All In a Day


Ever wonder what my EXCITING LIFE looks like on a day to day level?  LOOK NO FURTHER!

24 Hour Comic Day was last Wednesday. I didn’t have time to draw it in real time so I took notes throughout the day and drew it up later.  The comic I was working on that day was for an anthology (coming in the fall!) and I was experimenting with this grid of 20 panels. I liked it so thought I’d try it for this too.

My World


In the dustbin of “Least Important News Items” comes this latest bulletin: I just finished this drawing for my “about” image for my web site. I’ve always loved drawings like this that illustrators and cartoonists do of themselves to somehow capture their world.  This was fun to make because I liked thinking of all the influences and interests that my comic work is made from which includes art and writing, but also memories and basic life stuff. I actually have that rug with the turned up corners in my studio. Gus isn’t usually so happy reading comics under my feet, but he does love some Calvin and Hobbes (as do I). Gye Smiley comics in the lower right hand corner was the comic book series I made as a kid. The portrait on the left is my grandfather. I drink lots of water out of that water bottle. The drawing taped to the lamp on the right is a picture Gus drew of me.

(You get the idea.)

It feels like an accurate depiction of how I do my work–balancing the needs of my home life with everything else. None of it is very organized and yet it somehow amounts to something.

Now back to more important things…



Gone Fishing

mobile 1Every year at this time I think I’m “at a crossroads” in some form.  My restlessness and boredom is at a peak, so is my lack of focus.  I think DRAMATIC thoughts about my inability to feel engaged, wondering about the very nature of my purpose.  I wrote a big blog post talking about the reasons for this and it felt SO TRUE.  Then perusing my journals and my own sketchbooks a few days ago, I saw the truth: I feel this way every year at the exact same time and all I really need is a vacation.

Lucky for me, literally everything I had planned for July and August fell through.  I was supposed to move, go on a big trip, do a ton of work–and NONE of it worked out.  I’ve decided to take it for what it is: a GIANT swath of time to take a break!

Every year I try to take a small sabbatical from the internet.  I find it jump starts everything in my life–my inspiration, my motivation, my sense of clarity, and my over all sense of health.  There is NEVER a convenient time to do this and honestly, the busier I get, the harder it is to do.  This seems like a perfect time to do it.

I’ll be on an internet sabbatical for at least a week, but I’m extending its reach by going on a break from posting comics here until the end of August.  I’ll post news items, but the meat will return at the end of August.

See you soon!

On Value and Being Seen

Tara Brach

Longtime reader Sarah asked in the comments on my post about Edith Pearlman if I could share my thoughts on how I skate the inevitable line of doing work for work sake and doing work to be seen.  To which I say:

Oh boy–how much time do you have?

Every artist I know struggles with this dynamic–don’t you?  Isn’t this at the very core of wanting a life in the arts?  You have something to say and don’t you want someone to hear it/see it?  This seems like a very simple idea, though we know it is not.  The minute someone DOES hear/see/notice your work is when things get really FUNKY.   Continue reading

Today’s Sketchbook

IMG_3512Today’s sketchbook spread, including the day’s diary comic.  

This is the reality of a working stay at home parent: no matter how well you plan for possible craziness, it’s pretty much chaos no matter what. This week: Snow storms? Ice storms? Health issues? School closures? All on a deadline week?  Check check check!  I love my work and I love my son, but NOT TOGETHER.  I struggle all the time with how to manage kid care and work care, while also feeling incredibly lucky that Gus can have a primary parent to come home to and to be with when he gets sick or can’t go to school.  Either way, it’s HARD work.  Tonight I’ll be doing work as soon as he goes to bed.  Tomorrow will be another day–whatever that means.


My Mailing List: a Memoir


For as long as I’ve been doing art “professionally” I’ve had a mailing list.  As a musician it was your Bible at shows.  If you didn’t have a mailing list binder or notebook open to a hopeful blank page with an accompanying pen at every gig, you were not only silly, but dumb.  In my musician days people would give you a snail mail address and MAYBE an e-mail address and it’s amazing to me now to remember how every month I made a postcard, took it to Kinko’s, bought postcard stamps, and mailed stuff out.  Even if it was just one gig that month, I did it.  I did it with the not-all-that-improbable hope that someone would receive my card stock postcard with the flaking toner and come to one of my shows.

