“Where do you learn all this stuff?”

I’m a reader. That’s answer I give to this question, which I get at shows all the time. Usually after an excessively rambling account of the way Catholic and West African beliefs combined in diaspora religions, the history of the term “burking”, popularity of postmortem photography in the Victorian era, or the feeding habits of corvids and their relation to mythological traditions in northern Europe. Or, “I’m a nerd”. This is very true. When other kids had video games, I had a library card. Well, I had video games too, but after I won Contra I lost interest in the whole thing and never picked up a console again. My very first book was called “Misty and Me”, a feel good little bit of fiction geared towards that age group in between Cat in the Hat and Miss Peregrine, about a girl and her puppy. And I picked it out at the book store at the age of six, after convincing my dad that I was ready for a “real book” as I called it. That is, one without pictures and huge type. Dad didn’t believe me, which, fair enough considering my age, and asked for a book report when I was done. Then I started making my way through Nancy Drew, and they never argued with me about my reading habits after that. I think they were disappointed that I didn’t turn out to be some genius prodigy, but I guess that’s a parent’s lot in life sometimes.

Since Misty broke the seal, I’ve been – consuming, is really the appropriate word to describe it – literature at a high rate. I never don’t have a book. If I can’t find a good book I will read a crappy one, but I have to be reading. SF/fantasy, biography, comic books, poetry, history, biology, anthropology, religion, memoir, physics, criminology, field and survival guides, sociology, chemistry, fiction, huge ass picture books of art, entomology, big, sexy word combinations with hyphens like socio-biology and ethno-botany. There isn’t anything I won’t read. If it’s crap and I have options, I won’t finish it, but that’s about the only deal breaker. Genre doesn’t matter a bit, so long as the writing is tasty or the subject so interesting the writing isn’t an issue.

I find “autodidact” to be a clumsy and ugly word, but it’s what I have been since the alphabet began to make sense to me, and I never looked back. College was a nightmare of intellectually stifling maze running for this rat accustomed to following her nose over hill and deep into thickets of connected subject matter, wherever the path, beaten or otherwise, seemed to most interestingly lead. The problem with a system like the educational one for a person like me, is that they want your brains to function on a track, like a well managed freight train, while mine is…not. It’s like a thing that wanders around quite a bit. Insert preferred metaphor here. A brook, butterfly, squirrel, jabberwocky, nargle. Whatever makes you happy. That’s my brain. A wander-y thing that is very VERY hungry and has to eat information constantly to stay content. I have in my bookshelf subjects as diverse as the history of table salt and its effects on the development of cross continental trade routes and human culture, and a boxed set of Bunnicula books. Does this make me a better artist? I dunno, but it does make me a hoot (or a nightmare, depending on the sorts of guests you have and how easily they are made uncomfortable by discussions revolving around the finer points of dermestid beetle feeding habits) at dinner parties and an epic pain in the ass in an argument. It makes me take a very macro view of human culture in my time and place. A mixed blessing, that I won’t wander into here because time management. I’ve been called smart, but I don’t know that I’m smart, or just have a super absorbent brain. Like a Sham-Wow. Things that stimulate me lodge in my skull and become part of my world. My brain is a nomad before colonialism threw arbitrary borders on the map. It goes everywhere. It sees all the things. And it gets nutso if it has to stay still, overgrazing the same territory and contributing to desertification. Alright, maybe I took that particular metaphor further than makes sense, but you get my drift.

So next time you’re in my booth and somehow the conversation turns to coming of age ceremonies in Pacific islands tribes or why fortune cookies are so ubiquitous, and you’re all, “How the hell did we get HERE?”, now you know.

 

 

Year End Blog: Salutations, thank yous, Things!

Hello, and a merry Whatever Holiday You Celebrate If Any. This is my end of year ramble, which is not going to be about all the shows I did this year, because mostly I did the same ones but for a couple. I can sum those two up thusly; Bucktown,ugh. Not remotely worth the pain in my ass. Chicago Art Girls, holyshityay!

