Renaissance Ninja

Solitude & Creativity

I’m the type that enjoys being alone with my thoughts. Yet I still find it hard sometimes to be okay with choosing to do something alone instead of being social.

Yet there seems to be a powerful connection between time spent alone, with our own thoughts, and creativity.

Forest Bathing

An idea garnered from conversations with a friend. Both of us, from time to time, feel a pull towards a natural space—to relax, to think, to move away from the noise and distractions of daily life. But it’s not so much about escaping all noise, I think, but rather about creating the space for our own noise; our inner voice or whatever you prefer to call it (intuition or otherwise).

By allowing for the time and space to mentally wander one seems to open the doors to greater creativity and discovering synergistic solutions to whatever is preoccupying your mind.

In my own case it’s those times when I find a quiet space (usually in nature, if I can) or walk through the woods that I gain the greatest clarity or get those little creative insights—jotting them down in a notebook in hopes of finding a use for them later.

But, and maybe this is partly because of some stigma against intentional solitude, I find that I don’t proactively create these quiet spaces. Instead they are sought once I can’t not do so, because I need to de-stress to avoid feeling overwhelmed or uncertain.

Lately I have created that space more frequently and feel far better, on average, than I have in the past, despite plenty of stresses to worry about. Turns out there’s a bunch of good research on the subject, so to end this (still) open-loop of thought I’ll leave you with a couple of excellent articles to explore:


Integration or Third-party?

With Ghost’s strong emphasis on keeping the core as simple as possible, I’m asking myself the same question when it comes to all the plug-ins, services, and other utilities that one adds on to a website, particularly a Wordpress site. What does my website itself actually need to do?

In most cases the answer is (for me): serve content, or in other words work as a publishing platform. Whether one calls such a site a blog or a website isn’t terribly important.

But when blogging and business combine things get real complicated, real quick. In a Wordpress site you’d quickly add-in plug-ins and more feature-rich themes with support for e-commerce, fancy newsletter integrations, membership portals, backups, SEO, and other services. The lightweight blogging platform one started with is now a complex CMS with an increasingly confusing looking admin interface (some of the sites I’ve worked with…so many new sub-panels in WP Admin) and noticeably slower performance.

For some, particularly larger organizations, that may be worth it—they have the time and manpower to manage and optimize the site. Wonderful! For smaller teams and solo creators though, I wonder if it’s all a bit overkill?


There are quite a few exceptional third-party service providers for just about any business or web related function. Need to sell individual items on your site? Gumroad is awesome, they even handle the downloads for digital items and support PWYW-style products. Need a full-featured e-commerce shop? Shopify is a potential solution. Combine services like those, with an app that enables connecting services, like Zapier (I’ve yet to try it, but it looks promising) enables one to weave together many services and automate them, all without adding further processing and management to your own website/blog (small Javascript and CSS additions aside).


  • Forums: Tons, IPB for the premium end. SMF is great and free, I’ve used it for years.
  • Invoicing: Freshbooks, Nutcache
  • Forms: Wufoo (currently I’m using Gravity Forms, since I’m still on Wordpress, but they’re on par).
  • Landing Pages: Leadpages is a good option.

Of the services and plug-ins that I can think of otherwise, the bulk of the ones that are specifically useful on Wordpress are those that enable easier (and more beautiful) content creation and management. Plug-ins like UberGrid are useful because they streamline and (optionally) automate a process that would otherwise require a degree of technical skill to create. Useful, but not unique to Wordpress or any CMS. Once Ghost matures further I expect similar apps will be created (or modified) to do all the fancy Javascript for it as well.

With the rest, it’s a choice between control and trust (of others). As someone who geeks out about new tech and tools it’s cool to have such direct control over everything to do with my site…but that’s beginning to waste time better spent elsewhere, not to mention sacrificing page speed and performance (yet another exciting reason for Ghost).

On the other side one has to sacrifice some of the ideals of keeping visitors on site, at all times, when using separate services. Plus these same services also tend to cost a bit more (often monthly), but I suspect the time saved in not managing everything can quickly eclipse the difference in costs.

As a solo creator I’m beginning to think making the switch towards external services is worth the cost. Less time managing and more time making, I’m all for that.

Learning Ghost theme design


Ahem…I’ve been on the fence about trying Ghost out for at least a month. Then I ran across an excellent tutorial on Tutsplus on how to build a Ghost theme from scratch. Highly recommended to learn the whole process.

