday March 20th at Humber North (205 Humber College Blvd, Toronto), from 11am-3pm both days. I will have books and merchandise for sale.

Connect with Mike Rooth and see more of his work:

twitter/instagram: @uncouthrooth


Your name on a bookmark

Signed Bookmark - Dan Holst SoelbergThe first time I faced the public with my published book was at the 2008 Mississauga Book Fair in Mississauga, Ontario. I had 100 books printed and they were not cheap. It was embarrassing, really. My little 6″ x 6″ soft cover cost $32. I didn’t know anything about printing books at the time so I just hired a local printer to do it and wound up paying through the nose. To make this expensive little book a little more enticing, I called it a limited first edition and hand numbered every copy. It worked. I sold out.

But I hated the fact that I had only one expensive product. I knew not everybody had an extra $32 burning a hole through their pockets and I wanted to offer some kind of personalized memento. This is way before I got into merchandising. The only other thing I had at my table was a stack of bookmarks. Lightbulb! If someone seemed genuinely interested in my work, I offered to write their name on a bookmark in my signature writing style. Voila, free memento! It really took off. In fact, people were so excited to see their name come out of my pen that I would often get the same person returning with the bookmark in hand, accompanied by others who were pointing excitedly at me and sheepishly getting up the nerve to ask for their own customized bookmarks. Needless to say, the stack of bookmarks didn’t last long.

I’ve done the same thing at every exhibition, convention and fair since. You could say that writing names on bookmarks has become my signature schtick, but it’s more than that. It connects me to my fans in a profound and personal way. People are genuinely honoured that I have taken the time to make something just for them. And it goes both ways. I believe everybody deserves to feel honoured. It humbles me to know that my work is appreciated and I find this moment we share opens up sincere conversation.

Any time I have the opportunity to customize an order I am happy to help. Here’s a short video showing how I personalized a recent order for Barbra.

I met Barbra at Toronto’s Bazaar of the Bizarre in December 2013. I was exhibiting my books and other products and she just happened to stroll by. Barbra was ecstatic about my work so it was an absolute pleasure to customize this for her.

If you see me at a future convention, don’t be shy to ask for your name on a bookmark. It’s what I do. It’s my way to say thank you for appreciating my work.