What Was I Supposed To Be Doing?

There's an eerie period between finishing one project and starting on the next. I know what work I need to cross off my list this week, but haven't needed to cross it off until today. Friday morning, I woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and was then enveloped in the horrifying feeling I'd forgotten to do something big. After going over my "to do" list, I realized the terror was just my natural reaction to having space between work time. "Is this...relaxing? Am I on a break?" My cat meowed in response and demanded more food. I took that as a "yes." 

I don't run around as constantly as I used to, and I see no glamour in having no down time. Yet, every time I force myself to sit quietly and enjoy my time off, I get queasy. Maybe it's a hangover from working in the service industry since I was 15. I may have taken "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean" a little too  much to heart. Maybe it's because I spend too much time scrolling through other artists' posts on social media, and so feel like everyone works harder than I do, is better at their craft than I am, and somehow has a better handle on life than I can hope to achieve in the next 10 years. Maybe I just need to eat more leafy greens. I should do that, regardless.

In other news, someone asked to buy one of my pieces at the Afrofuturism opening at Atomic City, and I immediately realized I'd never handled such a transaction and should learn how to do so. I don't think anyone has ever offered to buy one of my pieces outright; while my anxiety says that's because I make crappy art, my brain knows it's because I don't hang my work anywhere it would make money (i.e. my living room). "Finding more places to exhibit" is going on this year's "goals" list.

Making a "goals" list is going on the "to do" list.

Inktober Inspiration

All images (c) Matteo Scalera, y'all.

Inktober is upon us! I admit I've been slacking off, even this early in the month. Thankfully, my local comic shop came to inspirational rescue with a large-format copy of Black Science issue 1. Rob Remender can write his butt off, but i bought it for Matteo Scalera's gorgeous ink work.

To be fair, some of those blocks of grayscale are from the color version of the book. Still, the dude knows what he's doing. Those aren't pen liner outlines wih brush and ink to fill in. That's straight brush work. The way he works with darks and lights is fascinating. Its so moody.

I mean, my goodness. I normally spend my obsession energy on the Wonder Twins, but they'll have to forgive me. I still love them, but Scalera's got this game on lock right now.

Look at that contrasting layout. Look at it.

If you haven't read Black Science, you should start. It's beginning to get a little weird, but I have high hopes-- mainly based on my love of SciFi and how the story has been going so far.

Good stuff.

Pay The Artist.

In case you didn't know, most artists have bills to pay. Besides rent, internet, groceries, gas, water, and electric, there are also supply purchases and student loan payments. In short, artists have to pay as much as anyone else in order to keep living.

I make sure to discuss payment before starting any work. It's not the first thing I mention, but it's a necessary part of the conversation. Sometimes, that discussion is met with confusion, irritation, or anger. Here are some excuses for this strange behavior:

1. The Myth of The "Starving Artist" As A Glamorous Condition  

Not being able to afford food isn't fun, and it certainly isn't glamorous, but many people have a romanticized view of The Artist. In their minds, The Artist lives in an expensive, high ceiling loft in SoHo with french doors that open onto a large balcony. The Artist breathes in the fresh air every morning whilst holding a cup of organic Peruvian coffee through the sleeves of an imported fair trade Ukrainian tunic, and the inspiration of the city charges them with all the energy needed to paint piles and piles of gorgeous canvas work without even trying. They don't get paid to create. They do it only because they love it.

Yea, OK. No.

Well, the coffee part is right. We tend to need lots of caffeine. But the rest of it? Nah. Most artists create their own work half of the time, and the other half is spent at a day job. The day job might be art-related, but it'll be for someone else, and since it's a job, they're getting paid for it. 

That loft, probably not in SoHo, is shared with several roommates. Even in Philly, where rent is much lower than in New York (low enough to live alone if need be), the struggle to keep afloat is serious business. Art is hard work - and clearly, because you're asking someone to do it, you don't have the skills to do it yourself. I don't need your romantic idealizing. I need something I can use. Please and thank you.

2. Bartering Is For The Birds

This is a weird one. Personally, I love to barter. You need animation? I need soundtrack design? Let's trade! It usually works out just fine, but some people seem a little put off by it. Perhaps it's because they don't want to have to "owe" anyone anything...but that's what they signed up for, so...

Luckily, I haven't run into many people who both don't want to pay a full fee and also don't see bartering as a viable option. When I have, I side-shuffled away.

3. Familial/Amiable Bonds

I get it. As an 8 year old, I drew a cute picture for you and didn't ask for anything in return. It's super cute that there are adults in the world who still draw instead of getting a "real job," so if one of them is related to you, you shouldn't have to pay for it, right?


