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#77: Andy J. Pizza [Storytelling] – Writing with pictures and developing your taste

October 26, 2021

#77: Andy J. Pizza [Storytelling] – Writing with pictures and developing your taste
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Andy J. Pizza is an illustrator and the host of the Creative Pep Talk podcast.


Andy J. Pizza is an illustrator. 

Sometimes he uses pictures. Like in his kid’s books, comics, and client work for the likes of The New York Times, Apple, or Nickelodeon. 

Sometimes he uses words. Like when he’s making his podcast Creative Pep Talk. CPT consists of monologues on building a thriving creative practice and conversations with creative powerhouses like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Abbi Jacobson, and Morgan Harper Nichols.

His favorite way to illustrate ideas is with analogies and stories on stage. Andy’s style of public speaking is one part TED Talk, one part one-man show — with a sprinkle of stand-up comedy.

In this episode, we talk about creative taste and intuition, watching the tape, playing your hits, creative habits, and why he’s more focused on storytelling than ever before.

Andy J. Pizza's new course on Skillshare (Free Trial)

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Unmaking the Myth Series with Skillshare on YouTube

Full transcript and show notes

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Transcript

Andy J. Pizza  00:00

Just like a cook, every time you're making stuff, you should be tasting it as you go. I call it getting high on your own supply. Be like, is it? Is it getting me? If I want to make people cry? Is it making me tear up? If I want to make people laugh, do I laugh when I'm thinking of this? That's all you've got. That's your metal detector for creative gold.

 

Jay Clouse  00:23

Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show. Hello, my friend. Welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements. First off, I want to say thank you to so many people who have completed our listener survey for this show. I learning so much about what listeners of the show like and want more of and in just a few days on November 1st, I'm going to be giving away two $200 amazon gift cards to a couple of people who have completed that survey. So if you haven't already open your podcasting app right now, go to the show notes, and take our listener survey for your chance to win $200. One of the questions on that survey as what other shows you listen to. And one of the most common responses so far is creative pep talk, which means you just might recognize the sound of this intro.

 

Andy J. Pizza  01:35

Hey, you're listening to the Creative Pep Talk Podcast. We help you build a thriving creative practice. I'm your host, Andy J. Pizza.

 

Jay Clouse  01:45

I love that intro, from the music to the announcement of his name, Andy J. Pizza. It's just fantastic. As I'm sure you know now, Andy J. Pizza is the host of Creative Pep Talk and one of the most requested guests on the show. And for good reason over the last couple of years has become one of my favorite shows as well. Every week Andy serves up monologues and even some interviews with creative powerhouses like Joseph Gordon Levitt, Abbi Jacobson, and Morgan Harper Nichols. And Andy has built up one heck of a great career himself. He has the podcast, he's an author, he does quite a bit of public speaking. And lately, he's been making some incredible courses with Skillshare as well. His latest course is called Social Media for Creators. And he's been hosting an awesome free challenge called Peptober for the month of October on Instagram. But before he was a podcaster, and he was an illustrator for the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, Google, YouTube, Nickelodeon and more. And while he does quite a bit of visual illustration for his clients, and each episode of his show, he doesn't think of illustration the way that you might expect.

 

Andy J. Pizza  02:54

My working definition for the past few years has been writing with pictures. I'm not a super visual person. You know, when I was in college, I really struggled because they kept saying, put yourself into your work. And I was like, what does that mean? And they're like, draw stuff you like, and I was like, you know what, I'm really into dark matter. I've been like reading about that all the time. Like, only problem is, it's invisible. So you can't draw it, except for all over the years, I created this project called Invisible Things where I personify invisible forces, you know, things like dark matter, love, chaos, gods, all kinds of things. And so I figured my way around it, and I did so through the lens of illustration, is not replicating what you can see. Good illustration to me is telling a story. It's writing with pictures, the one of the most effective ways to write in my opinion.

 

Jay Clouse  03:50

Illustration and storytelling is something that I think Andy really excels in through his show, which is more often than not a solo show. Andy lays out how to find creative inspiration, how to stop overthinking, how to stop your inner critic, and more. His ability to engage you for an hour with a solo show is really, really impressive. So in this episode, we talked about creative taste and intuition, watching the tape, playing your hits, creative habits, and why he's more focused on storytelling now than ever before. I'd love to hear what you think of this episode. As you listen, just shoot me a message on Twitter or Instagram @jayclouse and let me know what you think. But now, let's talk with Andy.

 

Andy J. Pizza  04:39

This is a topic that I think about all the time, which is what is great art? Okay, because here's the thing, we're in a time right now where the answer to that question has seemingly been solved. Like you've heard it before. It's put in the work 10,000 hours make a master, right? We've all heard that before. And we're like, yeah, that sounds about right. You got to practice to get good at it, that makes sense. Except for I always say, your uncle Kevin, okay. You're like, I don't have an uncle Kevin, you I know you do. He's not blood but he's closer than a real uncle. And this guy, he's put in 20,000 hours, he can play stairway to heaven backwards on his toes, right? But there's only one problem. Nobody wants to hear it. Nobody wants to hear it, right? Nobody wants to listen to that person tread. So I just kept thinking like, the 10,000 hours rule applied to creativity, never sat right with me. And part of the reason it didn't sit right with me was because in my high school drawing class, I was not the best at drawing within that class. This is a, you know, this is a school of 2000 people, I'm not even the best there. How can I have a career when I'm competing against, you know, millions of people 1000s and 1000s of people. And so I think there's got to be another secret sauce to what makes great creative work. And for me, I would define that as taste. Now that word is a polarizing word. Some people really love it, some people hate it. But ultimately, I'm trying to be quite philosophical in the way that I'm trying to imbue new meaning into a word that almost means what I want it to mean. And so when I say taste, I'm just saying, there's an intuition that is informed by your creative taste buds. You know, if you're a comedian, you've got a highly sensitive, funny bone. If you're a musician, you've got a highly sensitive ear for music. And I just think it's, you know, there's an interesting shift that says, actually getting good starts before what you can do, and in how deeply you can receive. And so I think, for me, as a, as a picture maker, as a, as an illustrator, as a, as a, as a speaker performer, I lean into the things that I have a deep sensitivity to, because it's kind of like having a, a super tasting palette that you can kind of pull from with your intuition as you're making decisions, really, every creative act, all it is, is a series of decisions, how are you going to make those decisions towards what you make them by understanding your definition of good, that's your taste.