Finally it seems I’m finding the shows, the audience, the mojo, that I need to find. We makers of things all do. We need to not just find our audience, but also find our shows/galleries/wherever the rad people come to experience what you make and hopefully let you make a living making. Making a living making is more than just selling the work. It’s also the connections and the community that you find while you’re at it. The importance of that can’t be remotely overstated. So, THANK YOU. You are so freakin’ beautiful and weird and awesome that I can’t even. There’s no doing this without you and I treasure your presence and participation. Those of my friends and rennie peeps who were among the first to follow the Facebook page, fellow artist/sans/makers, and those of you who just hopped on at the last show, or however you found your way here, you’re all in my black little heart and I love you. Like, for real.

2016 has been…challenging. To say the least. I am, like everyone, dealing with that as best I can. But speaking from a strictly shows and art life place, this season has been wonderful. I haven’t done the numbers yet, so I don’t know if I mean that in a financial sense, but this job isn’t exclusively about paying rent. This year stands out for having many bigger pieces finding homes, and many of those homes being with people who have bought from me before. I have collectors y’all!! That tells me something important. It tells me I’m connecting with people. I’ve talked before about how art is a desire driven purchase. It serves no practical purpose, and there’s no good reason to budget for it from a cost/benefit standpoint. We’re not looking at psychological stuff. Pure nuts and bolts I’m talkin’. So when people are spending on something with no purpose other than to be looked at, it’s speaking loudly and insistently to something rooted in their guts and souls. And that’s an artist’s freakin’ JOB. I am doing my job! And I appear to be doing it passably well. I probably can’t properly articulate how exciting that is for me. I have never comfortably referred to myself as an artist, because I never really thought of myself as one. That whole imposter thing is a thing. So for me, it’s beyond dope that I feel like I’m doing the job of making art. You did that! Give yourselves a cookie, because you made someones day.

In the coming season I want to build on that momentum and sense of growing community. That’s going to mean exploring new venues. New shows, always and of course, but also open studios and funky spaces of all sorts that support the artists. If all goes well you’ll find me right back at the shows you found me at this year. Glenwood, Lakeview, Edgewater, Craft and Relic, and Art Girls. Because those all continue to rock. Not Bucktown. Yes, that one turned out ok in the end, but the vibe was wrong for me, and I’m learning to trust my gut when it says “nope”. I hope to extend a tentacle into Logan Square this time around, so that should be interesting. Indiana will wait til next year because of family stuff, but it’s on the radar. There are some events in Milwaukee I’m eyeballing too.

And, Patreon. Is going. To happen! In the coming months, in addition to making All of the Things, I will be shooting video and giving a serious think on rewards (exclusive blogs! live chats! dinners! classes! art!) and whatnot for the various patron levels, so that I can make this happen. If you, oh hive mind, have any suggestions on such things I welcome your input. I don’t know what someone who pays me whatever, say $5 a month, to make art would like to have access to, so I’m open to ideas.

The opportunity this vehicle gives artists to connect with people all over the world is incredible. And the opportunity it gives people of modest means to be part of supporting the arts is mind blowingly awesome. I love tipping buskers. My dollar isn’t much in this day and age, but it’s not the only dollar in the hat. The hat contains many dollars from many people like me who want to be some part of that artist’s success. Patreon is the hat for people whose art doesn’t translate to a busking sort of situation, or a busker who wants a way bigger stage. A global hat to pass, with the opportunity for real interaction between artist and patrons. I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to that, but I have no idea what I’m doing in general, so I’ma just do it and see what happens.

Thank you thank you for being here my lovelies. 🙂

Here’s to a safe and sane (or insane in a really great way) years end.

 

 

“Doesn’t it suck if people don’t get into your art?”

It used to. I mean, it still does on a large enough scale, because this is how I make my living and if an entire show goes south that’s me having a pretty bad day. But on an individual level, like a person not getting into what I make, not anymore. At first I was really sensitive about it. I think that’s normal. I don’t know anyone making any kind of art that isn’t emotionally invested in it. But I feel like if you’re going to do this full time you need to disentangle your feels from the business end of selling your work.

The difference between opinion and critique is an important one. Lots of both will get thrown at you if you do…anything. Anything at all. Someone is going to have something to say about it. Some of it will be right on and some of it will be dookie. Some of it will be either/or, depending on where you stand. If what you’re doing is something you’re emotionally invested in, it gets even more complicated.

