Posts in english

3. November 2019

112019: If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going

November 2019

Partly stressed, partly depressed, with a tiny spark of excitement, I am sitting in front of an empty slide deck. It’s some rainy weekend in October, and I am supposed to give a talk about my work during the upcoming week. I am paralyzed.

I used to give presentations quite frequently; I would even say that it used to be one of my best-trained designer muscles. But during that weekend I noticed how rusty I’ve gotten; how tricky I found it to draw a line without an actual pencil; and how shaky my voice gets while it peeks on the speaker notes. On the other hand: I really, genuinely enjoy it. I love talking about design, about an idea or a craft or a process, drawing that story line and deciding what’s worth saying and what isn’t. I just haven’t done it in a very long time.

So, as I am sitting at my desk, blank page horror in full blossom, I text my friend Ralf about my sorrows. He reminds me of a very basic wisdom: “If it doesn’t work, keep doing it—it’ll come to you eventually.” If you’re going through hell, keep going. It sounds cheesy, plain and overly dramatic, but drama helps, ffs sake; emotions help!, and it has a whole lot of truth to it. In the end, that stroll through hell saved me yet again: After I finished the slides and after the presentation was given and when I allowed myself to be relieved, I noticed: Wow, It’s good to be reunited with something I really like. Winning that spark back wasn’t as hard after all, it just felt so for a little part of the way.

Speaking of speaking: In October, I was invited by StanHema to talk about my design work and its relation to writing and text. That was fun, because as as we all know: Design is writing is design, and sorting and sharing all these connections in my head was really motivating and eye-opening.

I also noticed that this September marked my 10-year-anniversary in Berlin. I’ve always imagined to write a huge thinkpiece on how this city changed me, my life, my believes etcetera yada yada, so that in the end, I just published a list of random thoughts.

Learned about myself: I’m really into poetry. Actually I’ve always been, I just didn’t want to admit it, and I only like the weird stuff. And Rilke.

Even more links: I enjoyed this documentary about elderly people who speed-date (German); I learned a lot about Susan Sontag in this article about writing her biography; and I always admire Robert Riegers photography and especially his instagram posts.

I hope you’re all on a safe stroll off of any hell-like trails, but if you’re in the thick of one: Keep going! Have a blissful start into November.

3. September 2019

Flying Low & Passing Through

Flying Low is a contemporary dance technique, developed by David Zambrano. It focusses on the body as a spiral: A constant exchange of collecting and releasing tension lets the dancer move upwards and downwards, high and low, always rotating. It’s an intense technique – watch it here (but don’t try it at home).

It also describes my past month’s mood fairly well. The idea of gathering and sending, that the technique promotes, actually sounds like a common creative practice: You look at things, absorb them, and then you process them, work with them, and make something new out of them. Pretty straight forward.

But I’ve been struggling with that lately. Last month was quite exhausting: I took time for personal work, but it never really worked. I was discontent, the outcome was never good enough, yada yada, you know how it goes. But I always needed that “fix” of pushing it out to the world. I needed to publish something; to show something. It was almost like everything I made only had a right to be made and exist if it was out there. But showing my work was not the release I was hoping for, it just made the tension bigger. I didn’t know what to do.

~ Brief pause, deep breath, building up tension ~

And I still don’t.

I wish I was able to tell you how I solved the creative block, but I haven’t yet. It’s been about four weeks, and by now, I just focus on passing through it – by simply not doing anything. And actually, as I recently discovered fun activities outside of work for me, it might not be that hard after all.

Here is a jumbled list of things I’ve done, read and learned:

● I learned that the term “Carpe Diem” doesn’t translate to “Seize the day”, but rather to “Pluck the day” (“… evoking the plucking and gathering of ripening fruits or flowers, enjoying a moment that is rooted in the sensory experience of nature”), which is beautiful and reduces the anxiety to getting stuff done. Here’s the article about it.