 

Jay Clouse  07:34

I love that, I love the pairing of taste with intuition as well, because I feel like intuition is something that nobody talks about as much as they could like there's, it is such a mystical thing, where I almost want people to like try and break down intuition a little bit because I don't know how to talk about it other than like, yeah, you know.

 

Andy J. Pizza  07:53

Yeah.

 

Jay Clouse  07:54

And the 10,000 hour rule. For some reason, I literally picture someone just like sitting at a piano for 10,000 hours and like that would make you really good at like you said playing one song.  Technically, yes.  But it doesn't feel, it feels like it's going to be repeatable and not necessarily new. Like it feels

 

Andy J. Pizza  08:11

It's a very, it's a very left brained approach to a very right brain topic. You know, there's a really great book out called Whole Brain Living by Jill Bolte Taylor and she Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, I believe she had like the first viral TED talk, she lost all access to her left brain for a period of time. And she was like, all in the right brain. And it was this transcendent experience. And she learned so much from it. And she put it in her first book, but she felt like she hadn't nailed it. That's why she made this other book called Brain Living. And I think the 10,000 hours the skill thing. It's a very left brain way of thinking about what's good in creative work. But the fact of the matter is, we all know our favorite musicians are our favorite artists are not technically the best at what they do, very rarely. That venn diagram is very small of people that happen to be extremely technically proficient, and have good enough tastes to show restraint in their choices, right?

 

Jay Clouse  09:16

Hmm.

 

Andy J. Pizza  09:17

So I you know, taste is the way I think about it. If you think about your, like, you could think about it like your physical tongue, your palate, and you're using, you're just like a cook. Every time you're making stuff. You should be tasting it as you go. I call it getting high on your own supply. Be like, is it? Is it getting me? If I want to make people cry, is it making me tear up? If I want to make people laugh, do I laugh when I'm thinking of this? That's all you've got. That's your metal detector for creative gold. That and that's kind of how I think about it. And it's at least a good justification of why I can be a professional illustrator and not be the best at drawing. This is partially also about my obsession with having a target, having your taste is your definition of good. So what is your definition of good? For illustrators, if I asked them that and myself included, you know, 10 years ago, I wouldn't have been able to answer that whatsoever. And I would say, okay, what's a good comedian? Everybody knows the answer. Making people

 

Jay Clouse  10:29

People laugh.

 

Andy J. Pizza  10:29

Yeah, I should have let you.

 

Jay Clouse  10:31

I really wanted to. I was like, I got it. I know the answer.

 

Andy J. Pizza  10:34

He knows that one. We all we know that, right? I actually think that's one of the essential keys of why they're creative masters because they can do target practice. They know what they're going in there to hit. Illustrators don't, they're not the only ones either. Lots of creators, we don't even know what what are we trying to achieve, and we get distracted by being technically, you know, in virtualistic. That's not a word, but it worked out credit in there. That's what we get distracted by that. And I actually think, for me, great illustration illuminates a story in the same way that acting does to a script. Like that's, that's, it makes you feel it, it makes it come alive. And so for me, illustration is really, it's, it's just one tool in my tool belt to do the same thing that I'm always doing, which is storytelling in the in the thing behind that, you know, my working definition of storytelling is moving truth from your head to your heart. You know, not it's easy for me to be like, hey, you know, you have everything you need. And you're like, okay, that sounds like it's maybe right. Okay, that's a truth in your head. But if I said, yeah, just like Dorothy, she had the ruby red slippers the whole time. Scarecrow had the brain the whole time. You have everything you need. All of a sudden, you're like, oh, it's warm in my chest because of the story it made you not just know it cognitively but know it, like really know it. That's what I'm, that's my obsession. And I'm just feel like I'm just scratching the surface. I'm just starting to learn how to do that.

 

Jay Clouse  12:10

Somebody who loves something as you do, you've been putting 10,000 hours towards something right? And part of me thinks like, that's probably sharpening your taste. But is there a is there a limit I wonder, where you become too overly analytical that you, you let all of the sensors in your mind stop you from making the right decisions? Or the courageous or vulnerable decisions?

