Rob's Hand Made Sign

Art Show Beginner

Business

Taking the business to the next level involves taking my prints to the people. So far I’ve had pretty good experiences, but I’m only three shows into my print career so I have a lot to learn. Nonetheless, here are my experiences at the Claremont Art Walk and the OC Weekly’s Artopia in Downtown Santa Ana.

Chronologically Claremont came first. It came to me by way of a friend-of-a-friend who has taken over the Art Walk. I’m not sure exactly when the whole thing started, but when I jumped onboard it was the first time that Rebecca had run an Art Walk. It was also the return of the walk from a brief hiatus. As I wrote about a month ago in my previous article the Art Walk had shakey beginnings. Now under the guidance of Janelle Rensch and Rebecca Ustrell it is on track for the first Saturday every month.

When I think about my night there it makes me think of a club house. A hangout for your friends where you can feel free to joke, share new experiences, and wonder about the future. Since the Art Walk is just getting back on it’s feet there wasn’t much fanfare to attract visitors. Although I did notice that between the time I lived near the area and now, a difference of four or five years, that the Packing House filled in it’s empty store fronts. That led to steady traffic throughout the night and since you have people waiting for their tables at the hipstery Whisper House restaurant, you have a chance to catch a few eyes from there. Passers by from other eateries like the amazingly delicious Eureka! Burger helped fill in some of that foot traffic as well.

Considering it was a free, juried* show the amount of cash earned that night was strictly profit. After three shows at this level my average sales seem to float around ten prints at a very, very reasonable price point. You can do the math on that, but until the show earns some more notoriety I would imagine that earnings for someone like me will stay kind of low. The other people participating that day didn’t seem to do as well (a guitarist, and high-end French gift basket vendor).

The Claremont Packing House was one of the first renovations to take place in the area and is one of the nicest places to visit. It’s had a hard time attracting business in the past, but when I visited for the show it was buzzing with activity which is good to see. Downtown Claremont is a little hidden from the world, which is how I believe the residents prefer it, but I’m seeing signs of growth. The venue itself is pleasant with reclaimed wood floors and dim lighting. It was suggested that I bring my own lighting and I’m glad I did. It was nice to be indoors too and while it looked like it might rain that day it luckily never did. During the summer months it can get really hot out there so I imagine that being inside will be helpful in future walks, but there is talk of expanding to the outside courtyard between the parking structure and the Packing House.

Overall the Claremont experience was nice and people were a lot friendlier than I have experienced in the one previous show that I’ve been a part of. Not that people were rude, just less engaging. Quite the opposite in Claremont. The Santa Ana art show on the following weekend would have some parallels.

When my wife sent me an ad from the OC Weekly hosting an art show the second week of May I was cynical about it. The annual Artopia, also held in LA and a few other cities I think, was a vote-for-your favorite kind of marketing scheme. If you’ve ever participated in a Pepsi school fundraiser where you have to get as many people you can to sign up on a website and vote for your school then you know what I’m talking about. It’s a way for the OC Weekly to build email lists and send you junk mail. Normally I wouldn’t go for this sort of thing, but I thought I might be able to piggyback off the OC Weekly’s promotion efforts and at the very least get my name out in the open.

I didn’t ask anyone to vote for me. I’ve tried my hand in a similar promotion years ago with the tee shirt company Threadless and met with awful results. Personally I don’t like being marketed to and I will walk all the way around something that smells a little bit like advertising, so I get it. People don’t want to go on Facebook and see that shit. No problem.

However, my wife is my biggest promoter and jumped on that wagon quicker that you can say “hold your horses”. That’s probably what got me through the door because she convinced a lot of friends to sign up to vote which got into the top ten out of thirty pre-approved artists. I’d love to know what the vote looked like because I’d be willing to bet that there weren’t that many votes and I probably defaulted in because I was one of the few that got votes.

In any case this was a pretty good operation. Plenty of communication, parking maps, wristbands, club lights, dj… the whole loft party package. Which gave it the feel of a mid-sized, exclusive event. The staff, led I think by Jenna Moothart of OC Weekly Marketing, was incredibly friendly and helpful. I really felt like they were there to cater to me and there were a lot of OC Weekly shirts to provide manpower. So even when there were some kinks, which I later found out was caused by unfamiliarity in a new venue, they were fast to respond, and really accommodating.

Although typically rented out as a wedding space the venue itself, The 1912, was nice. A contemporary upstairs take on the hipster packing house trend that is slowly taking over southern California, the wood floors and beams give it a warm feel with the old style warehouse windows letting in nice light during the day, and antique edison style lights with some small, moving, track lighting type dj lights and gobos (or patterns) for the night. It was really dark in my corner and my neighbor, by the end of the night, was living in shadow. So I was glad that I packed my lamps.

