September 30, 2009

CREATIVITY | Nietzsche Quote

Remember to enter your comments on CREATIVITY PROFILE | S. F. Varney in order to win an autographed copy of "Karate Dottie and Treacherous Treehouse."

September 29, 2009

CREATIVITY | Bradbury Quote

Remember to enter your comments on CREATIVITY PROFILE | S. F. Varney in order to win an autographed copy of "Karate Dottie and Treacherous Treehouse."

September 28, 2009

CREATIVITY | Koestler Quote

Remember to enter your comments on CREATIVITY PROFILE | S. F. Varney in order to win an autographed copy of "Karate Dottie and Treacherous Treehouse."

September 27, 2009

CREATIVITY | Picasso Quote

Remember to enter your comments on CREATIVITY PROFILE | S. F. Varney in order to win an autographed copy of "Karate Dottie and Treacherous Treehouse."

September 21, 2009


My son and I recently read a wonderfully creative adventure book, "Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse," written by S. F. Varney. As part of this series on creativity, I asked Sam a couple of questions about how he finds the time and inspiration to be so creative. You'll enjoy his responses below.

He also agreed to give away a special copy of Karate Dottie with a hand-drawn illustration and autograph on the inside cover to one lucky reader. To enter, just leave a comment to this post. I'll draw the winner on October 17, 2009.

HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH AND THEN DEVELOP STORY IDEAS? I spent a large portion of my childhood with no television in the house so I became a voracious reader of books and comic books which I feel helped spark my imagination. Inspiration comes from different sources such as a picture, a newspaper or magazine article, a conversation or an observation. It usually begins with the question "What if...". The story of Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse began as a bedtime story I made up for my boys one night. When some friends stayed over a few weeks later and they specifically asked me to tell them the story about Fluffy, I knew it was a hit with them.

As for the process, I work out the basic plot first. The first three books in the Karate Dottie series comprise the first complete story arc and it is completely worked out. Then I just start writing and try to tell the story that I see in my head. I will show my work to anyone who will read it even during the early rough drafts. The characters are well developed and I make sure they act and speak in accordance with their core values and motivations. Next comes multiple rewrites and the illustrations. I do all of the illustrations for my books so I know my vision is replicated faithfully but it is not without challenges. One illustration I was unsure of including was the scene where Fluffy steps out of the darkness. I debated on whether or not I should leave that scene up to the imagination or include it. I polled the neighbors and it was a split decision and then I put it in an online forum. The responses helped me make the decision to include it. There are some illustrations that did not make the cut.

I want to make the story as unpredictable as possible. When I made the decision to make one of the characters in the story have asthma, something I personally struggled with as a child and deal with as a parent, the obvious choice would have been Gordo based on the stereotype. Instead I chose Dottie, which in turn gives this fierce little girl a challenge much like Superman has kryptonite to contend with.

HOW DO YOU FIND TIME TO PURSUE YOUR CREATIVE WRITING AND DRAWING WHEN YOU HAVE A FULL-TIME JOB AND ARE SO INVOLVED WITH YOUR VERY ACTIVE FAMILY? I don't sleep much. My boys are still young so they go to bed at 8:30 PM each night allowing me to work on my creative pursuits from 9 until midnight or sometimes a little later if I let time get away from me. I rotate what I am working on so depending on what night it is I may be working on illustrations, commissions, website design or writing. I like to chat when I am creating artwork but not when I am writing. If I am traveling on the road for my job, I always take my materials with me so I can work on it in the hotel room at night. I really enjoy doing it so I do not consider it work.

HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE QUALITY OF WHAT YOU WRITE AND DRAW? There are two components to art, one is technical and the other is creative. It is possible to have great technical skill but lack the spark of creativity that engages the viewer. I continually strive to improve the technical side of my art through studying the techniques of talented artists that I admire both past and present. I show my art to everyone who will look. I am very active on deviantART which is a website that connects artists and those who love art. The benefit of this forum is it gives me objective feedback from artists all over the world.

Writing is more difficult to get objective feedback on. First it takes a great deal of commitment and time for someone to read a manuscript and then give criticism on it unlike an art portfolio which can be evaluated almost instantly. Constructive criticism is extremely valuable but very difficult to get. Our neighborhood is full of children so the manuscript of Karate Dottie was passed around and read by several of the target audience and their parents. I also sent it via email to some professionals to get their feedback as well. I put a lot of weight on the feedback of the target audience (children) because they are typically unfiltered in their feedback and if they do not like it, they will tell you.

Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for your free copy of "Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse."

September 20, 2009

7 Random Thoughts on Creativity

To start off a series of posts on creative thinking, here are seven random tips I find helpful when I need think more creatively.

1. WRITE THINGS DOWN > Nothing forces you to crystalize your thinking more than having to condense it to the written word. Write, write, write. Write down the problem to be solved. Write down ideas when they happen. Write down solutions to remember them later. One year after figuring out the best way wind up the Christmas tree lights, I wrote myself a note and put it in the box so I would remember it when I pulled them out again the next year. Worked.