 

Andy J. Pizza  12:31

Yeah, I do think that that's true. I think there's a, you know, there's two pieces that come to mind with that. One is, I actually think it's extremely valuable to make part of your practice writing on stage, like, comedians, do. You know, one of the things that I find to be a big bummer is that, you know, for, as far as I can tell, the past 100 years, like, there was a philosopher, I listen to a lot of philosophy podcasts, I didn't actually take any philosophy classes in college because I, I only took graphic design illustration in college, but I've gotten into it since. And there's a there's a philosopher Walter Benjamin, who's known for kind of being like, the only true art is the art that is made for the artist alone. And you know, you would make art if you were on a desert island, you know, that's the only true artist and I think that look, I think that's part of the equation I really do. And I hate, you know, who am I, this guy in Ohio, like, are you in with a guy from like the Frankfurt School like, whatever, but I just feel like it's half of the equation because the truth is, if you go get lost on a desert island, you know, the study say in that kind of isolation, you actually lose sense of yourself, there is no self to express. There's not like we are in it, inextricably linked to each other. And for me, part of what gets you out of that overthinking, over analyzing too much taste testing before you get out the door, it's just get it out the door while you're doing it. That's one of the things that I learned. I'm a big student of comedy. I'm just a huge fan, primarily because of their storytelling skills, which is really my jam. And I'm so fascinated by their willingness to create with the audience. Now it is a it's a it's a narrative. There's a timeline to it. Like it's they don't ever get on stage and be like, you tell me what's funny, they don't do that. That's, that's ridiculous. They start in their hotel room noting down things from their taste or their like, I think this is something but they don't know for sure. And they could sit there in the room and be like, is it something, is it not something? No, they go into the club, they try it out in the back, okay, I oh, I see what I didn't hit it on this note. This how I could tighten this up. This thing has to go. And I'm a huge believer in just putting crap out there into the world putting your bad stuff out look like I'm a huge fan of the comedian Tim Robinson of the show I Think You Should Leave and like one of my favorite skits on that thing was already on Saturday Night Live, guess what? Nobody cares, nobody knows. No, that's

 

Jay Clouse  15:10

And the people who do know wouldn't care.

 

Andy J. Pizza  15:11

The people that do know are me, super fan. Who I'm like, that's awesome. I love the evolution.

 

Jay Clouse  15:18

You actually care more in a good way.

 

Andy J. Pizza  15:19

I love it. And so the first thing you can do to kind of, and I think it's brilliant bringing this up because I have this podcast and we're always talking about, there's an ebb and flow of like, when you're in the game, you're not thinking, you're playing. When you're out of the game, I think it's good to watch the tapes. I think it's good. And and so the podcast is watching the tapes. It's, let's talk about it, let's analyze it. But if you if that's all you do, you're overthinking and it's gonna get in the way and one of the ways to get out of that is to just keep pushing it out there, test stuff out, let your audience into the creative process. And I told you there was two things I had no idea what the second one is, but it'll come back around.

 

Jay Clouse  16:03

This is lowkey why I love your work so much because you're pulling in these things that might not be like your typical quote unquote, creative advisory like listen to comedy. Watch the game tape like you're pulling in some some sports ball into this. But like that's the the the sharpening and the layered approach that you take to taste making in your unmaking the myth series on Skillshare. You talked about David Sedaris, and I didn't know this about him. But when he goes on book tours, you said he actually tours the book he's currently writing to get audience reactions to make it better.

 

Andy J. Pizza  16:36

Another comedian but not a stand up comedian is David Sedaris. He's off, he writes his books, and he goes on a book tour. But unlike other authors, he doesn't read the book that he's touring. He reads the book that he's writing next, and he actually reads it with a pen in hand crossing off, what does it land? That's how he makes books that make you laugh out loud, because he knows they'll make you laugh out loud, because he's already witnessed it. He's already written it with you six to eight, did you say?

 

Jay Clouse  17:08

And that blew my mind. Because even on the show, I've had James Clear on the show, and he talked about how lonely and isolating and hard it was writing atomic habits, because he had no feedback loop like he previously had with his newsletter, for example. I love that idea of watching the tape, practicing on stage. This is so important to everybody.

 

Andy J. Pizza  17:28

Yeah, I you know, it's a big, it's a huge part of my practice. And, you know, just like you said, the people that will notice that you're, you know, revisiting past material or reworking it. Those are the people that are so invested, that they're like, oh, this is awesome. I, we went and saw Dave Chappelle out in the cornfield a few times last year in quarantine and watching that material, beer calm skits, when he was on siren live was the most satisfying thing in the world to a fan.

 

Jay Clouse  17:57

Wow, love that.

 

Andy J. Pizza  17:59

Yeah.

 

Jay Clouse  17:59

Love seeing early versions of stuff like it's like, it's like music, I kind of think that a lot of creativity and art comes back to like, what's happened in music before and music, you start with this demo. And then you have the album. And then people who love the album, eventually find the demo. And they're like, oh, this is so cool to like, hear what it was first and what it is now.  After a quick break Andy and I dig into the magic of a creative practice and creative habits. And later, we'll talk about how to double down on some of your most successful work. So stick around, and we'll be right back. Welcome back to my conversation with Andy J. Pizza. Before the break, Andy and I were talking about the role of taste and intuition in creative work. And we agreed that a way to develop your taste and intuition is through creating consistently and building up a body of work. But one of the biggest threats to consistently creating a body of work is simply overthinking.

 

Andy J. Pizza  18:54

I'm very happy that you brought up the overthinking element because that's something that has become kind of like a rallying cry for me for creatives. One of the things I, speaking of James Clear, one of the things I've been pushing on them hardcore is making creativity a habit. And there's this idea of I don't know where this comes from, but for me, overthinking is when you're thinking more than doing, that's when it's out of whack. I actually think that in America we have an anti-intellectualism, an anti-thinking culture that is super jacked up, not helpful to anybody. Anti-watching the tapes, especially in the creative world, like I think that we anytime I'm like weighing something up, and I like present it to someone in my life, the amount of times that they're like, just don't overthink it. I'm like, no, I'm just thinking it. Oh, that's just thinking it so I'm a big fan of thinking. But I do think it can it can easily flip over when the that scale tips out of balance and you're thinking way more than you're making. And so that I don't know if this was my second point. But I'll throw it in there as like a point as make sure you have a creative habit. Make sure that and the reason why is and again, I don't know if this is James Clear or Twyla Tharp, who wrote a book called The Creative Habit. But for me, the essential part of a creative habit is that habits are things you do without thinking. And so that already eliminates a huge amount of thinking that you don't need to be doing. Should I make something today, should I not make something today, you should do it, that it's your habit, just keep doing that. And so that's another thing that has helped me not get overly stuck in the taste testing. And just kind of going as it comes.

