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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Four Days In Dreams

I spent the long weekend at the end of August making art, playing music, and finding inspiration at a hand-crafted garden village in the woods north of my hometown. The Vale, as it’s properly called, is a community of artists living in cabins encircling a great hall designed specifically for performances of every variety; from painting, theater, and music, to poetry, brewing, and culinary arts.


The central hall started as a kitchen shack, and over time had evolved into a bonfire pit, an open dance floor, a covered dining area, and then a two-story art pavilion. Little alcoves full of chairs and couches can be found around the bottom floor, with the loft above serving as comfortable, well lit space to lay out canvasses and paints.

Upon arrival I set up my tent out near the cabin of a friendly shaman who offers to chase evil spirits off my shoulders with burning sage, finger-snaps, and magnets. Next to his cabin was an A-frame in which a dancer lived in his own recording studio; opposite him on the other end of the field an actor/playwright lived in a yurt next to the impressive vegetable farm he’d been keeping.

I brought apples from my tree at home to offer up for making pies and crisps, my ukulele, a batch of colored pencils, and several half-filled sketchbooks of varying age and use.

Once I had a place to dump my corpse after midnight, I went directly to the pavilion to see who had arrived and to pick out a deep chair to spend the days ahead working from.

The days were brutally hot. Once the sun hit my tent, it became an oven and there was no way to hang on to sleep. Instead I’d burst out and stumble to the far side of the hall to find coffee and other sleepy artists lounging around one of the several outdoor tables. Once the sun had reached that side of the building, it was our cue to return indoors and get back to our projects.

The nights were cooler and carried a different energy. Performers hit the stage, followed by dancing, childhood games, and the excitement of touring the works of everyone there kept us moving and stretching at intervals.

Like surfers standing in the tide, we would ride the waves that came to us, then come back to shore for food and conversation and visits to the lake. Riding the crest was being fully locked into your work; in the “zone” with work pouring out continuously. Sometimes I’d see the musical wave pass by with other surfers on it and want to switch over mid-stream, and sometimes I would. Mostly, though, I was deeply into finding the rhythm of coming in and going out with explorations in my sketchbook.

Jam 8

I’d go to bed just as the glow of the sun crawling up the horizon so I could get at least a couple of hours of cool darkness to dream in. I wasn’t the last to bed, though. Outdoors, a gathering of roasted, toasted writers, poets, dancers, musicians, actors, and acrobats would blather about whatever absurdities came to mind, and upstairs, steady-handed painters would stay hard at it until they could trade in their lamps for daylight.

After a dark winter and a dull Summer, it was exactly what I needed to remind myself of what good there is gathering, in meeting new people, and in riding the waves of inspiration. Nothing keeps you sharper than joining with others in the same pursuit.

I made some new connections in the cities nearby, and caught the sound of the festival train moving steadily onward through the winter. I’m hoping I can make it over to Cumberland for the Woodstove festival, and whatever comes after that wherever it lands.

The whole experience makes me want to reshape my big house and yard into a place where artists and musicians can come and play. Ever since strolling through the streets of Portland Oregon on holiday and seeing all these old houses turned into quasi-formal lounges, I’d wanted to build such a space – but until now I thought it was impossible. Things have changed, and I’m looking at my Autumn projects with a different eye.

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Cranberry Lake Ice / Slump Resistance

Aha! Look at this! A painting!

It’s been a while, right? Yes, I detoured into strange dungeons for a time drawing trees in my sketchbooks, but I’m back to painting once again and there’s things to be said about it.

Before I do that, however, let’s have a look at the thing I painted last.

Cranberry Lake

This was something I put together over the course of a week back in the Winter – I can’t remember exactly when. I had been wandering around the edge of Cranberry lake one afternoon and saw children skating and playing hockey on it under the crown of a fiery hillside. An old rowboat stood poised on the shore as though ready to be launched by ghostly fishermen onto the ice, while across the way, purple and blue shade had begun to creep up out of the lake and over the houses like a tide.

I snapped a few reference photos and committed the rest to memory, then walked back to my studio to get started.

This one was a big struggle to work on, and to my eye, I can see the scratches of unnecessarily added labour all over it. Beset with more equipment failures, I had to go further than usual for each brush-stroke. I had to wait constantly for the software to catch up on every move, and often had to stop to chase down and eliminate unintended lines generated from skipping across the screen like a needle on a record. Reboots and battery failures at random intervals set me hours behind when they rolled through.

I think because of the technical challenges presented by this piece, I was left feeling like it was a bit of a mess when I was done. I didn’t like it, and because I didn’t like it, I sort of pushed it into the digital equivalent of the attic and hadn’t given it so much as a glance since.

I was also kind of terrified that I might be facing a final equipment failure which might take me out of painting altogether for months. These glitches were getting more frequent, and I could tell my operation was hanging by a thread.

The value of this painting and everything associated with it was steadily decreasing in my mind the longer I didn’t look at it, and the longer I put that off, the longer I put off wanting to try painting another landscape.

Or anything, come to think of it.

Why bother, right? Fighting with a dying computer to produce an ugly painting which might also result in losing my ability to paint at all? And Winter sucks and blahblahblahblahself-loathingblaaahhh.

Oh yes, the Winter had me now. All solitude, self doubt, and elaborate procrastination spirals piled onto the melancholy compost with the rest. Expenses carried on being expenses, but there were no art sales for Christmas after I went deep out of pocket for stock; my paintings weren’t generating much interest; and my funding was just coming to an end.

