Another cross post – figure this is probably a better place for an artist/writer interview – something to inspire other chronic illness folks about the power of creativity.
Michael Nobbs is a full-time artist, blogger and tea drinker (not necessarily in that order). He is author of the popular blog, Sustainably Creative and writes, tweets and podcasts about drawing and trying to keep things simple.
In the late 1990s he was diagnosed with ME/CFS and over the last decade and a half he has learnt a lot about sustaining a creative career with limited energy.
His new book, Drawing Your Life (made one page at a time!) was published by Penguin/Perigee Books on 5th March.
- Can you give us a little background about yourself – where you’re from and how you got involved in art and design?
I’m originally from the south of England—a town called Camberley in Surrey, but have lived in Wales for the past 20 years.
At school I was always very jealous of my friends who studied art, but didn’t feel I had an aptitude for it at all (I used to buy sketchbooks but wrote in them rather than drew in them!).
At the end of the 1990s I was diagnosed with ME/CFS and found myself in bed much of the time. A friend kindly gave me a copy of Julia Cameron’s wonderful, The Artist’s Way and I finally started to try to draw in one of my many sketchbooks.
As my health improved I started to use what energy I had to attend a weekly drawing class, then a part-time foundation course and eventually an MA in Fine Art.
- Do you have a favourite media to work in? How has this (and your work) developed over the years?
These days I mostly draw on my iPad with my finger. I’m a bit of a geek and love how technology can often be used to help keep things simple and save energy.
I used to draw much more pen and ink, but still often scanned the drawings and coloured them in Photoshop. I do love the blocks of colour that Photoshop (and now my favourite iPad program, Adobe Ideas) can easily add to a drawing.
- How does self publishing compare to working with a publisher? Did you have as much creative control and are you as pleased with how the book turned out? Did you approach a publisher or did they come to you with an idea?
I was VERY lucky, I was approached via Twitter by the man who eventually became the new book’s editor, saying that he was interested in publishing some of my work!
I discussed a few different ideas with the publisher and they decided the one they wanted to go with was Drawing Your Life.
The process of making the book for the publisher was much the same as how I’ve made my self published books, though I did have regular phone calls with my editor throughout the process which was a very new experience for me.
The design of the book was all mine, but my editor did suggest changes along the way. When I first started to make the book I did find that difficult but as we went on I got more used to it. He made some excellent suggestions.
I am delighted with how it turned out.
- I get so frustrated with how little I can achieve these days, even though I do try to follow your one creative thing a day mantra. How do you structure your day to help you to achieve (and accept) your plans for the day? Creating a book with a deadline seems like an almost insurmountable task to me!
The deadline was frightening and this was the largest project I’ve ever undertaken, but I did say that I needed a long deadline (and had a secret date in my head, that I aimed at, that was three months before the actual deadline to give myself a lot of breathing space).
For the time I was making the book I mostly focused exclusively on it, doing a little everyday (with weekends off!). I aimed for at least twenty minutes every day, often did more but sometimes less. At the beginning I broke the project down into the 104 double page spreads and tried as much as possible to work on one spread at a time, always trying to know what my next step was when I stopped for the day.
- Why create books and have the website Sustainably Creative, what prompted you to start and why do you keep going with it?
The website came first. I began blogging back in 2004, writing short blog posts about my health and making a little drawing to go with each post. Over the years the site morphed into Sustainably Creative and books became an extension of it.
I came across Keri Smith’s blog and then Danny Gregory’s and loved what they did. Danny introduced me to Dan Price’s wonderful Moonlight Chronicles (literally introduced me to them by sending me a copy which I’ll be eternally grateful for).
After reading ‘The Moonlight Chronicles’ I decided to make my illustrated journal The Beany and sold them through the site. I also decided to try my hand at (much cheaper to produce!) ebooks and began to sell those.
Slowly I got a glimpse that I could actually make a (sustainable) living from my blog and ebooks. Sustainably Creative as it exists today, with its membership section and free books and course grew from there.
- During the review and reflection of January – what did 2012 teach you?
To ask for more help! I’m not very good at asking for help, often feeling like I need (and want!) to do everything myself.
I’m learning that it if I want to make the best use of my still limited energy and at the same time grow my business and myself as an artist, then I need to ask other people to do some of the things I currently do.
Making the book with the publisher has shown me that it is possible to have help with the creative process AND the business side of producing a book. I want to repeat that in other areas of my work and life.
- What are your goals for the year ahead?
This year I would love to produce another issue of **The Beany**.
I want to travel a little and meet some of the people I’ve been in touch with online.
I’m hoping to grow Sustainably Creative’s membership and produce at least one more free course for members before the end of the year.
It would be lovely to start work on a new book too.
I hoping to do all this in as sustainable way as possible. Lots of naps, tea breaks and plenty of time off. Over the last couple of years I’ve aimed to stop completely for a month’s break in the summer. I’m planning to do the same again this year, plus add another couple of shorter two week stops in the year.
- Thanks to Michael for giving some of his precious time to answer my questions.
Be sure to surf over to Sustainably Creative and have a good browse there. I’m a member, have been for a while, and I find Michael’s weekday podcasts in particular are very helpful when I’m feeling despondent about how little I can do these days. The forum is a friendly place too, with a wide variety of lovely folks who empathise and are supportive – and inspiring.
If you’re creative and would be willing to share a little of your creative journey via a short interview, use the contact form to get in touch. Please include a link to your website so that I can find out a bit more about you and tailor questions that fit. I’m developing an idea for an image only interview based on the five senses…if you’d prefer to work with me on that, let me know.
PS – WordPress is being super annoying about the formatting of this post, so my apologies if it looks odd.