 

Jay Clouse  20:40

I wanted to dig deeper into Andy's creative habits specifically, some artists have a daily routine, others have a weekly routine. So I asked Andy, if there were any specific rules or guidelines that he has for his own creative practice?

 

Andy J. Pizza  20:53

Absolutely. I have a, it evolves over time. But right now, the majority I talk about this more than I should, but I take a bath every day. Now, we might have to get it. I also take showers because I run after the bath. And we might

 

Jay Clouse  21:09

run after the bath.

 

Andy J. Pizza  21:10

Look, can you get just hold on give me one. Let me say one thing in defense, I have ADHD, I actually got a really intensive diagnosis recently with a special specialist psychologist. And I found out I'm super lucky, I got all three types of ADHD actually gotta catch them all.

 

Jay Clouse  21:29

Catch them all.

 

Andy J. Pizza  21:29

I got the Bulbasaur, the charm that the Charmeleon and the Squirtle of ADHD. And I do a lot of like self medicating through the lid through habits. You know, one of them is it's funny because I believe my mom has undiagnosed ADHD were not super in touch. But she would take baths every day. And she did other things like she's, you know, she smoked, she was a heavy smoker. I don't smoke but I used to and it was the nicotine actually is very similar structurally to what they prescribed. And so for me, I've I've really leaned into the things that put me at my best mentally, baths are one of them because they raise your dopamine levels, which is a huge problem for ADHD. And so I do all of my writing in the bath. Now part of that is a bundling thing, which is another ADHD hack, which is, you know, I learned this as a teenager. For the longest time I really hated. I'm sure this is relevant to creative people. I'm sure there's some there's some way to apply this. But it was so essential to me so I got to share it. I hated mowing the lawn and with ADHD the main thing is the things that you hate to do. The things that are boring to you are nearly impossible to do, especially consistently. So I had to mow the grass every week. And I just freaking hated it to the point where when I was like 13 I would like fake lawn mowing injuries.

 

Jay Clouse  22:04

What are those? Are those ankle, knee?

 

Andy J. Pizza  23:05

No, just like, oh, I fell down the hill and it was very dangerous.

 

Jay Clouse  23:10

Oh my god.

 

Andy J. Pizza  23:11

I look back at myself and I'm like, good Lord, that was so embarrassingly dishonest. And but I you know, I'm in therapy, I see it as a protection. I was I was protecting myself. I was trying to try to survive or trying to figure out how do I get through this thing. And so eventually I found bundling, mowing the grass with listening to music, and I would make I'd make my own little mixtape off the radio, listen to like Bone Thugs and harmony, ghetto superstar that that was the time when I was doing this. And I in all the way until I discovered podcasts, I'm on a huge tangent, you can do whatever you want with this. But I'm all the way until I discovered podcast thank God for my wife's sake, I would listen to that music and sing it at the top of my lungs while I was mowing all the way to I was like 23 probably. And my neighbors be like, what the hell is going on with this guy? But it's how I got through it. It was bundling. Bundling is an activity. I didn't make that up. It's when you put something you don't want to do with something you do you want to do. Writing is a hard thing to get yourself to sit down and do. And so all of my writing for the podcast happens in the hour, sometimes two hours, every single morning, in the bath on my phone. It's the only way I can get myself to do it. And so there's stuff like that baths, running, I just I was running every other day like around three miles. I just started the past month or so trying to do five days a week, six days a week because it's so it's medicine for the ADHD.

 

Jay Clouse  24:44

It's like meditative, running is for me too. I can't really just sit down I meditate but like running is that.

 

Andy J. Pizza  24:50

100% and so those are the kind of habits and then I have those are like personal habits that all impact my creativity then they're stuff like the podcast has been, you know, when I talk about the creative habits, the first thing I say is, for me, and I think this is a James Clear thing, the most essential thing when starting a new habit is only have one goal with it and that is to make it a habit. So back in 2011, my first really big creative habit was make a new character every weekday for a year and put it on Tumblr and I did that. And ever since then, I've had a creative habit. And the cool thing is, over time, they've become really complex habits. So that habit was one character on Tumblr, every weekday for a year, that was it very simple, the podcast is actually a complex system of habits. By now I'm doing a new illustration every week. I'm I'm doing copy every week, I'm posting it to like seven or eight platforms every week, you know, I'm writing its own special Instagram, I'm recording just a very complex set of habits. All of those, though, have been not only beneficial just to the practice in terms of all kinds of things, but ultimately, and just getting better. Like, I feel like, I am so much better of an illustrator than I was seven years ago for having to do these episode art pieces every single week.

 

Jay Clouse  26:17

I was just thinking about this this weekend because I was talking to a friend of mine, you're talking about his younger brother who had just left his job, he just keeps going to a new job then quitting after a couple months, because he has like this entrepreneurial itch, but he doesn't know how to scratch it. And I was thinking how lucky am I that I have committed to doing these weekly creative publishing of things, podcasts, newsletters, whatever, so that every week I have a forcing function to get that incremental 1% better and not question like, what am I gonna do with all this energy? Like, I have an outlet.