● I am going to dance classes again, after I stopped for almost two years. Not to practice Flying Low (I have enough spiraling and gathering and sending struggles in my life already), but just to get moving again. It’s fun. If your mind is stuck, moving is a good idea.

● I need a book shelf! If you have recommendations for beautifully designed shelves, I’d be grateful if you shared them with me. Instagram aggressively advertised this Italian shelving system to me, which I love (it has all the good stuff: wood and metal drawers and mustard colors), and of course it’s extraordinarily expensive.

When the weather gets colder, swallows tend to lower their flight level. For September, I might stick to that mode, too; flying low, just passing through it. However high your level for September might be: Please pass through it safely.

31. Juli 2019

072019: Isn’t It Ironic?!

image of an ink blotI am only allowed to leave my underwear on; no shirt, no socks. It makes sense, because after the doctor asks me to stand still, she points her gun-like mole detector on all the moles that are spread across my body. On the huge iMac, I see the pictures she takes: Red and brown and skin-colored spots, really close; they look more like bruises or the watery ink blots I make when mixing ink. She says it’s all good, but takes some pictures to monitor the mole’s alterations.

So, as a mole-covered person, I went to get a skin cancer screening (apologies for using the word mole for the fifth time now; I really don’t like it either). Which is somehow ironic, because in July I learned that I might not actually be the mole I always thought I was; hidden inside, behind his desk, wearing his huge glasses, avoiding sunlight. I’d like to inform you that I discovered FUN activities for me.

For a very long time in my life, I thought I’d needed to stay away from all things fun—I avoided holidays (too expensive, too time-consuming, I could be working during those two weeks!), I almost never went out for drinks (I don’t really drink, so what’s the point anyway?!), I skipped parties and festivals (too many people). Last weekend though, I went to the Pride parade here in Berlin, and I figured out that I am not scared of big crowds anymore, and that’s really good. It was actually really fun! And I also went out for drinks, during a really nice summer night, and that was enjoyable, too. How did I not know that having fun can be so effortless? Being able to refrain from judging oneself, and letting go of that workaholic’s remorse regarding leisure time—it’s really quite something. 10/10, can recommend.

Which reminds me of a comment I got from my friend Sonja, regarding my last newsletter’s headline (062019: Take Yourself With You). She pointed out that a good way to make uneasy situations more enjoyable is the thought that you always take yourself with you. And if you are cool with who you are, the uneasy situation might actually become manageable, if not even enjoyable—you’ve always got yourself! I liked that thought, and it made it even more appealing to love myself a bit more.

That’s why I also spent some me-time during July: I read Sally Rooney’s Normal People (as everyone did, apparently, and besides the book, I also enjoyed being part of the hype). I wrote a poem about a deer. I drew a vampire, and I wrote about awkward handshakes. Funnily, I got a lot of feedback on the handshake story from people who I’ve had a lot of awkward-handshake-situations with. Well, we’re all just trapped in our heads I guess.

Anyway: Now that I know that fun is an easily-accessible commodity that I could treat myself with every once in a while, and also now that I know that all my moles (SORRY) are innocuous, I invite you to enjoy this summer to its fullest. It’s August already!

26. Juni 2019

062019: Take Yourself With You

Me being happy in Vienna

(Picture of me being happy in Vienna a couple of weeks ago)

It’s 9.30pm and 21°C outside, which is quite nice. I am sitting on my sofa while typing this; after I spent 50 per cent of the weekend sick in bed, another 25 per cent with friends, and the remaining 25 per cent with myself, which I’ve been enjoying a lot lately.

So what has been happening?! I admire people who manage to send out newsletters on a very regular basis, but I am not one of them. That’s actually good for you, because I guess I am not the only one with tons of unread newsletters in my inbox, which I’d LIKE to read but eventually just mark as read because there is so much other stuff to read and see and do.

