Do Patronize Me: A Word on Art and Social Media

In my last piece of writing, I mentioned some plans I had going forward for returning my house to being a drop-in art studio, gathering place, and jam spot. In order to make moves on those designs, I’ll have to make sure I can keep the place first.

I’m a commercial illustrator, writer, and fine artist with a good portfolio. My schedule is clearer and my bank account emptier than it need be, so I’m looking for work and I’m looking for sales.

 

Okay, now that that’s out of the way…

Yeah, so freelancing is a strange gig. When it works, it’s beautiful. You get a clear brief, half pay up front, finish the work, an adjustment or two, then satisfaction, final payments, and fireworks over the castle.

The rest of the time it’s white-water rafting through trial, error, and sudden drop-offs.

It’s the same for everyone else out there trying to do it. I’m no special case; and though it’s easier than ever in some ways, it’s also bewildering to navigate these new markets that grow ever more granular even as they expand and vanish (as if beating your demons to the door every day wasn’t enough).

Fenn

A portrait study of actress Sherilynn Fenn. Not really pertinent to the article, but it’s my latest piece, it took me about three hours to paint, and I’m for hire AF.

 

New platforms, apps, networks, and techniques for making noise in the cacophonous hurricane of social media come along every day – and then there’s the challenge of making that meet the real world with shipping, printing, pricing, and trying to haul your products around in physical space.

It’s like having to reinvent your job every few months, whether you know how to or not.

It’s a strange road in a strange land, but I’ve learned a thing or two to share if you’re someone interested in supporting the artistic community, or otherwise looking for new markets and strategies for your own creative work.

1. Hire us!:
Number one with a bullet. The best way for me to keep the wolf out the door is by the sweat of my brow.

Did you know you can hire me? You can! I’m totally for hire.

If you know an artist, writer, musician or someone in an adjacent field, your best way to support them is to pay them to do the things that they do well. Money and validation go down like rocket fuel to an appreciative creator.

We know you don’t always need an article written or a graphic designed, but you might be connected to those that do. If you can’t hire, hook us up to the grapevine.

2. Buy Our Work:
I sell prints of my work on the cheaper end of the sales spectrum, and if I sell even just one in a month, I can cover most of my rent.

Two sales in a month? With a contract on the go? If I could do that every month, I’d be a grateful, happy little camper.

In this kaleidoscopic economy of gigs and makers, your dollar is your voting power. It’s your water in the garden. You get to choose what grows and what the harvest will look like after.

If, say, there’s a painter or writer you enjoy and you want to buy one of their pieces, but they haven’t quite produced something with the subject you’d like most, well, allow me to joyfully refer you to item 1 on this list.

3. Like, Share, Subscribe, Interact:
One of the major transactions in our current society is the “like”.

In the previous iteration of social media, liking something just meant you liked it. Remember that? It was just a friendly little communication directly from you to the creator of something you like that said “hey, nice!” without having to compose an e-mail or track them down in the real world to offer a congratulatory handshake.

Now? Well, that’s still true, but a “like” is also part of what drives the cream to the top. The current algorithmic paradigm grants wider access to  bigger audience pools for each like, share, retweet, or other interaction, while also signing up your account to see more of the same. Perhaps we’ve collectively become aware of this and our online interactions are now doled out sparingly like royal favour instead of friendly finger-pistols.It’s a slap on the back, but it’s also kind of an endorsement on a public ledger. I think that makes us leery whether we interact with what we enjoy or not.

You can buy likes now. And followers. In my hunting for freelance work, I could see down dark stretches of grimy digital alleys where jobs were on offer to go in on bulk reviewing, liking, retweeting, or 4 starring things. It’s part of the system now, and the independent creator needs those kind of supportive actions from people that really enjoy their work to get noticed at all amidst that kind of fog.

Long story short (well, shorter than the essay I just about saddled up for), your liking and sharing is way more important than you realize. If you can’t hire or buy from an artist you enjoy, then your likes, shares, and other interactions are just as welcome. You are the gatekeepers of the network.

Your genuine support in this regard also does wonders to combat the deeply ingrained impostor syndrome, anxiety, melancholy, and sense of defeat common to all humans.