When I first set up next to the bathroom, the kitchen (or storage room of some sort), and a cocktail table there was pretty good lighting in that spot, but I was bumped for a photo-booth (maybe paid for by the event) and sent to the corner. It was a little odd, but it was better than being isolated in the alternative space, a room hidden around the corner that another artist briefly sat in until it she realized that no one would see her art. Also, I didn’t have to worry about someone hanging out by the cocktail table and spilling their drink on my prints or the terrible bathroom smell oozing into the space.

As details rolled in from Jenna I took note of certain things: one thing that I thought would have an effect on sales was the cover charge. Tickets were $30 online pre-sale with a discount code I could hand out lowering it to $20. At the door prices went up to $35. Toward the end of the event I talked to the staff who said that total tickets sold were about two hundred fifty tickets sold out of three hundred available. This is different than past Artopia events which the staff said had twenty artists (instead of ten) with around one thousand attendees. They wanted to go smaller, more intimate this year. Maybe to cut costs?

Who knows.

If you’re tracking the event’s numbers that means they’re getting between $5,000 and $9,000 before expenses which probably included bartending, dj, venue rental, staff wages, table rentals, etc, etc. All told they probably took a small loss on the event.

The only problem I had was trying to talk over the sound of the dj who always wants to get the party started by blasting beats. I liked the music he played, but having conversations with people who are interested in buying your art while there is a rock concert going on behind you is a pain in the ass. You only hear every other word and have to piece together their meaning through chunks of conversation that you repeat several times.

With somewhere between two hundred fifty and three hundred people attending I did a little better than my ten print average. Again it was a free show so one hundred percent of the profit goes to me and with a slightly heavier wallet I’m happy.

Between the Tustin Art Walk, the Claremont Art Walk, and the OC Artopia here’s what I’ve gathered about running a booth at art events:

As I mentioned, my average sales are around ten prints per show. This tells me that I need to offer a few more options to get people interested in what I’m doing. The price point seems good (you can visit my Etsy site if you want to see) and with a few lower price point options I think I’m catching a few people that might have walked away. One thing that I want to play with is raising prices. Claremont, for example, is a pretty wealthy community, so I can probably bump my better selling prints up a few dollars without scaring people away. Make a few more bucks.

I would guess that half of the people that stop by my booth are attracted to the display. The dark stained wood and slick orange lamps are all part of a package and I think eyes have been drawn to the light and overall aesthetic as much as the art it’s trying to sell. I’ve received a lot of compliments on the display and I like to joke with customers that it makes my crappy art look even better than it really is, but with the packing house architectural style being so popular right now I fit in really well among people with style. Which I think helps my art stand out even more.

Overall sales are a lot lower than I’d like and that might be a combination of things. One thing that I’m ready to try is to get into a paid show like Patchwork (which incidentally is going on this Sunday in Santa Ana). The Patchwork Show has notoriety and big crowds. I figure I can probably triple my profits by signing up for a half-booth ($150) on these one-day craft fairs. That’s totally doable right now and at minimum I figure I can break even.

On the other side of that coin I need to get some more product up. Some people like to say “Develop a style”, but right now I’m not seeing people demand that. With a couple of different series running people are choosing from all of them. Since these are things that I like, there’s a good chance that people will have similar crossing interests. What I’m not seeing though is that “Oh I have to have this” reaction from people yet. The closest I get is a long, smiling stare at my Yosemite print which is probably more the name brand than anything. I’ll take the compliment, but I’d rather have the money.

I have a few other tweaks that I want to do to the display – add more signage, build out as more product gets developed, make it more visible from a distance, make it easier to transport, and so on. There are a couple of questions that I get asked frequently, like “What is screen printing” and “Are you the artist”. Some signage could be helpful with this, but at least for now it helps me refine my pitch. The bottom line here is that art shows like these already make up the bulk of my sales.

Right now I’d say that compared to online sales, shows make up three quarters of total sales. That’s something that I’d like to change and I’m hoping to grab more show goers and pull them over to my Etsy site. But I think that just comes down to offering more and better product online. I did see a microscopic bump online from the OC Weekly event, but no sales to speak of. Yet.

If you are considering any of these shows I’d say that they are good testing grounds for newbies like me or maybe just trying out new ideas. All the shows I participated in are minimal in cost and if you have a winning product you only stand to earn. I can’t say what it’s like from the other side of the booth – the customer side. I think that one problem is that it’s hard to find out about these events. Other than everyone being so pleasant and curious, even if they are not handing over their hard earned cash, you are with your people at these events. Everyone that shows up is into what you are doing and probably has similar backgrounds to you. That makes it fun, like hanging out in the neighborhood club house with all your friends. So at the very least you get plenty of instant feedback, because people always have opinions – not always a bad thing – and you get to meet cool people.

 

*I’ve only learned this year that “Juried” and “Unjuried” shows make a difference. Juried shows are selective of the people who participate and are generally better in service. Unjuried tends to be a free for all.

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

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Making screen prints can be an exciting and addicting process because it takes an idea that only existed in you head and makes it become a part of the real world. There is nothing more thrilling than seeing something come to life and like Elenkoff says, there are only a handful of these created. The community is really great too and I’ve had experiences – on a different level – with people who want to talk shop and share.

