I Made an Animated GIF (And So Can You!)

Devaney's Goat on local TV in Montreal (with a zoom in on yours truly!)

Ah, yes. The animated GIF. It’s the perfect medium for giving your already caffeine-addled brain a bit more stimulation, for adding some excitement to stale company HipChat conversations, and for giving your emails a bit of flair (15 pieces minimum). << And yes, that will be the only awkward Office Space reference I make in this post.

Instead of turning to Reddit, Señor Gif, or a Tumblr page the next time you’re in the market for an amazing animated GIF, why not create one yourself? As you’ll soon discover, the process is quite simple…provided you’re a musician and have access to a time machine.

  • Step 1: Move to Montreal and start a Celtic/folk band. Assuming you can already sing and play the Irish bouzouki, you’ll need (at least) one Russian guitarist, a fiddler from the Pacific Northwest (bonus points if her uncle was in the Monkees), a British Columbian drummer boy, and a pair of Ontarian lovebirds who — between them — can play the upright bass, the accordion, and the trumpet.
  • Step 2: Go back in time to St. Patrick’s Day 2010 and get a gig at an Irish pub. When the local news crew comes around with cameras, make sure your scally cap is on straight and that your cheeks are an appropriate shade of crimson.
  • Step 3: Steal Borrow the footage from the news channel’s website.
  • Step 4:  Upload that footage to Imgflip (or a similar site) and follow the instructions for cropping/trimming.
  • Step 5: Share your animated GIF with the world and instantly become an Internet celebrity.*

And there you have it, five simple steps for creating an amazing animated GIF. Of course, you could skip steps one through three and simply upload a video you’ve taken yourself. (But I highly recommend the time machine route.) Until next time…Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.

*In the eyes of your mom.

Tipping the Scales: How to Spend More Time Creating Than Consuming

Watching Breaking Bad, listening to Van Morrison radio on Spotify, reading the latest Clive Cussler novel (he’s the king of Indiana Jones-esque historical fiction/adventure, in case you were wondering), perusing a MarketingProfs or Content Marketing Institute post, eating buffalo chicken nachos at the Irish pub down the street…these are all examples of content consumption.

Hold up. Buffalo chicken nachos? Content? But of course. Someone cooked the chicken and chopped the jalapenos and combined those ingredients to produce something with tremendous value. Spicy, delicious value. As consumers, we stare in awe at the glistening cheese, we smell the fiery buffalo sauce, we hear the tortilla chips crack and crunch, and we feel the greasy goodness on our fingertips.

Oh yeah, and we eat them. And they’re flippin’ tasty.

Alright, back on track. The point I’m trying to illustrate here is that it’s easy to get addicted to consuming content. And for good reason: There is a ton of content out there. You could easily fill out several lifetimes trying to consume all of the content that’s been created by your favorite authors, musicians, podcasters, chefs, etc. Don’t get me wrong: Consuming content is a good thing. It teaches us, it entertains us, it inspires us. But if we dedicate ALL of our free time to consuming, how are we supposed to get good at creating?

Practicing Creativity Will Make You a Better Content Creator

By cutting consumption and increasing production, we can all become more efficient and prolific content creators. How many of us spend between 75 percent and 100 percent of our free time consuming?  We’re watching YouTube clips, we’re listening to music, we’re ordering pizza, we’re buying a clock made out of driftwood on Etsy. Why aren’t we recording our own videos, or making our own music, or baking pizza from scratch, or learning new skills so we can complete fun projects?

Shamrock Relief Carving Sit Down and Whittle Some

Worried that my brain was slowly eroding into mush, I decided to make a conscious effort to tip the scales…to create more than I consume. In addition to devoting more time to the creative activities I know best (playing music, writing, cooking), I also decided it was important to learn something new: I wanted to add a new category or channel to my creative repertoire. So, one Saturday morning I walked down to the hardware store, bought some woodcarving knives, bought a few blocks of wood, and whittled me something fierce. (And by “whittle me something fierce” I mean I Googled how to do basic relief carving and then carved a shamrock.)