4. Patronage:
New to the social media landscape (but not that new) is the concept of creative patronage. Websites like Kickstarter, Gofundme, and Patreon allow you to financially subscribe to your favourite creators with one-time or regular donations that help keep them focused on doing the things you want to see them doing instead of chasing down work that keeps them from it.

As a business model, it’s something that productions like vlogging, streaming, and podcasting rely on while artists, writers, musicians, and other performers, too, are finding a way to tap into it as a side revenue pool.

Usually these kind of operations grant you access to exclusive content from the creator such as behind the scenes material, works in progress, or tutorials. At higher sponsorship tiers, you might find yourself showing up in the novel you funded, or getting an invite to the album launch party of your favorite band. Throw an independent creator a big enough bone and you could be the star of their next video game. It’s pretty wild.

Again, more than ever, the audience has the power to choose exactly what kind of art they want to see thriving in the world.

It’s not charity. Charity would be just giving someone money because they need it without exchange. This is an exchange. It’s a way of supporting the general output of creators that you enjoy financially without having to make a major purchase or fill your house with their stuff. Instead of passively absorbing commercial advertising around the content delivered to you by a major publisher, you’re spending your money directly on the things you enjoy, knowing that you’re personally sliding some cash into the pocket of the people making it and not the corporate middleman.

It’s like a general employment contract you have a share in with the rest of a community of other patrons, or the subscription fee to the monthly magazine that is the output of a creator.

5. Collaboration and Cross Promotion:
I live in a town that’s so full of creative folk I can’t walk down the street without tripping over one or two that I’ve never met before, and probably a dozen more that I have. Artists, poets, writers, actors, musicians and everything in between. It’s crazy.

On the one hand, it’s wonderful to live in a place where I can collaborate and explore with like-minded people who all bring a unique vision to the table.

On the other hand, we’re all mostly broke and racing down blind alleys toward the same cheese. We’re among the most appreciative of each-other’s work, but also the least capable of buying any of it.

That’s where cross-promotion and collaboration come in.

Like the place I live in, the whole interenet is a small town full of creative people just like you looking to make a good connection.

Whatever field you or another creator inhabit, you can work together on SOMETHING together. Whatever that thing becomes, it’s something that potentially has twice the audience it might have otherwise had, and might reach into completely different markets.

If I want to do a bit of cross-promotion, I usually conduct an interview with someone in a field I find interesting. It doesn’t have to be art. If it’s good, my interview becomes part of the press materials that they can use to promote themselves, and in the process, their audience comes into contact with my work and vice-versa.

Collaborations, in addition to all the huge benefits of crossing stylistic swords with another mind, are another excellent way to foster cross promotion. It pushes both artists to stretch outward toward each-other from whatever part of the artistic spectrum they originate, and it’s a simple way for you to try on each-other’s audiences for a moment.

Also, just the notion that two individual talents are combining to produce something new is inherently exciting for everyone. It gives you a +5 curiosity bonus on all dice rolls and might draw extra buzz.

So, if you want an interview, or want to collaborate on a piece, let’s talk.

 
Personally, I’m not all that far away from having a good business on my hands. I need to stay busy producing new products to sell, while also connecting with paying clients to make it work.

I’m also not that far away from going homeless. It’s a strange place to be. A knife’s edge every month.

I’m confident that with just a few extra wins here and there, I’ll have made it to a place where it’s less about survival, and more about thriving.

If you need something painted, written, or designed by me – I’d be all kinds of grateful for the work, and I’ll do my best to make it live. If you don’t need anything custom crafted like that, have a look around my print shop and see if anything catches your eye.

If none of that is your cup of tea, then check out my Patreon account. I’m just getting the hang of it still, but I’ll have plenty to offer my patrons as exclusive content as time goes by. The more support from happy patrons I have, the more stuff I can paint, write, and design for everyone.

If you can’t do any of that, then please carry on liking, sharing, and subscribing as I release new work.

Much gratitude for all that you do already. Until next time, I’m going to stay busy making as much noise with my work as I can.

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The Roadhouse Glow

The Return of Twin Peaks has been a spectacular feat of television in the midst of what is quite rightly called “the golden age” of TV. How, in the age of the “binge”, when almost any piece of recorded film is a few keystrokes away, do you hold the rapt attention of the most sophisticated audience in history from week to week?

