Keri Smith is a much loved writer / illustrator turned guerilla artist. I'm thrilled she agreed to be interviewed, I love her work.
She is the author of many bestselling books about creativity including the bestselling Wreck this Journal (2007, Perigee), How to be an Explorer of the World –the Portable Life/Art Museum (2008, Perigee), The Guerilla Art Kit (2007, Princeton Architectural Press), Living Out Loud – Activities to Fuel a Creative Life (2003, Chronicle Books) and Tear up this Book! :The Sticker, Stencil, Stationery, Games, Crafts, Doodle, And Journal Book For Girls! (2005, American Girl). Her newest book is Mess: A Manual of Accidents and Mistakes (2010, Penguin Books). I've got several of her books, they are really clever and lots of fun!
Keri spends her days playing with her husband and son, reading, cooking and writing books. She teaches part time at Emily Carr University of Art & Design in Vancouver B.C.
Keri answers questions about community, politics in art and the contagiousness of delight. She has a great Flickr stream and you can connect with her on Facebook.
Some of these questions were donated by the fabulous Helen Lehndorf.
HH: You've created a real community around you. How important is mentoring to you?
KS: While I have not done much of the one-on-one mentoring, I am currently teaching a class in illustration which is a form of mentoring to me. I believe that it is important to give back once you reach a certain point in your career, when you've figured out what is important to you and what you think the world needs to know. Or another tactic is if you were only able to communicate three things to others, what would they be? That's one way to figure out what is important for you to share with the world. I've been thinking about it a lot during this teaching process, it's a fascinating journey.
HH: How do you know when to stop giving? Do you feel drained or invigorated by giving? Where's the cut off point?
KS: This is a good question and the answer is probably very personal. I think each of us has to learn where our own boundaries lie, often the hard way. You will know you are giving too much because you will feel drained of energy. I am in a bit of a challenging place with it in the last year as I am now receiving more requests than I can handle (a good thing, yes), but it's hard when you want to try and help everyone who writes and can't. My cutoff point has changed lately as I feel that I need to reserve as much energy as possible for my books and for my family.
HH: "Everyone is an artist" - Joseph Beuys. What would you say to critics of this quote?
KS: That depends on the critic. Some of the critics are purists who want to believe in art as something that only a talented few can partake in. And most others are people who have been told, usually at a young age, that they were not creative (and never would be). These people carry this label around with them and feel unable to break free of it. It is my opinion that these perceptions can be changed, but it takes a bit of work.
I might also add that the Joseph Beuys quote was set in a specific time period (60's & 70's), meaning it Beuys was responding to the social and political climate of the time, (one in which artists were still striving to move out of a traditional place.) Ironically I feel we are still working to do this fourty years later.
HH: How important are politics to your creativity?
KS: Very. and more so the older I get. I see it as my job to question things out in the world, especially things that I feel are unfair, disturbing, and inhumane. I also feel it is the artist's role to hold a mirror up to the world in an attempt to let us see what is really going on. While my own work is not overtly political, I see myself as an activist who is dedicated to helping people to question things around them and hopefully see them in a different light. I am particularly interested in tuning people into the natural world, because you can't care about that which you don't even notice. It is my hope that just by starting to tune into the little things we will be able to see how everything is connected, and therefore much less likely to cause harm. I like to think I can trick people into caring. I know on the surface you could say that my books are slightly gimmicky, but I assure you there is a LOT more in there if you take the time to look and really experience them.
HH: The micro/macro seem to be quite a focus for you. Do you think the micro reflects / builds the macro, like fractals?
KS: My work deals mainly with looking at things from different perspectives. I believe that playing with scale is one way to shift our perception about something. It can also be quite enjoyable and a bit absurdist. I also quite enjoy things that delve into the realm of absurd. It's important not to take life too seriously.
I am not sure about your question as it delves into more of the scientific side of things (which I love to explore), while I exist mostly on the imaginary side. I would like to investigate it further.
HH: How has your online life grown / changed? Have you ever struggled with your increasing 'fame'?
KS: This is a tough question, especially lately. I hesitate to write much as I feel like I could fill pages with my thoughts on the online world. I believe the internet has really fueled my career and in part made it what it is today. I love the possibilities that exist with a connected world, and get excited about shaping the new technology in some way. When I started there were not many blogs out in the world, the medium was very new and people were still deciding how to develop it, what form would it eventually take? I have always felt it important to write from the heart and share my ideas, thoughts and experiences with the world. I still do this, but I find myself being a little (a lot) more protective of my personal life as my 'popularity' increased, especially since having a child two years ago. I am very adamant about not putting m son's life online, I feel strongly that it should be his own decision when he is old enough whether he wants aspects of his life to be public or not (it is not for me to share). I think our current culture is not doing enough thinking and questioning about the repercussions of making our lives public online, there will be many things that we can not anticipate. I often wonder what it would feel like to turn 15 and realize that your whole life had been shared and viewed online by millions of people without anyone asking you if that was what you wanted. Wouldn't you feel violated? Or would it just be something you accepted because everyone else was doing it too? What if you were an extremely private person?
HH: How do you hold fast to your core values through everything that comes with increased exposure and attention?
KS: Funny, I just wrote a little piece about that. I find myself much more centered with my core values these days (having a child helps with this).
HH: I really love your call to "Act Now". What roles do you think "The Muse" and procrastination play in creativity?
KS: I constantly espouse the values and necessity of procrastination play. Most of my best ideas come when I am supposed to be working on something else. Never question your need to avoid work. I don't really think too much about "the muse" in the traditional sense. I'm more of the "make time" mentality, and the ideas will appear (at some point).
HH: Do you think that delight and playfulness is contagious?
Wait. Here, I'll prove it to you.
I became totally excited today after reading a story about Peter Buchannan-Smith, a big designer who was going through a hellish life crisis (his business was failing, his wife was leaving him, he had to sell his beloved house). During this time he took a canoeing trip to Algonquin Park a place he had spent a lot of time as a child. While there he did a lot of thinking about when he felt the happiest in his life and realized that the camping trips where a microcosm of everything that was great and beautiful (I'm paraphrasing all of this). He decided to start a company that was based on these feelings, so he began selling the best made ax he could find, and told his stories about what the ax represented for him. The axes are selling like crazy now. I think because we all have similar stories of simple things that delighted us as children. And we are all dying to get in touch with those things we feel we are disconnected from now. Mainly, things that have nothing to do with technology, money and consumerism.
If that doesn't convince you watch a small child playing with a toy he/she loves.
HH: What are you reading at the moment?
KS: I am reading "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet" an illustrated novel about a 12 year old genius who makes "maps" of his everyday life. It's very charming.