End of break seems also the end of deep restful sleep. Despite the long reads into the wee hours, the Worry Brigade has been back with a fuller force.
Still, life is not without its bright spots, if one is intent on looking at the bright side.
Such as when Facebook threw back a four-year-old memory at me and I had to make a new post of it to remind myself of how far I have gone on this creative journey.
I will be working on art pieces today, plus a lot of journal writing as I force my way through a matter that has been blocking and cornering me for weeks. I suspect it is the root of the nightmare and my insomnia, and also the cause of many small illnesses that have been poking at me off and on since that job interview.
Getting back into the administrative and backstage work has been exhausting as they eat up a lot of hours. The shops and the art-making are a full-time job. The only time things started to move was when I embraced the full-time-ness of it. Before, I was just doing it part-time, always making space in my days for dayjob projects and allotting more hours for the dayjob when it came. The lulls brought me back to square one every time, because people forget and people don't really miss me. There are always other options than what I offer.
I am beginning to understand now, to a certain extent, the obsession about brands and of the people who do brand work. I am, in a way, building myself as a brand. The difference is that I am not out for ever increasing ridiculous amounts of income. I just want to earn enough to live a decent life from now until I pass on, and a decent life for my parents at the very least. (And in my Patron-only page in Patreon, I give detailed weekly accounts of how I spend money so my patrons can see that I am a reasonable and responsible artist, despite the common impressions of us possibly being too mad, spontaneous, impulsive, illogical, impractical, or the like.)
To counter the financial mess that is July, I joined in a global celebration of July as Watercolour Month.
I'm thinking expansion of audience, increased awareness for my work, possibilities of new friends and networks. Also, since it is global, I have better chances of being appreciated and at the same time learning from a wider range of subjects and styles. Local seems a dead end for me now, or Facebook really just has horrible display algorithms and the local people who could help are not really seeing my distress flags (or I am simply not eliciting that much love) (or I am still not being very clear as to what I am asking for -- worth thinking about).
So much to get done. I'l leave off here.
I am not sure if painting almost nonstop for twelve hours yesterday can be considered "easing" back. But Friday was a slow slip into the creative flow, and then Saturday was seriously digging my toes in so I cannot be swept away by whatever will come along in the approaching week.
I felt a thread of relief when the painting flowed. For a while I was worried it would not come back, or that the rest I took was not enough, or that the anxieties are too strong.
Already I can feel a rise in the energy -- both within myself and those who have seen the new work. Already there is fresh interest in buying my art, and my hope perks its still-wearied head.
All through the last couple of days thought, with news of Brexit (and the consequences it will trigger) and the dwindling of days towards the next bill due dates, I felt cornered into bracing myself for taking that dayjob if it is offered. I could, and would, persist in finding a less full-time arrangement, but I also know it would be more likely that I would have to sacrifice months before having enough evidence to support a plea for special arrangements. And even then it is a risk because it is also likely there will be no evidence because the job will demand every full hour it requires and possibly more, under the label "emergency" and "exception".
But the patrons are too few and the shop sales too far-between. I am not yet able to raise sufficient funds to allow me to buy the creative time for myself. I do not know how I can buy one more month to make another big push. I will work another month of twelve-hour days to stay in the studio, but I am out of new short-term ideas for the moment.
Anyway, I did finish six pieces yesterday. All the originals will be made available in the originals shop, and the prints available for paper and products through Society6.
The week-long break was a significant help but it has not yet restored me in "full power". I have begun to feel the pressure of being alone in the battlefield, with the dawn still many hours away, and my allies still too distant and possibly having to go through skirmishes of their own before they could come to my aid.
Last night I had a dream that I was a queen in disguise traveling through many lands, some of them hostile. In one kingdom I was caught and imprisoned for being simply foreign. I was made to fight, armed only with a wooden staff, in an unfair battle against a quartet of barbarians. But just as I was to be ushered into the open arena, I heard a voice in my head, narrating what was to come, and as the voice spoke, what it spoke happened. The guard who had brought me to the arena gates pulled out a weapon and took out one of the quartet. The guard who was ushering the quarter took out another barbarian. From somewhere else in the arena, arrows and knives showered upon my supposed enemies, and their loud gloating was silenced. Because when the barbarians saw me they laughed and did not take me seriously and started to boast how they would kill me. The barbarians were three men and one woman, clad in hard black spiked armour. I was clad in an encumbering gown and a soft cloak. But I felt an invisible crown upon my head. When the barbarians fell, my guard, who turned out to be a woman, clapped me on the shoulder and gave me an encouraging nod. The king and queen who were presiding over the event looked pleased, and nodded approvingly at those who had fought the battle for me. I held out my staff, and from it rolled out a parchment like a flag, and the flag was hand-painted, and I realised I painted it, and it looked like a work of art, but at that moment it was more than that, it was the symbol of a kingdom, and it was my kingdom, and my disguise was gone, and people knew me for what I was, and that place was the first place to acknowledge me. And then I woke up.
Today is one of those days when I am convinced I should just get a regular job and gamble the consequences to my art process and progress.
But I am certain without a doubt that by tomorrow I will be thinking and feeling differently.
Today I received a message from a dear friend who let me know that my art has made another person happy. Immediately my resolve to grit my teeth through a dayjob wobbled.
