That work/life balance thing

I was having lunch with an artist I share some shows with not too long ago to facilitate a creepy doll transfer, and while talking shop we happened to turn to the whole make stuff people like, or make stuff you like, conversation.

In a perfect world, your customers are attracted to whatever it is floating your artistic brain boat at the moment, and cheerfully buy it all up. In the actual working life that’s not always the case though, and the question of whether or not to devote time to commercially viable stuff you don’t love to make just to pay the bills is one that every artist making any kind of living with their art asks themselves and each other. I know that answer is personal and situational, and I’ve waffled on it numerous times, as I’m sure I’ll waffle again depending on life stuff. It’s not a hard and fast rule. At least not for me.

Last winter I spent an insane amount of time making mini shrines. I had like 125 of them by the time my season started. It was redonk. I had them laid out by the dozen like cookies on trays in various stages of completion. I did this because I couldn’t keep them in stock the previous season, and they’re my biggest online seller. But by the time I was done, I was DONE. It happens. You get on a groove with a thing, and it’s like you exhaust the energy you have for that particular thing and never want to look at it again. And interestingly, the second I ran out of energy for those, they stopped selling so hotly at shows. They’re still my biggest online seller, but more people are getting into theĀ  assemblage than the folk art in person. My aforementioned luncheon companion (A miz Margie Criner by name, you guys should look her up on FB if you dig awesomely weird dioramas. I know I do.) put forth the notion that if your heart’s not in it, it comes across to customers. I think that’s absolutely true in some ways. Consciously or not, when you’re less enamored of a thing, you’re not working as hard for it. But regardless of whether I’m putting out some “done” vibe or not, when you’ve moved away from something, you don’t enjoy doing it, and it becomes tedious and harder to do. In some professions tedium is just par for the course. Nobody thinks working on the line in a factory or being a plumber is super stimulating, but some people work to live, some live to work. If everyone had the same needs, we’d have nothing but artists or rocket scientists or whatever, and nobody to manufacture cars or pick up the garbage or service the gas lines.

I’m a live to work person, and can’t seem to handle feeling a thing is tedious (bullshit threshold of 2, remember). And I’ve definitely come to feeling that way about shrines. I’m always going to be into mythology and belief systems and all manner of nerd-tastic anthropology stuff, but I don’t wanna make ’em anymore. I’m happy to do them for custom orders, but I’ve already stopped replacing sold out stock.

I had a gal on FB ask me at one point if I did stuff people wanted, or stuff I wanted. And the answer was “both”. And it still is. But, and what ratio of commercially successful to personally satisfying you’re going to have is totally subjective, I find I have to constantly check in with myself and ask how I feel about a thing. If I’m getting bored, it’s not getting my best attention and energy. The quality of the work doesn’t suffer, because I started creating as a crafter and crafters learn to be persnickety as hell (Just ask my bestie, who has had to deal with my dissection of his creations before I deem them ready for posting. It’s taken him from tradesman to crafter*, but is probably annoying AF.). Eternal gratitude to my crusty old leather monger teachers for that quality having been drilled into my brain. However. When your heart isn’t in it, especially when it’s something artistic, there’s good reason to ask yourself if it’s worth continuing to do.

For some people that answer is going to be “yes”. Blue dog guy seems to be making a decent living, though he’s got to be sick of painting that dog by now. Though I could be wrong. Blue dog guy might just be totally obsessed with blue dogs and that’s all he wants to paint. Either way, not judging. I guess in some ways my not making of a decent living leaves me freer to make the decision to stop making time for things that don’t stimulate me anymore. If I were making 50 grand a year on shrines, the answer might have to be different.

There’s also that pigeonhole thing. You get to be known as “That Guy who…” for anything and suddenly your options get narrowed. Both by your own sense of responsibility and by the expectations of others. By far the most favorited things on Etsy are the shrines. The irony of an atheist being popular for her religious folk art is not lost on me, but whatevs. I still don’t want to get boxed in. Again, for some people, this isn’t a problem. They really love painting fairies or blue dogs or busty fantasy novel cover babes, or whatever their thing is and it’s totally cool that that’s what everyone wants from them. For me, not so much. If I suddenly want to take up oil pastels or sculpting with ground beef and Marmite or what have you, I want my customer base to be like “Sweet. Here’s some crazy new shit she’s on to.”, not “But it’s not a saint covered in glitter…hashtag sadface”.

Sometimes I wish I was that guy who. That I had a thing that was so absorbing to me that it was the focus of my life. But I have no such thing. I’m in love with all the things. Very problematic for making a living. Maybe. Unless my customers are all, “Wheeee!” on board the S.S. Frankenjunk with me. Then, maybe not.

 

*PS – Said bestie has never referred to himself as an artist, so I don’t call him one. If he ever decides to, he’ll be one according to my philosophy of “It’s Art If You Think It Is”, and I’ll change the nomenclature.

 

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Deeper down the rabbit hole than usual

It’s been three years since I started this thing. This business, this art, this part of my life. Whatever it is. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but also, it does. I’m feeling a bit “Wtf do I think I’m doing?”.

