28 June 2009

A Retreat

Hamilton Falls, Jamaica Vermont

Lynn and I just returned from a wonderful four-day stay at a cabin by a rushing river not far from Brattleboro Vermont. We always have great vacations together, but this one was especially unusual because we were completely media-free. We had no television, no radio, no computer. I wrote the following paragraphs while we were there:

I'm writing this by hand, on lined 8 1/2 x 11 notebook paper with a ballpoint pen. I'm off the grid for four days, a bit challenging for a workaholic like me, but I'm looking forward to feeling what that feels like. Maybe it won't even be difficult.

I've been thinking a lot about my career lately, as an illustrator and more broadly as an artist. Last week I put together a package of the new Pilgrim prints for my
gallery in Seattle, which pushed me to do a more organized and thorough inventory of all my prints, which got me to thinking about the fact that I really have 4 or 5 distinct jobs. My friend Orville Pierson, career coach and author of the book Highly Effective Networking calls this balancing of a number of different jobs or careers a "portfolio career," a double-entendre that I especially love as an artist. So here's my "portfolio:"
  1. I create illustrations commissioned for books, magazines, corporate clients and web sites. I used to also work for newspapers, although that work has almost completely dried up. Much of the other work has begun to dry up as well in this recent global recession.
  2. I do advertising, promotion, contract negotiation, billing and bookkeeping for my illustration work.
  3. I make woodblock prints about topics of my own choosing.
  4. I do marketing and promotion for the prints I create, including documenting the work and running my studio.
  5. I occasionally teach woodblock printmaking.
No wonder I feel like I'm working all the time!

Most artists I know have a similar portfolio career made up of art-making, self-promotion, teaching and often some sort of "day job." I'd be curious to hear from any readers, especially if you're in the arts, about how you manage to make art, support yourself and your loved ones, plus have time to manage a household, a family, and relationships.


Magic Cochin said...

Hi Annie - apart from the 'teaching printmaking' I have an identical portfolio. The balance between the parts sways too and fro. Then I add into the mix 'local monthly magazine editor/ designer' plus 'local events publicity officer' both unpaid posts.

Then there the other roles - gardener, cook, housekeeper, family supporter, livestock carer...

And I still feel guilty when I 'just sit and draw'.

This morning I'm wearing my 'digital illustrator for educational material' hat balanced on top of my 'washer-woman' and my 'local mag editor' caps.


mizu designs said...

I love this post Annie and can soooo relate to it. Me? -: printmaker, illustrator, designer, teacher, researcher, marketing-type person for artwork (but I must admit this is done half-heartedly). So fairly similar to yourself. My 'day job' takes a big chunk of my time (that's the researcher, teacher bit) but I love it so that's ok.

maglinty said...

With great difficulty! Printmaker, designer, teacher, data analyst (for a regular pay cheque), carer, housekeeper, cook, taxi service, negotiator, therapist...

Just looked at your work on the Cullom Gallery site; beautiful, beautiful prints. If I had a fraction of your colour sense, I'd be very happy.

Annie B said...

Thanks for these sharings about how you manage your worklives. Keep 'em coming -- it's so validating to hear. Maglinty, thanks for the kind words about my color sense. My choices mostly feel kind of slap-dash to me, but I'm glad you like it.

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Albrecht Durer had his mom and wife sell his prints, door to door and at fairs. LOL my job list is shrinking, unfortunately....

Alex Pribnow said...

I do feel what you're feeling. I don't have a family to support, but I do work "all day, every day", and I've evolved this mindset that is so work-fixated I sometimes feel as though I've undergone a silent metamorphosis into a completely different individual since I began trying to 'make a living' from art. When I'm invited out to the cinema or for a meal and I find myself thinking, "no, I have to stay in an do this, or see to that..." I have to check myself and wonder. Who am I? Have I become a workaholic? Or is this just par for the course of trying to be a professional artist - hard work all the hours God sends? Constantly considering your next sale or your next print's success?

From other folks' comments here I think the latter must be correct - art takes time and effort - no doubt - and a lot more than meets the eye. Aside from making art to sell, I can't pass up commissions or contracts either, my nose for business has become shrewd and sharp in the last 2 years, so I find myself loading even more work onto my plate - I've no idea how I would juggle a family with all of this if I had to. It does put a tangible strain on a relationship when you find you don't have 'quality time' to spend, too.

I suppose it's a case of learning how to 'make time' for all the things you must do, and for most artists being opportunistic when it comes to getting by. As soon as you try to go it alone living only on your art skills, it quickly makes you consider how valuable your time really is and how efficiently to spend it. You're definitely not alone in feeling overstretched! I'd say 95% of us have it this way, at least to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I am coming into this conversation a bit late but thought I would leave a comment anyway.
Since I mainly sell at art shows, I usually am wearing my salesperson hat.. I like the role but it really takes time away from the actual making of the art. Oh, I can be pretty prolific getting ready for a show but because of the customers I deal with, I am more commercial and so I find myself creating for the masses .... Don't get me wrong, I enjoy what I do but I am wanting more..
Right now, art shows are not as profitable as they used to be so I am not traveling like I used to. But I am thinking about using this down time to veer off in another direction. That in it's self is a little stressful. I am hoping that my customers will follow me in the fall and want to come along for the ride.

My husband, Ken decided to retire from jewelry making and has gotten into selling vintage postcards. That is all fine but it gives him more time to contemplate having company which makes me feel the need to don my housekeeper and chef hats... More stress..
So lately, I have been trying to relieve my stress by wasting time at Farmtown on Facebook.
I hate to make this confession because I have always been a workaholic ...
I have a devil of a time controlling my guilt back. I feel like I have put on a "slacker" cap...... sigh
Ken gets up early and gets right to work.... I like to ease into my day. I felt extremely guilty about that until I read an article about one of my favorite artists, Lynn Whipple from Florida... It said that she started her day late after she took her canoe for a spin around the lake.
I am trying to ease up on how much pressure I put on my self to be all things to everyone mainly myself...
Thanks for letting me vent...
debbie little wilson

Annie B said...

Alex, I really identify with your worry that you've become a workaholic. I do think it's true that it takes a tremendous amount of work and commitment to be successful in the arts. But I also believe that being a good artist requires being a good human being -- living a full life that includes other people and a wide range of life experiences and, yes, occasional trips to the cinema! Hard to balance it all, though, we all seem to agree.

Debbie, I relate to your story, too, and the interesting things that happen to our art making when our routines get disrupted, whether by the economy or by a partner's changing schedule. (My partner's schedule changes a lot, and I always have trouble adjusting.) And then there are those fallow times when, for whatever reason, the work just isn't flowing. Sometimes that's just how it is for a while. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

now you can add a "therapist" hat to your rack....
continuing to juggle along,