I already had node.js installed to learn how to use Stylus as my CSS pre-processor so I spun up a local instance of Ghost and got to work.

I’ve been spending the past couple of weeks ripping apart the Inspyr theme for Wordpress and running into many little roadblocks when customizing the PHP, frustrating.

My experience so far with Ghost and Handlebars to handle templating has been near sublime in comparison. Setting up new page templates and understanding how partials work was so much quicker than wrapping my head around how hooks work in practice.

##LESS to Stylus The tutorial series linked above was excellent, with only one downside: the entire CSS workflow was built on using LESS…but I was going to use Stylus for it’s python-esque elegance, especially after discovering the awesomeness of Jeet for managing a grid system.

Translating LESS syntax, especially around the math, ended up being an excellent way to learn the correct Stylus syntax, so a win-win there, even with a bit more time spent.

But finishing a single tutorial, however long, isn’t a sign of actually learning how to theme Ghost. Next step? Theme this blog.

Oh, and then theme another existing blog which I’ll be porting onto Ghost on a Digital Ocean droplet, because I hear that service is awesome.

Other challenges to try out:

  • Mirror this Ghost development workflow to a Windows environment.
  • Learn more about node.js, ember.js, and Javascript in general in order to extend Ghost’s functionality, or at least lend a helping hand.
  • Might be a ways down the road, but now that I’ve migrated this site onto Ghost properly I’ll be trying my hand at a more specific theme. I like this one, but nothing like building your own sometimes.

Doubt Limits

Thanks Bruce! Still working with minimal designs and geometrics. Original idea was hand drawn, but realized digitally.

From a tiny little book, You² that I received as a gift (one of the most powerful I’ve ever received) recently. I suspect more quotes from that book will be showing up here later.

video thumbnails

I’ve got my hands on an awesome plugin, UberGrid (aff link) for making resizable grids and for a simple way to handle the massive number of videos I have on Play Everywhere. And thus I realized I needed some thumbnail style images for all the videos, because the auto-generated ones from Youtube were crap.

So time to experiment with minimal typography and use of color for these. The thumbnails I see on youtube sometimes with the super heavy thick strokes or other effects feel a bit tacky to me, so I’m trying something a bit simpler. For a bit of contrast at distance I’ve added a sign-painter style drop-shadow, but that may not stay in the final versions. Otherwise setting type in styles that fit the name and direction of travel.


lazyvaultThumb360ubThumb speedvaultThumb stepvaultThumb turnvaultThumb

The way these images line up without any adjustments to code is also a perfect example of why grid based plug-ins (or custom CSS like purecss) are great for creating beautiful, symmetrical, layouts.

Structure Yields Freedom

"Structure yields freedom to creatively roam." -Todd Henry From Todd Henry’s book, Die Empty

I love this quote, and the idea for this poster was from some inspired scribbling in a notebook while taking a breka for lunch. The final design took me much longer to realize, as I had the intent to do all the lettering by hand. I think for the next experiment I’ll have to try hand-drawing everything and just inking the design digitally.

Structure SketchFreedom to SketchCreatively sketch

And on. I did learn some tricks in Illustrator to pull that off, and the sketches looked alright using that method, but not quite what I had intended. I kept structure hand-lettered but the final project used a new typeface I found, Myriad Std Tilt, for the rest of the text. During the process I experimented a bit with some script faces and using paths to make the letters wander around, but it just wasn't having the effect I wanted. And thus this crazy design happened.

Book Designin'! Religion of the Samurai (Skillshare Project)

Whew, who knew how much effort went into just laying out the text for a book. Just wrapped up the project for a Skillshare class on styling novel interiors.

 Have a look!

The main title page for my Religion of the Samurai project.

The main title page for my Religion of the Samurai project.

More geometrics + quotes

Paul Jarvis Quote

Shapes in illustrator = easy. But in photoshop they’re just a pain to work with (at this point).

video editing day

I won’t usually put in video editing stuff, as it tends to be straightforward. However today was a bit of playing around with fonts for the intro along with some subtle music syncing to a short clip.

pattern recognizers

Playing with pairing fonts, basic geometric designs, and the blend tool in Illustrator.


After finishing a book about Bauhaus I wanted to try to emulate some of the formative practices they used in their courses. Part of the preliminary courses at the school were studies in using color and basic shapes for ideas. On top of that I just discovered that the blend tool in illustrator could quickly create hundreds of objects, so with that in mind this experiment happened. Also decided to see how I could use the personality of different fonts and pair them together, without relying on color to convey the emotion of the text.