2. GET BACK TO NATURE > There are solutions everywhere in nature. When we spend time in nature, we get to observe a wealth of analogies and metaphors we can use to solve our problems.

3. GO INTO THE SILENCE > Spend some time in solitude. Meditate, go for a walk, sit and do nothing. Just get silent.

4. COMBINE TWO UNLIKE THINGS > Did you know that the words to "Gilligan's Island" work to the tune of Amazing Grace? Try it. When you get stuck, go for the opposite. Open the dictionary to a random word and make it work with your idea. Ideas can come from far away places.

5. BORROW IDEAS > Not every idea has to be original, as long as you give appropriate credit. Fast food restaurants borrowed the drive-thru from banking. Or was it the other way around?

6. FEED ON CREATIVITY > The old adage, "Garbage in, garbage out" works with anything. "Creativity in, creativity out." Read creative books, hang out with creative people, go to creative places, attend creative workshops.

7. GET DISCIPLINED > Seems counter-intuitive, but the more disciplined you are the more creative you are. Being disciplined gives you more time and less stress to focus on creative thinking.

Watch for an upcoming interview with creative writer and artist, S. F. Varney. His latest book is "Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse."

September 17, 2009

A Man Said to the Universe...

One of my favorite poems is this one from Stephen Crane:

A man said to the universe:
"Sir I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."
Today, I read a rather explicit version of that sentiment from a foul-mouthed 73-year-old man as shared by his son in this tweet. Same point made in two very different styles.

September 9, 2009

Win the Book Problogger by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett

Here is a quick and simple way win a copy of the book Problogger by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett.

- If don't yet, they're pretty simple to set up.

2. EMBED THIS PRESENTATION into one of your blog post (yes, this is a blatant attempt to generate traffic to a presentation I created on, but it's a good presentation, so you should check it out anyway, and while you're there feel free to vote for it in The World's Best Presentation Contest 2009).

3. POST A COMMENT to this blog post with a link to your blog post (hey, it's not just the book that's in it for you) by Tuesday, September 15, 2009.

On Wednesday, September 16, I will print off all the comments, cut them into strips of paper, literally draw an entry out of a hat, contact the winner, and ship them a free copy of Darren and Chris's book. You may enter more than once as long as each comment has it's own unique blog posts. Good luck!

September 2, 2009

The Wonderful Wizard of Metaphors

While having lunch with my good friend Scott, he told me about a recent metaphor he used at work. His company is planning to build a new corporate office and seeking ideas from all levels within the organization. He suggested that they should make it like the Emerald City from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, not literally, but capture the essence of a fabulous place that's bright and colorful where everyone feels like singing and dancing. He was imagining that scene in the movie where they enter and see the horse of the different color for the first time.

"Then I went on to wikipedia to get some specifics to add to my metaphor..." he went on as I started laughing because I had just read the book with my children and knew exactly where this was headed. In the book, the Emerald City isn't quite so beautiful and shiny. Read for yourself.


"I am the Guardian of the Gates, and since you demand to see the Great Oz I must take you to his Palace. But first you must put on the spectacles."

"Why?" asked Dorothy.

"Because if you did not wear spectacles the brightness and glory of the Emerald City would blind you. Even those who live in the City must wear spectacles night and day. They are all locked on, for Oz so ordered it when the City was first built, and I have the only key that will unlock them."

He opened the big box, and Dorothy saw that it was filled with spectacles of every size and shape. All of them had green glasses in them. The Guardian of the Gates found a pair that would just fit Dorothy and put them over her eyes. There were two golden bands fastened to them that passed around the back of her head, where they were locked together by a little key that was at the end of a chain the Guardian of the Gates wore around his neck. When they were on, Dorothy could not take them off had she wished, but of course she did not wish to be blinded by the glare of the Emerald City, so she said nothing.


Even with eyes protected by the green spectacles, Dorothy and her friends were at first dazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful City. The streets were lined with beautiful houses all built of green marble and studded everywhere with sparkling emeralds. They walked over a pavement of the same green marble, and where the blocks were joined together were rows of emeralds, set closely, and glittering in the brightness of the sun. The window panes were of green glass; even the sky above the City had a green tint, and the rays of the sun were green.


"Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City; and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green."

"But isn't everything here green?" asked Dorothy.

"No more than in any other city," replied Oz; "but when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you. The Emerald City was built a great many years ago, for I was a young man when the balloon brought me here, and I am a very old man now. But my people have worn green glasses on their eyes so long that most of them think it really is an Emerald City, and it certainly is a beautiful place, abounding in jewels and precious metals, and every good thing that is needed to make one happy."

So, to the people who read the book, Scott was unwittingly suggesting that his company build a sham headquarters that would create a facade of corporate success. I'm guessing they loved the idea.