Later tonight I will be going to a wake of a family friend. Faced with the ultimate unpredictability and certainty of life at the same time -- the not-knowing when and the sureness of death's arrival -- I am pushed back to my stubborn stance of sticking to my creative path.
Having been off online interactions, my website visits have dropped and nothing has moved in the shops. Imagine the drumming of panic inside me at the "lost" time and opportunity. But I needed the break, for many reasons. And in the end I believe that what I gained from it will outweigh the seeming loss.
Recovering my reading pace is a crucial thing. It helped loosen the constriction in my writing, so I have been writing words in my journal again instead of simply getting away with painting images. I was able to sleep better, despite the nonstop nagging of worries. My days have started to feel like full circles again, with the full complement of reading, writing, and painting. By Wednesday I had decided to skip visiting the calendar to further ease the pressure to do something, to prevent myself from fiddling with what I had set up and thus compromise the flow of Things with my fussing. There must be a time of rest, a time of ripening. A time of waiting and trusting and simply keeping faith.
I have abandoned the open garage renovation last night. I realised it could be a made-up distraction to keep me from forging ahead (not to mention that the fix-up will require cash I cannot spare -- which is one of the warning signals that it may not be the best option now) . While I (occasionally desperately) need more space and more light, not having them is not an excuse to stop or delay. I will have them when it is time to have them. Perhaps they will even be given, earned, gifted, and maybe I do not even need to give it to myself because what I need is to do what I have to do as a true artist and the rest will fall into place, taken care of.
I cannot do everything. Not for myself, not for others, not for everyone.
Every day I have to make a choice where I will put my time and my strength and my heart. Every day I have to weigh things and find the most fair and the most kind decisions -- for myself and for others.
Yesterday, after deciding that the open garage project is likely to be distracting than productive, I made one last tweak to my painting space.
I stood on a chair to take this photo. That chair is what I'm sitting on as I write this. My writing space is about the same size as my painting space, and they all fit under the stairs.
I decided, if I particularly need space and light, i will just have to put together a go-bag and spare a bit of cash to hang out in one of the cafes in the neighbourhood. I honestly find it quite troublesome but I will work with it for now.
Last night I poured out three pieces in my sketchbook.
I am still unable to touch the papers on the easel, or to resume work on my commissions. I am still too caught up with worries and kept from focusing. I could force myself but the ill feelings will taint my work.
So I am going into it in circles, gently taking myself a long roundabout way while slowly carefully shedding the negative energies. So I fixed the painting space, and tidied up my closet, and ran every errand I could think of so I would not have to get out of the house again for a while unless I need the space and light. I worked in my sketchbook, hoping that soon enough the images would want to come out and become independent. I read and fed myself with beautiful words. I slept long hours. I dreamed yearning dreams. I wrote my way through the days, clearing my head, unknotting my soul-limbs. I feel so cramped and at the same time I feel stretched out thin.
It is a Friday. I do not have much to show as fruits of my break since Monday. Not much that is tangible. A lot of work happens in the dark, or in the invisible, and often beneath our awareness and consciousness. Sometimes it is difficult to convince people that something is happening. Sometimes it is difficult to convince myself.
I woke up late, because I slept late -- I did not check what time because I did not want to feel pressured about getting enough hours of sleep. But I progressed to 26% of Among Others by Jo Walton from 9%, right after finishing First You Have To Row A Little Boat by Richard Bode (which I gave 5 stars to in Goodreads).
My night dreams are back to the kind that feels like churning changes, the kind during which I wake up at odd intervals and catch sight of strange things moving about and things not looking like what they are supposed to. Whenever I have this kind of dreams I interpret them as signals of movements and shifts. When I wake up from such dreams I can feel an extra thrum of energy inside me. As if I have successfully tapped into the universal well and I can make more things happen than usual. Call it superstitious, it doesn't matter to me. It's one of the ways I work with life.
Today I revived my "learning journal" which has languished for many months because I needed to prioritise making money. But it has come to a point where I need the lessons of the learning journal (which I have named Greywaren, inspired by Maggie Stiefvater's book series The Raven Boys) to guide me to the next steps of where I want to go. Reading through Alain de Botton's The Book Of Life also made it imperative for me to write down my own notes and thoughts, and translating them into real actions that I can apply into my daily life.
You see, I am very particular about saying one thing and yet doing another. Sometimes it happens by ignorance. Sometimes by simple failure to practice due diligence.
In the course of my insistence to pursue a creative path I want to keep on making informed decisions. Even while I do a lot of leaps of faith, there is still an aspect to it that cannot be a blindness. In fact, I believe that the leap is made with open eyes, which is what makes it courageous. There is still responsibility, and there are consequences to every action, and exercising the freedom to do what I want does not mean the absence of accountability.
Clarity is also important to me, as much of it as possible given my limitations as myself and as a human being. Clarity helps me be steadfast and to be certain in the decisions I make, and keeps me strong in the midst of adversity. It is easier to weather trials and disappointments when it is clear to me what my values are, and what really matters.
On a totally different subject -- I checked the open garage and saw that a lot of work will have to be done to transform it into a true creative workspace. But the potential is there. Lots of daylight. Open air. Away from the house and TV noise.