In general: I’ve learned a lot about what kind of person I am and what I am not, and accepting both has been a big relief recently. I am not a travel-person, for example, at least not right now, and that’s okay. I am, however, a picky eater, and that’s okay too. I’ve spent years trying not to be one; trying to like everything, but you know what: Liking everything is ~not joyful~ at all. Being at ease with the things you can and cannot fulfill is fantastic, and it makes coping with life so much easier. Cool that I only needed 27 years to figure that out.

Sitting here, on a Sunday night, with a cold soda and an uncomfortably warm laptop on my lap, made me remember my last summer: I’ve spent it completely inside, writing my thesis, letting the warm days pass by. I am not a lake person, or a picknick person, but I definitely am a summer person. I am looking forward to making it count (a bit more) this year.

Hard facts to add some links to this letter: We’ve polished Zeit Online a little bit (as in: we removed the sidebar, and made everything a bit nicer and bigger and better). When I showed the designs to readers, no one noticed a difference, and that was okay. I wasn’t trying to design something new; I just wanted to improve the existing thing, and as Lucius Burckhardt taught me: Good Design is invisible. (Bitter pill to swallow at first, admittedly.)

I’ve also been blogging (yes, I still do that occasionally): I drew manspreaders I saw on the train, I cycled behind a woman with a carpet beater, and I drew a selfie of me on my therapist’s sofa. I generally try to draw more on my instagram.

Even during summer, sofas seem to be my happy place. Nothing wrong with that! That’s why I’m sending you kindest regards from between these pillows here right now, and kindly ask you to stay cool and use sunscreen during the next days.

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31. Dezember 2018

122018: Think Lightly of Yourself, And Deeply of the World

Image of the night out of the train

Like every morning, my eyes open at 5:55am. Partly because of my inner clock, but also because my thoughts tumble around and wake me up. I start laying out tasks for the day, and conversations I need to conduct; I push words around like letters on a scrabble board, and while I end up with perfect formulations at 5:55, I usually miss out on using them during the day. I stay in bed until 7:30, sometimes 9:00am. Then I get up.

On the last day of this year (you are probably reading this in 2019 already, so take this as a greeting from the past and send it to the archives), I got up at 8:00am sharp. I went to a supermarket and bought three zucchinis. Then I re-read the newsletter I sent out one year ago. It was titled “You Think You Might Not Get Through It But You Do”. That’s probably what I learned throughout this year: You actually do. I finished a lot of things this year; I got a master’s degree, I worked with a lot of great people, and I worked on a lot of things including myself. I end this year being torn between totally agreeing to Jerry Salz’s statement “Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away” (I blogged about his great piece on being an artist), and accepting that not working might sometimes actually be the best cure for my nervous self. I might find out in 2019. Don’t cry—work. If you feel like it.

What follows are the occasional recommendations from around the web. E.g. Austin Kleon’s weblog, in particular this exploration of the metaphor “surfing the web“.

I enjoyed this piece by the California Sunday Magazine about Homes. They photographed and talked to a variety of people where and how they feel at home, and the audio layer of the piece makes it extra-intimate.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to move my blog’s home from Tumblr to a self-hosted system again. I made tons of posts (dating back to 2006!) private, and kept only the writing I still like public. When Tumblr decided to apply content filters as of Dec. 17, I already left the platform. Malte’s tweet summed up my feelings perfectly: “take this recent tumblr crackdown as a reminder that this is still the web. you can learn to build and own your own platforms.” (12/4/2018)

Drawing the 2018-Finishing-Line: Fear has been, yet again, way to dominant in my year, and I want to continue working on taming it. Besides that, I want to become better at using those formulations I make at 5:55am, I want to become better at taking up space, and more intent at making decisions. I hope you all had a great year and have some (not too many!) plans for 2019. Stay safe and sound, Yours truly—Christoph.

22. Dezember 2018

How to Deal With A Creative Meltdown

screenshot of the website

Every once in a while I feel insanely insecure about my creative work and my output. I start comparing myself to others, and eventually, I get totally numb and stop making things at all. Which is bad. That’s why a while ago, I jotted down an instagram post to remind myself of my worries, and how to handle them. Sometimes, you just need a little mantra, a spell, a little routine to get back on track.

