O’Malley on O’Malley

April 1st, 2011

My brother Mike was the first person in our family to commit totally to a creative career.

Compared to him, I was a timid Johnny-come-lately.  He decided early that he wanted to paint, and started working nights, first as a bartender and then as a restaurant-creator and manager.  Someone would give him money and he’d invent and open a restaurant.

Both of these approaches gave him daylight to paint in and time to surf, which were pretty much his priorities.  So he had lots of time to refine his work, develop his talent, and think about his process.

Mike:  Dogs and cats are another subject that I explore.  I have a dog that I adore and a cat that I have a truce with.  Two cats are talking and one cat says to the other, “Mice, you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.” If you live with pets they present endless material for cartoons.

I take an occasional potshot at street people.  They are at the same time pathetic and annoying and heartbreakingly sad.

Tim has asked me to write more about the creative process and I have reluctantly agreed to do so. There is so little to add to what Tim and Stephen have already said.

Yes, it is sadly true that inspiration is not sustainable and hard work more than offsets talent.  Inspiration visits you on its own schedule and it can’t be conjured up.

Talent is a word that I’m uncomfortable with.  It dismisses in one word all the long hours spent perfecting one’s craft.  A better word would be vision.  Vision cannot be taught.  The good news is we all possess it.  It is yours to nuture and expand.

It is, however, a solitary endeavor.  The more you pursue your art more your vision develops.  Vision and hard work are sometimes at odds.  Painting is often a series of corrections that is not solved by a good work   ethic.  The work ethic is telling you to change things and vision is telling you, Wait for me.  You are only making things different not betterThis is a good place to stop and let one catch up with the other.

Cartooning, however, is different: any moron can do it.  I draw them in bed on a clipboard that I stole from my attorney. I wonder how he likes it?  Cartoons appear to me as a blip on a radar screen; a little popup sign that says incoming.  It can happen anywhere at any time.  Sometimes the most mundane experiences can trigger one.

I was in a not very good steak house with annoyingly friendly waiters who could hardly wait to tell me that they weren’t really waiters; they were screen writers.  And a cocktail waitress who was really a model.  I looked down at my table that was made from an old wooden spool and said, “Don’t tell me, you’re not really  a table you’re  a spool”  Maybe that won’t be in the NewYorker, but its the best I could on a  minute’s notice.

This is Tim again.  I thought you might like to see what I found when I turned over the sheet of cardboard stiffener Mike had used to protect the cartoons when he mailed them.

13 Responses to “O’Malley on O’Malley”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    The work ethic is telling you to change things and vision is telling you, Wait for me. You are only making things different not better.

    I really needed to hear this today.

  2. Crenna Aesegas Says:

    Or, around here we say “Don’t mistake busy-ness for productivity. Stop trying so hard so you can actually get something done!”

  3. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I really like the cartoons, especially the “great room.” What a wonderful eye and hand Mike has for people, especially children and action. Those sketches are simply beautiful.

  4. Usman Says:

    That is hilarious, “I’ll have my people…”
    Here’s a question, Mike: Are you ever uncertain of your humor, in the sense that you are afraid others might not find it funny.

  5. EverettK Says:

    Another great set, O’Micael! And I couldn’t agree more with your words about inspiration and vision and hours of nose-to-the-grindstone work. I’ve spent the past 22 years writing computer games, and making my living solely at it for the past 14. A lot of the time it’s pure grunt work, but occasionally the ‘vision’ kicks in. But I spent another 10-12 years, before I SOLD the first copy of one of my games, learning and building my toolbox, cranking out silly little things. But step by determined step…

    Creativity comes in many forms, but to wield it effectively requires a great deal of back-breaking work for even the most successful (and I’m far from that…) 🙂

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    O’Micael (thanks, Everett!), I think Sylvia hit it on the nose: no one who’s written about the creative process here — and there have been whole threads about it in the past — has ever talked about the relationship of vision to work ethic — or, in my case, nervous energy. That’s really a valuable insight. So thanks for all of it: the cartoons and the wisdom alike.

  7. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Mike, your cartoons speak of a special kind of vision – like a poet seeing something as if for the first time but with a gifted eye for the humor.

    I like what you say about “making things different, not better” and about the unpredictability of inspiration. In both cases, I think that it’s useful to have a process that encourages inspiration to appear and helps with staying connected to the vision.

  8. Sheri M Says:

    “Wait for me. You are only making things different not better. This is a good place to stop and let one catch up with the other.”

    I loved this! And it’s exactly what I needed to hear as I continue to beat my head against the wall trying to get a new book off the ground.

    I’m amazed at how much of the childrens’ expressions you have conveyed in the bottom two sketches though we barely see their faces.

  9. micael hallinan Says:

    Hi everyone,thanks for putting up with my sense of humor. Sylvia,Crenna and Sheri I’m glad that something I said connected with you and can be of some help in your artistic journey. Lil you are always encouraging and positive. If I tried to please or appeal to every one with my cartoons (or paintings) I would please no one. I hope that answers your question Usman. Everett and Stephen there is nothing I can tell you about hard work that you dont already know. And to my Brother Tim thanks for putting this all together I have really enjoyed myself. Mike

  10. Larissa Says:

    For one thing-did I see Usman on here again? Where have you been hiding! Hopefully writing lots of novels.

    Secondly-Micael-truly a little gem about making things different and not better. Because it would be too easy if all the hours we spend on our latest creative endeavor did nothing but improve it-sometimes it really is about letting it all catch up with one another-getting some perspective.

    And the cartoons are great (c: I still think the two step-dancing body outlines complete with cops is my favorite.

  11. micael hallinan Says:

    Usman, My brother Tim tells me you are in Pakistan and that there has been some fighting near you in the past. Please stay safe. I can only hope that my feeble cartoons could take your mind off your present situation for a few welcome minutes. And in answer to your question I have the luxury of not caring if people think that my jokes are funny or not. My wife Cathy and I will pray that you remain safe. Mike

  12. Fay Moore Says:

    To Mike: As a wet-behind-the-ears novelist, I picked up the wisdom of the lines referenced by Sheri and Sylvia. Even more important to me is your counsel “the more you pursue your art, the more your vision develops.” That will be very helpful to remember on the days my vision is hiding in the fog!

    To Tim: Thank you again for creating this site. It is priceless.

  13. Usman Says:

    Mike and Larissa, Thanks. I’m going to reply properly at the latest entry. That’s what you’ll be looking at today.

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