In case you haven't noticed, I added a "Subscribe" option in the upper right hand corner of this page so you can keep updated every time I have a new post. I won't send literally after every post, but I'll have a nice summary or teaser every week, most likely Wednesdays so you can have something to browse through on hump day, and hopefully what you read could at least add a positive note to help you through the rest of the week. So sign up now to subscribe and I promise not to clutter your inbox!
Imagine a small plot of earth. Then imagine planting a seedling at equal intervals until the whole plot is evenly dotted with seedlings. That is how I read. I need to have a few or several books going on. Since last weekend I have been progressing through:
- Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton
- First You Have To Row A Little Boat, Richard Bode
- In The Dojo, Dave Lowry
- A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness (finished)
- Rules For A Knight, Ethan Hawke (finished)
- Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
- Divine Fury, Darrin McMahon
- Art, Inc., Lisa Congdon
- Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton
Today I started on Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. And in a few days' time I might start on Marcel Proust's Swann's Way.
At some point I will start making notes or copying passages into index cards which I will categorise and then alphabetise in my box of index cards. My very own card catalogue of wisdom and creative seeds.
I have been traipsing about in the shallows with my art-making. Puttering about without accomplishing anything significant. i am walking the roundabout way into diving deep, unable to cut a straight line through the brambles of distraction and the fog of anxiety.
I refilled my waterbrushes today. Two with water and two with inks. Refilling means I used them up, which means I did something, and something was done.
In less than two hours I will be off to the mall to meet up with a college friend visiting from the US. She placed orders on the art shop and we are meeting up to make the exchange. I have made a list of to-dos to make the most of the trip as well as the fare spent to get to the mall.
I will be spending some cash today out of necessity, and I am bracing myself that I won't have enough for next month. But at the same time I am optimistic that there will be enough for next month.
I don't like writing like this. Like a death march. Like a school essay. I don't like it that I am weighed down with heavy thoughts and heavy emotions that drag my words out with heavy chains and slam them to the ground in ugly dreary composition.
Perhaps I need to re-read a Gaiman book. Or two. The well is only ankle-deep. I need to fill it to the brim. Not with just any water. I need to fill it from the source that flows from where we are true.
I wish I could write more happily. More cheerfully. Even when I am happy my words sound like they are wearing iron clogs. What do you think?
I finished my unfinished sketchbook spread:
And it helped a lot that I was out of the house, in an uncrowded cafe, with lots of bright light, and no distracting noise. There was a lot of space around and above me. The air temperature was cozy cool. I had a tall glass of iced red tea. I was not hungry, which was also good, because a grumbling stomach would make me want to eat rather than draw or paint or write.
Being out in the "open" helped open me up. I didn't realise how much being under the stairs for long days actually "compressed" me and my thoughts. And the absence of windows added to the sense of being hemmed in. Being enclosed was good for when I am already giving form to ideas, but when I am still in the stage of gathering seeds and processing those seeds for possibilities, I realise I need open space and lots of light.
It is a sad fact that there are no safe and comfortable public spaces in the city where I can just park myself and my art bag and stay for a few hours. I have to pay the price of a large cup of coffee or a small meal to claim a quiet cozy window seat.
Maybe I should revive my old plan to redesign the unused garage space (which is an open space -- only half-roofed by the second floor). It will cost a bit in the beginning, but once everything is set up it could be a very useful space. And I could even use that huge blank garage wall as an interactive space for growing seeds. And then maybe I would actually be able to play my own music without having to wear headphones even when the television in the living room is turned on... Yes, maybe this old plan is worth revisiting...
This morning felt better. Last night I was already well into a reading rhythm, and the reading before bed seemed to have had good effect on my sleep.
When I woke up I immediately wrote my daily pages while still in bed, propped up by pillows. The entry started thus:
"Midsummer has crept up on me. But with it, it carried gifts. At least I like to think that it carried gifts, for sometimes there is not much to hope for in a day, and one must scrounge for hope in whatever way one can."
Then the trail broke into many parts and I found myself brainstorming on solutions and things to do and ideas to keep the art shops alive and active, and how to woo more patrons, and finally a more definite inkling on how to tackle the dayjob offer if it comes.
Last night I did sketchbook work, as I now feel rather lacking in a day when I don't do it.
Getting back into a long deep art-making mode is critical for this week. I am still clearing out the fatigue from the past six weeks.
This is a small retreat to let me fight another day.
I was being overwhelmed by the amount of work I needed to do, most especially the backstage work for the shops and promotions and having to literally ASK people for help. The responses are erratic -- a giddying burst of outpour of generosity, and then long uneasy silences. Bottom line, I do not have enough yet to cover next month's bills although this month. at least, yielded enough for groceries and allowed me to pay overdues from the previous months.
Society6 and Patreon are great venues but that is all they are --- venues. They provide the stage but I have to draw the crowd and do the performances. As an introvert this has presented a most difficult challenge, for I have kept very small social circles, and I have not established a strong enough rapport with the majority of my acquaintances to move their hearts to either purchase from my shops or become a patron.
I have planned to use this week-long break to come up with strategies for Asking. Given my nature, I may have to go one-on-one and personal. That will take some planning and preparation, and a bit of money for courier services.