Claremont Art Walk

Claremont Artwalk

Events

Claremont is surprisingly hidden from the world. It doesn’t offer much near freeway exits and the charming downtown is a little tucked away. So I guess it’s no surprise that a lot of people miss this bad ass gem. However there are stirrings in the wind that tell me there are changes coming.

The Claremont Art Walk has been fighting for its life. Run by volunteers this monthly event has had a difficult time getting off the ground. Which is too bad since Claremont has a lot to offer, but part of the problem is a perceived highbrow, snooty, college town atmosphere where million dollar homes would make even my rich OC neighbors jealous of the Jone’s. It’s a very, very small place that has all the problems of small town politics. Add to the equation a rowdy next door neighbor with dirt under the finger nails, Pomona, which had it’s own downtown art scene that burgeoned for more than a decade, but is now fizzling out. Now Claremont is finding itself in a place that it is not really accustomed to bringing in a scruffier crowd.

When you cross under the freeway the tension between the two sides is palatable. Pomona’s grimy brick buildings and Mid Century blue collar homes paired against the pristine, manicured landscaping along side the adobe of Claremont and it’s no mystery. I never really heard anyone talk about the other side when you are facing one side of the freeway or the other. However, the energy was there. Yet now with the changes taking place we are seeing some groups shifting over to Claremont. And to Upland which is another nearby town of local flavor.

Claremont has always had an art scene, but one very different from the Pomona breed. It’s traditionally been the kind of wine drinking, flowing clothes wearing, slightly grayed type of artist that represents a class of well heeled bohemian that I’m accustomed to in places like Santa Fe, Sedona, or Laguna Beach. Now, there is a fresher look moving in. A younger, purple haired, with more slender physique fitting clothes artisan moving in.

It sounds like Pomona has chased out the artists. They have done their job and raised the rent for developers to point to buyers and say, “Look here! Artists are cool and you want to be cool so buy my property and move in.” I don’t know if gentrification is winning in Pomona, but it seems clear that the once tight knit community of artists there has broken up due to what Pomona doesn’t offer anymore.

Bunny Gunner, an art studio that held turf on Pomona’s 2nd Street down the road from the Glass House, has now moved to greener pastures of Bonita in the Claremont Village. A few others have joined in the fray like Mirrored Society which is celebrating its three month anniversary above a fairy land trinket store (*yawn*) separated by oaky white railing. Not the traditional dark stain we see in hipstery places, but give it time.

So when a friend of mine contacted me and asked me if I could do an art show in Claremont I said sure. Fuck it. Not knowing about the shifting climate in the region of my former stomping ground, it sounded like a good time because I like Claremont anyway, but now, looking from the outside in, it looks like Claremont offers an opportunity for artists that seem to be graduating because the well ran dry.

In my base of operations, Tustin, we have a similar thing going. Probably not as highly priced, but it’s people are older, the streets are clean, and we are bordered by a rough around the edges city. Sandwiched between more expensive property and grittier Santa Ana, Tustin is a relative oasis in the property wars we are struggling to live through. Tustin is primed to take overflow from places like Orange whose rents have been escalating astronomically and pushing out businesses. Claremont is not the cheapest place to rent, but like Tustin it does offers a pocket in a sea of struggling businesses where people can gain a foothold.

I like Claremont. If I can play a role in opening its bounty to the world around its borders and maybe learn something in the process, I’ll pitch in. It begins by drawing me back in with the Art Walk, May 7. For artists like me this is opportunity knocking. A new hole in the market that I can slip into.

I don’t know if the Art Walk is good or bad. Worth it or not. But in my mind change is always good. And besides, there’s really good food and even better drinks. After your hearty meal think about how you are breaking ground on a new shift in cultural boundaries. Participating in the flux of people trying to make it work. The artist’s struggle.

And maybe, if you didn’t eat and drink too much, come by and see me the first Saturday of May, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM in the Packing House on First Street. Technically I’m still filling out the paperwork for this show, but something tells me I’ll be there rain or shine. And with some new art to boot.

Cats versus Dog

Cats v. Dogs

Random Thoughts

Cats and Dogs. They have always been a symbol for things that don’t attract. Don’t belong together. When someone requests dog art, what does a cat owner do?

I have a cat print up on Etsy and I got an odd compliment saying basically they liked it but if I had a Lab print (or maybe it was retriever) they’d be more willing to buy.

I don’t know what to say to this. Am I in the business of taking requests? This is the customer. And the customer is supposed to the be the end all, be all. Right?

In life there are dog people and cat people. We have drawn that line and I currently stand on the cat side. When he dies there is a good chance I’ll be switching sides and go with team dog, but for now it’s cat time. Still, making a dog print may not work for me. Not just because I don’t own a dog, but because people who own dogs or cats are usually all in. They don’t switch sides and they don’t want to see cat prints mingling with their dog prints just like they tend not to mix real life cats and dogs. There is only dog, or only cat.

