business

I have worked a lot of jobs. At age eighteen I went to college to study theater, writing, comics, and dance, with the dream that I’d make it work somehow– I’d find a way to make a living at this crazy thing called Art. So I never committed myself to a full-time job. I worked multiple part-time jobs at once, scrounging for any little bit of time to draw and write. I drew comics in the box office and the projection booth at move theaters. I wrote short stories in emails to myself at receptionist desks. I sketched on the subway, worked on story ideas at babysitting gigs after the kids went to bed, wrote in diners at 6am. I lived close to the bone, making just enough money to survive.

While living in New York City I walked around to comic book shops asking them to sell my little self-published mini comics, and got feedback from store owners about how to make them look more professional. I modeled for life drawing classes. I submitted to short story competitions. I volunteered at MoCCA Fest in exchange for a couple hours of table time selling my comics. Any small way to make a tiny amount of dough from my art.

March 1st marks my one year anniversary of being “self-employed.” I quit my job to be a full-time artist and stay-at-home mom (we need a better term for this). So, how do I make money?

The short answer is that I don’t make very much. I am fortunate to have a partner who believes in me, believes in my work as an artist, and takes on the responsibility of supporting our family financially. This is the first time I have not supported myself completely since college. It’s hard sometimes, to reconcile this fact in my head, that my husband supports me financially.

But the truth is, if I were to go work at a job I wouldn’t make enough to pay for daycare or to make it worth it to not be home with my baby. And I would likely be sad and unfulfilled. So instead, I stay home and take care of Giles, which is a very important contribution to our family. And twice a week my mother-in-law takes care of him at her house so I can do my artwork.

Art Work. It is really, really wonderful that my only work (besides being a mom) is making art. It is also really hard. In the first couple months of Full-Time Artist Life I made just as much money as I did at my previous job. I taught a comics workshop, sold a few commission portraits, sold some drawings from an exhibit. Art income often comes in windfalls like that– for a few months I will sell a bunch of things, and then there will be long dry spells.

These are the ways I make money:

Teaching: this is relatively new to me. Last year I taught a five week Autobiographical Comics workshop for adults at a local art school. I am about to start teaching another workshop with the same school. This is a really nice way to make some money, the highest hourly wage I have ever been paid in my life– about $25/hour. It’s also inspiring, working with students and seeing their ideas and growth. A great way to make money in my field that is truly connected to what I love. It’s also a lot of work, and takes time and energy away from making my own things.

Commissioned Portraits: this is something I’ve been doing for a while. I don’t get a lot of commissions. Most art from people I know, friends and family. On my Etsy site I offer portraits, holiday cards, and invitations. Commission work can be tricky– early on I learned to be very clear with customers about what I do, what my style is, and that I will not copy the work or style of other artists. I change my prices pretty often, never sure of how much to charge, balancing how much I value my time with how much someone will realistically pay me.

Exhibits: these can be great or not so great. It’s a lot of work (and often expense) to put up a show and there’s no guarantee that I’ll sell anything. It can be fun, and it sure feels good to sell work off the wall. It can also be disappointing, and exhausting to smile and make small talk at openings, to hang and rehang work, to sell myself. My favorite part about doing exhibits is when someone I don’t know responds to a piece I made, and especially when they buy it.

Selling Other Stuff: I also make and sell t-shirts, tote bags, cards, etc. This is more intermittent, for example, when I have a specific idea for a shirt design and enough money to make a bunch of them up front. Then I sell them on my Etsy site until they run out. Shirts are hard because I never know how many of each size to print ahead of time, and often end up with leftover sizes that no one wants. Because of this, sometimes I will wait to actually print the shirts until I have several pre-orders. Cards are the easiest because they are cost-effective (they aren’t expensive to make, so I can charge less and still make a small profit. I’m a big believer in affordable art).

My ultimate goal is to get an agent and a publisher and have my comic books and short story collections published and for sale at stores. To contribute financially to my family and have lots of people read my work. The way that I am making this happen is by putting my work out into the world any way I can. Posting my comics on my blog, selling at indie comic conventions, submitting stories to magazines– just putting it out there and putting it out there. I am a big believer in doing things myself. I don’t like to rely on other people’s approval. If I can’t find someone else to publish my comics, I make them into books myself and find a way to sell them. I just keep going, keep making the work, keep sharing it, and things will happen.

Other artists make their livings in different ways, have different methods and different measures of success. This is how I work.

I’d like to give a special shout out here, to my dad. I often write about my mom on this blog, and how she is part of my artistic life. But my dad has always supported me– emotionally and creatively, even financially when I’ve found myself in a tough spot. He is the BEST exhibit hanging partner, audience member, and starred in an early short film I made. He may claim to be the non-creative person in our family, but he is an artist in life, in his own work, and in being a dad. I owe him a lot. So, thanks Pops. I love you.

let’s all be nicer

I’ve been a Self-Employed, Full-Time Artist for one month now. I feel lighter. Why is that? I am living my dream, yes. But also there is something I don’t have to worry about anymore.