I have picked up a reading pace again. Last night I progressed through three books : May Sarton's Journal of A Solitude, Richard Bode's First You Have To Row A Little Boat, and Darrin McMahon's Divine Fury: A History of Genius. Today I started on In The Dojo by Dave Lowry.
I am on the lookout for clarity and clues on how to move forward, and how to fine-tune the directions I need to take. The jury is still out on whether I will even be offered that agency job that could solve my financial difficulties with a few months' sacrifice. But even I have not come to any firm answer if I would accept it if it were offered. Nor could I bring myself to commit for any long-term period should I decide to accept it. What flits through my mind instead is to try to force the possibility of a part-time arrangement, or a specialty service arrangement. A plunge into full-time dayjob corporate work feels like a suicide in many ways, and the first to go will be my artist life.
When I got up this morning my first act was to cut my hair. I trimmed off three inches so now I can keep my hair loose if I wanted without looking like an old hag. I tried to imagine that I was cutting off something else -- the time and distance between now and where I want to be, the number of obstacles I have to overcome.
Yesterday I wrote a letter to my mom apologising for the difficulties that the household has to endure because of my stubbornness to pursue this creative path. I felt bad for a lot of things, including not being able to take out the family for lunch or dinner to celebrate Father's Day, and not being able to help out with the household chores more frequently because the studio and shop tasks have been eating up so many of my daily hours. The guilt is sharp with my knowing that I could easily slip back into my old "successful" life. All I have to do is give up what I have now, maybe even tell myself that it will not be for very long, only for a while, that afterwards I could pick up where I left off...
This morning, a family friend passed away. A long-term illness finally seized her and took her within the space of two days. This year I lost my grandmother, and a grand-aunt.
Last night I dreamed of a dear old friend and he kept telling me I should not put my hair up, which was probably why I had the urge to cut it when I woke up. When I woke up I also realised that my dear old friend is gone, passed away almost two years ago. I remembered weeping when I found out I would no longer see him again. But last night I saw him again, his old cheerful playful self. And I remembered how he loved me back in his own way despite our definitions of ourselves.
There is a small errand I need to do but I have to gather the strength and patience for it. I would need to walk a thirty to forty-minute distance, which I would not have minded if the weather was agreeable. I could take a taxi but that would mean spending precious cash, and I was thinking I would rather use it for the trip home when I am already carrying the objects of that errand.
It is lunch time and I shall end this post. I am off Facebook for the whole week so I will likely be here more often than usual for the duration of my break.
The other night I received a disappointing email informing me that my art was not compatible with the vision of the art fair, so my application was not accepted.
I get this a lot, in one form or another. That my art is like the colour that spilled outside the defined lines, not qualifying for the "official nod" and yet also not the kind that people would call "breakthrough", "edgy", or any of those adjectives used to describe art that often look way too out there and yet somehow earns the wave of the wand that labels them "art".
Funny thing is, this happens to me in my own country, my local communities. I do not fit in the local "scene". Yet when my art goes beyond the country borders I get an astounding amount of support -- and I don't mean just foreign folks but also former locals who have now migrated or are working as expats. There must be something in the air out there that clears the head and the heart to be more open and to see more.
Granted there are a few locals who do believe in what I do - a precious handful against the larger network whose radar keeps on passing me over.
I understand this. I can even tell you why it is this way, what the cultural mindsets are, what values drive the mindsets. I even know which of my own personal flaws and shortcomings aggravate the situation. I've studied people for twenty years, I have a pretty good idea why I'm having such a hard time all my life.
I have not set out to complain or rant but to set the context so I can show that despite this, the magic happens.
The days after the rejection these other things happened that made the rejection seem almost ridiculous to feel too bad about:
What this all means to me: The list may not seem too impressive to someone who has a standard idea of what a real "success" looks like for an artist. But I am coming from the context of having nothing at all. And I am tuned into the kind of hope and optimism that rejoices at every tiny progress. I also came from a long period of being invisible as an artist, so long that a single encouraging comment can sustain me for days.
What I am seeing now is cause to continue my path. Already I have received inquiries for Christmas commissions. There are also many other possible ways for me to sell outside of the approval-by-committee groups who set up the fairs and bazaars. If the local suppliers work out I can already expand my local shop offerings and add another stream of creative income. And today I have put my days into a structure to steer my creative productivity into becoming a stable source of income. Always, of course, keeping in touch with the core of what it is all about -- about being an Agent of Hope, and about changing the hearts of the world.
I stepped beyond my comfort zone last night. I put myself out there on Patreon. Because that is how much I want this creative journey to continue to move forward, and how much I really want to make this full-time-artist-thing to happen.
My mindset really is to grow and become stable and then start giving back.
As of this morning I sold out a whole "series' in my shop. Which means I have to put in hours to make new pieces. And I still have commissions to fulfil.
The "backstage" work can get tedious, but it does not hurt. There is a tediousness that hurts, the kind that leeches out the meaning and purpose in what you do. Not this. This saps my energy at some point but leaves behind a tingling sense of true accomplishment. i am eager to do it again, because I can feel and I can see how everything is moved forward, how it is all part of the process towards that which I truly desire.
Make no mistake. It is all hard work. Even if I love what I do, it is hard work. The hours are long and deep. But then so is the satisfaction at the end of every day.
So last night I launched in Patreon. I was anxious and afraid. I secretly felt silly. But it also felt like it was time. You don't mess around when you know it's Time.