Branding – and I hate this overused marketing bullshit, vomit word – is a real thing. When you choose to make dinosaur pictures people come to expect more dinosaurs from you. It’s that consistency that helps people decide whether or not to stick around and see what’s coming next. It’s like watching the X-Files: you come back to see Mulder and Scully do their thing no matter how cheesy it is because it’s familiar. It’s the same reason why Free Bird is the most played song in bars and why you’ll always order the same crappy Jumbo Jack meal after a night of drinking (or Del Taco if you’re like my wife). We like consistency.

So getting back to the cat and dog thing. As a businessman I can see the dollar signs in making a dog print. Dog people really love their dogs and anything that resembles that would probably sell. But. If I plant that print next to my cat print it might work against me. People will know that I’m an impostor trying to make a quick buck. Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t make a dog poster. It may mean that I have to wait until I sell out of my cat prints. Or maybe when we make the switch to puppy love I’ll take the cat offline and make the switch then. Or maybe I’m just over analyzing the situation entirely and people don’t really care that much.

To the customer that made the request: I might get to you down the road, but right now I’m going to hold out for a while before including dogs into the lineup. Sorry. Some things just don’t mix and it’s that black and white line between cats and dogs that make me timid. Then again, money is a pretty good motivator.

 

Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Take Chances

Steps Into Darkness

Random Thoughts

My beautiful wife has started setting aside time to work on herself lately – I’m so proud of her – and recently she has been thinking out loud about how taking risks is an important part of growth. I agree with her that risks are a part of life and the people that I see growing the fastest are the risk takers, but neither one of us is really a daredevil. So what does that mean for us?

I’ve known for a long time that I wouldn’t fit into a certain mold. I’m not a wheeler-dealer, or fast talker. I’m not able to sell the pants off a chimpanzee or bring people together locked in kumbaya arms even for free hamburgers and beer. At one time I thought I could pull some tabula rasa shit and force myself to become a different person and I actually had some success. Although it was a lot of work and I just ended up feeling like crap and fraudulent. I’ve decided that it’s time to pull back and focus on the things that when distilled, boils down to that brown-black, crusty essence of Rob that’s left after all the water burns off. In a way the riskiest bet you can make is to lay down your identity. That thing that gives you a Spiderman origin story and helps you bind together all the mismatched jigsaw pieces of the world that forms your perspective. If you lose that bet you’ve gambled everything you’ve ever known about the world sending you silently screaming into in a psychopathic dissociative meltdown. Quite a lot to risk.

Generally speaking I think the United States has become culturally risk averse. I hear a lot of talk about crime and there seems to be an abundance of anxiety about it, but when I think about it I can go outside right this minute and freely walk in places that twenty years ago I might have been shot or mugged in. We have warning labels on things that should be obvious. We worry about the tiniest details to the point where young people are now becoming defensive for other people, whether it’s needed or not. People fear government overreach even though nobody has really threatened anything that drastic – well, nobody currently in power that is. The future is uncertain and it’s almost as if we don’t know how to be happy unless we have something to be worried about. In reality things have never been as good as it is right now. It might feel like desperate times, with Paris, San Bernardino, and now Brussels under attack. My heart goes out to Brussels, so I don’t mean to make light of their suffering, however if you ask any Syrian refugee to compare their lives to ours I’m pretty sure you’re going to see a huge dichotomy.

In a previous post I talked about having good people around you and more than a few times I’ve found that to be true. I was born with more bone in my skull than brains so it can take some time before lessons get hammered into my head, but keeping good people around is one condition that has saved my ass time and again while taking risks. Without that firm ground to stand on, without the confidence of being able to retreat into a safe place, and without a cheer-leading section to keep your momentum up it can be difficult to grow.

For those people that I count among my friends all of them live with varying degrees of risk taking. Some have gone more or less solo, chasing down that dream of being your own boss. Something I aspire to. Others are locked in jobs that make them feel like their life is a waste. Something I’m sympathetic to. The best of us find hobbies and interests that make us real people outside of work instead of cardboard cutouts that get propped up in cubicles and storefronts. Wasting away. Trapped in the chains of the economy. Public policy. “Synergy” and oceans of pointless vomit, piss, and shit built up over the centuries and sold as gold bricks by previous generations. We all crave something better, but it can seem daunting to take on massive institutions.

If I look at people who have built a solid business they don’t look like me. Outgoing, gregarious, smart with money, well invested, and well planned. I don’t really see those qualities in me. Others might, but impostor syndrome is a real thing. What I’ve realized though, after a couple of years in the working world, is that no one knows what the f**k they are doing. We are all just making this up as we go. That realization was an empowering moment. It’s as if I was given permission to learn by screwing up, which really is the best way for a thick-headed ape like me to learn, because everyone else is screwing it up right alongside. So when risk goes from something that keeps us up at night to transforming into a life lesson in disguise then it develops into an important tool for growth that you can kind of manage.

