Stencil vs Pencil

Created my own little stencil of the alphabet. Trying out some new ideas for posters. Messy but fun.

Creatvity Talk on Culture Night (Sept 23rd)

I’m thrilled to announce that I will be participating in a panel discussion about creativity on Culture Night (Sept 23rd) at The Tara Building. I’m really looking forward to sharing some stories and learning more from other fellow creatives, and I have no doubt you will enjoy it too. It’s part of a broader night of carefully curated creative connections with live music, interesting conversations, art tours, and a DJ set. Best of all it’s completely FREE, but you will have to reserve a ticket here.

Details of my panel discussion below:

8pm: Creative Conversation #1 – How We Make It

A panel of multi-disciplinary artists and creatives share their journeys from idea to execution.

Feat: Kalle Ryan, Ruth Medjber, Ashwin Chacko, and Rob de Boer

Be inspired by people who have published books, released songs, planned exhibitions, designed brands and more.

Kalle Ryan: Irish-Swedish writer, songwriter, playwright, actor, and festival curator. www.kalleryan.com

Ruth Medjber: Photographer and artist working on everything from music festivals through portrait projects and charitable partnerships. https://www.ruthlessimagery.com

Ashwin Chacko: Indian author, illustrator and motivational speaker based in Dublin. Champions creativity and empower people to find their inner spark. www.whackochacko.com

Followed by Q&A and a very special live performance Rob de Boer

Full listing of the evening’s events at The Tara Building here

Lilies & Cannonballs – My first published work

Back in the early 2000s I lived in New York City and it was a brilliantly rich time of creativity for me. In addition to working on the now defunct arty website artlick.com, and being in a band, I was beginning to explore poetry and spoken word in a deeper way. I had always written poetry, some of it quite traditional, but some of it quite odd and experimental. This writing was purely written for my own amusement and creative impulses. Not once did I think it would find a published home, but that changed in 2004 when I befriended the writer Dan Connor, who was setting up a new literary journal called “Lilies & Cannonballs Review” (LCR). The name always reminded me of the rock band Guns n’ Roses, but it actually takes its name from a phrase by the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro – “Take a lily and a cannonball, mix them together, there you have my soul”. I was impressed by such an exciting vision for the journal, a place where the ridiculous and the sublime could co-exist. On Dan’s insistence, I submitted three slightly odd pieces to him as editor, and to my utter delight, they were selected for publication. It was my first time being published, and I would not have predicted that these would have been the ones that made it onto ink and paper. What’s more, my pieces were the closing selections in the debut issue of the journal (LCR Vol. 1 No. 1). In my mind I was the headline act. He was saving the best for last. Or perhaps mine were buried at the back for the more adventurous reader. Nevertheless, they were chosen and I was buoyant. One of the more offbeat pieces I wrote is reproduced from the journal below, and it doesn’t scream “publish me” but Dan had a wicked sense of humour, and was very supportive, so what do I know?

The rush of being published lasted for a while and gave me real hope that I could perhaps even make a career out of writing. In the end I did, albeit in a very different way in Corporate Internal Communications. Nevertheless, a fire was lit and I continued to submit pieces to the journal (which was published twice a year). And during that time I was rejected, which did sting, but it was also a good learning curve in the world of getting your work published. 

It wasn’t until three issues later (LCR Vol 2. No. 2) that I was able to get my next piece published. It would turn out to be my last publication in the journal. This time it was a quirky play/movie about two characters called Freddie & Jam-Jam, which was a prequel of sorts to my piece published in New Planet Cabaret some years later. I can see that my writing had gotten more focused and more precise by this time, but there is still the same quirky humour and mischievous spirit to it. 