Keep them guessing, maybe. Or in some cases, scratching their head.

According to what I’ve seen on social media, it’s Twin Peaks and Game of Thrones delivering on that classic “tune in next week” experience on TV; where cliffhangers and upheavals keep audiences on the edge of their seats and in circles around water coolers. It used to be sort of standard, but now it’s a rarity of anticipation that I’m savouring.

The Walking Dead, too – but I left that show somewhere back in the Prison.

Bang Bang

Bang Bang

Twin Peaks continues to fascinate in this regard because it’s not a Shakespearian tragedy full of war and politics and zombies (take your pick as to which of the other two shows I’m referring to); it’s more like a dream and a soap opera. A painting and a music video.

I’ve painted four illustrations in tribute to the show’s aesthetics already, and with the return, there’s been so much gorgeous Lynchian imagery to go swimming in I couldn’t resist doing another. As it stands now (part twelve only having aired a couple of days ago), Dale Cooper is still lost in the periphery – tangled in the curtains between worlds. Apparitions are part of the fabric of the show, and seeing Agent Cooper approaching the roadhouse alone while simultaneously walking the floor of the Black Lodge was where my heart was after watching him sleepwalking through memories of black coffee and cherry pie for so many episodes now.

This was the third of my live paintings; broadcast over the intertubes over the course of a few days. The soundtrack to the broadcasts were provided by Roy Orbison, Dave Brubeck, Booker T and the MGs, and Nine Inch Nails among others.

I should point out that the above image is reduced in size by quite a lot in order to economically put it online, and also to avoid image piracy. The source files, and the image as printed to giclee are much richer in colour and in painterly detail.

I  tried to paint it fat and juicy with colour and contrasting lights and darks from the outset. If you dig in, even the shadows are full of purples and greens set against each-other in balance.

The whole scene is not only lit, but transformed by the light of the neon sign. If you let your eye rest in different places, it has the effect of a hologram; the wood of the building becoming lit from within. Inspired by painters like Edward Hopper, I wanted it to feel as much like a dream as the show itself does.

Do I overexplain this stuff or what?

I can’t wait to see what’s coming next Sunday. There’s only a few episodes left, but I’m not expecting any kind of closure on this story.

If you like the image, feel free to pick up a print or a card or a sticker. You can read about some of my other adventures in Twin peaks here, and here.

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LIVE from the Forest

So, this is my first painting since the Winter – one Solstice to another.

Summer Lights

The Summer Lights of British Columbia. Painted live.

This painting is of a regular stretch of forest off the edge of a trail somewhere near McFall Creek – directly behind where I live and where I painted it. I could try and show you exactly where it is, but the light would have to be just right to recognize it.

There are a great deal many more colours out there in this forest than occur to my memory. They are things that live only in the eye. What sits in my mind as being a gray tree amid a shadowy wood will to the eye burn with gold, cinnabar, and cobalt like jewel-beetles in the sun. Trails light up at your feet like pools of honey poured through stained glass, and each stick of wood stands like a vertical rainbow.

That’s what I see on the best of days, anyway, and it’s what I was out in the forest looking for like an entomologist with a butterfly net.

I’ll admit it: I was feeling a bit unsteady before I got started on this one. Out of tune, maybe – but I wanted to see it made more than I feared to make it.

A good sign for fair weather.

As mentioned before, Winter had left me feeling a little frostbitten, and though I was thawing out, I wasn’t sure yet how many fingers and toes I had left to work with.

All of them, as it turns out.

Fear isn’t just a liar, it’s a drama-queen.

Real tricks and trades: When I dread painting something, I sort of trick myself into production mode by getting started, and then posting infrequent “work-in-progress” pictures to social media as I go.

From composition to about mid-way through, I’ll post little sneak-peaks of things that may not survive to the end, but please me enough that I want to share them. Things change dramatically during the broad-strokes, and that’s fun for me to see in other painters – so I do the same. Closer to the final stages, I’ll hold back and let the final piece fill in whatever blanks are left.

Doing it that way, I feel like I’m walking through shorter milestones and I get to benefit from a little back-slapping encouragement along the way.

On the less fuzzy-wuzzy flip-side of that coin is the equally motivating factor of public accountability.

