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Leonard Cohen, Photographed by Irving Penn, Vogue, August 1969

On January 29th 1968 the New York Times carried a review of an album by an up and coming musician. Unfortunately for the aspiring artist it was not a positive one. ‘Alienated Young Man Creates Some Sad Music’ ran the headline, and the article beneath went on to damn its subject with the faintest of faint praise.

Now, I have no idea how you feel about Leonard Cohen. Maybe, like the reviewer, you regard him as a tuneless miserabilist whose words carried him further than his talent should have allowed. Or, like me, you’re one of many millions of listeners who love to lose themselves in the cigarettes and angst of his unmistakable baritone. …


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The Devil devouring the limbs of sinners, an image from The Compendium of Demonology and Magic (c.1775)

This month, as the daylight hours diminish, I’ve found myself making headway on the piles of books which accumulate, quietly over time, like colourful stalagmites, around our house. And there is one in particular which has delighted and appalled me in equal measure.

It is a book about books. If that sounds a little dry, you should know that these are no ordinary books. The Madman’s Library by Edward Brooke-Hitching is a compendium of the oddest, most extreme and most alarming literary creations ever.

There are invisible books, books that kill, books made of flesh, blood and bone, books you can wear and books you can eat. There are leech books, fart scrolls, books which have stopped bullets, books which have poisoned their readers and books made of cheese. There is a Qur’an written in fifty seven pints of Saddam Hussein’s blood and a lawsuit filed by the devil. …


Of all the projects I’ve been involved with since my career in design and branding kicked off some twenty years ago, there are few I feel as fondly towards as the Studiocanal cinema ident. I remember the day we received the brief; the rush of excitement cut through with trepidation at being asked to create a sequence which would run in front of movies for years to come. And I remember walking down the red carpet to the premier of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy at the BFI in London to watch the ident go out for the first time. …


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The author mid webinar

Webinar.

Perhaps one of the ugliest words to have been tumbled out of the lexicon of late stage capitalism. Pre-pandemic few people had anything but the haziest idea of what these three syllables refer to. Now there can’t be many of us who haven’t found ourselves sneakily opening another browser window while someone drones on about Post Covid Marketing to Gen Z’s In The Age of Tik Tok or similar.

And yet … when done well a webinar is the best way we have — for now — of imparting knowledge, inspiration and information to other human beings without needing to gather in a physical space. …


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The Great Wave off Kanagawa by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai

If I were to ask you what the determining factor will be in your success or failure as a creator there’s a good chance you’d say the quality of your ideas.

Without a good idea, you have nothing.

Yet there’s something else even more important still; an awareness without which you are destined to fail, even if inspiration is coursing through you.

And it’s all to do with the gap.

By ‘the gap’ I mean the space between idea and execution; between concept and realization. And it is a truth understood by makers in all media that what you end up making with your hands rarely, if ever, captures the glorious luster of the idea as it was in your head. …


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Photo by Mitchel Lensink on Unsplash

There’s not enough time.

We don’t have enough budget.

There’s no way I’d be able to do that.

If you’re a creative person you know that limitations are everywhere.

Sometimes the boundaries are illusory ones we’ve made for ourselves, born out of self-doubt or the habit of procrastination. Other times we come hard up against brutal fact: you really don’t have the space, the time, the money, the materials or the experience to make the work you want to make in the way you want to make it.

How you choose to respond to these limitations may well become the measure of your success as an artist or creator. …


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Pandemic.

Lockdown.

Quarantine.

All concepts which most of us could have reasonably hoped we would never experience. And yet here we are entering another week of Zoom calls, home schooling, and … is it too early to have a glass of wine yet?

Yet it’s not the first time humanity has been here. In the early part of the 20th century so called Spanish flu was just one of a number of epidemics which swept across the world, devastating populations and requiring people to keep their distance.

Then, as now, brands often struggled to make sense of their place in a world turned upside down. Some navigated the unfamiliar territory with more success than others. …


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Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

When I was a kid I used to love writing stories. Or rather I used to love the idea of writing stories. The problem was that my stories would often not be much longer than a few words; I could rarely get beyond the opening sentence. As soon as I had the beginning down I would ask myself whether this really was the best way to begin.

And so I’d go back.

And rewrite the opening sentence.

And tweak a few words.

And then wonder if the original opening had, after all, been better.

Before I knew it the first flush of inspiration had ebbed into a hollow feeling of frustration and all I had to show for my labours were a few sheets of screwed up paper on my bedroom floor. …


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Over Christmas I read Room to Dream, the biography of David Lynch. Anyone who has watched Eraserhead, Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive will know that defying formal conventions is one of the things that makes the director and artist so, well, Lynchian, and sure enough the book is a biography like no other.

Here’s how it was written … Lynch’s co-author Kristine McKenna would first write a chapter in keeping with the traditions of biography — dates, names, interviews — and then Lynch would read her work and produce his own lyrical chapter in response. As McKenna puts it, the process was ‘basically a person having a conversation with his own biography.’ …


I have a feeling that your most effective marketing strategy for 2020 isn’t going to be conceived in a meeting room. It’s not going to be worked out on a whiteboard during a departmental brainstorm, it’s not going to be illustrated with painstaking PowerPoint slides and it’s most definitely not going to be months in the planning.

Because I have a feeling that the most effective marketing strategy of the coming decade is going to be responding intuitively, confidently and creatively to the opportunities of the moment.

Let me give you an example.

At the beginning of December the exercise bike company Peloton released a TV commercial, ‘The Gift That Gives Back’. No doubt they were expecting it would help them sell yet more of their £2000 bikes. What they were most definitely not expecting was that the following day the company’s share price would tumble, with a loss of $942 million in market value. …

About

Richard Holman

I write, think & speak about the creative process. For more inspiration go to www.richardholman.com or listen to my podcast The Wind Thieved Hat on iTunes.

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