it’s been a year – a look back

much of this will be redundant if you actually read my blog regularly, but for those who don’t, here’s a recap and other observations about my year.

in one of my former art lives, this time of year would be filled with art markets and pop-ups, with every spare moment going to restocking and producing things to sell and working on my displays, fulfilling etsy orders, boxing and shipping at the post office. i look back on those times fondly even though i often felt really stressed and wondering if it was all worth it. some years were more lucrative than others; some markets were more lucrative than others. sometimes i’d load the car, haul all my shit out there, set up the tent and all the stuff, and sit there for 6 hours in every kind of weather that november/december can offer and sell nothing or next to nothing… meaning the day was a net loss after the booth fee. but sometimes business would be brisk and i’d walk away with hundreds of dollars and almost more importantly a refilled ego after dozens of conversations with customers and other artists about my work. most of the time it was somewhere in between these two extremes. all of it made me exhausted with occasional bursts of inspiration, excitement and/or connection. but mostly exhaustion.

my freret market booth in 2008

i do miss the camaraderie and social outlet of being part of the market scene, but it was always a crap shoot as to whether i would make any money, and at some point, the negative outweighed the positive and i just stopped having the motivation to go through all that. (i also didn’t have a car for many years which made it almost impossible. but really, i was burned out anyways.)

since then, i’ve had a very tenuous relationship with my creativity and output. i’ve continued to make and sell stickers and occasionally t-shirt designs, though i’ve paused printing them myself because it was so labor intensive and costly – print on demand sites give me better returns and less stress. but in the last year or two, i haven’t even made any new designs so those sales have trickled except for the occasional fundraising effort like i did post-hurricane ida.

the fundraising shirt campaign on bonfire last year after ida

last fall was a low point for me, after the hurricane. even though i managed to raise over $500 for folks affected by the storm via the sales of my art and shirts, which felt really great, when that push was over i was left kinda empty on what to do next. i was still living in the back end of my apartment, the 500 square foot one bedroom i’d lived in for 11 years. though very affordable, it always made me feel very cramped and limited, as well as isolated from my neighbors and the activity on the block, a point which was really driven home during the storm when i couldn’t see out of my backyard to know what was happening out front or with my car. i was literally trapped inside the house while the storm was happening by my next door neighbor’s large oak tree which stretched over the fence into my yard and was hitting my back porch and my only door throughout the storm. (not that i wanted to go outside, but others could at least see out the front door or go out on the porch to communicate with neighbors when cell phones weren’t working and there was no electricity. i could not.)

the partially collapsed shed after ida

that experience made me feel like i just couldn’t live that way any longer. but finding a larger apartment that would be affordable would be really hard, and moving in general was not something i really wanted to do. i loved my neighborhood and neighbors and like feeling rooted in a place. i’d long wanted to convince my landlords to open up the hallway door that separated my apartment from the front two room of this side of the shotgun (which at the time connected to the other side of the house, forming an L or J shape for the other side), but the timing and opportunity had never arisen nor had i ever been in a financial place to absorb the higher rent that would be necessary if given more space. but the universe heard my frustration and wishes and the landlords, on their own without my input, asked the former tenants to move out. their side would need some extensive renovations so it would be a few months before the landlords started looking for a new tenant. i saw my opportunity and grabbed it.

i keep having to relearn the lesson that visualizing what you want really does work. but i put that into action last winter. but first, i got into therapy – online – to help me find my way out of a depression that was really gnawing at me. and thankfully, i got matched with an angel of a therapist who gave me homework to do a vision board of sorts, which sounds hokey but i interpreted it to relate to my apartment situation so i started drawing blueprints of my new much larger apartment, trying to figure out where furniture would get moved, what i’d need to buy, how i’d rearrange rooms, etc. i was able to get into the front two rooms via the handyman, to make measurements and start doing some cleanup after the old tenants moved out, while the landlords were thinking about whether to grant my wish. that blueprint became my vision board and i pondered it daily, trying out different configurations and spending a lot of time online shopping for what i’d need (like a couch and a coffee table, cuz now i’d have a proper living room!). i would go into those front two rooms and energetically make them mine, every day. and eventually it worked. the landlords agreed, we negotiated on the rent and came to a number we could both live with, and the rooms were mine!

