My analog year

It was a little odd for me to not be recording some of my biggest projects in 2014 on the web.

analog stack

I made a few references to Sketchbook Skool on twitter, but didn’t blog about it. Instead, I put my energy into making things with my hands that didn’t later show up online. No special project websites, no flickr album, just three full sketchbooks. Each and every page, full, even the inside covers. The advice to keep drawing and move on — no ripping out pages — really helped.

I took all three semesters (Beginning, Seeing, and Storytelling) at SBS because once I got started, I didn’t want to stop. I have been telling myself for years that I wanted to draw and then doing absolutely nothing about it. Until Danny Gregory and crew were around week after week to nudge and encourage me, I was stuck. Stuck in believing I couldn’t draw, that I couldn’t learn to draw, and that my monkey would never shut up enough for me to try.

Going from zero drawing to filling 372 pages feels like a big deal. Committing to ongoing creativity is a big deal. It feels great.

The other book I filled in 2014 was my logbook; it was the second year in a row I stole Austin Kleon’s idea.

I used up several pens, discovered watercolor, played around with permanent and water soluble pens, and developed a crush on watercolor pencils. I took my sketchbooks out in public — years of carrying around cameras helped that feel less conspicuous; if you want the image, you’ll do what you need to in order to try and get it.

Lots of pages, not many posts in 2014. I am okay with that. This year, though, I’d like to see how I can manage both.

Share what you know

Those of us who work on and love the web all have Jeffrey Zeldman to thank. He certainly didn’t do it all (and he didn’t invent it) but he did make it possible for many of us to build things and to more productively tinker.

Remember tables? Nested tables? Yeah. Back in the day, before they were a bad thing, they were a good thing. Web standards made everything better for everybody. Not perfect, but better.

This documentary about Zeldman brings it all back, and more:

Sharing what you know was at the heart of the web, particularly the independent web. Zeldman took “share what you know” and built A List Apart, first as a email list then as a website. He brings people together and amplifies the right signals for learning through An Event Apart. There is so much, now there’s A Book Apart.

In the video he talks about failure, about how he tried things that didn’t work. He didn’t come out of computer science. He struggled as a writer, in advertising, as a cartoonist, as a musician. He got sooner than most that web was a communications medium. He understood that to make it even more effective, people had to share what they know.

The technology is the underpinning, but it isn’t the end goal: “Web design is for people.” I think it is important to recognize that not all web pioneers have been programmers. Engineering is invaluable and on its own incomplete.

For a web video it’s long, but I’ve listened to it twice now. One of the things I loved about it was being reminded of the ethos of early days of web design/development/publishing: “If you don’t see what you like, you make your own.” You share what you make.

You keep it by giving it away.

Zeldman isn’t really practicing anymore — he’s not working with HTML and CSS these days. He’s passed that baton to the next generation, and I was surprised to feel a sense of relief and possibility in this. I mean, the expert in web design isn’t really doing web design anymore. He’s not solving problems at that level now.

I used to roll my websites with text editors. My HTML and CSS validated. I created my own blog themes, I ran my own installs on my rented server space. This week I setup WordPress on my local machine, set up bootstrap, and got them talking together so that I could use bootstrap to do theme development.

Then I realized, this isn’t how I want to spend my time.

I’m happy about being technical enough to get those things done. I also know that just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. So I decided to do something I never thought I would and for the first time in over a decade of blogging, I bought premium themes. Why not start with something I liked, and spend a little happy time tinkering so it does things in ways I like a little bit better?

Then I can spend more time doing other things. Like writing posts. Solving problems different problems. I hear maybe a long overdue re-flowering of blogs and independent websites is imminent.

We can dream. And we can do the parts that make sense for us to do to help.