I made this introduction video in my own style and reflecting my personality. For more details on becoming a Patron, please visit my Patreon page and click on "Why Marichit Garcia is on Patreon".
This morning I woke up with two patrons! Oh the happiness! Oh the joy! Yes, there is indeed always hope.
Today and for the rest of the week I will put more of myself out there by promoting. And this I will be doing on top of making new pieces to restock the shop, uploading new designs in Society6, fulfilling commissions, attending to shop orders, running errands, homekeeping, daily practice and creative experiments to keep my creative skills sharp and my work evolving. Sometimes twenty-four hours seem not enough, but then I remind myself I get the exact same hours as Leonardo DaVinci and Albert Einstein.
The Patreon step is a big deal for me. I am the kind of person who would prefer to do things independently and on my own steam. Asking is very difficult. Asking is a last resort, and more often I'd rather do without than ask.
So for future patrons, know that I will be most conscious of making sure that your help is not wasted, and that my gratitude will be expressed in as many ways as I can. This creative journey is not a whim or a hobby or an escape. It is the course of my very life. I do not do this to just "express" myself, I do this because I believe I can make a difference in my own life and in the lives of others. I want to be part of that creative revolution that will shift the heart of the world towards more love, gratitude, generosity, tolerance, respect, self-growth, and soul sustenance. I want to be one of the seeds that changes the face and pace of daily life, towards creativity and hope, towards a life by design rather than a life by default.
Let us be Agents of Hope, in whatever capacity that we are called to make a difference.
I've broken my "fast" from making any purchases for my creative work. First of all, I've recently thrown away at least half a dozen emptied pigment ink pens, so I need to resupply. The direction my work is taking needs more metallic pigment inks so I need to have a good selection of options in case a line of products is suddenly discontinued (which often happens for niche products). I am also exploring a new art style involving a lot of ink work so I need to get myself one of those ink-friendly calligraphy pads because the one I have is soon to run out. And then I also need new painting brushes because I just threw away a few really scraggly ones.
I took a deep breath and gave myself a maximum amount to spend. Sadly, the cat's tongue brush I was hoping to try turned out to be more expensive than I thought it would be, and so I had to settle for the "economy" version of that same brand but only a plain round brush and not a cat's tongue (the one I originally wanted was 14 times the price of what I ended up buying.)
Still, I'm not complaining. In fact, I am pretty happy with my shopping, to have something new that at the same time will add to my creative arsenal.
Since I didn't get the expensive cat's tongue brush, I also bought a menso brush to try. It is made of horse and goat hair, and is specially designed for sumi-e drawing (drawing with ink).
In addition to trying out drawing with a paintbrush I have also added ink drawing with a flexible nib to my daily practice. I like the line variations that a flexible nib gives, as well as the variations in the ink flow which produces unexpected pools and shadows. I am also somehow getting addicted to the smell of the sumi ink itself, which reminds me of the sharp but pleasant scent of petrichor.
I plan to combine these ink drawings with watercolour, and even with other inks. If I like how it all turns out then I can add a new series to my paintings.
Meanwhile, my Creativity Bootcamp sketchbook practice is yielding interesting evolutions in my drawings and paintings. I am not really an abstract kind of artist but I like how some of my recent explorations are somewhat touching the edges of that style.
There are no movements yet on the dayjob matter so I would prefer to keep moving forward with my creative work. I want to keep forging ahead as if the creative path is THE only path.
Hence I have pinched a small budget to try a couple of possible local printing services. One prints on canvas bags, and the other prints on mugs. If the output is of good quality then I will be able to entice more local people to buy (the Society6 dollar price tag and the shipping fees are quite big deterrents). The one that prints the mugs can also print notepads so I'll inquire on that next and see if it is something I would like to design and offer as a product line.
When I am able to save up enough I plan to do fabric via Spoonflower, but that one will probably take a while. I'll focus on the more doable local ones first.
I speak from the experience of the past four months, and it is more than enough for me to see the difference between going full-time on the creative work, and doing it part-time while the dayjob dominated.
I did not even deliberately set out to do it. I was led into it, in a way, because for the first time in the past six years of freelancing, the dayjob projects did not come "on time" as they usually did. It is possible I have been wishing them away secretly while checking if my bank account can still hold out for a few more months. I wanted to dive deep into my art-making one hundred percent without the distraction of project follow-ups and emails and document-writing and workdata-processing. Having to split my brain to accommodate the kind of thinking that a dayjob requires takes its toll at some point - my creative work progress becomes slow and sometimes even shallow. I could not establish a rhythm, and the stress of being "on-call" takes out half the joy in the whole process.
But in the past four months I discovered what it was like to be full-time as an artist.
First of all, I realised that if I wanted to keep this state of creative living as long as possible, I have to start putting my work out there and making sales. And I realised it had to be now, not later. Not after all the fantastic grandiose plans I imagined happening as I "launched" myself officially with an exhibit and even a little party. Now.
I have done some casual online selling before, in small short bursts. But they never looked nor felt serious enough. It looked and felt more like someone having a hobby and deciding on a whim to sell some of the things that came out of that hobby.