I was so taken with the journal and the platform it gave to different voices, that I offered my services as a reader of incoming submissions. I soon joined the editorial reading group and I continued to do it for several years until I left New York. Being a reader was a terrific (and sometimes boring) experience, with real insights into what it takes to get published, and more eye-openingly, the standard of submissions that a journal receives. Ranging from full-blown masterpieces to embarrassing half-thoughts posing as literature. I loved it and it forced me to consider work that existed outside my relatively narrow reading habits & norms, as well as sharpening my critical eye for what good looked like. It was another layer in my creative journey that I look back on with great fondness. In particular I loved seeing it come together in the final stages of editing. There was real care and thought put into selecting the writing, and indeed the artwork that also graced its pages. In fact, my own father Tony Ryan had a couple of his etchings and monoprints published in LCR Vol. 2 No. 1, which was a special moment for him, and point of pride for me

Alas, the journal is no longer being published. It too was a casualty of time and money in an increasingly difficult creative landscape. But it will always have a special place in my heart as a writer. If it wasn’t for the encouragement of Lilies & Cannonballs, I may not have persisted. For that I will always be grateful. 

Broadcast audio recording of the award-nominated Fringe show “Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About”

As we enter September, it is time once again for the wonderful Dublin Fringe Festival to kick into gear. With that in mind, I wanted to resurface an audio recording we did last year to mark the 10th anniversary of our award nominated Fringe show Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About“. (You can read more about the process of developing and staging the show here). For all the wonderful success that we experienced with the original staging and touring of the show, we never adequately captured it at the time. So, for the 10th anniversary we did a studio audio recording of a performance, and then hired the talented composer Gareth Quinn-Redmond to compose a soundtrack/score for the piece. The end result is a beautiful piece of art that elevates the original beyond our wildest dreams. It didn’t get much love at the time of release, but I stand over it being as good as anything I have ever created. Please listen and share with others. It really deserves to be heard. Spotify link above. Soundcloud link below.

If you’re interested you can pick up a copy of the limited edition 10th anniversary script here on this website. This special print run includes new forewords by all three authors, several never-before-seen photos, as well as new contemporary essays by Director Sarah Brennan, and Gemma Tipton (The Irish Times) that reflect on its impact and enduring Irish theatrical legacy. 

Plan “Be” – 5 tips about being creative

A few years ago I was lucky enough to become friendly with the brilliant Shane Langan and Nial Conlan, curators & hosts of a wonderful gig in Dublin called the Weekly General Meeting. As an offshoot of the show, they also had a podcast that showcased some of Irelands best established & emerging artists. I was featured as a performer in the very first episode alongside Hozier and Arthur Mathews (Father Ted), and they invited me back to talk about my philosophy of creativity, and ultimately to share my top 5 tips about being successful in your creative endeavors. This is the interview (starts around the 25 minute mark) and if you don’t have the time to listen, here are my original notes for the interview that capture the essence of the conversation, as well as adding some additional thoughts to it :

1. BE A LUNATIC Be a lunatic and shoot for the moon. Commit to it, then figure out how to do it. As JFK said about the actual moonshot. “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills”. In essence I am saying, simply grab a hold of an idea, own it, and do it yourself. Figure out how to do it along the way. The Brownbread Mixtape show that I hosted for a decade, as well as the LINGO spoken word festival I co-founded, were both anchored deeply in that idea. Dream big, shoot for the moon, and use your passion as fuel to make it happen.

It’s important to be a doer instead of a talker. Forget about “some day”, make it today. And surround yourself with people who say YES. Immerse yourself in a community of folks who say “Why not?”. Wild flights of fancy are worth the effort. Especially if you have others around you who want to realise the same ideas. And even if you fail, you will have built strong bonds with other creatives, and will likely learn something from the overall experience.