it still took a few months before i was able to assume the space, as the handyman was prioritizing the work on the other side so the landlords could get a new tenant. but i started cleaning up, sweeping, wiping down the baseboards and built-in bookcases, cleaning out the window unit ac, etc. eventually i even found some touch up paint in the shed and was able to freshen up the front two rooms so they looked new to me. i did not only the walls but also all the wood trim and mopped the floors with pine cleaner to make it all smell better. i smudged and sprayed essential oil concoctions gifted by friends and then started moving all the furniture in my hallway, which had become a storage space, in anticipation of the doorway opening up.

current messy state of my living room

and then it was finally mine! the doorway was unsealed and i could walk the length of the shotgun house from the back to the front! the universe once again had my back helping me find the perfect $100 ikea sofa and a friend with a truck to help me move it, plus a coffee table and area rug i could live with for cheap. a free recliner from another friend appeared out of nowhere and voila, i had a living room! and that was all the new stuff i had to purchase. i moved most of what used to be in the very back room, my former living room, into the front living room (my giant hand-me-down tv, my record collection, my now ancient stereo and speakers, and my favorite retro orange vinyl swivel chair), and that back room became my studio space with all my art supplies, my 4-color printing press that had been rescued from the hurricane-induced shed collapse, and all my unsold work. and in another nod from the universe, i discovered an 8 foot folding plastic table that had been left behind by former tenants in the laundry shed that was in great shape – that became my work table in my studio. i cleared one wall so i could hang canvases on it to paint, and i was ready to go!

current configuration of the studio, but before i made it a mess

and then… nothing happened. all of that several month visualization and machination which resulted in everything i wanted – i now had a separate room of my own for art making, that had great light and opened to the back yard where my spray painting station, the hose, and my newly rebuilt storage shed was. it seemed ideal. and then… i had no motivation to create. i even had a very slow work schedule thanks to several longtime clients dropping off my schedule (which was a little scary now that i had much higher rent to pay but the universe gave me enough petsitting to help make up for it and i got by). but now i had to start doing the work to really exam my art practice, or lack thereof, and figure out what i wanted to do next creatively, now that i no longer had the excuse of not enough space or even time.

so. that brings us to last late spring/early summer. i had already lost interest in the whole crypto/nft thing which had really sparked me last year and up to this same time period that i was (wo)manifesting my dream apartment. i’m sure many of you thought i was crazy. i stand by the excitement it gave me to see so much creativity and so many artists making money from their digital work, and some of them still are. but i’m just not a digital artist, no matter how hard i tried. i like the tactile nature of paint and ink and paper and canvas and i like the physicality of art making, in all its forms. i like making things with my hands. physical things. drawing on an ipad just didn’t cut it for me. plus the whole crypto market tanked, and though i hadn’t invested very much money in it, it was still sad to see all that optimism and possibility get so obliterated. so that was that. (transparency: i never cashed out because it would have meant a loss, so i’ve just let my crypto sit, waiting to see if things ever pick back up again. but don’t worry, i’ll cash out first chance i get to just recoup what i put in.)

i started poking around online a lot more, mostly on instagram but some on facebook, for art that i liked, to use as inspiration. i just kept coming back to more abstract stuff, which is funny cuz most of my life i have not been very interested in abstract work. but over the past 4-5 years i had started to play with scraping and flinging paint, seeing what i could do, and was fascinated by it… even though i didn’t feel like the results were really great. i mean, i did all those “you are loved,” “breathe,” and “community is everything” pieces with an abstract background and then a more graphic design layed over it, but it wasn’t like the abstract part could stand on its own. and that’s what i wanted to figure out how to do. how to make compelling abstract stuff that didn’t have to use words and graphic elements as a crutch to make it interesting. i wasn’t sure why i was having this desire but all the art i was bookmarking online was this kind of stuff.

a sample of judy woods intuitive abstract work

somehow i stumbled onto the work of judy woods, a new zealand intuitive abstract artist who also teaches art online. her work was interesting to me and she had a way about her, the way she talked about it, that made it accessible to me and i enjoyed watching her paint. so i signed up for one of her free short online classes, a drawing class, just to see what it was about. a free painting course quickly followed. and that started a journey which i’m still on today. i’m feeling much less creatively stifled and just more curious about what i might discover as i work to establish a real art “practice” that keeps me coming back to the studio if not daily at least many days a week to continue my exploration. (i took both a free drawing class and her free STARTS painting class; she has a longer year-long paid version of the STARTS course as well.)