I started out as a crafter, so I’m no stranger to being told how wrong I’m doing something. You can’t learn to do a thing without screwing that thing up a few times, and your teacher is going to tell you about it. If they’re not a jerk they’ll do it pleasantly, but either way, you get used to being told what you did wrong and how it needs to be fixed. Opinion really didn’t factor into it. I was manufacturing someone else’s designs, and once I started doing it correctly, nobody had anything negative to say to me about it.

That all changed when I started making my own thing, and that thing was something with a subjective definition. I had to learn the difference between an opinion, “This sucks” and a critique, “The glue is sloppy”. And how to not get butt hurt about either one.

Opinions are awesome when they’re nice and hurtful when they’re not, but ultimately something I try not to get hung up on. I mean, I’m selling stuff, so I want to cultivate good opinions of me and my work, but I don’t let that be what validates me. The part I focus on are the happy customers. I’ve had customers say some of the most utterly humbling words to me about the effect my stuff had on them, or someone they love (and in the case of one therapist, on his patients). The kind that make ya almost tear up, and you’re all, “They are talking about someone much cooler than me”. That is life affirming shit, and will carry you through many “Is that supposed to be art?” kinds of interactions. Making art exposes some part of your inner life to the world for it to look at and judge. That’s just how art works. It feels very weird to have people treat the puzzle pieces of your heart like they’re shopping for tires or picking out a new set of highball glasses. Not everyone will, obviously. Some people will totally recognize heart parts. Some people’s own hearts will squee or cry when they recognize them and that’s an amazing thing.

Critiques on the other hand, are always useful, even when they’re off, or not applicable to whatever thing. It gives me a reality check. Makes me look at what I’m doing and reassess whether I’m doing it to the standards I want to be at. If someone has technical advice for you, listen. You don’t have to act on it if their advice isn’t useful, but listen. They may save you from reinventing the wheel at some point. Opinions though, you can learn to take or leave as you like.

 

Imposter Syndrome

A friend asked me a question in a letter not too long ago. One that I’ve asked myself a million times, and I’m sure every artist/san/crafter asks themselves too. “Are my friends just being nice?”

Over the course of the last two shows I’ve had several friends drop many dollars in my shop and walk away with multiple pieces each. It’s wonderful and humbling and makes me all verklempt. After the last such multiple piece purchase I turned to my bestie and said, “Man, maybe I don’t totally suck at this?”

It’s interesting that validation from strangers is easier to accept, but validation from loved ones brings up this kind of insecurity. Do we think, what, that we’re tricking people, and strangers are ok to trick? Or strangers have worse taste than our friends, who of course wouldn’t want the shabby products of our hamfisted attempts at creation if they weren’t just being nice? Why do we think that way? I’m not saying you should go around thinking you’re all brilliant and Aaahtist-ing all over people, because ego like that is gross. But can we at least go around trusting our loved ones judgement? We don’t have to agree with it. We should learn to give it the same weight as our own in this case though, even when it conflicts with ours. Maybe their perception here is right and yours is completely whack. It can happen. You could be…wrong. You might NOT suck!

Ok, if you can’t accept that at least accept your potential whack-ness of perception.

While we’re at it, accepting things that is, lets get something straight. Loving you is a perfectly valid reason to support what you’re doing. You are the work, the work is you. Art is an expression of the self. So supporting you is supporting the work, whether the work is something they’re totally into or not. If someone loves you enough to buy a piece of art they think is hideous or that just doesn’t speak to them, you’ve done something right in one of the most important relationships in your life. Someone values you and your path a lot. “Take the doughnut”*, as my new favorite book on living a creative life advises. Go you!

But lets get pragmatic, because love is lovely but I’m a cynic. Unless your friends are very wealthy people, nobody is buying art just to be nice. The scale of being nice is a very short one and your friends are probably on a tight financial leash like most everybody else. Your broke ass peeps will maybe spend a fiver on being nice. Maybe a ten or even, possibly, in a good week, a twenty. Additionally, whatever they buy from you has to go somewhere. Nobody spends money on something they’re gonna bin. So in addition to parting with funds, they need to negotiate for space with all the other things in their home. I don’t know about y’all, but I have neither money nor space in any great supply. Most people just don’t. And when they budget enough of both for your work, that’s more than loving you. That’s a sincere appreciation for the work you’re doing and a desire driven impulse to support it with their filthy lucre. Which is awesome.

