Fruit Stickers

I just started a project where I paint fruit stickers at 4x actual size in gouache. I find the tiny format and personality in each sticker really endearing, and wanted to show my appreciation for this tiny artform by recreating the designs by hand.

Turns out I’m not the only fan – there are entire archives like The World of Fruit Labels made by some very diligent enthusiasts. After a bit of digging, I found these other cool folks making art with fruit stickers.

Kelly Angood

Kelly Angood collects fruit stickers and showcases them on her Instagram. She talks about the reach her interest has had in a blog post, in particular how several fashion brands have been inspired by (or blatantly imitated) her collection.

Seeing so many stickers in one place makes me really appreciate the thought and time that went into the design of each one.

A number of colorful fruit stickers on a plain background.
Image from Angood’s blog post

Barry Snyder

Barry Snyder creates painstakingly-collaged produce art. I thought it was interesting that his full time job is working with roofing shingles; I wonder if the skills help in his art. Something about his collages is really charming, especially this still life:

A still-life of a bowl of fruit and a bottle on a table, collaged out of fruit stickers.
Nick’s Arm

Stickers aren’t like tube paints, where you can buy another packet and squeeze the color on. I have to look through hundreds and hundreds of stickers and peel off the ones I want with a knife.

It’s stupid, but I do it anyhow. Everyone’s got a curse and this one’s got me.

Barry Snyder

I feel where he’s coming from. Fruit stickers feel like a silly interest to focus on, and yet there’s something oddly compelling about them…

A collage made from fruit stickers depicting an elongated butterfly.
Myron Butterfly
A collage made from fruit stickers depicting two high-heeled cowboy boots on a solid background.
Dos Boots

Joan Davidson

Joan Davidson creates fruit sticker mosaics, recycling the stickers in part out of a desire to reduce waste. I’m most impressed by her repetition of specific designs – it really drives home the volume of stickers that gets released into our trash stream.

A circular, mandala-like collage made from fruit stickers that resembles a church window.
Rose Window
A photograph of a three-dimensional six-petaled flower made from fruit stickers, which is part of a larger fruit sticker collage.
An Apple A Day
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Essentialism

Book Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

To be honest, I was disappointed in this book. McKeown presents some good points, but you really have to hunt for them between the fluff and “essentialism” marketing hype. It felt like the key points of this book could have been more succinctly summarized in a long-form journal article; as it was, it seemed like the same idea was rephrased six different ways in each paragraph, making it feel a bit like the author was talking down to his readers. It’s a shame, since it seems like McKeown has lots of interesting anecdotes from his consulting experience, and I wish there had been more of a focus on that.

My other main gripe was that a lot of the advice seemed inapplicable to the everyday reader. In part this was my fault for misunderstanding the target audience for this book — I picked it up in what seemed to be the “self-improvement” section of the library, not realizing that Essentialism is primarily written for business leaders and managers. McKeown assumes that his audience has the luxury of being able to do things like take time off from work to sort out their priorities and make meaningful decisions in what they invest their time on. While it’s true that anyone has a choice in what they focus on, those choices are also constrained by circumstance — you’re not going to be able to (as easily) choose to pursue your creative passions if you have to take care of an ailing family member or support your kid through college. It would have been nice to at least see an acknowledgement of these kinds of differing circumstances.


TLDR;

If you’re in a leadership position and want a book that promises a way to have it all while simultaneously chiding you about the impossibility of having it all, read Essentialism. Otherwise, I’d say give it a pass.

Digital Minimalism

Book Review: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
My Rating: ★★★★★

An equally accurate title for this book would be Digital Mindfulness. That seemed to be Newport’s main advice for readers: to pay closer attention to what technology we allow into our lives and how we use it. Maybe I’m biased because this is a topic I think about a lot, but I really liked this book. Newport showcases research that shows the ways technology companies have engineered their products to be attention-sucking, and offers a compelling argument for why we should closely consider the effects that technology has on us.

Unlike some other digital self-help books, Newport also offers concrete and feasible suggestions on how to “practice” digital minimalism, such as:

  • Taking long walks
  • Leaving your phone at home when running familiar errands
  • Journaling, or as Newport calls it, “writ[ing] letters to yourself”
  • Fixing or building something every week

Newport also recommends that readers take a 30-day break from using all non-essential technology (that is, anything you don’t need in order to do your job or communicate with the people you need to be in contact with day-to-day), and then slowly re-introduce technologies into their life as needed. This is based on an experiment he ran with 1,600 volunteers from his email newsletter subscribers. I didn’t opt to do this exercise since I was in the middle of a busy senior semester of college, but I did take his advice to implement some rules for how I use technology.

