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.

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put back together

It’s Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year. Time for letting go, time for leaves to fall. Time for shedding what is no longer needed.

As I start this new year, in a new body, with a new baby, in a new house, so much about me is different.

Some things are the same.

What do I need to let go of? My skin? My pre-mom self?

To be honest, I’m feeling pretty broken today. I miss my mom. I wish we could go down to the river together and throw pieces of bread into the water to take our regrets from the past year away. Maybe we’d ride our bikes in the cool fall air.

I feel something is just out of reach, some core thing that I keep forgetting. Or maybe it’s just one of those days. Maybe I should lean into it. Let go.

My baby is strapped to my chest in his carrier. We took a walk and looked at leaves. We played on the floor. He’s quiet, binky in mouth, looking up at me sometimes as I type. I think he will fall asleep any minute so I’m rocking back and forth in the chair.

He smiles so big when he sees me after we’ve been parted. Whether it’s morning and he’s seeing me for the first time that day, waking up and I’m right there waiting for him; or he’s been with his Nana for a few hours; or even if I’ve only left the room for a few minutes– he’s so happy to see me. We have a tether strung between us. I know I will feel him with me anywhere I go for the rest of my life. Even when he’s grown and off on his own adventures I will feel him in my heart like a physical pull. I just know this. My mom must have felt this way.

She wrote this poem:

The Birdhouse

Anna is leaving me again,
over and over.

Just like I left her so many times,
by choice and not by choice.

Teaching me to tolerate longer and longer absences:
Stretches of not hearing her voice
doing homework with a friend on the phone,

Or the sound of popcorn crunching along to a favorite movie.

I took her to her first movie when she was eighteen months old.
She ate my entire tub of artificially butter-flavored popcorn.
I felt
grateful
that she didn’t choke
and awed by the intensity of her concentration.

She says, “I love you” each time she laves.
And I am trying to photograph her face, her smile,
every time in my mind, afraid of having
so much less to take for granted.

I walk outside see the birdhouse
made in eighth grade shop class.
A father’s day gift for her dad–
she looks so much like him.

I stare at the birdhouse as a light rain
begins to kiss the back of my neck.
I am not cold, and I do not feel the wetness of it.

I realize that she is forcing me to grow up again,
to accept losing what I want to hang onto.
I hate that.

That birdhouse sits on the stump–
It’s maple stain color darkened by the moisture,

and my tears add salt to the raindrops.

Viola Moriarty
2000

When I read this poem I cry. I was fourteen or fifteen when she wrote it, and I don’t remember where I had gone. Maybe on a trip with some friends. Sometimes I regret every time I left her because that’s time with her that I lost. I didn’t know the time was finite. At fourteen everything seems forever, even if your grandfather and pet guinea pig died when you were eight and so you know that everyone dies. It just didn’t enter my mind then that my mom could die. But I also know that we both had to live our lives which meant leaving each other again and again.

When will Giles leave me? How many times? Will I have to leave him? Will he still smile at me when we come back together? Right now his sleeping face is pressed into my shirt, long lashes closed, gentle breathing only just audible. Sweet baby smell.

My pieces are all over the place. My childhood, my heart, my legs, my soul, my art, my drive, my love, my hunger.

I don’t know where I am.

I’m in our house. On our street. In our town. In the autumn of the year 2016. My mom has been dead for three years and five months and 16 days. My baby is just two days shy of being five months old. My feet are inside my slippers. My head is inside my favorite knit cap.

It’s the new year. 5777. The Days of Awe.

0312011332.jpg
This photo is from 2011, in the ER waiting room. I had fallen and hit my head pretty hard so my mom insisted we go to the hospital to make sure I didn’t have a concussion. They gave me an ice pack which I tied to my head so I didn’t have to hold it there. We both thought it was pretty funny, so my mom took a picture. Turns out I didn’t have a concussion. I was okay. Not broken at all.

 

working at home

I love Wednesdays. They’re usually my work-at-home day, when I get to spend the whole day writing, drawing, making things…doing my own work. When I lived in San Francisco for a couple months after college, I lived this kind of life: Wake up, breakfast, go for a walk/explore the city, write, draw comics, dinner, watch a movie. Every day was my own. I wanted to see if I could live this life of a professional writer/artist, and if I would enjoy it. I did.

I enjoy my cinema work, too. It gives me a place to get out of my own head, be part of the movie world that I love, have a role in the community. And I’m so grateful to have a “money job” doing something I truly believe in. But I still yearn for the day that I can support myself and my family using my own work.

I’ve worked very hard to get here, to this point of being able to work part-time at a job I like, and have time to do my art work at home. There have been many “money jobs” in my life that I did not believe in so strongly, jobs I dreaded going to. Many morning on the NYC subway I fantasized about not getting off at the right stop, I’d just keep going, have a different day than going into Midtown offices to work as a temp doing things like data entry, refilling coffee in the break room, filling out someone’s Weight Watchers booklet for them, getting yelled at on the phone, getting hit on by older men with photos of their wives right there on their desks. One day, in one particularly depressing office, a man said to me, “I always wanted to be a fashion designer. Then I got a job here and it was just so easy. So I stayed. It’s been twenty years.”

So here I am, living a lovely life, able to pay my portion of the rent and utilities with the money I get paid working at a non-profit art house cinema. And I have time to write stories, make comics and drawings, and even earn a little money from that. I have health insurance. I get enough to eat. I did this, I got myself here. (Of course with the help and support of people who love me, like my parents, who have helped me when I was barely scraping by, and have always supported me emotionally– I know how lucky I am to have this.)

I also know how lucky I am to have a partner who values my work as much as I do. I know this is rare and special. But I’m also saying that I helped make this happen. It didn’t just fall into my lap. This kind of life is totally possible, but you have to make it happen. I make decisions about what is most important to me. I work every day.

When my mom became an artist (well, she was always an artist, but I mean deciding to live a professional artist life), she and I would have conversations about this often. She in her forties and fifties, me in my twenties, both of us at the beginning of our art careers, figuring out how to live, work, love, and be ourselves in the world. Hanging shows together, giving feedback, going to museums, seeing movies, sitting at the table together drinking coffee and drawing.

working at home

Every day, making coffee in Mama’s espresso pot, doing my work, she’s with me. Even when I forget, even when I don’t know it, she’s there.

work-in-process

I’m in the middle of a lot of new things. Writing, comics, things without a label yet. Here’s a look at my desk right now:

comics in progress

 

Hopefully I will have more to share with you soon. But it’s this in-process place that I love. And it’s necessary. The ideas need to marinate, I do one thing at a time, eventually the final product becomes clear. It’s the same way with being a person. You don’t know what all the little things are going to add up to until after. And you have to feel the uncertain feelings.

I’m also doing the important work of being a fiancee, like making pinterest boards, reading wedding blogs, talking giddily to family and friends, looking at Greg with doe eyes, visiting venues together, talking about music and food. It’s an interesting place to be– a fiancee. The only time I’ll be one, and for just a year, until I become a wife.