Sometime during the last year, I suddenly found myself somehow able to make a living from my drawings. Here are some notes:
1. I love it. Why the hell wouldn’t I?
2. “90% of success is showing up.” Like the famous British artist, Tracy Emin once said, “You don’t get to be Tracy Emin by being a slacker.” One thing you learn from befriending successful artists like Hazel Dooney or John T. Unger is JUST HOW HARD they keep at it, just to keep the show on the road. Insane. You can never turn the switch off. Doesn’t happen. Nor would you want it to.
3. I still don’t much like the word “Artist” to describe myself, but I’m getting more OK with it. I still like the word, “Cartoonist”, but I feel myself outgrowing that, somehow. The good news is, I’m not sure if any of this matters in the grand scheme of things.
4. “Good ideas have lonely childhoods”. There are a few art folk out there, trying to conquer this new Web 2.0 world of ours- Hazel, John T., Mary Anne Davis, Amrita on the gallery side, and a couple of others- but the number of people who REALLY GET IT still seems surprisingly tiny. Still, you could say the same thing about bloggers, ten years ago. It’s still early days.
5. Slavery is expensive. Riddle: Hang out in any gallery scene in any big city for long enough- New York, London, Chicago, Sydney, Los Angeles- and what do you see? Answer: The same frickin’ people. Most gallery scenes exist to supply free wine for the hangers-on, NOT to connect artists with collectors. The occasional (and increasingly rare) art star is the exception to prove the rule. Why artists still enslave themselves to an outmoded gallery model that proves itself ineffective IN THE VAST MAJORITY OF CASES still baffles me. It’s not as if the wine is ever that good, to begin with.
6. I’m spending less time asking, “Who are my readers?” and more time asking, “Who are my users?” Funny how having a proper business to run changes everything…
7. I haven’t forgotten about the books. I’m still writing away, having fun. Don’t see myself stopping, anytime soon.
8. It’s getting increasingly harder to wear so many hats. As the market demands more and more drawings from me, other sides to my business- consulting etc.- get harder to make time for. That being said, I am wondering what I’ve learned as an artist that could be helpful to other types of businesses. It’s something I think about a lot, these days.
[UPDATE:] John T. Unger left a great comment below:
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too. Yesterday in the studio I was just kind of blown away by how much my life as an artist has changed with success. The day was punctuated by trucks arriving to bring pallets, trucks coming to haul away tons of scrap for recycling, trucks picking up art to ship, orders for more materials to complete a 22 piece sale of firebowls that will go to Norway, an interview, a conference call for a major hotel project, etc. if you’d told me I’d be operating like this five years ago I might not have believed it despite the fact that I always had faith that my art was worth pursuing.
The thing about working as an artist is that you never realize how much of the work is on top of making the actual art. I was remembering how when I started out, I would visit the studios of more established artists and couldn’t begin to grasp how they ran the show. It’s taken years to slowly put each piece in place. Every day there’s new problems to solve, but if you can solve them in a way that sticks— so that from now on that issue is covered, eventually you come up with an efficient system for supporting the most important work you do, which is the art.
I’ve got some support staff now, but still, most of the work and most of the problem solving comes down to me. I like to keep it close to hand… but the only way to do that is to work long hours, get organized as hell, and meet every deadline early. The weird thing maybe is learning that the better I get at getting things done, the more I do. I seem to just keep taking on more and more projects and finding time to do all of them by increasing the efficiency of how I do them.
It’s a crazy circus, but I’ve never loved life more.