I learned a lot that weekend. For example, I learned that woodcarving is a very precise art that requires extreme concentration and a very, very steady hand. This ties into another lesson I learned: woodcarving knives are sharp. Really sharp.

The finished product isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t matter. I didn’t carve my shamrock to to sell it, or to have it judged by a panel of art critics. I carved it so I could enjoy the process of carving it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to make some buffalo chicken nachos.

Required Reading for Content Creators

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

–Stephen King

Want to know how content can help businesses succeed and how content creation/content marketing fits into the broader context of inbound marketing? Check out:

  • The New Rules of Marketing & PR
    by David Meerman Scott


  • Inbound Marketing
     by Brian Halligan & Dharmesh Shah

Ready to learn about content strategy, creating a content schedule/calendar, and best practices for producing specific types of content, such as blogs, webinars, white papers, and podcasts? I highly recommend:

  • Content Rules
     by Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman

Want to convince your boss that giving valuable content away for free is “totally groovy, man”? Go with:

  • Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead
     by David Meerman Scott & Brian Halligan

Struggling to find that creative spark? Trying to build a pipeline of ideas for blog posts and other content? Tired of books that use too much marketing jargon? Try wrapping your brain around:

  • Disciplined Dreaming
     by Josh Linkner


  • A Whack on the Side of the Head
     by Roger von Oech

Ready to take a break from “business” and read something just for funsies? (Also, are you upset by the deplorable lack of zombies in the above-mentioned books?) Sink your teeth into:

  • The Walking Dead
     by Robert Kirkman, illustrations by Tony Moore & Charlie Adlard

Further reading:

Check out the Content Marketing Institute’s list of “Five Content Marketing Books You Need to Read.”

Know of other books that would be helpful for content creators? Leave a comment below!

Boston Irish by the Numbers [infographic]

I was in a pickle: I wanted to create an infographic but didn’t have Photoshop or Illustrator. Fortunately, a graphic designer friend of mine recently pointed me toward infogr.am: a free infographic creation site that – for better or worse – takes design out of the infographic equation and let’s you focus on data and copy. With infogr.am, you simply choose a template, then drag and drop different elements (text, images, graphs, etc.) onto your “canvas.”

The coolest feature of the site has got to be its selection of interactive charts and graphs. For my “Boston Irish by the Numbers” infographic, I created an interactive chart that allows you to view the percentage of residents with Irish heritage in Boston and other communities in the Boston area. (Unfortunately, the screenshot below is static, so you can’t interact with it here!)

You can view the full “Boston Irish by the Numbers” infographic here.

Boston Irish

Team Creativity Exercise: Monster Mash

Here’s a collaborative creative exercise that I recently ran with my company’s content team. As you may have gathered from the gruesome examples below, the exercise requires that participants draw monsters. But more specifically, each participant is assigned to one section of a monster: head, torso, or legs. The final image isn’t revealed until all of the sections have been completed.

Monster Mash 1Monster Mash 2

What you’ll need:

Pens, paper, and at least three participants.

Step 1:

Fold a sheet of paper into thirds (see above examples).

Step 2:

Have the first participant sketch the head of the monster and fold over the paper so no one can see what he or she has drawn.

Step 3:

Have the second participant sketch the torso of the monster and fold over the paper so no one can see what he or she has drawn.

Step 4:

Have the final participant sketch the legs of the monster and unfold the paper to reveal the finished monster.

Rinse & repeat as many times as you’d like!

(FYI: I found this exercise on the iD Tech Camps blog. It’s a great source for creative exercises and inspiration.)

Creativity Exercise: Life Is Like…

“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'”

-Forrest Gump

Two words: Terrible. Simile.

The oft-quoted Forrest Gump phrase makes no sense, and here’s why: Boxes of chocolates almost always come with those flavor guide thingies that show you what all the chocolates are. So if you take the two seconds to actually look at the thing, you’ll know EXACTLY what you’re going to get.

