Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist


Cool Tools Show 298: Austin Kleon

Our guest this week is Austin Kleon. Austin is the author of Steal Like an Artist, and other bestsellers about creativity. His books have been translated into dozens of languages and have sold over a million copies worldwide. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two sons. The Steal Like an Artist Audio Trilogy collects all three of his books into one audiobook. You can find Austin on Twitter and Instagram @austinkleon.

Show notes:

Waterproof Writing Pads:
Aqua Notes Water Proof Note Pad ($10)
Rite in the Rain Notebook ($13)

There’s a thing called AquaNotes and this comes in a pad with suction cups on the back. I keep one of those in the shower, because I’m one of those really cliché people who gets ideas in the shower. But then, for the pool, I discovered this brand of notebooks called Rite in the Rain, and I believe these are mostly used by naturalists and outdoors-people. So I keep this pad out on the side of the pool, and when my kids get really, really bad in the pool, we stop, and I’ll either draw a comic of them in the notebook, or we’ll do a pool poem together. I’ll say, “Okay, I need an A-word. I need a B-word. I need a C-word,” and we’ll make a poem out of it. I’m a big believer that making space is a way to invite creative stuff, and so I literally think the dumb act of having a waterproof notebook on the side of the pool actually invites me to come over and use it for something.

3M Classic Foam Earplugs ($39, 400ct)
Since we were just talking about my children, this is very applicable. Just plain old foam earplugs. You can get them in a big box for Father’s Day. That’s when I get them. There’s a guy that just died. His name is Murray Schafer, and he was a Canadian composer, and he wrote a couple of books about music and music education. One of the books is called Ear Cleaning, and one of the things that Schafer said that just blew my mind, it’s such a simple observation, but it’s so good, is that you can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears. Your body has a device for closing your eyes, but there’s no device to shut off your auditory input. I love my Sony wireless Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones. I love those. But I’m a guy who can’t listen to music with words when I’m working, so the plain old earplugs, they do the job, and I feel like they will turn almost any situation into a potential — what Joseph Campbell called — a bliss station. The other thing is they’re a godsend in hotel rooms and then on planes and stuff. I really, really appreciate technology that just does one simple thing, and a earplug is just that. It does this one thing, and they’re disposable and cheap, and I love them.

Camo app by Reincubate ($40 annual subscription)
This thing has changed my life. This is a piece of software, and the name of the software is Camo and it’s by a company named Reincubate. What this software does is you run it on your iPhone, and then you run it on your computer, and it turns your iPhone into a webcam. It is the best webcam I’ve found. I’ve bought a $200 Logitech fancy 4K webcam. Doesn’t look anything as good as my iPhone X. The way I use it, I stick it in airplane mode, and then I use an actual Lightning cable and plug it right into the computer. You can zoom in with it. You can change the lighting. I have a little ring light tripod with an iPhone attachment, and so I just stick it on there, I turn the ring light on, and it pretty much works with the default settings. I think you can do the depth of field, so you could make yourself clear and the background blurry. You can do all kinds of stuff. I like situations in which you can repurpose old tech for new situations, and so I wanted to include this, because I’m always thinking about my turntable, which is 15 years old now, and how you can plug that into any amp, and it still sounds great.

Yamaha U1 upright piano ($11,400)
I went out and bought a used piano right before my kids were born, because I wanted them to live in a house with a piece of furniture you could make music on. But then we moved houses a couple times. I had to get rid of one. And so when we bought this new house, the first piece of furniture I bought was a used Yamaha U1. It’s like the Honda Accord of pianos. I actually have my office in our little music room at the front of the house. And so, I will stop working, I’ll turn around, and I’ll play some Bach. My kids have an open invitation. They are allowed to come in here and play on the piano unless I’m doing a podcast. There’s something particularly magical about pianos for little people, because if you’re standing up, you walk right up to a piano, and it’s like a magical height for you. They keys are right there in front of you. It’s eye level, and you can’t help but touch it. You just want to go to it. That’s a nice loop back to the waterproof notebook on the side of the pool. You want to go to it. I like tools that invite you. Almost like they call to you, and they make you want to work, or in this case, play.


About Austin Kleon’s Weekly Newsletter:
Every Friday, I send out a list of 10 things I think are worth sharing, and it’s stuff I’m reading, stuff I’m looking at, stuff I’m listening to, watching, stuff I’ve written. I do that every week, and that’s free. It’s become my ritual. It’s like my weekly ritual of looking back and figuring out where I’ve been and what I’ve done and stuff. So, I can’t let go of it.


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