As much as I loved my job at Images Cinema (and I really loved it, I love that place so much), there was one part that dragged me down: customer service. All the small stresses, worries, annoyances that come with a customer service job can take up a LOT of brain space and emotional energy. Often my stress quotient was maxed out by bad customer interactions and I had no resources left to deal with other life things that needed my attention.

Almost all of my jobs have had a customer service element to them. I worked in customer service in some way since I was fourteen. That’s sixteen years. In those years I have been yelled at, talked down to, grossly hit on, blamed for whatever rule or policy someone was upset about, been verbally abused to the point of tears, denied a tip because someone wanted water that had “never touched ice”, accused of stealing, threatened to be fired, been called a fascist, been called the c-word, had a four page letter written to my bosses about me, and sat next to a coworker who was literally SPIT AT through a box office window.

Not everyone is mean. Of course not! There are a lot of really wonderful, amazing, thoughtful, kind people out there who are customers. But there are some that are not. And those some make a really big difference.

It’s easy. Just be nicer. Remember that the person serving you at the restaurant, cafe, retail store, movie theater, etc. is a human being just like you. They are doing their best. They are probably making minimum wage. They are probably tired. Fifteen other people have probably been mean to them today. They most likely have at least one other job to support themselves. There is a more thoughtful way to state your complaint. It is probably not this person’s fault. Also, especially at a cinema or theater or other entertainment venue, you are there to have a good time. Why make the people working there miserable?

I’m not trying to offend anyone by sharing this. It’s just that when you are in the position of working customer service, you can’t really say anything for fear of driving the customer away. You can get in trouble with bosses, even lose your job. But the customer is not always “right.”

So please, let’s all just be better humans to each other.

 

all the jobs i’ve had

It’s the end of my first day as a non-traditionally employed person. Today I am a full-time artist. This has been a dream of mine since living in San Francisco in 2007, after graduating college. I worked three jobs over the summer, saving enough money for a cross-country train trip with my college roommate, ending in San Fran where I had decided to live. I had enough money for two months of living in a residence hall where we got two meals a day included in the rent. This was a test, living my life as a writer and artist, to see how it felt. Could I really do it, live each day in my own way, truly answering only to myself and my work? I woke up early, ate breakfast, wandered the city and wrote and drew. It was easy for me to sink deeply into this life. After two months I was sure this was what I wanted, and that some day I would make it for myself.

I ended up moving back to New York after those two months. I started office-temping, to make money quickly enough to pay rent right away. The office work made me feel trapped and sad, I hated everything about it. One day, I was walking down 6th avenue after a terrible appointment with a therapist, the first time I’d ever tried therapy, crying a bit to myself, and feeling angry. I looked up at West 3rd Street and saw the IFC Center, an independent movie theater. I walked in and applied for a job. After working there for a couple months, I quit office temping, resolving to never work another job that made me feel so retched (unless I absolutely had to for survival). I worked in movie theaters from then on– leaving IFC (and NYC) in late 2010 and starting at Images Cinema, where I have been ever since, until today. I’ve eaten a LOT of free popcorn.

And now, here is A List of All The Jobs I’ve Ever Had (that I can recall):

babysitter
dog-walker
restaurant busser
shop clerk
spotlight operator/backstage hand at a local theater
day camp counselor
health insurance office receptionist
stage manager for a lesbians and cowboys version of Romeo & Juliet 
bubble tea barista
essay writer for a woman who didn’t speak English well
counter-person at a hipster fast-food joint
substitute teacher
sleepover camp co-director
waitress/bartender
office temp
movie theater box office staff
movie theater asst. manager
phone message voice recorder
nude and clothed model for artists
film projectionist
cinema membership coordinator 

In early September, or late August, I can’t remember the exact day, I was crying on the floor of the bedroom. I knew it was time now to start living the life I’d been building towards and wanting. As good as my job at Images Cinema was, and as much as I cared about that place (and still do), I needed to commit myself to being an artist full-time.

Greg sat on the floor next to me. “Quit your job,” he said. “We can make it work.”

We didn’t know it then but I was already pregnant. A couple days later we found out for sure, and the timing seemed right for everything. I’d work until a month or two before the baby came, and then be done. It seemed like so far in the future, and now it’s here.

I couldn’t do this without Greg. On my own, I know I would have made it eventually, because I wanted it so badly and know how to work hard. But I get to do it now. And I get to be a mom, at home with my baby. So, thank you Greg. My partner, husband, love of my life. Thank you for taking my work seriously, and for supporting me in doing it.