These are not conditions I historically tend to thrive under. I don’t think anyone does.

Welcome to the bottom curve of the slump; where all thy dread chickens come home to roost.

Spin ahead a few months, and I’ve climbed out and picked up my brush once again (with a nicely filled sketchbook of new, original work to boot). I’ve given this icy painting a second look, and it is not at all the boring outhouse deposit I thought it was. It’s messy, sure – but in a fun way; like weeds that look like flowers anyway. I’ve painted a new landscape since, and I feel confident in my abilities and where I’m going next with my projects – something unimaginable to myself a few months ago.

Which brings me to why I chose to write about it. This was a pretty major slump, and I really, reaaaallly don’t want to fall into it again. Now that it’s passed, I’ll be better prepared to react to the conditions that might cause another.  There’s reefs here worth marking down on the chart; for myself and for anyone else in the pursuit of making stuff. If you’re feeling stuck, blocked, or otherwise underwater, give these a try:

Read the signs: If you’re feeling defeated in your pursuit, have a look around at your circumstances and see what little adjustments you can make.

A sense of being shipwrecked might just due in part to your environment – physically, mentally, and socially. If Winter’s closing in, make sure you’re getting the nutrition, light, and positive social contact you need to balance out the difference. Get out in public spaces. Make sure you’re sleeping well and keeping hours that maximize daylight. Don’t let the household clutter of Winter gather too deep.

It’s the little things, and they add up in both directions.

Money isn’t everything (even though it kind of is): Unless you’re a retiree or have some kind of patron, you’re likely working directly toward a financial goal, or at least keeping a weather-eye on money with your creative pursuit.

While it’s important to pay your bills however you can, it’s not absolutely everything.

I mean it is. But it isn’t.

In times when the work isn’t there, make sure you are. Stay busy. Stay active. Stay loud. Keep making improvements to your craft and keep producing work. Do it in front of other people and make sure they see you do it.

If you bail out on making new things, you’ll only get rusty, lose confidence, and ultimately take yourself out of the spotlight.

Can’t get hired? Hire yourself.

No really. Go ahead and write yourself a contract to produce that dream idea you’ve been keeping on the back-burner. You can’t just spend your day looking for work and being mad and yourself that you can’t find it. It’s bad for you.

Just do that for part of the day, then go to work for yourself.

Even if you’re self employed with playing cards and Japanese pocket change (I paid myself with the King of Diamonds and a 500 yen piece) you’re still getting better at what you do, your portfolio is increasing, and you’re giving someone who may love your work the opportunity to find you.

Looking back over a month, you’ll feel much happier and more accomplished for working on that pet project during the hours you might otherwise have spent banging your head against the wall. Where there might have been a string of solid defeats, you can carve out your own victories and rise a little higher each time.

Get a second opinion: You may think you’ve got it all figured out. You know your situation. You know your habits, your mind, the particular quirks of your process. You’re the expert, right? You know it all, and you’re certain that this is how it is, and how it must be.

Yeah, no. Not even.

You might pride yourself on keeping a healthy, balanced view of the world and of yourself, but that’s something that’s going to be challenged with some regularity – particularly in stressful times. It might erode quicker than you think when adversity’s been hanging around long enough.

If you find yourself full of self doubt and anxiety about your situation, your work, or who you are, your opinion is probably already compromised. Get an outside view from people you trust. Chances are, half the worries circling over your head will be shot right out of the sky, freeing up room for the positive activity you want to get back to. If you leave it only to yourself – particularly when you’re not at your best – you’ll end up with only the most cynical, limited, and prejudiced version of the truth.

Nobody has ever agreed with Eeyore except Eeyore.

Analysis is good; action is better: Once you’ve got your second opinions and you’ve straightened out all the tendrils of the problem, the next part is doing something about it. The trouble is that this can be an incredibly difficult thing to do if you’ve been wrestling with it for a while. You might feel burnt out, or fear that you’ve become dull or incapable.

The solution that I’ve found in these instances is to set up a practice of something related to your craft; one that involves being in a particular place outside of your usual routine and includes a specific, limited set of supplies. A sketchbook in at the beach, say, or a pad of writing paper in the garden. Once you’ve put yourself bodily in the space you’ve set out with the supplies you’ve brought, you might find it much easier to dip your toe back into the water than you think.

I mean, you’re already there. Just inches away.

Put yourself there without any expectation and eventually, you’ll start to associate that place and those tools with a positive, productive task. Over time, these practices become habits that stay with you regardless of what your head-space is. Repeated use brings confidence and diminishes fear regardless of the size of the thing you’re doing. You might find paintings less terrifying, for example, if you keep drawing weird trees in your sketchbook every day.

 

The conditions that produce a bad slump time in dump town are common and easy to see coming. It’s when they start hunting in packs over the winter that you’ve got to watch out. Once they pile on together, they’re harder than ever to shake.

Take them on one at a time, and go on the offensive. Go look at the work you’re proud of; go see another human from time to time (my apologies if you’re not human – go see a wolf or an eel); go take a long, long walk; keep your media diet positive (skip the Smiths and cable news); and stay busy doing the next thing – even if it’s tinier than anything you’ve ever done.

Make it small and simple. Stay busy with it.

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