 

Andy J. Pizza  26:47

100% there's so much wasted creative energy, overthinking, should I do it, should I not? What should I do? Like the creative habit takes all of the thinking, all of that thinking off the table. Now, you know, and you see this too, with people like Steve Jobs who wore the same thing every day. That's a way of eliminating that willpower, you have a certain amount of willpower every day, you have a certain amount of creativity to spend every day, do you want to spend it on what you're wearing? Do you I think you want to spend it on your creative practice. And so I think actually, can you eliminate almost I even I see people and I did this, trying to invent new markets, trying to invent new ways of making money. I'm like, you are not Mark Zuckerberg, that's going to be impossible. It's so hard and it's so unpredictable to create a whole new way of making a living. But creatives want to be creative about everything, not realizing you're spending your creative energy.

 

Jay Clouse  27:44

Truly.

 

Andy J. Pizza  27:44

And so if you give yourself a constraint, commit for a period of time, show up consistently, then evaluate and pivot. But that that is that's essential for me.

 

Jay Clouse  27:57

One of the messages that you've shared that I think about a lot and come back to a lot is playing your hits. Can you talk a little bit about that and how important that is?

 

Andy J. Pizza  28:05

Yeah, I mean, okay, so it's really the way that I would apply it is social media is the primary way that I think about it, but I actually have something else to tag on here. We we just launched a social media class on Skillshare that I'm super proud of. One of the things that, one of the big principles for social media that I'm trying to get people to embrace is that you are not a robot, you know, you you are not a content generating machine, okay? Like, if you try to post new artwork all the time, every day, several times a week, you will burn out, it's not realistic. And in fact, the people that are crushing it on social media aren't doing that. At least two thirds of my posts are posting old pieces of work with saying new something about it. You know, I'm saying something new that's relevant to me right now and I'm commenting on something I did in the past. And, and to the people, like we said earlier, to the people that are super fans, they're like, oh, I love that piece. They're like, what are you posting? What is it like, no, that doesn't happen there but the people that have never seen it, it's new to them. Now on top of that, I just like to add one extra layer, which is I saw Austin Kleon share on Twitter about this quote from Alfred Hitchcock, which his style is just self plagiarism. And I was like, that's exactly what I'm talking about. What we call style is when Wes Anderson goes into a room he's like, remember how we shot it last time. I liked how that was let's just do it. By the way, what he's doing is he's saving his creativity for what matters. He's saving the creativity for that particular performance. He you know, he's so that's what style is. And I saw one of my favorite examples of this of playing your hits is Jim Henson. I read his biography which is fantastic. And one of the things I love people know is by the time the Muppet Show happened, which, by the way, if you weren't alive then which I wasn't, I didn't. I've always been a crazy Jim Henson fan. But I didn't know the Muppet Show was like, in that time, the thing all over the world, it was huge. It was hugely successful. Like,

 

Jay Clouse  30:17

I didn't know that either.

 

Andy J. Pizza  30:18

Yeah, it was a massive hit. And so for the people that discover Jim Henson through the Muppets, it must have felt like, you know, Beyonce dropping lemonade, where you're like, what the heck is going, whoa, where'd this come from, but the fact that matter is, those characters were cherry picked from commercials and specials that they had done for years, that cast of characters didn't, they didn't sit around and be like, alright, we should have a dog, it's Ralph, no that came from like a dog food commercial, like Cookie Monster came from a cereal commercial, they always and they always reserve the rights to reuse these things. And so what they ended up doing was over time, plagiarizing themselves, building this, you know, this whole vast ecosystem and creative kind of vernacular that they could work within. And that's part of like, not being afraid to self plagiarize. As soon as you see this, you will see that, like, 99 out of 100 of your favorite artists, this is all they're doing. All you have to I think, like, for me, I'm like, you might make every 10th thing you make, I think has like a little bit of magic in it. So you make 10 things in a year, you're going to have one of those. You make 50, you're going to have 10,000, if I'm doing the math is that now five, where's the math, I'm not a mathematician, I actually have like a number of fear of numbers. But

 

Jay Clouse  31:42

I would have just I would have just done the math for you.

 

Andy J. Pizza  31:46

Anyway, you'll have more, okay, you make more stuff, you'll have more and and what can do with that is you can actually over time, snowball that together into a practice that is hard to wrap your head around the level of creativity that you're seeing there. And so and it also, the great part of that is, it takes the pressure off, every single thing you do this is reminds you of Christoph Niemann has this amazing, I think it's a 99 Utak, where he's like, a creative professional does not make great work consistently. The goal is to make good work. If you can make good work consistently, you can be a pro, you don't control the greatness. Every once in a while, you're gonna have a great thing you made and it's just not completely in your hands. And when you get those great things, you roll them into the next things.

 

Jay Clouse  32:36

I love this. I had two moments like this recently, I'm going to share them both because I think listeners of the show will like them. And I think you're probably also even aware of them already because you strike me as someone who's like both these things. Ted Lasso.

 

Andy J. Pizza  32:46

Yeah.

 

Jay Clouse  32:46

Maybe one of the best things that's happened to me in the last 12 months, right? Jason Sudeikis made that character as a commercial for Premier League on ESPN. And it was a very different take on who Ted Lasso is today. It was like aggressive and almost like angry, right?

 

Andy J. Pizza  33:01

It was a joke.

 

Ted Lasso  33:02

Guys all I'm looking for is 60% effort, 4,000% of the time. That's a skip, skip like little girls go not not a kid in the world. I'm lucky to be doing this for a living. Everybody's do the robot. You got to ride a few players a little bit harder than some of the other players. Blondie, you are killing me. John, what do you got on there pants was one of those three cores and I get those in the women's section, John, pick up a ball pair the ball in your hands. That is a violation.