Let's iterate: artists have bills to pay. Just because I decided to pursue a different career path than you did, doesn't mean I shouldn't get paid for being able to paint an 8.5" x 11" portrait of your buddy's veterinarian's sister's dog for his 5th birthday. The work, not to mention expenses, I put into my craft are high, which is why you're asking me to paint that picture in the first place. If you can make salary for sitting around in an office for the first 5 hours of the day, making spreadsheets for the next hour, and then scrolling through Facebook until you get to go home, then you can pay me a fee for my work.

Now if I offer to do a job for free, then that's different. But don't assume that because I know you personally, I'm not going to want some form of payment. Again, bartering is great! Just don't offer me a big fat nothing.

4. Personal Woes

I'm more lenient on this one. If you're about to have a kid, or you're having serious money troubles, we can probably work something out. It will most likely mean that you will receive less work from me than in different circumstances, or we set up a contract wherein you pay me in installments, but I understand that sometimes, people legitimately need work done, but legitimately don't have all the funds for it.

This is where bartering comes in handy! People have all kinds of skills, and networking through the bartering of said skills can build a great reputation.

However, please don't call me at the very end of the project, after having agreed to all the details, and give me a sob story about how your grandmother's pet snake just gave birth to 10 little baby snakes that all need food and water and you simply can't spare the cash. First of all, snakes lay eggs, so I'll know you're lying. Secondly, and here's the most important part: you already agreed to the fee. There's even a contract saying as much. I've gotten my first deposit, and a possible second if we're working off of a 3-segment payment plan, but don't lie and try to skip out on the full fee because you don't feel the artists you employ don't really deserve it. It's not only rude, it's unprofessional. A client once told me he could just Google how to animate in After Effects, and do a 4-day job himself in a day, instead of paying me what he thought was an exorbitant (but actually super low) fee for my help. Good luck to him.

Basically, unless I tell you we're good, assume you need to give something in return for my hard work. I didn't hurl myself into the cold embrace of lifelong student loan debt just so I could doodle on notebooks for funsies. I'd doodle for funsies regardless. If you're doing business with me, then you'd better mean business.

My life guru, Malcolm Reynolds, put it best:

Work Like Diego, Sleep When It's Done

Video (c) Ford Motor Company, National Archives

Diego Rivera's murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts were one of the main staples of my frequent museum visits as a kid. They were massive. I could stand in front of them 3 times a week, and still not notice all the details.

Rivera is an incredible example of what it means to truly put in work. If you've ever worked on a mural, you know it takes hours on hours of sweat, sometimes teetering on high ledges, sometimes bent low to the ground, trying to keep balance while keeping your lines clean. It's tons of fun, mind you, but it's definitely work.

Rivera wouldn't be Rivera if he didn't put in the work.

I try to remember that when I'm getting out of my side job late at night and I still have illustrations to finish and emails to write.

Vive l'artiste.

Week in New York

My job was on summer break, so I spent most of last week in New York. Besides eating all the food and getting swindled by a very pretty man (was bound to happen sometime), I spent my time drawing. I'd posted some of my sketches on my Tumblr and Instagram, but I just yesterday finished painting the weekly Street People:

 Sassy McSasserstein

 UFO-hair was one of my favorites.

 Almost-FKA-Twigs. Thanks to the guy on the right for letting me take a picture of his outfit. It was a big help.

 The third guy here is the one who swindled me. Eh, he had a nice smile and books for sale. I'm a sucker for books. At least he let me take a picture of him to document the occasion. Lastly, there's Rich! We worked together back in Detroit, and I hadn't seen him in a couple years. Naturally, when I did get to see what he was up to, I put him in my weekly sketches. Go check out his work; dude is a design beast.

I also found a drop-in figure drawing session in SoHo at Spring Studio:

All in all, it was a good week. New Yorkers are an interesting group. Big thanks to Peter Redmond and Manny Harris for letting me crash for the week. You guys are the best! Peter just got his site, Carry On Eats, up and running; COE aims to be the intersection between food and travel. Peter finds all the best things to eat in different cities, so you don't get stuck on Yelp in the airport terminal trying to figure out what's for dinner. The guy has a real knack for finding amazing food wherever he goes. I don't know how he does it. Many thanks as well to Laurie Berenhaus for helping me out immensely. If you ever need 3D design or printing work, she's your gal.

Next Week's Read hasn't been read yet, but it's most likely gonna be good. I'm thinking Rasl by Jeff Smith, but we'll see.

Art That Should Never Be Made

It's early in the morning (or late at night, depending on your view), and I'm irritated. I get like that sometimes. Today/night, I'm irritated because I can't stop thinking about something I read a week ago on the interwebs: "This should never have been made." This referred to a comic book which the writer of the quote thought was too offensive for the universe to handle. More specifically, they wrote that, "[the comic] could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made."

I have a serious problem with that.