Of course, times have changed.  With social media e-mail is the new snail mail and snail mail is now a RELIC (or as I like to think of it, A SPECIALTY).  I still have a mailing list of both snail and e.  I also have a blog subscription, a twitter feed, a tumblr, and a flickr account to get my NEWS and WORK out into the ether world.  My current mailing list is 10-15 years old and a frankenstein monster of all the artistic lives I’ve lived so far and is so warped with time and practice that I worry I’m pissing people off every time I send out an e-mailer.  It comprises of people who have signed up over the years, people who have bought my wares and work, requested work, family, friends, fellow artists, and so on.  A couple of years ago through an unfortunate and (too boring to recount) accident my mailing list sucked up ALL my contacts and I realized too late that a mailer had gone to every one I’d ever received an e-mail from.  My osteopath wrote to express his gratitude for keeping him abreast of my work and promptly signed me up for HIS mailing list.  I got a number of bounce back returns from some of the most random e-mail addresses, but my hair almost TURNED WHITE when I saw OUT OF OFFICE responses from old bosses, colleagues, and an ex-boyfriend.  I tried to manually delete as many of these addresses as I could, but I still occasionally get the angry PLEASE DELETE ME FROM THIS LIST e-mail–and it’s all I can do not to write them again and AGAIN and apologize profusely for committing the ultimate SPAM crime: spamming without permission.

Fortunately, I don’t send e-mails to my mailing list that often anymore–maybe at most twice a year.  I use it as a way to express What’s New and Important.  I don’t think of them as Spam and try not to write them as such, but who am I kidding?  It’s hard to sound personal to many e-mail addressees, no matter how personal it is to YOU.   The truth is it does help get the word out, and remind people (that want to know and don’t check other means regularly) that I exist and am still at large.  Admittedly, most of these want-to-know folks are relatives and old friends. My uncle Mark, who I adore, but don’t see often, will respond with an update about his family.  One of my oldest and dearest friends who rarely has time to call, has been known to call me after receiving such e-mails.  These are welcome reliefs among the UNSUBSCRIBE, which happens at every mailing.  Those affect me more than I like to admit.  The rejection is delivered as direct and personally as people get these days.  When e-mail arrived, the letter got killed, but so did the phone call.  Now thanks to texting and social media, the phone call is extinct, and e-mail is the new phone call.  The UNSUBSCRIBE is calling and telling me: STOP CALLING ME.

I sent an e-mail to my mailing list this week that was full to the brim with information: teaching, talking, and publications.  Things are good for me right now, but it felt terrible telling people about it.  I’m just too self conscious about e-mailing people about my stuff. Thanks to the trauma of the e-mail contact debacle mentioned above, each mailing is an act of holding my breath and pushing send, hoping against hope that I won’t piss someone off and/or embarrass the hell out of myself.

So I’ve made the decision that the e-mail list must go.

I’ve decided to do one last e-mailing as I have 2 comic collections coming out at the end of the month and I really want as many people as possible to know about them, but I plan to add that this will be the last e-mail of this nature they will receive from me.  If they want to “keep up” they can subscribe to the blog, twitter, etc.  They can also send me their snail mail address.  Yep, I’m going back to the postcard.  In these instant times, I find that the handmade and tangible is special and the most welcome.  Plus, it gives ME the feeling of being directly connected with those out there in the world who might care.  The worst I will receive back is RETURN TO SENDER.  You know what? I can handle that.

Artist in the Office Interview: Katherine Dunn

Katherine Dunn is a painter, illustrator, pie maker for peace, and a farmer.  Her first book, Creative Illustration Workshop: Seeing, Sketching, Storytelling, and Mixed Media will be out in November from Quarry Books.

Why did you decide to go out on your own towards a full-time painting and art career?

I had worked in a variety of design related firms in the marketing capacity [architecture, design and ad firms]. It was good experience, but there was always something missing, and after a time, although I did well, I’d get antsy and move on. I was watching Bill Moyers interview Joseph Campbell, and he talked about the responsibility we all have to do what our passion is, to follow our unique path. I decided the next day to be an illustrator. Within 6 months, I had quite my job and was, an illustrator. [1996]

Were their things you had to change about your life in order to quit the full-time job and dive into freelancing?  Did you scale down your expenses or change your lifestyle?

Yes, I sold the condo I was living in, and bought a $60,000 house, of 400 sg ft. It was my first house, it was in a good neighborhood, but it allowed me to have a small monthly mortgage. I’ve always lived frugally, so that wasn’t much of an issue. I’m a homebody too, so I worked into the night. It was a long time ago, but I would say that I did have some hurdles to get through to sell the condo – in that I had parents that thought it might be a mistake, that thought, “You’d be going down scale if you do that”, etc. But I remember I was SO intent on my goal, I just plowed ahead. I also remember I had to buy clothes at the Goodwill for awhile! And I guess that’s trendy now [I still by buy our farm coats and such there if i can]. For the first few months as I built my portfolio, I had a few good jobs from Marshal Fields, and I also did about 3 months of freelance prop styling since I had so many contacts. But after that,  I was ok.

