Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick cover

What a perfect book for a new year! Stephen McCranie has collected various illustrated essays into an inspiring collection of “principles for achieving artistic mastery”.

This isn’t a how to draw book or a getting hired or publishing comics instruction manual — instead, it’s a collection of thoughts on how to become a good artist, one who is true to oneself, one who learns from the world around them without getting bogged down or discouraged, one who can find the fun in work. He says early on it’s not about how to do, but how to be.

McCranie writes about how to be inspired, where to gain motivation, the importance of knowing what you really want to achieve, how to make it possible to get there, avoiding procrastination, the value of immersion, and staying focused on what you can control. The section on changing goals from something like “getting published” (which depends on other people’s decisions) to “making work that makes it hard not to get published” (which is totally individual) is must reading for any aspiring creative person, but then, I could say that about the whole book.

Brick by Brick cover

His title comes from the idea that great art comes from the daily small actions and choices, diligently working towards big goals over time with achievable steps. I loved that simple principle, which seems obvious, but his breakdown and discussion is newly inspiring to take it truly to heart. I also enjoyed his emphasis on life beyond art, on not making work your entire being.

His essays can be read straight through, but the images give the words wings. They demonstrate the emotional affect or exaggerated response that make the text powerful and easy to relate to. His palette of peach and teal is both comforting and energizing.

This is an amazing book, one that has helped me reinforce a couple of my resolutions for this year in prioritizing choices appropriately. More importantly, it’s helped me recover a sense of joy about creation, about the importance of enjoying what you do.

I had borrowed this book from a friend, but now that I’ve read it, I’m buying my own copy immediately, because I want to be able to come back to it. It’s that kind of work, one that you’ll learn from in different ways at different times in your life. You can get it direct from the author at his website. There you can also sample a lot of his material and read beyond the book.

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