Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The "Underneath" Story

A reader commented on my 2014 Re-Cap post that her year was full of less tangible accomplishments than mine. I like that observation. It's true that some years are full of busy activity, and some can be more low-key in terms of visibility, but a lot can go on underneath the surface. I'm going to use my Golden Moth Illumination Deck to show you what 2014 felt like to me.

I receive e-mails with tips and quotes from a creative business coach named Alexis Fedor. One quote I liked a lot was by novelist Zora Neale Hurston:
"There are years that ask questions and years that answer."

For me, 2014 was a year for both. I asked a lot of questions and experimented with trying to get the results I thought I wanted. I'm still sorting through the answers. I wanted to find a way to make a reliable living through my art, to find a way out of the ups and downs. I wanted to prove myself. But the truth is, I'm still experimenting. And I doubt that will ever end. Maybe I thrive off of the ups and downs more than I'd care to admit.

As an artist, I have never liked being fully in the spotlight. I want to reach people and share with them through my art, blog, and newsletter, but sometimes I feel very exposed doing so. And last year I felt more exposed than ever.

I wanted to take on a new role last year. One of "business person." I put myself out there in ways that felt exciting but sometimes uncomfortable. I worked a lot with my printer, figuring out solutions to issues that came up and figuring out the best ways to print my products. I called store owners and sent out many e-mails to try to get my notecards into stores. I had some success with that. But trying to learn how to run the business and apply it immediately sometimes felt like this:

It was a balancing act and a lot of scrambling. I went from feeling triumphant when I received an order, to feeling scared and overwhelmed that I couldn't handle anything or that nothing would result from my endeavors.

By throwing myself into my business, I also realized that running a business is unlike anything else I have done. It's not a flight of fancy. To grow a business, I'll need to keep it going on a day-to-day basis. I need to think about the next steps, how to make things work better. I run on cycles. The idea of long-term anything can feel like a burden. I wondered, "Is this really what I want? If not this, then what else should I do?"

By the end of last year, I had reaped my harvest. I wasn't a millionaire, but I had achieved small financial successes. Through trial and experience, I had made some good decisions. But I didn't feel good about it. It didn't seem like enough. I didn't feel good enough.

Right before I traveled to Rochester, NY to visit my family for the Christmas holiday, I spent an evening with a friend. Through intense conversations over dinner, in the car, and on a chilly walk through my old neighborhood, we both experienced a catharsis. 

"I feel pathetic," I told him. There were so many things I wanted for my future - children, a family, to continue to be a working artist. And I still couldn't see how that would be possible. It felt like so much work just to keep afloat. I felt lost and in need of a change. 

I still judged myself so harshly based on my social/monetary standing in life. Over dinner, my friend and I realized that's silly! Modern society places so much emphasis on our social statuses. As humans, we can no longer be happy with just surviving. We need to prove ourselves to other people, to bolster our own egos, to strive for what is considered "success."

I placed so much emphasis on money, thinking it would bring me happiness. I thought I was being reasonable, that I need money to raise a family, to buy a house, to continue to make art. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting those things. But feeling like I'm not capable of achieving them has tortured me for so long. That night, I realized that those things were outside of myself. What matters most is how I feel.

Rather than trying to be someone worthy of feeling happiness, I just want to be happy. And for me, that means not trying to control the future. Not thinking Point A leads to Point B leads to Point C. Not trying to find the answers that will fix everything. I know my desire for control will flare up again and again. But when I get that anxious feeling of dread when I think about the future, I'll know that something is amiss. And I'll try to move toward the thing that feels better. Moment by moment.

It's been almost three weeks since I returned to Richmond from holiday, and this is where I'm at right now:

I feel like I'm floating through my life, incubating. I'm not trying to push myself too hard. Last year was a year of willfulness, of trying to put things in motion in the outside world. It taught me a lot. 

But I'm very tired from all that striving. Now I feel like retreating into the part of myself that bubbles with creativity, stories, visions, unknowns. I want to nurture the part of myself that doesn't want to be rational or successful. It's the part of me that creates for pure joy.

I want to write and illustrate the stories that have been living inside me, half-formed, for years. I don't want to think about the long-term plan right now or where my work will lead me. I just want to do it. 

I don't have all the answers. But answers just lead to more questions, anyway. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2014: A Year in Pictures

This is me, right now. And Dozer, my cat.

As the caption says, it is glorious. I'm taking a rest - a self-enforced laziness. I feel like I should get up and do stuff, I have my to-do list filled with activities, yet they're getting ticked off so slowly.

