May 20 • 8M

124. Inventing Life's Meaning with James Richards

Ep 43 of the SneakyArt Podcast, show notes, and the upcoming zoom event.

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👋🏼 Hello listeners!

I am delighted to share with you the latest episode of the SneakyArt Podcast - a conversation with artist, author, and urban-sketching superstar James Richards.

Catch the first ~8 minutes of our conversation in the attached audio. Jim explains how observational sketching became a part of his life when he was studying to be a landscape architect. We go on to speak about how his love for sketching not only distinguished him from his peers but also helped him chart his own life’s path.

Find below the show notes - including links, my best insights, and some good ideas from the episode.

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🎙 Ep 43 - Inventing Life’s Meaning with James Richards

On his website, James Richard says -

"I never saw myself as Monet in the studio. I wanted to be Anthony Bourdain with a sketchbook."

What was the meaning of art in James’ life? How far was Monet, and the world of fine art, from the world in which he grew up? What did it mean to be like Anthony Bourdain … but with a sketchbook? In many ways, this conversation is the long process of unpacking this beautiful quote.

Episode 43

Storyteller, artist, architect, educator - Jim has worn many hats in an epic and fascinating life. He speaks about growing up in Louisiana, learning to draw from Mad Magazine, and his close association with the built environment. We learn what it means to create a life that reflects our values, and the places we can go when guided by interests and curiosities.

To learn more about his work, visit James Richards’ website.

Listen to this episode on your choice of streaming service, or grab a link below:

Spotify | Apple | PocketCasts | Google | Web | Gaana


[08:40] How did Jim come to study landscape architecture? Jim tells the story of how circumstances led to him studying journalism, and about the day he discovered landscape architecture.

[24:00] What was the role of the sketchbook in Jim’s life as a student of architecture? Jim recollects a field trip up the West Coast when he learned to draw from observation and see his world with an “architect’s eye”.

[33:30] How does landscape architecture involve the average citizen? Jim speaks about the nature of collaborative work between civil engineers, architects, politicians, government employees, and citizens.

In the clash of competing interests, Jim uses sketching to turn combative situations into constructive discussions. They speak about how people react to drawings versus photos or blueprints.

[52:15] What does it mean for Jim to see himself “as Anthony Bourdain with a sketchbook"?

[58:53] Nishant shares a quote by Surrealist painter, Kandinsky, in the context of the purpose of art:

“Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and... stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to 'walk about' into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?” - Kandinsky.

Pair the sentiment with this poem by Billy Collins:

Jim quotes Annie Dillard, to explain how he understands his role as the artist:

“I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.”

[1:12:24] Nishant asks Jim about the conscientious decisions he has made for his career, repeatedly choosing autonomy and creativity over simply climbing the next rung of the proverbial ladder.

Nishant mentions The Peter Principle:

“In every organization, an individual rises to the level of their incompetence.”

[1:23:00] Jim mentions Ep 36 with Rita Sabler (link), where she speaks of finding the “why” of making art.

In charting our own path through life, often we face a lack of measurable data to assess our progress. It is an unfortunate reality of life that what matters is often not measurable, and what is measurable often does not matter. Nishant and Jim speak about how to make peace with this understanding, and not let it overpower us.

Nishant speaks about goal-setting with Goodhart’s Law in mind -

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a useful measure.”

Jim speaks about his love for the work of Uma Kelkar.

Nishant references Nietzsche’s “Will to Power”, and its place in modern individualism. (quick primer on YouTube)

This episode is Part 1 of the full conversation with James Richards. Part 2 releases next week!


Dear listeners, I would love to hear your thoughts about the different things we spoke about.

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💻 Zoom Hangout and Sketchbook Tour

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This is a great opportunity to speak with me, check out my latest sketchbook, and ask any questions you have about my work!

On this Sunday’s special edition to SneakyArt Insiders, I will share favourite clips from this episode. Last week, I shared 5 tips for drawing in my style.

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Thank you for your time and attention. I hope you enjoy the episode!