SXSW 2014 Keynote Profile: Austin Kleon Shows His Work

Written by Hugh Forrest | February 11, 2014

Attend the Austin Kleon opening keynote on March 7 at SXSW Interactive

Keynotes at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival occur at 2:00 pm on Friday, March 7 through Tuesday, March 11. These keynotes occur in Exhibit Hall 5 of the Austin Convention Center -- the keynote is also simulcast at various other rooms throughout the SXSW Interactive venue system. Today’s installment of the Keynote Profile focuses on Austin Kleon, who will serve as the Friday, March 7 keynote. This keynote profile is written by Bill Simmon and originally appeared in SXSWorld magazine.

Austin Kleon needs an office. Or so he says in his phone interview, as he politely puts the call on hold to placate an unhappy dog and deal with his one-year-old’s clothes in the dryer. At 30, Kleon is enjoying being a new father as well as focusing on his relatively new career.

Kleon is “a writer who draws” according to his various social media profiles. He has published two bestselling books: Newspaper Blackout (2010), a collection of poetry made by redacting large portions of text from newspaper articles, revealing the hidden poems within, and Steal Like an Artist (2012), an illustrated manifesto for being creative in the digital age. A third book, Show Your Work, will be out on March 6 -- just in time for the 2014 SXSW Interactive festival.

Kleon’s work has been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition and the PBS Newshour, and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He has also given talks at Google and for Pixar and TEDx, not to mention SXSW.

This March, Kleon will deliver the opening keynote of the SXSW Interactive conference. He says he has come a long way since he first attended the conference as a badge-holder in 2008. “When I started going to SXSW, it was very much about recording the event,” he says. “It was about going there and soaking up as much as I could and doodling in my sketch book and trying to capture what other people were saying.”

Slowly, Kleon says he started becoming more a part of the conference, first by participating in panels. In 2012 he appeared on stage at SXSW with filmmaker Kirby Ferguson (Everything is a Remix) for a discussion about being creative in a digital world.

Kleon acknowledges that being asked to give the opening keynote is a big deal, but he also sees it as a natural progression for him. “The further along my career has gone, what I’ve done at South By has kind of mirrored that,” he says, pointing out that each of his previous two books has launched during the conference in March. “The first time I ever saw my first book, Newspaper Blackout, was on the shelves at the SXSW bookstore, because they’d rush-shipped it down.”

Kleon lives in Austin with his wife, Meghan, and their one-year-old son, Owen. Both parents are professional writers — Meghan is completing her dissertation — so Kleon says they split their time watching their son and working. “I watch Owen in the mornings, and I get the afternoons to work,” he says. When he is not traveling, Kleon says his days are filled with drawing and Photoshopping and handling the business side of his projects.

Kleon says his new book, Show Your Work, is in part about his own career path. “People often ask me how did I get noticed, and how did I find an audience for what I do,” he says. “This book is very much an answer to those questions.”

Describing the new book, Kleon says that the creative people he admires most tend to publish their work-in-progress. “It’s all about process,” he says, “as opposed to people who slave away in dark basements in secret or whatever and only show their work at a gallery opening or a movie premiere.”

Given that SXSW 2014 is just a few weeks away, Kleon has almost finished composing his opening keynote. One thread he says is interesting to him at the moment is about how creative people sustain their creative energy. He recalls seeing the Werner Herzog documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams a few years ago and being struck by what he saw as he exited the theater. “I came out of the Alamo and I saw this father and daughter drawing in chalk on the sidewalk,” he says. “The film was about 30,000 year-old cave paintings, and they were doing the exact same thing across 30,000 years.”

Kleon says that despite being relatively young, he’s already very tired. “How do people who have been working hard creatively for five or 10 years sustain that level and keep going?” he asks. “It’s not just about the creativity. It’s about the stamina.”

Register now to be part of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival and to attend the Austin Kleon keynote session on Friday, March 7. For the full picture of all sessions and evening events at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival, visit the day-by-day schedule. Also, learn more about the best of the best programming for the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival by visiting the new Recommendations page.