This is the transcript for the podcast episode Interview With Adam Westbrook, Creator Of The ‘Delve Video Essays’ (Part 1) :: ArtCast #81 To listen to the podcast click here.
Chris: This is Chris Oatley’s Artcast episode 81, an interview with Delve Video Essayist, Adam Westbrook, part one!
Hello my friends and welcome to another episode of Chris Oatley’s Artcast, the show that goes inside the hearts and minds of successful professional artists, I’m Chris Oatley. I was a visual development artist at Disney before I quit to start my own online art school – The Oatley Academy of Concept Art & Illustration. Find more art instruction and career advice from some of the most inspiring voices in animation, games, comics, and new media at ChrisOatley.com.
Leonardo diVinci was a loser. This radical idea was so compelling I had to click play. What followed was a brilliant video about the nature of artistic mastery and how the digital culture is making it more difficult to pursue.
This celebration of youth coupled with technology has distorted our perception of time. The world moves faster and so do our expectations. Today we want success in seventeen levels, or seventeen minutes, seventeen seconds, and when the promise of something new and better is just a click away, who wants to wait seventeen years? But that’s the thing that connects all of these great people. They played the long game, all of us have the brains and the talent and the creativity to join them, but now right when it matters, do any of us have the patience?
Chris: With the authenticity of Ken Burns and the roguish efficiency of the Freakonomics authors, Adam Westbrook’s Delve video essays inspire us to explore the depths of our craft, our culture, and our selves. In today’s interview, Adam and I discuss the dangers of your creative comfort zone, facing our fear of failure, how to communicate complex ideas in clear and compelling ways, and what’s to love about the struggles of storytelling. Before you listen to this interview, I’d recommend watching Adam’s two part DiVinci series. It will only take you about ten minutes, but it will completely change the way you think about your artistic struggles. You can go to ChrisOatley.com/Delve1 to watch the videos before the show and as always, I look forward to hearing your perspective in the comment section afterward.
So Adam, just begin by giving us an idea of what you do? What is kind of your day-to-day and we’ll jump back in time and kind of connect the dots throughout the first half of the interview?
Adam: It’s that difficult party question.
Chris: Exactly. At the moment, I’ve kind of caught myself looking at lots of different things over the last few years since I’ve sort of been doing my own thing which I think is the fun of it in a sense is that you get to invent and reinvent and sort of as times change, but right now I supposed I’ve called myself for a while is a video producer and a video publisher as well, or digital publisher. And that kind of touches on I guess what are the two sides of the work that I do that I’m particularly interested in. So in terms of my own sort of main projects which is what I try to put most of my time in, I produce video essays is what I call them, about interesting ideas, interesting knowledge and learning. I’m very interested in how we can make learning more engaging for people. So I sort of spend half my time sort of thinking really hard about how we made information and knowledge more interesting and engaging but I also find myself equally fascinated by the other side which is the publishing side of it. How do we get it out to people in a way that they’re going to be in the right frame of mind to receive it and engage it. So that’s kind of how I spend a lot of my time in terms of what if I could, how would I ideally spend my entire day. Just thinking of those two things, and then on the side of it I try eek out living doing video post production and motion graphics animation for different clients. And I also find I’ve ended up completely by accident doing quite a lot of teaching and training around journalism and story telling and video. I think for a while people sort of called it like or maybe still do call it a portfolio career, this idea that you sort of don’t just do one thing but you have your fingers in several different pies and find yourself making money in different areas which I find is best seated my personality very well.
Chris: Yeah, I think it’s kind of the new normal for a lot of people and will continue to be.
Adam: I think it is, yeah. Absolutely, I think it’s one of the really interesting opportunities that this new age sort of afforded us. I think the idea of doing one thing for your whole career is becoming less and less common.
Chris: Yeah, that’s totally true. And you’re in Paris right now?
Adam: Uh yes, I am. I’ve been here for about a year, just over a year. I was in London for about four years previous to that and it was one of those things where I’ve gotten very comfortable in London. Life was good, I had a really good group of friends and there was enough work and London’s obvious a very great city to be in but it would almost ended up like it was too comfortable.
Chris: Destroy it all!
Adam: Yeah, absolutely! And so I just sort of found that I got a real sort of stagnation, not just with work but also with other areas of my life. And I just kind of thought you know, I have this job at the moment that gives me the chance to basically work from anywhere, as long as I have wifi basically and a computer, I can pretty much work anywhere. And I sort of realized that then was my chance to actually work from anywhere if I wanted to, and if I left any later seeing I’d have a reason to stay in London and would have never done it. So yeah, I’m not entirely sure why I ended up being in Paris, I think I wanted to learn a new language and French was the only one that I had even the slightest sort of grasp on already but I still couldn’t speak a word of it really when I arrived. But I’ve sort of managed to stick around long enough to sort of start to feel a bit more like home here. I’m sort of wondering whether I might go and try some other places as well while I can. I’ll tell you, it’s pretty interesting and creatively it might be something to touch on later, but when you do just sort of dump yourself in a completely new city where you can’t even speak the language, compared to London where everything was so comfortable and so easy, you suddenly find yourself in a place where even buying a crescent in the morning is wrought with potential embarrassment (inaudible) difficulty. And I suddenly found looking back on the last year, when you sort of really are like well if I can’t buy a crescent without making an idiot of myself, what else am I wrong about? And it’s been a really, really interesting year of questioning my work and my expertise and my skills, the things I would have taken for granted that I knew how to do and really wondering whether I really had it wrong all along.