 

Andy J. Pizza  33:29

It was a complete joke the way it was just like he was the butt of the joke. And a lot of people don't even know that exists. Yeah.

 

Jay Clouse  33:35

The second thing that I realized recently, Bo Burnham's new special Inside, which I love I imagine you have seen, if not also love. The song welcomes the internet that's now kind of going viral in a new way on TikTok. Bo had a song called Welcome to YouTube from 12 years ago at a YouTube event in Katy Perry is like they're on the piano is saying like, this is Bo Burnham like his first year after making it on YouTube.

 

Katy Perry  33:58

Okay, I totally can't wait for this next performer. He's funny, he's filthy and he's gotten over 20 million views on his YouTube and he's only 18 years old. Thank God, you're 18 at least. He's here to play his world premiere of his new song. Welcome to YouTube. Come on. Everybody makes noise for Bo Burnham.

 

Bo Burnham  34:25

Thank you Mrs. Perry.

 

Jay Clouse  34:26

And there's like some elements that he pulled from that that are just 12 years old, 12 years old?

 

Andy J. Pizza  34:31

Yes. I just think we have all of these weird ideas that are unrealistic expectations. And the people that go on to do really creatively great things. They actually tell you all this, but there's this this, you know, mythology that we want to we want to make them other in a different way, you know, and make them like all creative geniuses. And I just think those are massively the exception may not even exist really and really, all these practices are actually quite manageable.

 

Jay Clouse  35:05

I also think that your work informs your own tastes, obviously, and sometimes read it, plagiarize yourself, and you don't even realize it, because like, it just worked and you internalized it, and you have a sense that this will work again, not knowing that, oh, I know that because I did it before and it worked.

 

Andy J. Pizza  35:19

There's a lot of I mean, I honestly think a lot of my favorite artists, and most artists, I would say, are a lot of artists that get successful, do so completely intuitively. So they don't even they're not even thinking about it as self plagiarism. It's people like me, that you know, need all this extra, extra, you know, tips and tricks to help me ground myself and see things a little bit more from a aerial view. But yeah, your favorite artist probably does all this stuff, intuitively.

 

Jay Clouse  35:53

I think about that a lot, too, because one of my favorite podcasts is Dissect and Cole Cuchna breaks down like music, he'll break down an entire album, you know, song by song, and the way he breaks this down. And it's really an analysis of any great work of art, you think like, did they really think that when they're putting it out? Are we projecting that intention onto the work? And the answer is probably kind of both like, it probably happened with some form of intuition. But I wish there was a way of knowing like, how much of that was intuition? How much of that was planned? So I love listening to artists talk about their work, because they'll share, like, how much of is planned or, you know, gloss over things that weren't and it doesn't make it less great. It just means like, wow, your intuition is very strong.

 

Andy J. Pizza  36:31

That, you know, I completely agree. And I think that one thing that I go back to over and over and over again, is the idea of dualism, this idea that our brain wants to be one to approach everything in a black and white binary way, that's just a very easy way for us to hold things. It's either either this or it's that. And I think we went through this huge period of time where we kind of thought because it's bad to wreck the game and play it at the same time. Because it's bad to think while you're playing, then you shouldn't think at all. Whereas really, it's not either or it's both end, let's do this at those times and do it's just like Todd Henry and Austin Kleon and Sister Corita Kent. There's a bunch of creative, you know, teachers that have talked about this idea that creativity is really seasonal. It's where you know, you're not always harvesting, you're not always planting. You're not, you're you're doing this sometimes, and then you're doing that other times, and there's a there's a season for all those things. I'm actually hoping that as a culture, we get more into artists feeling comfortable dissecting their stuff. And part of the reason why is I've been on this huge binge of, I'm obsessed with storytelling, one of my favorite storytelling teachers is Brian McDonald. He has a podcast called You Are a Storyteller. It's, it's on our podcast network. And he talks about how there's sugar in medicine, like, stories are sugar to deliver medicine, he calls it survival information. Now, it doesn't just mean physical survival. It might be emotional, spiritual, psychological, survival but that's why historically, we've told stories to each other, because it's a great way to sugary way to pass on the medicine. But the fact of the matter is, I think now, we're just eating sugar all the time with our stories. You know, they did a study with kids and said, you know, they told him a Clifford, the Big Red Dog story about the dog pack is excluding this three legged dog. And by the end, they learned to include them. And so after the story, if you ask the kids, you know, what's the lesson there, their takeaway is don't exclude three legged dogs. And you're like, okay kind of, but actually don't exclude people that are different or anybody that's different. And once you tell them now, once you give them the medicine, they get it. That story has power. And actually, I have a suspicion that this is also true for adults, that where there are so many great lessons in Pixar movies, even Marvel movies and, and all these stories we tell and I feel like creatives have been made to fear, their artist statement, fear showing behind the curtain. And it's a really huge bummer to me, because I think we're, you know, we're getting unhealthy in our consumption, just consuming the sugar all the time.

 

Jay Clouse  39:37

When we come back, Andy and I talk about his transition from visual Illustrator to storyteller and his advice for when to stop or continue new personal projects right after this. Hey, welcome back. Even though a lot of listeners of the show also listen to Creative Pep Talk. Our two shows are very different. In a lot of ways, I think the way that Andy produces his show is harder than what I do here. Most episodes of Creative Pep Talk are monologues that I know require quite a bit of planning and scripting, but also storytelling. And he will often pull out quotes, stories or analogies to illustrate his point. And sometimes he'll reference the same ideas in different places. The idea of an uncle Kevin, who can shred guitar that Andy brought up earlier in this episode, is an example that he shares in his new video series with Skillshare. So I asked Andy, if he has a deep mental catalogue of these stories and analogies, or if he keeps an actual record or like a folder of ideas that resonate with people.