Fear, and fear of failure, is a significant factor to overcome especially if you are like me and risk averse. The wife shared an Instagram post with me from designer, Nathan Yoder of Yonder Studios, who points out that sometimes that fear might just be laziness, or as he says, “… sometimes I’m merely too tired to even try failing.”

View this post on Instagram

Lunchtime sketch in the park. The other day I was thinking about the whole "fear of failure" idea. It struck me that, though at times that fear is very real, sometimes I'm merely too tired to even try failing. I think at times we can get so caught up in the stresses and burdens of our days that we don't even allow ourselves the first steps towards something worth fearing to fail at. This can come from past failures which have caused us to become tiresome and cautious or simply from our obliviousness to all that we are capable of. There is so much in life to be thankful and excited for. I don't know about you but I think a world of excited people sounds like a more fun place to be a part of than one filled with pessimistic people and I don't want to be one of the later bringing down the first. I hope that if you haven't found that thing that gets you jazzed that you will soon and, if you find yourself tired of trying, I hope that you will find once again that childlike curiosity that sees the best in others and constantly wants to go, ask, try, and do.

A post shared by Nathan Douglas Yoder (@nathanyoder) on

It’s worth noting that fear might be hiding under the guise of stress so that if you are running from place to place, plugging holes, barely keeping your head above water, its is very, very hard to justify the necessary risks when you are draining your resources on other things. You only need to go as far as the nearest poverty stricken nation to see what desperation does to taking risks. But this rings true for us as well since we work full time during the week, fighting for space to work on side hustle projects.

The United States government and Small Business Administration like to say that it takes five years for a business to sink or swim. I’d be willing to bet that you can tell in three. In the first year you are going to lose money. Just plan on it. The initial investments alone are going to set you back more than you’ll earn. I’ve had to put money down on a press, some screens, ink, paper, websites, Etsy fees, shipping costs, advertising and on, and on. So far I’ve spent more money than I’ve made by a margin so wide it probably makes the Grand Canyon resemble the G.I. Joe sized rivers I made in the backyard with a garden hose when I was a kid. Until my Mother would come out yelling at me to turn off the damn water. The second year you break even because you’ve figured a few things out, but are still learning to walk. In my case I now have a stockroom full of work that I can sell either in person or online. By year’s end I expect to break even after a few sales, recovering from previous purchases. By year three you can actually turn a profit because you’ve developed into a mature business with your shit kind of in order. Hopefully all the ground work that I’ve laid today will translate into stability going into the future that will allow the business to support itself. So that’s what financial risk looks like. Not too bad if you think about it.

Fear, time and lack of energy, all gang up against your hopes. I don’t think it’s hopeless though. If you can schedule an hour a day, a couple of days a week then you can start building steam. That’s something you can decide to do right this minute – one hour during lunch, or after dinner, every Wednesday. Commit to a schedule and do the work whether you feel like it or not. If it’s something you enjoy then you’ll probably turn your mood around anyway, just by taking the first steps. Sometimes I don’t want to draw, but if I force myself I find that I don’t want to quit because I’m having fun. Don’t stop there though. You have to put your work out there. Post it on Facebook and watch people’s reactions. You’ll probably be surprised at what people appreciate and while it’s implausible to please everyone you might find the confidence to take another step further out onto the stage exposing yourself a little more each time. That’s how I did it. And from that seed grows the knowledge that risk is nothing more than a teaching tool to make life better. Because every time you push out a little further, things become more exciting. Packed with potential. We can train ourselves to push the limits, not because a motivational poster told us, but because we have found the intrinsic and extrinsic values of being in control of our lives.

Over time that step out into the darkness will feel less like an abyss and more like an adventure.

F**k Off

Mind My Business

Random Thoughts

One thing about starting a creative enterprise is that everyone is super excited for you. Being a cranky, reclusive artist makes it hard to really appreciate the cheering section, but I’m learning to reframe my opinions so that I can look at it as people being excited for me and not just trying to tell me what to do. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

My Mother and I don’t get along much these days and it’s been pretty rocky for at least half of my life. I’ve been kicked out of the house a couple of times; the last time was when I showed up on a Christmas Morning and my key no longer worked on the front door. I’ve run away a few times too. Once when I was probably five or six years old I cruised across town to where our former neighbors moved, several miles away from home, with only my memory to use as a map. I guess I have always had a pretty good sense of direction.

Lately, I’ve noticed that when I spend time with my Mother I get angsty, irritable, and usually come away feeling really shitty about myself. She’s said some pretty awful things and I’m not claiming to be the best son in the world, but it’s hard to reconcile how one minute she tells me she supports me then spits on my dreams the next. This past winter she was asking about my illustration, how the Art Walk went and everything seemed fine. I admitted that I didn’t make a whole lot of money at the Art Walk, but before I could lay out my plan about how I want to grow this into a full time gig she told me, “You’ll never make any real money from this. Maybe some beer money.”

I was stunned into silence. It made me furious because this is one more shitty comment stacked onto a pile of shitty comments that stretches back to my teenage years when she assured me that I would never make a living as an artist.