Chris: Wow. So take us back in time, when did the creative instinct emerge? When did you start getting glimpses of at least the essence of your future as a professional creative?
Adam: Um, that’s interesting. Well it goes back to quite a long way, because I was one of those kids that always had that one track mind and always knew exactly what they wanted to do from a really young age, and actually for me, it was television. I was a child of the 80’s and 90’s, you know when in some ways television was having one of its golden ages I suppose. And so for me, when I was maybe 9 or 10, that was all I wanted to do was to work in television, and it’s actually one of those things where I’m very jealous of kids that were born just ten years after me. Because when I was 14, I was sort of alive with this sort of passion to work in TV, but I couldn’t do anything about it because to have a camera, it cost 500 pounds or dollars and everything. Of course now, and if I hadn’t…if my dad for example did have a camera and I was able to borrow off him, I wouldn’t have gotten to do anything with the stuff I filmed. But of course now kids today have cameras on their phones and have that kind of creative satisfaction. So for me it was quite frustrating I suppose when I was young because I wanted to make things and I didn’t have the outlet. But anyway, in my teenage years I sort of wanted to impact the world or do all that type of stuff so my television interests sort of morphed a little bit into journalism or broadcast journalism which was where my career started. So after university, I trained as a TV and radio reporter and that was how I spent maybe the first three years of my career I think up until about 2009 and that was kind of the year when I decided I sort of took the leap to give it all up and see what the internet was like as a place to make stuff. It was a thing where I was working as a radio reported in this town in the north of England and it was actually a really great job and I was doing some really interesting hard news stories about murders and crime and all sorts of things like that, a sort of reporter’s dream. But while I was doing that, I started a blog writing about the future of journalism and over time that sort of started to get more and more of an audience and more and more people getting engaged. There was a moment for me I think, a sort of moment of realization when it was a quiet afternoon in the newsroom and I was doing a news reading shift, so I was reading the news bulletins and I finished my scripts a little bit early and I went to just check my emails because I had sort of five minutes free before I had to go and read the news and three people had left a comment on my blog post that I’d written earlier that day. I realized it excited me more that three people had read and left a comment on something I’d written, then going to read the news to like half a million people. And I think that for me was when I sort of realized maybe I do need to go and try something new.
Chris: That’s fantastic! And was there anything…what about the utilitarian aspects of that though? Well first of all, well I guess by that point…so 2008, 2009, you can take a blog for…well you can take blogs seriously by that point, so that makes sense but were there any books, authors, anything in particular around that time that made you…or was that entirely kind of from your heart where you’re like, I’m going to again blow it all up and try something completely different?
Adam: I would love to say it was a story where I just…it’s that classic story that sort of tells retrospectively you know, I decided to take a leap and I did it. But actually, I think it’s really important that I’m honest about it and say that it took me a really long time to drum up the courage to take the leap. Because I was earning…a journalist don’t get paid very much especially in radio, so I was very much sort of above the minimum wage really and I didn’t have any savings and I had quite a debt from my studies. And I was thinking of leaving this very cheap town in the north of England and moving to London which is in a New York level of expensiveness. So there were lots of reasons for me to put it off or to convince myself it couldn’t work, actually there was a book from what you asked. I read a book by a guy called Jonathan Fields called Career Renegade which I think now would probably be a little bit dated but it was sort of told you how to sort of make your career out of blogging and podcasting and things like that online I think using lots (inaudible) and platforms that don’t even exist anymore. But it just had a couple of chapters in it but were just sort of brimming with this and this energy of…almost like what is the worst that can happen type thing. And he did have an exercise or a section in the book that already resonated with me actually where he said you should do that exercise where you imagine yourself taking whatever leap it is that you’re going to take, and then actually imagining in very vivid detail what happens if it goes wrong. Okay? So you move to London, and you’ve got this amount of money, how long will that money last if you don’t make another penny, if it all goes horribly wrong. And then, what will happen then? You’ll run out of money, what do you actually do? And it forces you to think, well I suppose I’ll have to I don’t know, call a friend and sleep on their sofa and start think about what’s going to happen next. And actually it does two things; first, it makes you look at it and rather being scared by this specter of what failure could be because your imagination without thinking about it, you imagine it’s going to be somehow you’ll end up homeless after five days. It does actually make you think very practically about what would happen, but also it makes you realize it wouldn’t be that bad. I think my conclusion was, if worse comes to worse, I have to go move in with my mum for three months and get a job in a café and start from scratch. And when you do that, you realize actually it isn’t that scary, and that really for me was the moment when I thought okay, well I will do this, I’m prepared to work in a restaurant if it all goes horribly wrong. (inaudible) if I kept the freedom I have at the moment, I’d work in a bar or whatever to keep it. That’s not happened yet, but I think part of my self-protection is knowing I would do that if I needed to.