But either way, the question of if your friends are sincerely loving your work, or just loving you? They are of equal value here. They both say good things about you and what you’re doing. Take the doughnut.

 

 

*In Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking, she tells a story relating to this subject. I won’t go into a lengthy explanation here. You can get the whole thing by reading it if you like (and I recommend you do because it’s a great book). Short version; the “doughnut” in question becomes a metaphor for help and/or validation in whatever form it comes. Just accepting that help without making it into a “Do I deserve/am I allowed” kind of thing. You deserve it. It’s allowed. The art police isn’t coming for you for impersonating an artist. You are one. No papers necessary. Take the doughnut.

Bucktown: Highlights, lowdowns and WTFs

The key phrase for Bucktown seems to be “Close, but no cigar”. The 100% volunteer run show is a sort of neighborhood arts organization, whose profits go to benefit arts programs in the area. Which is awesome. And it’s been this way since the 80s. Which is also awesome. The awesome might stop there, though.

Highlights: The enormous staff of volunteers was extremely present and helpful. These guys were swarming all over me like friendly ants, offering help with absolutely everything. There was never a point in the day when I didn’t see a Greenshirt wandering by. All these shows have volunteers and all volunteers tend to be super nice and willing, but I’ve never seen this many of them. So A for enthusiasm on that score.

Food at this show was both a blessing and a curse. It was nothing but food trucks for the most part. Which is awesome because you can get much more variety that way, and a better quality food. Food trucks are enormously difficult to keep in business in this city, so the ones that exist tend to be top notch. However, they are also redonk expensive. $10 for an (admittedly freakin’ delicious) alligator sausage is absurd, and who ever heard of a $4 taco? But overall I was very happy to have the kind of quality selection that the food trucks offered. Often at shows you have nothing to choose from but burgers, burgers and some burgers, or byol. Which, I don’t mind packing a lunch, but due to space issues I prefer to have to bring as little from home as I can get away with.

Lowdowns: I had heard load in at this show described as “gross”. Understatement of the month. The downpour didn’t help, but that’s nobody’s fault. HOWEVER, having 200 vendors loading in, food trucks jockeying for position, stages being set up, fencing being delivered and assembled and porta potties being offloaded and filled all at the same ignorant ass hour of the morning in a residential neighborhood is craptacular to a fine degree. The storm was, at that point, just icing. When I asked, the lack of Friday setup was blamed on zoning, but I don’t buy it. You can get anything blocked off in this city for enough cashola and at $350 for a spot and only volunteers (that is, people not getting paid) running this rodeo, nobody gets to tell me they don’t have any. If Glenwood can do it with $100 a head, then nobody has any excuse. Not to mention that I think if you asked the neighbors, most of whom seemed to be pushing double strollers, they’d really rather all the noise happened at a decent hour. Note to self: buy galoshes and a proper raincoat. I managed to get through 22 years doing outdoor shows without either one. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Alas, load in wasn’t the only con on this show’s balance sheet. I was placed in an experimental row of booths that had formerly been the food truck area. It was a funny little cul de sac that you had to be standing in front of to notice was there, that was weirdly blocked off by the barriers they had set up in awkward fashion to corral the food area. Stated mission was to keep beer drinking restricted to the area of the food and stage, though why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. People like to wander and shop with their beer. People drinking beer shop more. Everybody wins. The logic of restricting the beer baffled me. The layout logic of my row also baffled me. It baffled the crowd too, obviously, as very little of it found my row of shops. At least one of the other vendors was so completely pissed off about it that he spent the weekend berating every Greenshirt he could grab, and trying to enlist the rest of the row to, I dunno, revolt I guess. My attitude was a more relaxed one. I had a Greenshirt actually thank me for having such a great attitude about it. I guess they were getting it from more than the one pissed off guy. But while I refuse to shoot the messenger, neither did I have the compassion of the Buddha about the whole thing. I thought it was all piss poorly organized from top to bottom. Because of this layout, I have no clue as to whether the crowd was good or not, so little of it came my way. What I did see however was not my demographic. I need child free professionals with expendable incomes or empty nesters finally enjoying their money for optimal profits, and what I saw was a lot of double strollers and pregnant women. Couples with small children don’t make self indulgent purchases they can’t justify. A fancier car than you strictly need can be written off with the excuse that you need a car, but art isn’t so easy. Which is not a judgement, it’s just a fact. It’s one of the reasons I do so poorly in the suburbs. From what I gleaned talking to other vendors, the profile of Bucktown had changed a lot in the last few years, going from the kind of hipster/nightlife area that best suits the kind of thing I sell to a gentrified family neighborhood. I wish I’d known that earlier, but the game of Musical Shows is never not an expensive gamble.