Part of my research -- what I call diving into the rabbit hole of books and websites, looking for interesting things that have nothing to do with what I should actually be studying -- took me to an article on the aftereffects of the Charlie Hebdo massacre that took place early this year. If you're not familiar, Charlie Hebdo is a satirical French newsletter known for its political cartoons. Twice, they published a comical drawing of the prophet Muhammad, which naturally set a lot of people on edge. Unfortunately, in January, two gunmen decided enough was enough, and slaughtered 12 journalists in the Charlie Hebdo office. The incident sparked a movement called "Je Suis Charlie," or "I Am Charlie," in which sales of the CH issue featuring the controversial cartoon shot up an unthinkable amount, with the first run sold out before the day after had ended. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest censorship, hashtags were slung, and conversations on the future and nature of journalism had.

Then, there are artists like Ai Wei Wei and Atena Farghadani. Farghadani is currently facing a 12 year, 9 month prison sentence in Iran for drawing a cartoon featuring Iranian politicians with animal heads. Ai Wei Wei is forever in trouble with Chinese law, and recently, the UK, for his politically charged artwork and activism.

These people, whether doing something they believe in, making a light joke, or just "poking the bear," so to speak, raise an important question: Is there art that should never be made?

There certainly exists artwork that I find distasteful, crude, pointless, horribly uncouth, and downright terrible. I'm pretty sure I feel all those feelings, in order, when I look through one of my own sketchbooks after it's done. Does that mean it shouldn't be made? I find it difficult to stomach certain works, like Sambo figurines. In the age of Photoshopped-everything, the most crude among us create horrific images, and lash out further when called out on it. Should they be banned from creating anything that could rub a decent person the wrong way?

One girl recently tried to ban a good portion of artwork from her college campus. Tara Shultz of Crafton Hills College in California was appalled when one of her class reading lists included graphic novel titles like Persepolis and Y: The Last Man. Along with The Sandman, Fun Home, and The Doll's House, Shultz wants the books gone, noting that when learning the class involved the study of fiction through comics, “I didn’t expect to open the book and see that graphic material within. I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” Bypassing my bad-pun-o-meter's alarm from not expecting "graphic" material in a graphic novel, the "pornography" she's referring to is probably in relation to the search of the main character's sexual orientation in Fun Home, which is a Broadway musical now. Shultz apparently had a few friends willing to protest with her, as well as her parents. College officials have promised to warn incoming students of the nature of the graphic novels in hopes they might avoid a similar incident. I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. I was required to read Maus in college, and loved it. It takes some serious chops to weave a heartbreaking tale of the holocaust using animals as characters. Maybe that'll be next week's Read. We'll see. But back to the main point.

On one hand, the world would be a better place if we all acted in truth, trust and integrity. On the other hand, artists like those at Charlie Hebdo truly believe in what they're doing, and many of them died for it. Were they being offensive to a large population of people? Sure. But that doesn't matter. They didn't deserve to die because of one drawing. Farghadani doesn't deserve to go to prison because some government official never learned how to take a critique. Art is powerful. It has this way of bringing out the best and worst emotions in people, making them do things they would never do otherwise, or giving them courage to do things they were just waiting to try out, both good and bad. When we see art that offends us, we tend to speak out about it. We take to the internet and proclaim our fury to anyone and everyone who would listen, and when they agree with us, we feel like a warrior inside. When they don't, it angers us more. We put up posters and we hold meetings, and discuss why the art is offensive and how to remove it from society. And what does the offensive artist do? He or she walks over to our posters, snickers, and draws penises all over them.

We don't get the final say in what other people create. It sucks sometimes, but we just don't. We can shout and write blogs about it, but artists will keep producing. Even if it's the most horrific image we've ever seen without immediately vomiting, someone somewhere will frame it on their wall. Artists aren't all the best people. Yea, we make cool stuff with our hands and feet -- and in some cases, other body parts -- but we aren't all the tortured, otherworldly beings everyone else likes to think we are. Just like there are people with good and bad intentions working in finance, the variation exists in the art world, too. There are people who want to make a huge social change, or create the most beautiful work anyone's ever seen. There are people whose sole happiness in life is whipping out a marker and drawing penises all over everything.

And they sure as hell don't deserve to die over it.

We have the right to be offended and to speak out about that offense. Others have the right to keep being offensive. Art that should never be made doesn't exist.

Now let's all take a moment and think about the definition of "hyperbole."

Getting Started - A mild ramble

I've been chatting and networking with various people and groups for the last...2 years, now? I've had this big project in my head. A ghost, really. No real form, but pushes objects around in my mind when it wants to. It's starting to take shape, for once, because I've spoken to enough people to consider all its angles. The oddest thing is knowing I can accomplish it now. This ethereal thing, it can shift into solid form after two years, and it's scary. It's big and hulking, and has the possibility of steamrolling everything else in my life, for good or bad. Strange.

There are so many items on my project list to check off. They all merge into The Big, in one way or another. I can't tell if I'm giddy or terrified. Maybe both. The next year is gonna be so comfortably uncomfortable.