Then, in the last couple of weeks some really nice things were happening in my Mother’s world. She was given recognition and a prestigious award for her time on a college board. Something in me told me not to go to the ceremony. I fought it internally for a couple of weeks, having a mental tantrum. I eventually caved thinking, “You know, this is a good thing and it means a lot to my Mother. Let’s just get it over with.” Everything went fine. We had an… okay time. At one point she seemed to be panicking over her speech for the ceremony and I tried to offer a suggestion to which she simply said, “You don’t understand,” and then mumbled something about wanting to read her diary.

There’s that shitty feeling again. But I can shrug it off. This is the way she is and I’m not sticking around for the rest of the ceremony anyway. Only I didn’t shrug it off. Not really. The water was set to boil.

I get a couple of random emails from Mother over the next couple of weeks about how she’s so excited to feel like she’s back in action. Friends that she hasn’t talked to in years – due to her reclusive nature and poor health – are coming out of the woodwork to see her. She feels better than she has in a long time. Whatever.

This last weekend I get an email from a friend that she had lunch with. Someone I’ve heard around the house but not someone that I’m familiar with. He’s asking if I know a trustee at the college where I work. Personally I’d prefer to ignore the email, but my Mother was copied on the conversation to which she responded by saying that she thinks this guy might have something up his sleeve which in my mind reads, “Do me a favor”. Enraged is how I feel. The water starts to boil over because I’ve spent the last ten years building myself up from bottom without asking for a single favor. I feel rage because I am more or less a self made man and people that I know nothing about and a Mother who doesn’t really care about what I am trying to accomplish are putting their noses into my business and I overreact. I spend the morning writing ten or fifteen different draft emails as my anger bleeds off, but by the final draft I feel pretty confident that I have reached the perfect balance of hostility and confidence. So I shoot an email off saying back off – mind your own damn business.

I get a reply, “Yep, yes, yep. Understood. Send the photos from the award ceremony.” I’m a little relieved. Maybe I’m in the clear. But then there’s a follow up to an email. I sent some words to her friend where I explained that my Mother’s house was falling down around her ears and that she needed help. My plan was, still is, if she has such great friends then maybe they would be willing to help her get her head back up above water after years of being ill, unable to clean house, take care of finances, and just being a stubborn mess who doesn’t accept help. She was copied on the email again and she replied that I’m selfish and vapid. We have stopped talking to each other for the moment.

I could go on about all the shitty things we’ve done to each other. Years of complicated history that has verged on abuse. Decades into making this Gordian knot are going to be difficult to unravel but I have a secret weapon in the best person to come along in my life: my wife.

She has done so much to ease the raging beast that burns inside of me and while it’s not gone completely I can say that my wife has been the biggest contributing factor to changing my mindset about letting people into the inner circle. For the first time since probably childhood I feel really good about life largely because of her.

Everyone has advice. It’s not usually solicited and that used to drive me insane. The problem is that it takes much more effort and resources to make things happen that when people start suggesting business ideas I get stressed out just thinking about the extra work. Plus, with all that background noise echoing in my head from years of hostility I start getting defensive. It’s a protection mechanism trying to keep a fragile sense of self on life support and by curling up into a ball or lashing out I can keep that tiny seed safe.

However, instead of giving into those feelings when caring friends talk to me about my work I now just kind of nod, smile, and say thanks. Sometimes I even use the conversation to springboard into trying out new ideas that I’m dreaming up. It’s a small step in the right direction, but I’m starting to see a different perspective now that I surround myself with people who are excited about my work and want to join in the fun of making something cool. It’s flattering and if I can hold on to that then I can start to build on this good feeling I get with such supportive friends.

Framing how you see the world is important. That’s what determines whether or not you push forward and feel confident enough to take risks. But you can’t do it in a toxic environment. The people in your life will either lift you up or tear you down and until you can get away from the people that hurt you, their poison will slow you down. Whatever, whoever is poisoning you, cut it out of your life. Get some space between you and that evil so that you have time to heal and build up your strength. Nothing works better to heal those wounds than being truly loved by encouraging people.

For my Mother, I hope she can find peace of mind too. As I am writing this I am making plans behind her back to bring her friends together in an effort demonstrate that she doesn’t have to keep up her stern facade and live out her hardships alone. I don’t know if it’ll make any difference or just anger her in the way it used to anger me. I can only hope.

But for me, things will get better now. I’m in control of my happiness thanks to the people that have helped me through the hard times. I hope to share that sweet-sweet goodness with my tribe too, because good times are only sweeter when everyone’s dancing at the party.

PS. To any friends out there reading this: keep giving me your thoughts. I love that you guys are as excited as I am and I think you have good ideas. Just give me some time and know that I appreciate everything you do.

copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Planning Sucks

Planning Sucks

Random Thoughts

Heard a great quote recently, “Love the planning. Hate the Plan.” As far back as I can remember with my beer-brain planning was never something that I took seriously. Planning somehow crushed the free flow of ideas and stalled improvisation – an important key to my overall happiness. At some point I learned that my on-the-fly moves were pretty weak. So now I am taking steps to look into the future.