Once I’ve started something in the public, I tend to feel strongly obligated to complete it for anyone who’s interested in seeing it finished. Even if I myself lose interest, I want to make sure you don’t, and weird as it sounds, it sort of puts me on the clock to get the job done. Knowing I left it out there hanging around all messy and under-cooked encourages me to fight it through to the end instead of privately balling it up and bank-shotting it into the recycling bin.

Why do you think so many people post weekly fitness pictures instead of just one at the end?

I knew these methods well, and I knew they’d serve me in the coming days, but it wasn’t following through from one marker to the next that was giving me trouble at this point. It was getting started on something at all.

Be bold: At a certain point, you have to say yes in the places where you’ve been saying no. Courage is called for, yes, and action required before discovering that risk is simpler and more energizing than the perpetual anticipation of defeat.

I had a gorgeous piece of scenery to work with, my equipment was functional, and though I hadn’t painted for a while, my sketchbooks were full of interesting new work (all about trees and plants, no less). All I had to do was stop thinking and get started.

Burnt out on being burnt out, the idea of listening to myself continue the debate between nihilistic paralysis and the red hot urgency to get a grip was nauseating. Rather than let it wind to a pitch, I hit the breaks like a frustrated parent and threatened to raise the stakes.

I’d paint it live.

No safety nets. No buffer. Just an internet audience of followers, friends, colleagues, and anonymous randoms watching every naked move I make on the canvas with as much power of scrutiny as I myself get.

No negotiating. No thinking about it. No more whining about your delicate introverted workarounds. Just shut the fuck up and do it.

So I just shut up and did it.

I’d done a few live painting sessions before at festivals, but this would be different. I wouldn’t just be one dude with a colourful whatever in a playground of other spectacles; I’d be working directly from my screen to yours – however many of you happened to tune in during broadcast. I’ve never been good with crowds, and I don’t like being the center of attention, but the time for hand-wringing was past. If I didn’t stop, I never would. The key, like it is on stage, would lay in not becoming overly self-conscious; which is about as challenging as it is for you to not imagine an octopus in a top-hat now that I’ve said the words octopus in a top-hat.

I’d never let anyone in that close to my processes before. I wasn’t giving myself anywhere to hide, and as I realized that, I kind of freed myself from any fear about it at all. Any of it. I mean, who cares if it’s boring? or full of mistakes nobody else notices? or if nobody shows up to watch? or if everybody does?

What, was I afraid of showing how much care I put into a painting? Like that’s a bad thing?

Sometimes the big scary thing is the best option just because it’s different. The devil you don’t know can be a lot more fun than the boring old threadbare one you’re stuck with.

All told, there were about three or four sessions at three to six hours a piece to produce the above painting. I think the end of the final broadcast on this one ended sometime after two AM on a Sunday.

Practice vs. Product: I don’t view the individual paintings, drawings, or scraps of writing that I dribble out as being particularly important. It’s just noise. I view the practice as important. It’s the practice, and the making of that practice as frequent as possible that is my highest priority.

The product is secondary. That said, whatever it happens to be held in the eyes of other people is important to me, but if I focus on the practice instead, there’s more product for more eyes to behold anyway.

In the case of this painting, I’d fallen away from the practice of painting long enough that I got my priorities backward. I’d put way too much importance on the anticipated quality of the work and not on the quantity of the practice. I’m lucky that this forest turned out in a way that I’m happy with, but it shouldn’t ever really matter that much.

No matter what you’re working on, even if what you work on never sees the light of day, keep picking away at it. The practice of practice itself might be the most important skill to have, and it applies to every discipline I could name.

In any case, I think that maybe I’ve got it figured out again for a while, and it’s my intention to keep painting live and posting new work as often as I can – even if, or perhaps especially if it doesn’t rise to my expectations or make a lot of sense.

I’m also slowly working on opening up a few more pipelines to my work where I can publish segments of other projects in progress.

If you’re interested in tuning in to watch me work on my next painting, follow me on twitter or instagram so you can see me drop the link when I’m about to get started. Or you can go here to my twitch channel and wait. As it is today, I’m nearing the end of a live painting of the Helix Nebula. Feel free to show up and bother me with messages, tweets, and comments.