2. BE INCLUSIVE – A rising tide lifts all boats. I believe that. Especially when it comes to the creative community. When sizing up all angles of a creative undertaking, I believe it is important to always think about how to bring as many people along on the journey as possible. For example, when curating a line-up, I place real importance on the variety of voices represented onstage. And when it comes to the audience, my style of performance and MCing is about breaking down the line between me and the audience. I want to make everyone feel like they are fully part of the experience. The great Irish writer Dermot Bolger paid me the highest compliment by describing my live performances as follows: “… there is the feeling you felt at punk gigs in 1977 of no separation between performer and audience.” For all of my poetry performances, and especially as MC at The Brownbread Mixtape gigs, I was really focused on drawing the audience in, making them feel welcome and valued, hearing their stories, and ultimately making the experience theirs as much as mine. This takes some time and it takes commitment to build that trust. But I always go in trusting the audience. Trusting their intelligence. Trusting their willingness to connect. And the end result is a room full of people feeling connected on another level. And part of that is down to me and the people in the room, and the other part is down to the power of great art. Art is the great connector in the universe.

3. BE COOL Be cool and be kind. To artists. To audience. To everyone. To your work. If you are good to others, they will pay it back, or, even better, they will pay it forward. I didnt have an agenda other than to have a great night filled with great art, and in return we would all feel a bit more happy & connected afterwards. Sounds like common sense, but it isn’t common practice always. Most people are just looking for a nice gig with a welcoming audience. And I know that I can always provide that. Whatever comes after that is a biproduct of the energy you transmit. In a nutshell, my artistic philosophy has always been this – Be good and good things come back to you.

4. BE SPECIFIC  The more specific you are, the more universal it becomes. When it come to creative work and outputs, my greatest successes have usually come when I applied this principle. James Joyce even said much the same thing – “In the particular is contained the universal.” This has held true for both of the award-nominated Fringe plays I wrote (Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About and The Definitive View with Sneachta Ni Mhurchu). For both shows I chose topics and details that were ultra specific to me personally, or to the country I live in, and through that lens I was able to reflect greater truths and moments of catharsis in every place they were performed in (from London to Paris). Because those moments are really microcosms of grander human themes and experiences. If you get real & vulnerable with people and take them to a specific place, they will likely go with you and immerse themselves willingly, because you want to share something. Because at the core of your creation is often a fundamental human truth that resonates deeply and emotionally. And that is the best you can hope for with your art.

5. BE OK WITH WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW In life. In your art. There are so many things competing for your attention and for your time, and, as hard as it is, you must simply accept your circumstances. When I have forced myself to create something, it is rarely as good as the times where I have a fire lit inside me. And this is not an excuse to be lazy or to procrastinate, but rather a grander idea about accepting the demands of your life at any given moment and being fine with how much you can create at that point in time. Be it your family, your job, your commitments – these things may slow you down, but look at them as opportunities to live your life and fill your cup with experiences that can later be translated into your work. Forgive yourself for the days where nothing creative happens, but don’t forget to celebrate the days when you do create something new. And be prepared to fail. Be prepared not to please everyone. Be prepared to go long stretches without creating. But remain a believer in your ability to create. That is being. That is creating.

Investing your time to develop your creativity

I’m sure you’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. You’ve almost certainly heard his well known theory from the book, where he posits that it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of an art or skill. He arrives at this nice round number by citing a piece of research about a violin school in Berlin, where the students were estimated to have put in these kind of hours to master their instrument.

The theory has been picked apart by several critics. It even turns out that the number is slightly arbitrary according to the original researcher K. Anders Ericsson, but the central premise nevertheless still holds true. Great mastery of a creative artform takes a huge amount of time. The investment in one’s craft is as vital as one’s creative ability.

Some years after the release of the book, Gladwell did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on reddit, where he discussed his work and ideas, and I particularly liked his clarification on the 10,000 hours theory.

“Practice isn’t a sufficient condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.” 

The word investment sticks out to me here. Investing in yourself as a creative person is vital to becoming a more fully realised version of who you want to be. How you want to create. The very act of writing these words is part of my continued investment in my craft. Whether 10, 000 hours is the right number is almost immaterial. The main takeaway is that none of us can get by on pure talent alone, it also takes hard work. And that is as it should be. As it happens, I am fairly certain I have clocked more than 10,000 on the odometer at this point in my creative journey, and I intend to reinvest them and go for another 10,000.