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.

art as life

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Today I was interviewed on the community radio station in North Adams for a show called Creative City. I got to talk about my art and my life, how they inspire each other, and promote my upcoming comics class (is183.org for more info and to register).

It felt really good to talk about what I do. I’m proud of my life, and it’s validating to be interviewed on a radio show and have someone besides me refer to me as an Artist. It’s important to remember that I work, and it’s good work, even if it’s not a “regular” job. It’s a “real” job and I love it.

My mom and I used to discuss our lives as artists all the time– how we balance time/money/desires and manage the business side of art. I loved talking about that stuff with her. I don’t get to talk about it that much anymore. Not the way she and I would talk about it. I’ve never found another art friend like my mom, and I don’t expect to.

I miss her.

I wish she could’ve been with me on the radio today, talking about her art life. I can’t really talk about mine without talking about hers too.

My dad and Giles listened to the show from the lobby of the station while we were broadcasting. Julia played a couple of my song recordings, one of which was the “Giles Fox” song. My dad held Giles up so he could stand on the floor in front of the radio, and he danced.

 

3 years

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The week before my mom died, my friend Leah took the top photo of me. It was inspired by the photo underneath of my mom playing guitar on her bed when she was a teenager. I’d been wanting to recreate that photo with myself as the subject for a while, and since Leah (who is a professional photographer) was in town, we thought it was a good opportunity to finally do it.

A few days later my mom died. April 18, 2013 was the strangest, longest, and hardest day. There were things we had to do, so we did them.

Three years later, yesterday, it’s still really strange and uncomfortable, my insides felt itchy and out of place. My emotions flipped around from sad to calm to angry to cranky to trying to shut down.

Three years in the After. Baby Smokey rolling and kicking in my belly, getting ready to come out. I wonder if he will have her ears.

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.

 

my sister, and the seconds

My sister Phoebe doesn’t take a lot of photos. I don’t think she even has a camera right now. My dad and I are always begging for more pictures of her life, and of her, records of things. I take a ton of photos. I like to record life as I live it, having something to look back on to see who I was and what I was paying attention to in a certain moment. I take pictures every week of my growing belly, of my food, my coffee, my cats, the trees, the people. My life.

Here is a post Phoebe did on her blog in July 2013, only three months after our mom died. Her “ode to the seconds.” I love thinking of life this way– in seconds, which are more manageable than days, or even hours. We’re all only living one second at a time anyway, right? One second, and then the next. Like how film runs through a projector– 24 frames per second, making it look like time passing.

This is a photo Phoebe took of me that July:

dscf0051.jpg In my river, the swimming hole spot by my old apartment, where I used to go almost every day in the summer. I remember this day: Phoebe, our cousins (Craig, Austin, Carson), and me swimming in the river before meeting everyone else for dinner at Coyote Flaco. Our whole family was in town for a memorial art show of our mom’s work. Phoebe would be going back to Chile soon after. It was a really hard summer. But there’s joy on my face here– in that moment being in the cold water which was a relief from the heat, and also the sweet feeling of being held up, and being with my family. I’m glad to have this. To see myself through my sister’s eyes in this moment, on this July day three months after our mom died.

 

my man, who is almost 30 (welcome to my decade)

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My husband is a really good man. I feel so happy for our son that he gets to have such a good, loving, funny, creative, and thoughtful dad. For some years in my twenties I wasn’t sure I’d find the right partner to be a parent with. I considered mom-ing it solo.

And then I met Greg. Five months into our relationship we decided to move in together (the actual moving in together didn’t happen for  a few more months, but we made the decision 5 months in). Around that same time, my mom was dying, and Greg brought up the idea of getting married before she died. I didn’t want to– I wanted my mom’s death to just be about that, and for our eventual wedding to be about us, and not about rushing it so that my mom could be there. But it was so incredibly touching and beautiful to me that he offered.

We both knew that this was it early on. Maybe my mom dying made things get serious more quickly, but really I think it was because we were both ready. We recognized our partner in each other, and we were ready for it. With open hearts. A year and a month later Greg proposed in Paris. I said yes.

unnamed-7.jpg Here we are at a friend’s wedding in September 2015. Little Smokey was already a tiny cluster of life in my belly, about a month and a half along (the same age as our new marriage), but we hadn’t told anyone except our parents and siblings.

I love being pregnant. I love our growing family. I love my husband.

Here’s to seven and a half months of marriage. Seven and a half months of baby in belly. Three years and four months of being together.

Here’s to this almost 30-year-old dude who makes me smile, laugh, and love better.

April 7 is his actual birthday, and by that time I’ll be even more pregnant (exactly one month from our due date), making him bring me drinks and food and rub my feet. I’m just feeling very grateful that he was born, and wanted to say so now.

my 30th birthday

And so ends the tumultuous twenties.

One of my favorite birthday stories is from when I turned one. My mom made me a special Big Bird cake, and cupcakes for all the other kids at my party. But I wanted a cupcake too, and so when my cousin Craig wasn’t looking, I grabbed his and shoved it in my mouth. my first birthday

scared

I’m kind of a scaredy-cat. When we got an opportunity to go rafting on the Futaleufu River in southern Chile– one of the best rivers for rafting in the whole world– I didn’t know if I could do it. My sister said to me, “If the only reason you’re not going to do it is because you’re scared, then I think you should do it.”

Well, I did it.

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And it was exhilarating.