One of the biggest motivators in life is age. Growing old doesn’t really bother me, but I do track the approaching end with a little panic in my heart, because I see how badly our parents are aging. Several friends are finding out after the fact that our parents are having heart attacks, strokes, developing diabetes, or cancer. Debilitating diseases that often get hidden by the people we care about. My Mother, who is well past the age for retirement has several health problems and did her utmost to hide them, in my mind serves a kind of canary in the coal mine.

Given that her genes run through me I can see some mile markers coming up. As far as I can tell I probably have 15-20 good years of work left in me before my health starts heading south for the cold, dark winter. Since my nine to five is very physical I don’t foresee continuing to retirement building sets. I could probably draw pretty pictures from the hospital bed so that seems like a good retirement plan since my savings probably isn’t going to provide for my golden years. Even if our parents don’t blow up the social security dam in one last selfish hurrah before they go the way of the dinosaurs.

Focusing more on this year I have decided to commit to twelve illustrations in twelve months. This is an arbitrary number that you may have come across thanks to the modern miracles of social media. However it is one that may set the bench mark for future work. See, as a Do-It-Your Selfer I don’t really know what the f**k I’m doing so by committing to a number that from this vantage point appears reasonable I can look back from New Year’s Eve 2016 and say whether or not things look good and make adjustment for the next year.

That’s about as good as it gets.

One thing that I’ve discovered in the working world is that all of those grownups that from the outside looked like they knew what they were doing are just making it all up. Nobody knows what they are doing. Everyday provides new and unforeseen challenges for everyone and now that I’m one of those people making decisions (f**king weird) I get to first hand see how things can blow up in your face with or without plans.

That’s what is meant by “Love the planning. Hate the plan.” Plan as meticulously as you want, but be ready to throw it out the window in a moment’s notice, because shit goes wrong.

I’ll probably be able to surpass twelve illustrations for the year. However, now that I’ve committed to twelve illustrations I can start thinking about what it takes to get there such as: how am I going to promote these illustrations? How much will it cost to print them? What is my earning potential for the year? Can I be strategic about what illustrations I create? Who will be interested in these drawings and where can I find them?

I still hate planning. But the urgency of impending doom and the value of being able to see how all the pieces fit together makes planning something that I do now. Albeit on a limited scale. This will probably grow as things start to take off. Coordinating with venues, printers, show directors, manufacturers, and people of the planet Earth will demand it. Since my DIY style is to learn by doing this process will be organic and clumsy, but it’s the way I learn best. The way I think most people learn.

So twelve pictures. Twelve months. I already have three in the pipe and two under development and by the time of this writing it is nearing the end of February. Things are looking good. If you haven’t seen them, check out my recent posts on Twitter, Facebook or now Instagram. I’m going to go plan the next beer to drink.

 

copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Podcasts

Looking For New Podcasts

Creativity

Background noise makes everything better for me and lately I’ve been searching for new things to listen to. Podcasts have been my go-to while I’m grinding out work, but my appetite for new shows is growing and the catalog choices are looking kinda shitty. So today I bring you Sampler, a new podcast that does the searching for you.

I’ve dropped the dime on Adventures In Design a few times here and I still stand by it as a good listen while I’m toiling away. But that’s only an hour long (two if you’re a paid member) and I have a pretty long day to fill.

Music is great and I keep my playlist up to date, but I love podcasts for the free information they provide that can help upgrade my life. You get to hear from people who have struggled to make things work and learn about shortcuts that you can deploy in your own world. The problem is that there is a lot of crap to sort through.

Not that I know so much about making a great show or anything, but as a picky consumer I’m excited about Sampler because I can now outsource my search. Host Brittany Luse has that “make you feel awkward” humor that cuts to the chase and her first episode brings a trio of shows, two of which sound bad ass: Bodega Boys and Dead Authors. You’ll have to listen for yourself, but even if you aren’t interested in the podcasts she picks for interviews the show itself is pretty amusing. So that’s a plus that might make you add this to your playlist.

I’ve had lots of recommendations and the toughest part about keeping my interest is largely personality based, so take my advice with a grain of salt, but if you can show me something I haven’t heard before I’ll probably come back for more. The best shows are the ones that open a new world for you and force you to change perspective. Hopefully Sampler can do that. Check it out.

I’ll be back with more recommendations to save your sanity while slugging it out on the job, but let me know if you have any hidden gems worth checking out.

‘Till then good listening!

 

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Passion Is Overrated

Creativity, Random Thoughts

My entire life people have said, “Follow your passions.” Well what happens when you don’t feel especially passionate about anything?

At some point I noticed that things didn’t quite shine like they used to. It used to be that I got excited about things in life, but now, I realized, that my innocent youth had slipped away during the night and in its place now lives a cynical ass hat. Passion is harder to come by now.