Were there things you didn’t expect about freelancing?  Pitfalls?  Bonuses?

Hmmm…I think the only thing about freelancing that people need to be aware of, is you are always working and you are always looking for another job. The minute one job ends, you bill it, and there isn’t a new job on the back or front burner, it can create anxiety. It took me a couple years to overcome this. However, I also had a nest egg I managed to build up from a couple big jobs, and selling that little 400 sft house after 2 years. I think some people will not do well in that part, others will. I’m a self entertaining unit, lived alone most of my adult life until I married at 44, so I was used to scheduling my own time, and I loved that freedom. Still do.

Were there any issues about doing your art for a market?  How did/do you stay inspired and motivated?  Did it hinder you as an artist at all?

I think this is a learning curve, and a personality thing. In the beginning, stuff gushed out of me, but a lot of it wasn’t really easily applied to any given market. Some thought I was to fine art, fine art thought I was too commercial. Paint what you know. If I get uninspired, I take time off for a day, or two, garden, do other mediums. I usually work through it. I’m 13 years older now than when I started, I’m  50 ! So my perspective on my art and career is different .I moved from city to farm, from Mpls to Oregon, so many things have changed. Sometimes, you get  hired to do something that you might not have sought out, but I try to sit down and say “How can I, individually, put my mark on this?” That’s part of the job.

What worked best for you about freelancing?  What was hard?

Freedom, freedom, freedom. Nothing is harder than working in a cube, and commuting, so freelancing has no real ‘hard’ for me. Life is hard. But I get to do want I’m gifted at and love, so the hard moments of life are passing clouds.

I know you’ve expanded your work life to include farming, which isn’t a job you can ever really slack on or just leave—how do you make time to do your artwork?  Are there times you just don’t get to do your painting?

I think of the farm as my life, not a job, but it is my daily work, just as art is, or sewing, or selling the lavender, or making bread so we can eat. It’s all intertwined. I know that sounds like a magazine article on wellness, but it really is – You hit the nail on the head though, I do not paint every day anymore. I do not paint into the night. But I’m not sure I would be if I were single and living alone. Like many artists, I am easily intrigued by much, and my biggest personal challenge is to focus, but that focus has to change daily. If I have an illustration project, I set a schedule and it takes priority, but when I’m just working on my portfolio or painting personal work, I set a daily goal – otherwise I can spend too much time on the computer – which I do!! I have to be on the computer to keep my sites fresh, to write, to maintain the farm store.

But after I settled on the farm, after say, 2006 /7 [we moved here in 2004], and I was able to focus more, I find I get a lot done in shorter spurts.

Do you have a set schedule?

Sort of. Depending on the season, since the farm can dictate changes, depending on if it’s harvest time for fields, vegetable time, lambing, horse season. I get up by 7:30 [ok, usually, I LOVE my bed], quick email check, out to do barn chores for 30 minutes. In warm weather, I work more in am with animals. Back in studio and work at studio stuff in afternoon. I often sew in the late afternoon a couple times a week to add to our farm/lavender products. I usually am doing something until at least 7pm in studio. If it’s summer, I often do field or barn things then. We eat late [bad, bad, bad, I know]. Weekends, we usually 95% of the time are working on the farm.  I will gestate in early morning about projects while I lie in bed.

The thing about the farm – it’s a living, breathing entity. While as romantic as people want to make that , it’s like romanticizing having a baby. It takes time, energy, thought, money and sacrifice. There always fences to mend, etc, and I have learned to ‘calm down’ after moments of panic, and just prioritize between that day’s tasks, be it farm, art, store, animals, etc.

Any advice for anyone who is dreaming of being a full-time painter and/or illustrator?

Do it – if it’s in your heart, and it keeps coming back to you. Be realistic, but not fearful. If you really want it, you will live in a cheap apartment, or shack, or sell your metaphorical jewels to get what you need and want to start. If not, you probably didn’t want it enough.

And there is nothing wrong with going from freelance to a job and back to freelance- someone told me that once, and I think that’s true. Sometimes, you ‘need’ things freelance can’t give you.

Treat your art like a discipline. Whatever you put your intention, if true, and your energies and time, it will grow.

Thank you, Katherine!