 

Andy J. Pizza  40:36

I do, I have, you know, 1000s and 1000s of notes on my phone. But part of it is, you know, I think for me, the whole writing on stage self plagiarism thing is almost using art to become the person that I want to be. This is one of the reasons I love Q&A, is that Q&A at the end of the talk is as fun to me as the actual talk, because every question will pique some like, folder in the back catalogue of my brain that I've already written a story about, that I've already come up with an analogy or metaphor, or paired with a personal story that I experienced, and I can just grab it. And I think that it's for me, the artist journey is just inextricably linked to the personal journey. You know, you'll hear this all the time, like, there's a huge pattern of how creative breakthrough was a result of personal breakthrough. And so for me, I'm always I think they're just, it's hopefully, this sounds really cheesy, but I really do mean it. Hopefully, it's someone that I'm becoming like, I'm, it's just becoming part of the fabric of who I am. And I do, obviously, I do take a lot of notes, I do catalogue them. If I think of a story that happened to me, like something that happened to me, I will put I have a list of those of like, I don't know what to do with that yet, but I want to do something with that. And the best part about all this, there's two people that there's two types of people maybe that might be listening to this, I went straight binary, black and white dualism, again, just to watch how your brain does that. But I'm thinking, there's people that are like, yeah, cool, okay, that makes sense. Then there's people like me, 10 years ago, listening to this thinking, I could never do that. I like 1000s of notes, huge catalogue, seven years of podcasting, and speaking and doing all that. Now, it's literally just a snowball. Like all of that stuff is just little, little creative habits compounding it reminds me of that Einstein quote, of the eighth wonder of the world is compounding interest. I'm actually pretty certain he said that I did the homework. But yeah, it's good, but that, that it compounds with interest that those creative habits, and so that's really the truth is that they all are somewhere, but really, it just all that needs to happen is one word will just pick up a particular piece from you know, that back catalogue.

 

Jay Clouse  43:00

I love that we've gotten to this topic, because I didn't think we're gonna make it here. But I really wanted to talk about it. You know, you mentioned art being something of a way to express like the person you're becoming a means of becoming the person you want to become. And I feel like a lot of creators today, they hear this advice that you've got to be wildly consistent and specific to break through. And they want to fight against that because how can I pigeonhole myself as the person who does this one thing, and I've watched over your career, you know, maybe going from Illustrator with a podcast to podcaster who illustrates to now storyteller, public speaker, talk to me about those transitions and how intentional they were and how scary or not scary they were.

 

Andy J. Pizza  43:43

The first thing that comes to mind is a book called The Artist Journey by Steven Pressfield is mostly known for the War of Art. I always have to think before I say that, so I don't say it the wrong way around. Um, but I

 

Jay Clouse  43:58

Going Sun soo coming after you for

 

Andy J. Pizza  43:59

I know exactly. But uh, he he talks about, he has this theory that I'd actually it's one, you know, I feel like when you stumble upon truth, hopefully if it's really true, someone's already thought it, right? Like that's should be encouraging that you're onto something. And I'd had this idea and then I stumbled upon him saying that really the creative journey is kind of two big parts. There's the hero's journey and then there's the creative journey. The hero's journey is finding the Elixir. And then once you have the elixir now it's time to be an artist with that giving your gift away. And what that looks like I think the hero's journey still looks like trying to be an artist track trying to figure out what your thing is, you know, convincing yourself for periods of time that you are this thing. You know, digging into it. I was thinking the other day I was having a conversation and I was saying, you know, I bet that when Matt Damon wrote Goodwill Hunting, that he had to convince himself that he was a writer like he had to back up I'm a writer, because you have to do that you have to have that delusion and that, you know, grant in the period of time, but the truth is I went through so many iterations before I actually found what I think is at least the first fruits of like what my real art is, which is somewhere something in kind of, if I will be so bold, philosophical approach to storytelling. And you know, before that, I had explored book cover illustration, editorial advertising, even tried to make rap music, you know, it's crazy stuff.

 

Jay Clouse  45:35

Can we find that, put it in the podcast?

 

Andy J. Pizza  45:36

I'm sure yeah, somewhere.  (Music playing in the background.) I tried so many things with the full, you know, really convincing myself like, this is the thing, working at it, wrestling with it, and then eventually stumbling upon like, no, I think this is the real key. And actually, I was already before I started my podcast, I was already a full time illustrator, I'd already had worked with Sony, and, you know, I have a whole bunch of good ones that I don't want to just name drop here. But I had a good I had a good career, I had a middle class career as an illustrator. By the time I discovered storytelling, really, I did a talk, you might relate to this. You're married, right? Is that Is that true? Engaged? Congrats and maybe you understand this. But you know, sometimes when I was in those phases of like, trying new things, I would be like, I think there's some creative magic here and I will show my wife. And sometimes she'd be like, yeah, I think you're awesome. But lots of times, you're like, I don't know if that's really your thing. And then I did this talk, just a tiny little community talk. And I just felt like, what was that? That was totally different. And my wife was there luckily because I got off stage, I was like, was that different? And she's like, yeah, that was something different. And I was, and I was already an illustrator, like I said, and so for a few years, I actually felt like I was having an identity crisis. So I started the podcast. And that was a whole story in itself. Because what I wanted to do was just quit illustration and go be a performer's speaker, right?