I mean, how many people actually make a sustainable living making art? Way more talented people than me are not, in fact, making a sustainable living at it, so what makes me think I can? That question keeps popping up on me lately, from the sticky depths of my brain meatz.

You’d think it wouldn’t, because I did better this year than last year by almost double. That is not small potatoes. I have had so many validating things happen this season, too. So much positive reinforcement. The kinds of compliments that mean something on a professional level. Big sales, artists I admire wanting to trade. Which I will probably never stop being all, “For realz??” when that happens. But also the support of people who just believe in me and are are like, “Go! Do the thing!”, or my broke ass friends budgeting their tiny budgets for my stuff. That’s every bit as important as big sales. That’s huge.

You’d think it wouldn’t, because I’m like, a dynamo of “fuck it”. Flinging myself into a life I had no training for just because I was out of ideas and desperately needed something to do with myself is not a new thing for me. This is how I ended up a rennie leather worker. I’d never even been camping before I buggered off to go live without plumbing or electricity for an entire decade. If it looks good, I rarely pause to wonder if I can or should do it. I just kind of go. And I do that because I grew up a shy, awkward wee lass who never had adventures, but who decided she wanted to be Stevie Nicks if Stevie Nicks was also a pirate when she grew up. I’ve made some astonishingly bad choices because of this, but I’ve also had a pretty interesting life.

Really, I’m just as freaked out as anybody. I just try not to let it get in my way. I might not be if I were 20, but at 40, most of my cohort is at least able to pay their own rent. I have been at various points, but I suck so bad at sublimating it’s comical (Unless you’re the guy that fired me after I threatened to stab him in the head with a fork. True story. He totally deserved it.). I get fired like it’s an Olympic sport and I’m bringing home the gold for America. It’s not that I don’t like to work. Oh so au contraire. I go crazy cakes when I’m not busy. Happiest time of my life was as the aforementioned rennie leather worker with a ten hour work day and a six day work week. It’s just that if I can’t get passionate about it, or if the boss/coworkers are douche canoes, I lose whatever scant filter I have in place. I have a bullshit threshold of about two, and you need at least an eleven to get by in most jobs. So pretty much I’m the best boss of me out there.

I read somewhere that a lot of the most successful musicians, artists, and entrepreneurs claim they succeeded simply because they had no plan B. Which makes a certain amount of sense. If you have but one basket, you’re really committed to making sure that basket will hold all those eggs. People say “nay” a lot when you’ve got some cockamamie notion like you wanna start a band or make a computer and a cell phone have babies. I wonder how many people tried to talk them back into their day jobs. The negative stuff sticks with you far longer than anything else, and it’s hard not to let that turn into an ongoing question about whether or not you’re cut out for whatever thing. When I first started doing this, for the most part everyone was really supportive. But there was one person who told me what I did wasn’t art. This is not unusual. People will tell you that. It’s not art, it’s not this or that thing that they think defines art. And that sucked, because I thought highly of their opinion. And for a hot second I let that slow me down. Eventually I got over that nonsense, and it taught me a valuable skill set insofar as ignoring criticism that isn’t constructive goes. It’s really easy to say, “This isn’t art.” but it’s not useful. It’s an opinion, and opinions vary widely on the subject. You wanna add to my skill set or correct my execution, I welcome it. But that’s the difference between useful criticism and opinion.

That moment sticks with me, though I don’t believe it’s true anymore. I believe that nobody gets to say what is and isn’t art, because art is so personal. My position, in a nutshell; if you think it’s art, it’s art. If you show it to the world and they love it, it’s art. If you show it to the world and they hate it, it’s art. If you lock it in a closet, set it on fire, only show it to your cat, or seal it up in a wall for future generations to find, it’s art. If you went to school for it, it’s art. If you taught yourself from YouTube videos, trial and error, or you didn’t teach yourself at all because you think the only true art is unconscious expression with no direction, it’s. Still. Art. If it’s amazing, it’s art. If it’s horrible, IT’S STILL FREAKIN’ ART. If anything that sayer of nay propelled me forward because, well, because I’m extremely ornery.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of “Wtf do I think I’m doing?”. Like now. There’s that voice in my head that’s yelling “Impostor! They will figure out you’re faking it!”. It happens. But part of my process, and hopefully a useful part for other people who want to feel a little less insecure about their own feelings of insecurity, is just discussing what we all go through when setting off on an uncertain path with potentially no future as these things are reckoned, just because we had some idea that it could be awesome, and what happens when you’re not sure yet if it’s going to be. Because it helps, I think, to know that everyone feels this way. Even people who went to school and got good marks and everyone tells them they’re awesome at a thing, sometimes get impostored by their own brains. So it’s not just those of us who decide we’re going to figure it out as we go.

So relax, I’m saying. To you and me both. Wtf do I think I’m doing? I have no freakin’ idea. What an adventure. I like to think Pirate Stevie would approve.