There are probably several reasons for this metamorphosis including internal psycho-social conflicts and past heart breaks. All of which have accumulated into this perfect apathy that now darkens my senses. Makes the world seem grey.

Not that I’m without excitement, but when I consider my future there isn’t anything that sticks out as that one true love that I’m supposed to find. It’s as if after following Disney philosophies of saving myself for the Prince Charming of work-life balance I have waited in vain for the right job opportunity to come along and sweep me off my feet only to wake up one day and look in the mirror expecting a bright young bird laden maiden and instead realize that I’ve become an old witch with a cat.

My old curmudgeonliness aside I have to cringe when people talk about discovering your passion in life and letting it guide you. There was a time when I believed these myths, but after trying to find that secret energy for several decades I’m beginning to think that there is more to the story than people are letting on.

When I first started out doing graphic work I was excited about the proposition of making money from art. I was more than ready to turn my passion for creating into fuel for a money machine that would sustain me. It was more difficult than I imagined. My dreams weren’t crushed exactly, because I’m still pursuing a variation on that theme. However I did learn an important lesson: passion doesn’t last.

Up until very recently I would think that maybe there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I find something to be passionate about? Where was my Prince Charming?

Passion is a tricky myth to get around in my line of work. I frequently study other artists looking for things that I can incorporate into my habits. The best artists out there have single-mindedly pursued their craft and pushed the limits of their talents over time improving their skills. Many people who end up at the top of their class credit passion as the thing that drove them to their single minded success.

This is where it starts. The perspective of people who have already made it is like gospel to the uninitiated seeking the promised land.

Artists, often temperamental, can be very critical of their own work. Good artists use that dour energy to drive harder on the next piece and over time it’s this lack of confidence that pushes an artist to become better at their craft. But then something strange happens: one day they get out of bed and realize that they are in a completely different place then they were a decade ago. Suddenly people are asking questions like, “How did you get to be so great?”

If the artist is lucky he feels good about his body of work and the achievements he’s wrought. So upon reflection he thinks, “I feel pretty passionate about my past and present work now so that must be the key.” I don’t doubt that people feel passionate, but the message becomes “Feel something so intensely that it pushes you through the hard times.” Seems simple enough.

Having tried that strategy I know first hand that passion eventually runs out. That emotion isn’t built for long distance running. In fact it’s kind of a lazy emotion only good for a quickie. Think about your first date: it’s all exciting in the beginning. We get dressed up, put on perfume, make sure to fart in the bathroom and not in front of our new partner. But spend a couple of years together and the makeup goes away, we prefer sweats to real clothes, and farting has become an oddly competitive sport. That honeymoon period always ends with the excitement evaporating. Things never stay sparkly and new. The passion doesn’t last.

When we make passion our ultimate goal we end up chasing something that only happens occasionally, mostly by accident, and almost always after we have passed through difficulty. What the real goal should be is achievement. That’s what successful people are mistakenly passing off as passion, because it’s the projects that they worked so hard to finish that makes them feel good about their resume.

I draw because I like it. I don’t wake up everyday feeling like I have to draw, but I like the challenge and I want to get better at it and make money… someday. It’s the same reason that I build furniture from old pallets. It makes me feel accomplished. Like I’m contributing to the world. But I wouldn’t describe it as passion. I don’t feel like I have this overwhelming lust for life work. It’s just something that I happen to be interested in for intrinsic reasons.

The passion comes when someone buys a poster, or tells me that they really want that chair I made as a gift for a friend. When other people, especially strangers, get excited about the things I create I get excited. And that’s the passion that people are trying to express when they give advice about being passionate. That’s the heat-of-the-moment, flash-in-the-pan kind of emotion that only happens after I’ve poured sweat, and swear words into all the bullshit of making the thing.

After a couple of decades of wondering why it’s not working for me what I’ve finally decided is that passion is oversold as a miracle cure for feeling shitty about life and now it sounds like snake oil to me. You may not feel the same way and that’s fine. For some people it probably feels like passion day to day and you should consider yourself lucky if that’s the case. From my point of view it doesn’t hold water and I think that I can do better by redefining my goals.

When the passion fades and you get married, have kids, adopt a dog, you don’t stop loving your partner. Your relationship takes on new meaning because you’ve grown past passion. If you do it right your relationship turns into a deeply caring friendship. A kind of love that is – granted – earned through a little pain, but through each challenge met that relationship becomes stronger. Over time you might say that you kept the passion alive, but really it was something stronger. Something that became a part of you and in a sense is shared between you and your partner. I think it’s the same with your work. The passion gets you through the door, but it’s achievement that keeps you going. Strive for achievement. Not passion. Passion is overrated.

Lots of Dots

Video: Dots

Videos

It can be fun to see other artist’s processes. It can be intimidating too. Personally I don’t know that I would attempt something as time consuming as Miguel Endara’s tribute to his father, but right now I don’t feel confident enough to really experiment either. I’ll keep chipping away at it though.