And an expensive gamble this turned out to be. While Sunday pretty well made up for a lot of Saturday’s crowd woes, considering the higher cost of doing this show, it wasn’t terribly impressive. The shop total, while not as good, was close to Glenwood’s which is nice, but the nut was over 3x Glenwood’s, which makes for a much lower overall profit.

WTFs: In the park section of the layout, a booth had been marked with a huge ass tree smack in the center of it. Did they send drunk squirrels with spray paint cans to do the layout, I wonder? Wait, no. I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

The aforementioned beer restriction. According to one Greenshirt, having beer everywhere is no more expensive permit-wise than having beer in just one place. From my limited wanderings I’d have to say there was a crowd both days, but they were staying where the beer was. The stage area was packed all day, both days. Gee, funny how that works. If I had one piece of advice for these guys, it would be to Free the Beer. Which even the artists weren’t allowed to remove from the beer area. And there were volunteers stationed at all exit points to enforce this. I did anyway, because I am a rule disrespecting jerk and also a ninja. Sorry man. If I’ve been on my feet for that many hours in wet boots making that little money, I’m going to enjoy my beer in the comfort of my own booth. Attempt to stop me at your peril.

Lastly, potties. They were not pumped after Saturday. This created a condition so revolting on Sunday that people were leaving the show. All fine and good for patrons, but what about the artists and food vendors who have nowhere to go to pee? Props to the Greenshirts for handling the situation as best they could with spray bottles of bleach and constant monitoring of the banks of porta johns to keep them as usable as possible, but there wasn’t anything they could do about the actual pile of shit rising from the murky depths almost to the seat. They said the company had simply failed to show up to clean them, but given the other issues I saw with organization, I wonder if someone didn’t just forget to schedule the pumping of the pots.

Final verdict? Hard to call. I’ll have to think very carefully about this one. I heard a wide range of opinions from a wide range of artists. Everything from “Yes this show is great you just need a better spot” to “This show was great but the demographic has changed too much and these people are just here to look”. Saturday was pathetic, but Sunday was alright. Not fantastic, but alright. Pain in the Ass factor is very high though, and it ain’t a cheap show to do. Most shows send out their applications to artists from the previous year, and I’ll have to see if a booth request is part of it. I definitely don’t want to do it again if they put me in the same backwater, but might consider it if I’m on the main drag. This is going to be one of those situations where I might have to do it again and see what happens. Current profit to expense ratio says it wasn’t a particularly worthwhile show, but Saturday and Sunday’s crowds were like two different neighborhoods. I don’t know what’s up with that, but provided I can secure a better location, it might bear investigation.

Next up, Lakeview!

“How did you get here?”

“Here” being doing street shows for a living. The questions come phrased in a number of ways but basically boils down to wanting to know how this is my job. And there’s no simple answer. I didn’t decide when I was a wee lass that this would be my life. Some people do. Some people have a Thing. That Thing is their focus and driving force and what they work towards for a goodly portion of their lives. I don’t have a Thing. I am fascinated by All the Things, which makes for a hell of a time picking a life path, lemme tell you. If I could manifest my perfect career, it would be reading books and going places. I would be a Book Reader and Place Explorer. But that’s not a career anyone is going to pay me a salary for. So here I am.