No, it had to look and feel like it is a serious matter. Less like a business though, and more as a passionate commitment that also happens to be a means to gain income. A business is about profit and targeting to make more of it each year. I just want to make enough to sustain me through every day, every week, every month, with a little extra to spare for little luxuries. I have simplified my life in the past years in such a way that happiness comes easier to me, because it relies on so little.
On the other hand, if I hoped to price my pieces in a way that would actually help sustain a reasonably decent life then I better start becoming the artist for real. Now. Embrace it. Claim it. Live it.
So I got started sorting through my "inventory" which, at that time, was just really a pile of stuff. Then I threw all caution to the wind and built my webpage shop -- couching its existence within the definition of a "trial run" because that is what it is. I can pull it down anytime, or extend its life. (I still needed an escape hatch.)
I understood though that no one would likely purchase any of my special works (currently in the Enchanted Series) at the prices proper to them. So I came up with and worked hard on a series of simple florals that were quicker to "produce" but which still gave me joy to make. It also offered me the opportunity to explore a style I have been wanting to try.
That shop moved for a while and then slowed down. I thought of other ways to getting my art out there without risking too much of my integrity as an artist, and without stretching myself too thin as well. And I remembered Society6 which has been recommended by one of the many artists I follow in one of the social media sites.
Hence I opened shop in Society6, and did a serious promotion of the two shops, alternately. I made myself more visible across all my social media sites. I shared my process. I made my posts more inspiring. The combination of the two shops, and the thoughtful effort I poured into putting them out there, began catching attention. Then the purchases, and thus the commissions, started to trickle in.
I have been working 8-12 hours a day, including weekends, to set it all up and keep it all working. But because I deeply love the work there was no resistance, no pain, no resentment. The lack of money is still a constant worry but my faith and love for the art-making was such that I believed it capable of provoking miracles.
"The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.
The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning "to love". The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline..."
(The War of Art)
Here is a list of tasks I need to do as part of the whole creative practice:
And I do it all by myself. It has been a solo act for me for many things, and this one's no exception. I do get a lot of love, strength, and support from my creative tribe and those count for a LOT. In fact, I don't think I would have gone this far this soon without them.
And yes those tasks could easily fill up a day and spill over into the whole week and even into a whole month. Writing this blog post, for instance has already taken me more than an hour at the very least (on the side I attend to other normal human things like coffee and feeding the cat and tending to a few household matters).
There is REAL WORK in an artist's life. The main difference with most other work is that as an artist I love this work, and I cannot imagine myself ever quitting, just like how my grandma kept on making her handicrafts until the day she passed away. My work as an artist, the tasks I do for hours every day are as VALID as any work with a monthly paycheck. They are as valid as the freelance dayjob work that brings in the big paycheck. I know this, despite my occasional doubts and the nagging of guilt for not using my skills in a more lucrative endeavour.
Miracles happen. Magic happens.
Up earlier than usual. I need all the hours I can get to brace myself for this afternoon's (dayjob) meeting. The delicate breakthrough that my creative journey has accomplished in the past few weeks hangs in the balance.
Last night I had a long vivid dream of being back in college. An old teacher was there, constantly present, speaking in her gentle encouraging voice.
For the first time I was given the curriculum and subject topics ahead, and I had time to prepare, and it turned out the topics were close to my heart (such as, how to create happiness in your daily life, and something about creativity and philosophy) . Usually I have the kind of dream where everyone else knows what's happening and I didn't know anything - sudden exams, sudden field trips, late homeworks, sudden graded recitations. But this time I was the one who knows, and I was in a roomful of young students who were over-confident and believed in their own entitlement. I was in my young self, but I had my grown-up mind.
For the first time I was able to speak up in my dream, though I could no longer remember the exact words I said. But instead of the usual silent seething of indignation I was able to literally stand up and speak my mind, and somewhere along the way I heard my voice rising, and I was nearly shouting all the truths and hard lesson I have learned in the past six years and I was trying to make those young people realise that the world is much bigger and much deeper than what they see. Of course they scoffed at me, called me weird and odd and other excluding names. I was not one of them. But I did not mind.
My old teacher's voice was in my head and I could hear her even though at some point she had left the room. I felt good about being able to speak up, finally, of being able to be honest about what I believe and how I see the world and how I want to live my life. I am not sure if in the end it made a difference in that classroom, but it surely made a difference to me. I did not feel helpless, which was what I often felt in such dreams. I did not feel powerless. I was alright. I knew I could finish my studies without the usual burdens of a young student -- without the worries about popularity and acceptance, without the pressure to be part of a group or to do things with others, without the shame of being too different. I felt a certain kind of peace in that dream, and I could not wait to get into my studies.
I woke up sometime after, and when I did that was when I realised -- the old teacher who had patiently guided and encouraged me was long gone. She had died years ago, but not before she had sent me a letter in response to my query when I was in my late-twenties -- she had encouraged me to write, and told me I had what it takes to be a writer. I kept that letter, and had used it as a talisman of sort as I deepened my pursuit of a creative life, not just writing but also making art with painting.
In the dream she was so alive, so present. Her smiles radiated warmth. She was there.
Whatever were the gifts and messages of that dream, I carry them with me later, as I walk to the crossroads and decide the path of my future for the remainder of the year, at the very least. Yes, the creative journey hangs in the balance. I risk many deep and soulful things should I decide to take one way over the other. But if I do end up taking that hazardous path, then I must learn to keep the war of art raging, every day a battle that is a matter of life and death. Because a life IS at stake.