Or pizzas. I’m open to being hassled by pizzas.

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Flowers in my Books

Much of my recent sketchbook work has been done whilst out at the neighbourhood diner, or hanging out with friends at their house in the midst of pre-sale, pre-travel renovations (something you can read more about over here at Jill’s travel blog).

At least two of these drawing sessions took place in their epic gardenscape since the days have grown longer and warmer. Rather than turning inward, I tried to capture what I saw in front of me using a limited palette of coloured pencils.

blueberries

The strange orange/blue/green frosting of unripe blueberries.

Instead of finding the specific colour I’m looking for, I dash straight at it with the building blocks of that colour; the primaries that build others. I don’t even think as I’m doing it. It’s autonomic.

I haven’t done much in the way of major paintings since diving into my sketchbooks, but I’m confident that my next painted work will carry the strengths I’ve discovered in this medium.

Pot

These are original works on large sketchbook paper, suitable for framing and display should the urge strike you to buy one. In lieu of that, if you enjoy reading my writes and seeing my scratchings, feel free to throw me a coin or two. My hat’s just over there.

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Music: Petunia and the Vipers

Petunia and the Vipers have come through Powell River twice in the last few months, taking the stage at the Red Lion Pub in Wildwood for both performances. Packed out and sold out both times, I was there roaming around the edges taking it all in.

Petunia 1

That one time Petunia had a beard and sang Lou Lou at the Red Lion in Powell River.

Some of you may be wondering what a guy named after a flower and a bunch of snakes might sound like on stage anyway. It’s not a question that’s quickly answered, but I’ll try.

Seeing Petunia and the Vipers play, to me, answers the question “I wonder what it would be like to be in a dance hall back in the day tapping toes to the likes of Hank Williams, Wanda Jackson, or even Harry Belafonte?”.

That’s the answer right there. It’s happening in front of you. Right now.

And that’s not to say that Petunia and the Vipers are a nostalgia act. These guys are just continuing a still vital tradition of musicianship going back to a time most often glimpsed in the photographs of our grandparents on the mantle, or heard warbling out of old records on the turntable. It’s still there, it’s just out on the road far away from the noise and pomp of what came after and because.

But I didn’t really spend my nights with the Vipers analyzing the music. In truth, I was busy cutting rugs.

The energy was high, and the band was as tireless as it was deft. Through roots country, through calypso, through darkest ragtime – the Vipers brought two nights and several encores of their best home-grown from all over the musical map. And when the night downshifted into something like the Cricket Song or Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust, it gave us a dreamy, sunset dappled respite before diving back into the breathless, almost acrobatic pieces like Baby Amy and Lou Lou.

Petunia 2

Jimmy Roy plays.

Any time Petunia’s in town, whether by himself with the Vipers behind him, I try my best to make it to every show, and I end up seeing the same group of die-hards in the crowd each time. It’s almost like a club that mobilizes only for them, gathering only in their presence. Their battle-cry is Jimmy Roy’s name.

If you’ve been sitting around on the fence wondering whether this band is worth the babysitter money, take it from one of the die-hards: go see Petunia and the Vipers.

—-

For more information on Petunia and the Vipers, visit their official website here.

If you want to check out the sound and character of the band, check out the videos for Mercy and Chained right here.

And click here to read what I wrote about Petunia a couple of years ago when he passed through and played for us at the Cranberry Hall.

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Art: Summer’s End

I’m a pedestrian, so I’m perpetually on the slow path wherever I may choose to go. I often stick to forest trails in my home neighbourhood, but the further afield I get, especially toward the ocean, the skies open up into spectacular cloudscapes that drift and float above the islands and the sea.

Summer's End

I’m never able to capture it by photograph, but as I walk, I try to lock the colours and figures in my mind as best as I can so I might attempt a painting later at home. If I’m lucky, or if I don’t mind being late, my path gives me time to watch it change like a rolling mountain range, or a second ocean above the other. It’s an experience I just don’t think I’d have if I was driving everywhere.

One day while walking down to play soccer in the late Summer, I saw the clouds take shape into something like a ship sailing by the moon on a sea of other clouds. My team-mates poked fun at me for staring at the sky instead of keeping my eye on the ball when I arrived, and I said “See if I don’t go home and paint it.”

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