If life were really like a box of chocolates, you’d know what you were gonna get.

In his book, A Whack on the Side of the Head, author/inventor Roger von Oech challenges readers to come up with new similes to describe what life is like.

Challenge accepted.

“Life is like a jar of extra crunchy peanut butter. You want to enjoy it, but you never want it to end.”

“Life is like a snowball rolling down a hillside. It keeps picking up new things along the way.”

“Life is like a blind fish in the ocean. Usually there’s open water, but sometimes you hit a coral reef…or get eaten by a shark.”

“Life is like a guitar. The harder it’s played, the sooner the strings break.”

“Life is like drinking a bottle of whiskey. About a quarter of the way through you feel AWESOME. But as you keep going you feel worse and worse. Then you pass out.”

Feel free to contribute your own “Life is like…” similes in the comments section below!

Thank You, Blake Ink United

I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to Blake Ink United – Purveyors of Quality Graphic Design – for creating this amazing illustration of Hank & Buddy, the two greatest golden retrievers of all time.

"Hank & Buddy" - Blake Ink United

I commissioned Blake Ink to create “Hank & Buddy” so I could give it as a Christmas gift to my sister and her fiance (owners of Hank) and my parents (owners of Buddy). Instead of a photo-realistic image, I wanted something more abstract, but which still captured the dogs’ personalities. I dare say, Blake Ink did an exceptional job.

In my humble estimation, Blake Ink is certainly one of the top 10 purveyors of graphic design in all of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Or at least it’s in the top 10 in Central Square. OK, for sure, Blake Ink is one of the top 10 purveyors of graphic design in Central Square, Cambridge whose name begins with the letter combination “Bl.”

Want to see more? Check out the Blake Ink United website. You can also follow Blake Ink on Twitter (@BlakeInk) and visit the Blake Ink United Facebook page.

Creativity: Discovering the Extraordinary Hidden in the Ordinary

Blah Blah Boring Brand is launching a new product. It is, unequivocally, the most useless, most unappealing product to ever come to market and every time you look at it you want to smash it, then light it on fire, then boil the charred remains in a pool of hydrochloric acid.

But you can’t afford to think that way – it’s your job to come up with concepts for an ad campaign that will help promote this (dreadful) product. Lucky for you, you’ve been practicing your creativity like a good William Bernbach understudy, and you know how to extract polished diamonds from this pile of turds. (I think I might’ve gotten my metaphors a little mixed up there.)

“Properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten.”

-William Bernbach, advertising creative director, Don Draper arch nemesis

giraffeLook around your home. Look around your office. Look around at a park. Look around at the beach. When you find something that’s useless, or ugly, or boring, try turning it into something that’s useful, or beautiful, or thought-provoking.

Where someone sees a string, try seeing a clothesline. Where someone sees a dirty old bucket, try seeing a bongo drum. Where someone sees a stick, try seeing a giraffe (why the hell not?). You can arrange sticky notes to make a mosaic, you can hang empty bottles to make a wind chime, you can connect clam shell shards to form a fish.

Creative exercises like these might sound childish or silly, and, well, they are. But unlike other activities that one might consider childish, such as playing video games, or setting off firecrackers, or drinking too much at a party and dancing on a pool table and having the pool table collapse underneath you, creating something cool gives you a tangible reward: something cool.

Even if the outcome isn’t exactly what you expected (aka it sucks), at least you tried and most likely learned a thing or two along the way. Besides, looking back, you might start to realize that your favorite part of the activity had nothing to do with the finished product at all…it was the actual creative “work.” The building process. The physical act of bringing your ideas to life.

Just like practicing your sales pitch can help you get better at selling, practicing creativity can help you get better at being creative. When you practice looking for the extraordinary hidden in the ordinary outside the office, discovering it inside the office will (hopefully) become an easier and more natural process.

And with enough practice, even an ad for Blah Blah Boring Brand could be an extraordinary thing.

photo-33“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

-Michelangelo, sculptor, painter, pizza aficionado, ninja turtle