I keep in mind this bit that I shared with the tribe last night.
I am bad with titles. I can write whole poems and stories and articles but I always get stumped with the title. Even my blog post titles cause me a bit of a pain.
Then I had to name my paintings. I can't shirk it and get away with "Untitled". That's just not me. But I also don't want to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking up names.
I am not a fan of the descriptive titles either, such as "Girl With Cat", or "Apples in Bowl". I also don't want to lead the viewer so much with titles that hint at what I'm trying to show in the artwork. I also don't want to be pretentiously obscure.
At the same time I want the names to also somehow reflect something about me as a person and as an artist.
So I pondered on it. And then came up with a solution.
Since the core of my artwork is flowers, I started with that. Flowers, no matter how you twist and turn it, are closely associated with the feminine. I see nothing wrong or offensive with that. So I decided my pieces will have feminine or female names.
But not just any name. They have to feel right to me, to resonate with me, or evoke certain types of associations. I started a list.
My associations with any word come from strange places -- books I've read, historical eras I am fond of, fictional characters I relate to, people I've met in my imagination, mythologies, you get the picture.
Any name that did not sit well with me was not included, no matter how popular or well-loved it may be to others.
I started with the name of saints, but picking those from the medieval ages, up to anything pre-modern. I looked up the stranger cousins of traditional Christianity, and then ventured into older and even obscure religions. Then mythologies. Then I mined my favourite books, picking the more creative, exotic, or old-sounding names and dropping the too-common, too-modern ones. I also chose the older versions of more modern names, if they sounded right. Names that would elicit too much association in one direction were left out (e.g. Katniss -- too young adult, mass-popular) unless I don't mind the association of the associations (e.g. Amidala -- Star Wars is old-school, much bigger and complex world), but a few popular names were included if there are enough interpretations spread out to keep the interpretation of my own artwork open (e.g. Jane -- plain, Austen, Goodall...).
I stayed away from names of actual people I know unless the painting was for them. But I have plans of using the names of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and their older kin (as they have all moved on to better places, and they have really nice names).
Each name on my list carries its own personality and I match them with the painting as much as I can. It does not have to be a literal match. Quite a few matches will possibly puzzle. I use my artist's eye to see the connection, and my artist's inner ear to hear the click.
The names I picked actually reflects and reveals a lot about me. If I become impossibly famous, biographers and academics will have a heyday deciphering my choice of names and probably come up with a humongous map of my alternate lives.
So here's the current partial list (A - L). Feel free to suggest and I will consider them!
Agatha - Agrippina - Alianor - Alice - Amaterasu - Ambrosia - Amidala - Andraste -
Andromeda - Annora - Anouk - Apollonia - Aquilina - Arabella - Ariadne -
Arianrhod - Arwen - Arya - Ashtoreth - Astarte - Attolia - Augustine -
Aurelia - Auri - Bast - Bellatrix - Benedicta - Bertha -
Beruthiel - Boudica - Branwen - Brienne - Brigid - Brunhild - Calliope -
Carissima - Cassiopeia - Celestine - Cerridwen -
Circe - Clarice - Clariel - Claudia - Cleopatra - Clotilde - Consortia -
Constance - Coraline - Coventina - Dana - Delphina -
Demeter - Demetria - Desdemona - Elinor - Elizabeth -
Emerentiana - Emma - Empusa - Eowyn - Epiphania - Eponine -
Eurydice - Eve - Fausta - Felicitas - Feronia - Florentina - Freya - Frigg -
Galadriel - Gorgonia - Grimalkin - Grimonia - Gwenhyfar - Hecate - Hel -
Hella - Hermione - Hestia - Honorata - Illuminata -
Inari - Ishtar - Isidora - Isolda - Izanami - Jane - Lamia - Lara -
Liberata - Lilith - Lirael - Lucia - Lucina - Luna - Lyra
I am here to share fresh-from-the-battlefield reports and lessons.
As you know by now I have opened an online shop for the summer, and recently I extended my offerings through Society6 to expand my product line. In the process I also put myself to doing promotions but in a way that is (hopefully) not too hard sell. I want to be noticed but I don't want to annoy people. And so far it looks like I have managed to hit upon a sweet spot. Never had my Facebook page ever been so busy! And I am even surprised by people who surfaced from years of zero interaction to click a thumbs-up, a heart, or a wow, sometimes even taking the time to leave a comment.
I know the whole thing will not be an overnight success. It needs to ripen, gain its own momentum, find its own pace and place in the Grand Scheme of Things. But it is very heartening to receive the first few reactions and responses. A droplet perhaps compared to the oceans of fans and followers that fully-established artists typically have, but I don't care about the comparison. I care about those who were first to say that they see something good and inspiring and possible with what I have put out. That is all I need to keep me going. That is enough to keep my hope sustained. (The handful of sales that came in were valued as much as, if not more, for the vote of confidence they implied than the actual monetary profit -- the profits at this point will really be small. For anyone venturing along a similar path, be ready for that and take it in stride. At most they will cover a good portion of your groceries, and that's not something to sneeze at.)
So, here is a simplified list of steps on how I got from point A (people appreciating art) to point B (people buying art).