 

Jay Clouse  46:45

Engaged, soon to be.  Oh.

 

Andy J. Pizza  46:47

And I didn't do that. There's a whole bunch of cool stuff, we could talk about that. But I decided instead to try to fuse these things, mainly because I already had two children. And I thought, I don't think I can just quit my whole life right now. And so I fused them together. And but I spent a good two years feeling like having an identity crisis. And I'm like, I don't think I'm an illustrator. I think I'm, whatever this is of like, telling metaphors, telling stories, giving analogies. And then one time I'm watching a talk, and I'm just eating it up. And the speaker was like, okay, I want to give you an example, I want to give you a story to help illuminate this, here's my illustration. And I was like, they're the same thing. And there's just this, you know, connective tissue between all of it. And so now, you know, medium is just not that much of a stumbling block for me. It's they're all part even my talks, there's always illustrative elements, whether it's slides or if it's video that's in animated and integrated to me at all. I think it kind of goes back to the classic Simon Sinek thing of Starting With Why. I think the further you dig in, you're going to get past the the veneer, the skin of this thing past the meat to the bone of what is this thing? And I think for me, I do think it's like moving truth from the head to the heart. I think the truth even beyond that, of what I want to communicate is, life is worth saying yes to. And there are so much evidence to the contrary, like a ton every day. But you know, those experiences in life, and you know, those creative things that you consume that remind you of those things, and they keep you going. There's a posture in life, a yes or no, you can when you wake up, you're either resisting it or you're leaning into it. And so for me, even though you know the design industry, illustration industry, every industry wants to pigeonhole you. They want to draw these hard lines. They want to be like if you don't do this, you're not good enough. If you don't know whatever it is, at some point, I was like, look, I don't know it's all this stuff, but I'm doing the same thing every single time. It's all the same to me.

 

Jay Clouse  50:06

To somebody listening to this who feels like maybe something's working right now I've got a hit that I can play and I'm just getting started. But I feel like I'm kind of pulled in this other direction, like how do you know when to say yes to that direction in today's like competitive, creative climate?

 

Andy J. Pizza  50:23

I'll give you kind of, you know, again, path, there's a there's a theme going on here, this non-dualistic theme, because what you're going to hear is two pieces of advice that are kind of diametrically opposed. It's either grit, the only way to succeed is doing the same thing over and over and over and sticking to it or fail fast never stopped pivoting, right? So which one is it? The answer, of course, again, is both. Yes and here's how I practice that because it's easy to be like, it's both. Okay, that doesn't help anybody. What, what how I practice that. That is my religious practice of personal projects. The thing about a personal project that weaves those things together so well, is that the grit side is saying, I'm making a commitment. So when I started the podcast, I said, I'm making 100 episodes, I'm making 100. And I wasn't, you know, previous projects were smaller bets than that. But this is one where I was like, I know, this is something this is close to what I want to do. And I know, I'm going to need to do 100 episodes before I know whether I should press on or pivot, right? Now, I had done past projects that were like, I want to do new book covers for books from the public domain, that we're going to screenprint. And I thought, I'm going to do four of those. Okay, so way earlier one, but it was, that was a good mix of because when you do one, you don't have enough data. That's not an experiment, you can't that won't hold up against peer review. And I feel like you need more, you need more data to know. And the cool thing is, I love that example of I called that project, a novel view. And I didn't know book covers for books from the public domain illustrated new book covers for like Wizard of Oz, and Moby Dick and a few others. It took me that long this is how hard it is to come upon self knowledge. Everybody already knows most of this about you but you figuring it out that is another thing completely. It requires a lot of grit, a lot of self expression, but also self excavation, which is how I think about art. And, and the thing is, it took me I think five of those posters for someone to be like on Twitter, I love this Moby Dick poster, how did you like the book? And I was like, oh, man, I didn't read the book. I don't even really, I don't really read fiction. That's not really my jam. And I thought, of course, this is not my path. I'm not a ravenous fiction, I'm never gonna do this. But it took me five posters, putting them out into the world to see the most obvious thing in the world, right? So that's the way I think about how do you know you want to make a pivot, okay, finish up the one you already committed to, and then create a new bet and say, hey, I need to do 5 of these, 10 of these, 100 of these to get a sense of that. And then at the end of that, at the end of that 100 episodes, you can say, ah, that was the worst thing ever or you can say I want to make 230 more of those like I did.

 

Jay Clouse  53:38

It was such a fun time recording this episode with Andy. One of the conversations I've been looking forward to having on the show for a very long time. And I love that we touched on the role of taste and intuition with your work. These things are spoken about in such mystical terms. But I agree with Andy that they are some of the most important qualities to develop on your creative journey. I think your creative diet is a lot like your nutritional diet. You are what you eat. Your taste and intuition are informed and shaped by the work that you spend time consuming. So be thoughtful about where you find your inspiration and get outside of your own bubble. And he mentioned learning from comedians, and I guarantee that has helped him stand out as an illustrator. I highly recommend Andy's video series on making the myth on YouTube in his new course with Skillshare. Links to both are in the show notes. You can subscribe to Creative Pep Talk right here in your favorite podcast player just by searching for Creative Pep Talk or visit creativepeptalk.com. And hey, while I have you here do you want to be featured on a future episode of this show? I love hearing listener questions and we'll be taking some of them to pull into this show. Just visit creativeelements.fm and leave me a voicemail or check out the link in the show notes. Thanks to Andy for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making the artwork this episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and Brian Skeel for creating our music. If you'd like this episode, you can tweet @jayclouse and let me know. And if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening and I'll talk to you next week.