To get this thing off instagram, I published it on a little website. Check it out and share it with your friends. ✨

20. Dezember 2018

“Forget Being a Genius and Develop Some Skills”

screenshot of Jerry Saltz’s article

One of the best things I’ve read this week was art critic Jerry Saltz’s “How to Be an Artist” (New York Magazine, Nov. 26, 2018). In 33 rules, he describes and explains how to deal with life as a creative person, and how to become a better, more confident artist. I nodded my head at almost every single point, but here are the quotes and ideas I actually enjoyed to most:

1: Don’t be Embarrassed. You often reveal things about yourself that others may find appalling, weird, boring, or stupid. People may think you’re abnormal or a hack. Fine. When I work, I feel sick to my stomach with thoughts like None of this is any good. It makes no sense. But art doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t even need to be good.

I’ve been studying and working in the creative field for about 10 years now and still feel it, and Jerry’s list doesn’t sound like this feeling of embarrassment and insecurity will go away. So I guess I better learn to deal with it.

Lesson 5: Work, Work, Work. (…) Every artist and writer I know claims to work in their sleep. I do all the time. (…) How many times have you been given a whole career in your dreams and not heeded it? It doesn’t matter how scared you are; everyone is scared. Work. Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away.

This last sentence stuck with me. I am going to paint it on the wall of my living room, maybe even on the insides of my eyelids. It’s not necessarily meant in a workaholic way, but in a way to remember myself that creative work can always a safe haven, too.

Lesson 6: Start With a Pencil. (…) Next, draw the square foot in front of you. This can be tight, loose, abstract, realistic. It’s a way to see how you see objects, textures, surfaces, shapes, light, dark, atmosphere, and patterns. It tells you what you missed seeing.

I just enjoyed this little exercise and can recommend it to everyone. Drawing helps you see things.

Forget Being a Genius and Develop Some Skills.


Lesson 9: “Embed thought in material.” — Roberta Smith. (…) An object should express ideas; art should contain emotions. And these ideas and feelings should be easy to understand — complex or not.

Exercise: An Archaeology. Make an index, family tree, chart, or diagram of your interests. All of them, everything: visual, physical, spiritual, sexual. Leisure time, hobbies, foods, buildings, airports, everything. Every book, movie, website, etc. The totality of this self-exposure may be daunting, scary. But your voice is here. This will become a resource and record to return to and add to for the rest of your life.

This reminded me a lot on the Starterpack meme I made a couple of months ago, which was so much fun and taught me a lot about myself. It also made me accept myself more.

Lesson 14: Compare Cats and Dogs. Okay, this sounds ridiculous, but call your dog and it comes right over to you, placing its head in your lap, slobbering, wagging its tail: a miraculous direct communication with another species. Now call your cat. It might look up, twitch a bit, perhaps go over to the couch, rub against it, circle once, and lie down again. What am I saying? In seeing how the cat reacted, you are seeing something very close to how artists communicate.

This quote is a much needed argument for cat people, like me.

The best definition of success is time — the time to do your work.

When I was working in an agency full-time, I enjoyed the work I did, but it often didn’t feel like creative work—as it was never work that included myself as an artist. It was client work. After I couple of years I noticed that this doesn’t make me happy. Today I still sometimes feel guilty about it; something in my head tells me that anything but a full-time job is just lazy. Turns out: Creativity is a full-time job by itself.

Envy looks at others but blinds you.

I guess the only way to prevent my eyes from getting worse is to change my view on fellow designers and artists. Not that I am full of envy, but I noticed looking at other people’s work too much prevents me from believing in my own stuff.

After beating yourself up for half an hour or so, stop and say out loud, “Yeah, but I’m a fucking genius.”

Because you are! Amen.

Read “How to Be an Artist” by Jerry Saltz on Vulture.