Putting technology on a leash

Newport suggests applying three criteria to each technology we use:

  1. It must serve something you deeply value.
  2. It must be the best way to use technology to serve this value.
  3. Have rules for when and how you will use it.

I found the third rule the easiest to implement. I like to spend a lot of time browsing Tumblr, to boost my mood and get inspiration for art. However, this habit can get out of hand if I start browsing blogs instead of doing work. After reading Digital Minimalism, I decided to set a rule that I would only use Tumblr on my phone, and logged out of the website on my laptop. During the first few weeks, I often caught myself mindlessly switching tabs to Tumblr while working, but since I was logged out of the site I didn’t get sucked in the way I would have in the past. It was a little unnerving to notice how often I used to let myself get distracted during a particular work session. I now feel a lot more focused when I’m at my computer, and have less of a tendency to procrastinate.

Get your hands dirty

The other part of this book that really resonated with me was the chapter titled “Reclaim Leisure,” which talks about the importance of having non-digital — and more importantly — hands-on hobbies.

Ever since I changed my major to computer science, I’ve almost certainly spent more time behind a screen than away from it. I try to make time for hobbies like art (especially non-digital art like watercolor painting) or reading, but it can be tricky to tear myself away. Luckily, this semester I took a 3D Fundamentals course where I got to learn more about how to use power tools and a laser cutter.

At first, it was a frustrating process. It turns out that wood is much less forgiving than paper, and designing in three dimensions required me to flex mental muscles I’d rarely ever used before. Despite this, there was something immensely satisfying about having to slow down and be methodical and precise when measuring wood, cutting it, sanding it down slowly, and waiting for the glue to dry. I found it almost meditative — I could let my hands just do their job while my mind went blank.

Newport argues that becoming “handy” in this way is one way to unlock a variety of satisfying high-quality leisure activities, which just means activities that give you a sense of inward satisfaction when you complete them. Watching TV would be a low-quality leisure activity, for example, while knitting a scarf or going hiking would count as high-quality.


Book cover for Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, showing the title and tagline "Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" in a white circle surrounded by a yellow striped pattern.

TLDR;

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in a new perspective on the role technology plays in their life, whether they are making an effort to live more intentionally or just curious!

Mindset for the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! This time of year is always self-reflective, and I’ve been rereading some old favorites as a way to reset my mindset for 2018. Among these:

  • Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
    I really admire Kleon’s writing (particularly his blog posts, which are a breath of fresh air whenever I’m in a creative funk), and this book offers solid advice on how to stop overthinking and get back into making art and sharing it.
  • Mindfulness by Ellen Langer
    Langer’s research is insightful and in-depth, and I definitely recommend reading this book for yourself. What resonated with me most on this reread was the recurring theme of focusing on process over product, including being aware of the decisions you make along the way. What an elegant way to shut down FOMO.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance
    There’s a lot to take away from this essay, but I keep coming back to, “No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.” It’s a good reminder that there is value in trusting your intuition and letting yourself pursue what matters to you, without worrying about what others may think.
  • Some Rules for Students and Teachers by Sister Corita Kent, inspired and popularized by John Cage
    My high school IB art program first introduced me to this list, and each point still rings true today. Right now I’m most drawn to rules four and nine: “Consider everything an experiment” and “Be happy whenever you can manage it.” Good reminders not to take life too seriously.

It’s harder to maintain this kind of exploratory, unapologetic mindset once the holidays are over and the daily demands of work and life set in, but I think it can be done. Here’s to creative confidence and enjoying the process in 2018!

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Glimpses of Russia

This summer I got the chance to visit my grandparents in Russia. My last trip there was a whole three years ago, and it was strange to see that everything is exactly as I remember it, even while I (as a person) have changed so much in the time that’s passed.

Russia is hard to describe. The people smile little, partly because that is the culture, but mostly because their lives are hard. The land, on the other hand, is expansive and open: endless rolling fields smattered with forests. Small villages dot the highway at intervals, but are increasingly empty as people scatter to cities to find different work than the back-breaking agricultural labor their forefathers carried out. The trolleybuses in the cities are full of these grim-faced crowds that work, and drink, and find love, and survive.

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Travel Sketchbook Snapshots

While studying abroad I kept an almost daily journal / sketchbook.
Here are some of my drawings.