The most important first step, ever. Create a body of work.
Everything really begins here. That you invest the hours making your art, that you continuously practice. It doesn't always have to be a big major work. It can be a series of small pieces, squeezable in half-hours through a day or a week. Make with your heart, make it for yourself. My rule on whether a piece is good enough to sell is asking myself, "will I hang this on my own walls?" It is also a good way to make sure that you are making pieces for yourself, instead of somehow trying to make something that appeals to more people in the hopes of attracting more buyers (Done this. I ended up throwing away what I made because they did not have soul.). If it resonates with you, then it will resonate with the kind of people you would want to buy your art in the first place.
Create and maintain a relatively active social media presence. Share your process and progress.
This motivates you and those who follow your progress. You inspire and are inspired.
It also keeps you on your toes to keep moving forward, to keep doing something. Because while we are doing our art for ourselves at first, later on we let them go out into the world, and we become more aware of the way we affect and influence others. There are people out there who might be waiting for a sign or a message, and you and your art might just be the instrument that the universe has been waiting to wield.
I have lost count of how many times I have been told that my art brings joy to a person's newsfeed. That in itself already gives me a sense of fulfilment. How often can we claim to have brought joy with something that makes us joyful as well? It is happiness without sacrifice or compromise - such a rare thing nowadays.
Sharing my process, or even answering queries on techniques and materials, makes me feel like I am doing my part in spreading the right kind of influence -- towards arts and creativity, to making with the hands, to paving the path towards a more authentic life.
For visual artists: Instagram has been a great help in getting me into the radar of the local art community, getting invited to events, and getting followers who may easily be missed out by Facebook. I find it also easier to maintain and I get more responses there than my Facebook page. Tip: use relevant popular hashtags in every post to come up in searches and recommendations.
Create a separate website for your "trial" shop.
A website, as opposed to a social media page, has the advantage of presentation. You can customise and design it to reflect the creative identity you want to be known for. You control the navigation of how visitors will see your art. You also own the space, in the sense that there are no distractions of ads or other links that don't really need to be there -- you can limit or simplify the sidebars and such. You can design it so that only YOUR art are the images. It's your own online visual gallery and thus you and your work should be the centrepiece.
Also, not everyone are users of social media sites and often one has to be a member to view even a public page. A website is an open-to-all place that people can visit without commitments or requirements that can often turn off potential customers.
I use this site : http://weebly.com
But I have friends who also recommend: http://wix.com
As early as now, start an inventory list of your art pieces.
It can be a very simple list. The important thing is to keep track. This was something I did not do early, because I thought having a shop was still a long way away.
First of all, I was slightly shocked when I counted how many pieces there already were. It is easy to think you never have enough, or that nothing's really good enough. But then you finally do an inventory...
Also start figuring out a pricing structure. People WILL ask at some point how much your pieces cost, and how much it would cost for a commission. Don't be like me who put it off until I was cornered. *guilty grin*
Extend your reach and offerings through sites like Society6.
Now this part requires a bit of "backstage" work. Also some technical abilities. So if you are fortunate enough to be able to ask someone well-versed in the language of pixels then take advantage of it. But I will share here the DIY version so that there are no excuses of not moving forward. Basic equipment : a computer, a scanner. But if your artwork is larger than a scanner's screen then you will need a digital camera (a camera phone will do -- details later). And then you will need a lot of Patience.
1. I scanned everything that will fit into my scanner. Nothing can beat the quality of a scan. I experimented but finally set the dpi (dots per inch) to 1,600 minimum. (If it's too large then it exceeds the required size of Society6).
2. For the large artworks I took photos with my iPhone using Camera+ app, quality settings at High. But the problem is that it cannot take as high resolution as a scan so I can only edit for selected product sizes. I also tried using my DSLR but same thing -- image would not take anything higher that 5000 pixels per side. So I am currently resigned to offer the designs for my large artworks on selected products only.
3. I cleaned up and edited each file to the required sizes in Pixlr, which is a free download. It can handle the large file sizes (which I discovered PIcMonkey could not -- it has a limit). I don't have Photoshop and even if I did I am not good at it. Pixlr can do enough edits and I love it so far.
4. I uploaded each file to Society6, which took time because of the file sizes.
5. I did daily posts on the products using various strategies:
- matching a piece/product with a quote
- matching a piece/product with an actual daily life experience
- a bit of creative writing to highlgiht the unique features of a piece/product (See image below.)
- talking about process while featuring a product/piece
- direct promo announcements when applicable (such as the recent Free Worldwide Shipping)
- announcing when new pieces are available and featuring those pieces
And in each post, a link to the shop is always provided.
I'll probably come up with other strategies as I go along. But what I wanted to achieve here was generate awareness and interest without bombarding. I also want to show that art has a place and space in everyone's life.
The miracles : As of this writing there have been 9 purchases from my Society6 shop and a few more to come soon (as buyers have informed me ahead of their intentions). Sales of my original pieces also somehow got influenced by the visibility of my Society6 pieces -- I sold more than 10 originals in the past week alone. My gratitude is immeasurable.
Then there is a friend who extended me a lifeline for June so I didn't have to drown (or to literally be a Starving Artist)... May a thousand blessings shower upon her!
Questions or comments? Let me know :)