There is a sensible path from there to here. It probably involves art school or business school. Or both. At least it must involve being able to do math and knowing how to draw.  But that’s not how I came to be here. Like most major decisions I’ve made, I just kind of went for it with no real idea what I was doing. That fact aside, this didn’t just occur to me one day as I was wailing on a heavy bag or having my morning constitutional. It actually started as a notion a former roommate and I were batting around over coffee at a Denny’s in Metairie, Louisiana about 20 years ago, the first winter I spent in New Orleans. I wasn’t a leather worker yet. I was barely even a nomad. I think it was my second year on the road. I just wanted to be the boss of me and hang out with art, not thinking for a minute I might be the one making it. At the time, I was dreaming of a brick and mortar shop of some kind (it was the far back times, when nobody had computers and the internet was a geek thing, but not something most people used or even knew about), where I’d just like, get really great makers to sell their stuff out of it. I remember saying to my roommate, “It would need a name so people would know it was about art and traveling.” He looked up from his grilled cheese and said, “As the Crow Flies”. We thought we were brilliant. And promptly forgot all about it.

Many years later I’m on a back deck at my best friend’s mom’s house, enjoying delicious grilled foodz and having a nice yak with a lively assortment of folks. I was apprenticed to two master crafters at ren faire at the time, learning loads of stuff, on the road for nine months out of the year and spending my off season in New Orleans. This was the thick of the “no fixed address” portion of my adult life. Conversation turned to business and goals and such, and I was noodling with the idea of maybe having my own shop someday. Bestie’s mom asked me what I’d call it and I said, “As the Crow Flies” kind of out of nowhere. I hadn’t thought about my roommate or the conversation we’d had for years, but there it was right on the tip of my tongue. The talk moved on to other things, like it does. But then a few weeks later, she hands me a sign she found at a garage sale. It’s this country cute thing with crackle paint and a bird stencil and says “as the crow flies” on it, and she said it was for my shop someday. Kind of as a joke.

Instead of putting that sign in my basement or some other no mans land of gag-y gifts, I sat it on top of my bookshelf. Where it has been now for many years. Staring at me. Kind of like a dare.

Between that day and this came more years traveling, hurricane Katrina, living and marinading in the funky mojo of New Orleans, college, several personal disasters, some cancer (not mine), and my major depressive disorder trying to make me walk off a building when the tangle of Life Things got extremely unruly. I knit when I’m stressed out, so the pile of hats and scarves got huge and an acquaintance suggested Etsy as a way to deal with them and pay for the yarn. From there it was a natural progression of “I wonder if I can do -insert art thing here-“. I took some online classes (happy to pass along the links for anyone interested), and played with glue and got ideas from paying a different kind of attention to the world than I had previously been paying. Got encouragement and invaluable advice from a huge number of friendly artists at shows and art tours who were happy to talk about their work and the work involved with art as a job. Did a small, one day show to see what doing shows was all about. Had Mary not let some rando from out of state do her Market, taken pictures of my stuff with such enthusiasm and posted them on her Facebook page, had Maday not clamored to find out who the artist was who made it (first time anyone had called me that in a professional capacity), had the customers not been so positive and encouraging, I may have stalled out completely. But they did. I made friends and connections. I kept going.

Anyone who tells you that the art brain is inborn and it’s not something that can be learned is lying to you. Some people come from the factory with an art brain, which gives them a head start, but it’s definitely something you can learn and nurture in yourself, no matter what kind of brain you start out with.

And here I am. It’s not a consignment store or a gallery, and it’s not a leather shop at ren faire, though at some future point it may encompass both or either of those things (remind me to tell you about Awesome Idea For When I Win the Lottery #12 someday). When my roomie and I first hatched the notion I wasn’t any kind of artist that I was aware of. Though I’ve always written poetry (No really, since I was five. Eh-hem. “Fishy fishy fish. You are so pretty fish. I love your gold fishy fishness. The end.” My folks thought it was super freakin’ cute. They probably regretted encouraging me when it led to open mics at cafes til 4 am, but nobody is psychic.), visual arts came to me way later. I guess I did kind of have a Thing. My Thing was to be the boss of me in whatever way made sense. Super vague as far as goal setting goes, but hey, it worked, so…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 the  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.