a sample of nicholas wilton’s art

i didn’t end up signing up for judy’s paid class because it was just way more money than i could justify but doing her free courses (and a few others i sampled) somehow led me to find nicholas wilton and his art2life empire. and after doing a bit of one of his free courses (breadcrumbs) and listening to endless hours of his podcast, i was convinced to sign up for one of his paid courses, spark. i am still in the thralls of that one right now, even though the live part of it was only 3 weeks long and ended a while ago… i’m still making my way through the modules of the class and filling my sketchbook (called a “sparkbook” in the course). but something about the way he talks and approaches art gives me more permission to just play and experiment and see what happens, and, as he puts it, find my way as i go. which, honestly, has been the way i’ve lived my life (no plan, trying this and that) so i’m not sure why it’s so hard to do with my art. but it is my lesson to learn. and i’m hoping that this time i’m investing in learning how to play with my art will translate to me relearning how to play in life. cuz one thing i realized in therapy last year was that i’ve become one of those boring middle aged people who has forgotten how to have fun, how to play, how to relate to others in a genuine way, how to be present with my friends and even myself. i fill my time with distractions and watch life passing me by. all of this has made me very unhappy. so i’m trying to use art as a way to rediscover these things, to show me the way, so i can do that in life as well. a sort of self-instructed art therapy.

is it working? i dunno. i’ve only managed to pay down half of the class (i used my paypal credit so i could have 6 months no-financing fees to pay it off, so i have a few more months as it originally cost me $500) and i went almost the entire month of november without really doing much in the studio cuz i was so sick. but i’m feeling better physically (finally) and this past week i’ve been in the studio nearly every day, thanks to a slow schedule/many cancellations. i won’t have as much free time in the next few weeks as work picks up and holiday social obligations increase, but i am trying very hard to establish a routine of spending even just 30 minutes a day in the studio doing something, to keep the juice flowing. thankfully i had a stockpile of paint and other art supplies that i’m now working through, so hopefully i’ll end up with something i can sell sometime soon to restock the paints.

do i think it’s been worth it? absolutely. investing the $$ gives just the right amount of pressure/motivation to keep at it and make it feel worth it. and in the process, hopefully, i’m establishing a new habit, learning some techniques and art theory, as well as some things about myself, my relationship to my art, and what i hope to express with it in the future. i guess i’ll let you know in a few more months when i’ve managed to go through everything and finish up my sparkbook and hopefully make some actual art. but for now, i’m happy that i invested in myself, even if it doesn’t result in immediate financial returns. i think the self-growth will be return enough, and hopefully i will find my way with my art, as i go.

(i will drop right here a quick 1-minute video of the current state of my sparkbook, which is incomplete and most exercises and free pages only have one pass on them. but we were asked to do so in the class, to share in our private facebook group, so i did. so might as well share it here. please do remember though that these are not meant to be finished pieces or really to look like even complete thoughts; they are just meant to be play, experimentation with techniques, and completions of the exercises in the course. so the book won’t win any art awards but is meant to be a reference for me to go back to, to remember what got me excited, what colors i love, what techniques worked for me, etc. that’s why it’s called spark – it’s about discovering “what lights you up,” as nick wilton says. but here ya go anyways.)

so, that’s been my last year. i feel good about where i am, that i have some forward motion, even if i don’t know where it’s heading. i have a vision in my head of me getting it together, pulling all these artistic influences and styles and techniques i’ve dabbled in all my life together finally into something i can call my style. and creating works that feel meaningful to me and that i feel like i want to share with others as an expression. that’s what i’m working on.

my goal for 2023 will be to FINALLY get something together to submit for the louisiana contemporary show at the ogden, which happens every year. it’s been something i’ve wanted to do for like 10 years and i never feel good enough about the work i’m doing or have anything completed in time for the submission window (which is in the spring – the show usually opens in august and runs through december). so maybe this will be my year. i feel like it would be a good jumping off point, to introduce myself as a “real” artist.

i have a lot of work to do between now and the spring to get there but it is possible. i just have to show up, in the studio, and for myself. i guess we’ll see if i pull it off.

i hope everyone has a stress-free and joyous holiday season. maybe i’ll write here more before the end of the year but most likely i won’t. if ya wanna keep up with my art stuff you can follow me on instagram cuz i’m much more likely to post there in short form with photos or videos than i am to make a longer post here.