YES. To sluggy-ness. It is so healing.

I know that a new western calendar year can mean a clean slate, but truth be told, I usually get depressed after Christmas is over. November and December mean lots of craft shows and art sales for me - it's really the one time of year I can dependably make an income from selling my artwork. And it's very exciting and rushed, but that means post-Christmas blues.

This year, after my busy-busy-busy season, I spent 10 days at my parents' home in Rochester, NY celebrating Christmas with my family.
My mom and older sister looking at a branch on our Christmas Day Walk. It was unseasonably warm for Rochester!

After so much nurturing energy, good food (including Thai, Indian, and Bar-B-Q restaurants), and being around people who have known me my whole life, it felt sad at first to return to regular life. And because my artist lifestyle is not the most predictable, a clean slate can be somewhat terrifying. I have to evaluate what worked and what didn't in the last year, and modify how I will make my living this year. But weirdly, I am not that worried about it. I think things will fall into place.

2014 RE-CAP

Last year was a very busy year, perhaps one of the busiest in terms of variety of activities.

I was a panel judge for a students' art award. That was fun. I had to quickly move to a new apartment after my old apartment's two chimneys caught on fire. I worked on illustration commissions:
An album cover I illustrated in linocut.

An extremely intense hand-embroidered portrait I did as a wedding present/commission.

I travelled to the SCBWI conference on children's books in NYC in February and was totally inspired.

I took a pastel class with Sarah Masters which I loved. Here's one of the still-lives I made:

Starting in April and continuing through the rest of the year, I did at least one or two craft shows per month. I ended up doing at least 20 craft shows/markets total this year.

In the summer I started re-invigorating the notecard business I had begun the previous fall. I printed 8 new card designs, made a catalog, and contacted more than 100 new stores - whew! I also read a lot of books, internet articles, and watched videos to learn how to run my business.

 I had a 2-person art show of my prints at Rivermont Studio in Lynchburg, VA in November:

I fulfilled a dream of mine to learn the technique of Moku Hanga (Japanese woodblock printing) by taking a class with Miwako Nishizawa. Here is the print I created from the class (I still have a lot to learn!):

In late summer, I sold out of my limited edition of 300 Golden Moth Illumination Decks! I re-formatted the files, updated the Handbook, and had a new (unlimited) batch printed in November.

I traveled to visit my family in Rochester twice and my boyfriend's family in Kentucky twice. In August I drove to Vermont for a camping-style wedding of a childhood friend (and on the way visited the Eric Carle Museum of the Picture Book - something else I've wanted to do for a long time!) Here is the wedding gift/commission I made for my friends (it got a little battered from being in the rainy cabin):
I illustrated the cover for my friend's Songbook. He reproduced lyrics and figured out the tablature for more than 250 songs!

I donated artwork and time to some art auctions and events. I cut back on teaching a lot, but taught a few printmaking classes, Etsy Seller workshops, and private art lessons. I worked two part-time jobs and quit one in March and the other in August. I was able to survive on art sales and teaching from September until right now (although that may be subject to change!)

You know what? I'm proud of myself. I worked really freakin' hard, and did some really fun things. But you know what was lacking last year? I didn't make that much new artwork. Okay, now that I am writing this post, I realize I created more than I thought I did. I did commissions and re-printed some pre-existing artwork, as well as made a couple new things, but there was so much more I wanted to do. I did not have as much creative energy last year because I was so focused on learning how to run my card business and selling artwork.

I was fixated on making it "the Year that I truly began my art career," meaning a sustainable and predictable form of making income. I had hoped the card business would do that for me. But because I threw myself into it really intensely, I am now intensely burnt out. Honestly, I'm not sure if I'll continue the wholesale card business, at least not in the grand scope I had planned. But I'll keep creating cards to sell on a smaller level at least.

For right now, I'm taking some time off. I've been watching a lot of movies and reading lots of books. I'm basking in the glory of slug-style living and not having an enforced schedule. And I'm trying not to push myself to do ANYTHING. I think it is well-deserved, and much-needed.

2015 is going to be a much different year. I'm intentionally going to back off of busy-ness and take things slow. I want to:

Learn from the slug.
Learn from the tortoise.
Learn from the placid well.

I want to do another update on this using the Golden Moth cards to illustrate my points, but this post has been long enough for now.

To everyone, Happy New Year! What have you done and learned from last year? What are you excited about this year?