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Space and Time

A third of the way into 2016 and I’m starting to see posts about upcoming events and excursions that used to interest me, but no longer do.

Despite the fact that I broke away from the norm and became a self-employed cartoonist and painter, it might surprise you that I’ve always been somewhat of a people pleaser, or at least that’s my instinct. I’ll usually go along with the general consensus of a group rather than create a conflict for no reason.

Last weekend, with the kids and spouses home to celebrate my parent’s 50th anniversary, my folks and I were talking about how I’m very much like my Mom. That’s a compliment. She’s a class act. But while I’ve inherited many of her skills and talents (that’s where the art comes from), the people pleasing also comes from her. She struggles with it, too.

The irony is that when you do that long enough, it eventually gets old and you start lashing out a little, or get a chip on your shoulder because you’re not getting the respect you think you deserve from friends and colleagues when they take advantage of that character trait. The truth, however, is that people treat you how you teach them to treat you and if you show them long enough that you’re not going to rock the boat, why would they expect anything different?

When those scales begin to tip, however, they can go a little too far the other way before your ship rights itself. I’ve gone along with things I didn’t want to far too often and have also been very militant about not doing anything I don’t want to during this uncomfortable realization.

Early in my career, I was part of a group called the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, NAPP for short. It was a great community full of photographers, graphic designers, illustrators and other creatives. There was a vibrant busy online forum of regulars and I became friends with many of them.

After a few years, I was making enough money to afford to go to my first Photoshop World event in Las Vegas, a conference that was part of that community. The second year I went, one of my images won the Illustration Guru Award and the Best in Show. In successive years, I ended up doing painting demos at the Wacom booth, got to know some of those folks with that company and have made some friends there, too. My last year at Photoshop World was 2014 and I again won the Best in Show Award for my painting ‘One in Every Family.’

It was a good year to end on and say, “Goodbye.”

I know some wonderful people today that I would not have ever met had it not been for that organization and those five trips to Vegas. My career moved forward in great leaps from being a part of that community, from the support I got from the members, instructors and affiliates to the immense treasure trove of knowledge I gained that contributed to doing what I love to do. It was incredibly inspiring, being around so many people who enjoy their work and watching them become better artists as well.

But things have changed. NAPP no longer exists and the organization became Kelby Media. It’s now focused so much on photography that while there are things I could learn, it’s just not enough to justify the expense. Many of those people I looked forward to seeing there each year just don’t go anymore. The whole feel of the experience isn’t what it used to be. The event has changed, and so have I. But, I have so many great memories and it was well worth my time, which is one of the best compliments I can pay.

I’ve also been seeing recent posts about the upcoming Canadian Cartoonists Convention in Toronto. The group was previously the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists but has expanded to allow others to join. I have not been a member for quite some time.

The only convention I’ve gone to was the one I actually hosted in Banff in 2008. It was a lot of work and budget restraints meant I couldn’t do the convention I wanted to, but people came and I did it because I felt I should. Parts of it were interesting as I got to meet some cartoonists I’d only known by their work and reputation.

I remember obsessing over details, working out a schedule, losing sleep many nights trying to make sure I remembered to take care of everything. On the first day of scheduled classes/discussions, we got started twenty minutes late because people just wandered in whenever. One of the older cartoonists told me that this was normal, these guys didn’t really do well with schedules and being anywhere on time.

That was a clarifying moment for me. I remember thinking, “Oh, I really don’t belong here.”

It became clear that my first one was probably my last one. The upcoming convention looks to be a three or four day event of talks, tours, meals and parties and I just don’t see the benefit to me. With limited time off during the year and funds with which to do so, that doesn’t even crack the Top 20 of trips I want to take. Many of these folks are competitors whose business choices have made my life more difficult and some have irreparably damaged industry rates and practices.

I’ve never been a good actor. How do you play nice in that environment, especially when you’re getting nothing out of it?

It occurred to me this morning, that while that convention is going on next month, I will be on my first camping trip of 2016. I’ll be sitting by a lake in British Columbia, relaxing, reading, sketching, taking pictures, enjoying good food and drink with friends I have known for years. That’s where I want to be.

I used to feel I had to apologize for not wanting to be a part of that editorial cartoonist organization, just as I should for no longer wanting to go to Photoshop World. Hell, I wasn’t even going to write some of this stuff down for fear I might offend somebody. See, that people pleaser instinct is tough to keep at bay.

There comes a time when you really do have to look at how many days you might have left (likely less than you think) and ask yourself how you want to spend them. Personally, I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars to attend conferences that deliver no worth to me. I’d rather be working.

The more success you find in anything, the more people will feel free to tell you that you’re doing it wrong, for no other reason than you’re not doing what they want you to do. You can’t change their opinion, and as time passes, you realize you don’t even care to.

Lake

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Fall Reflections

Creek091813BlogThis time of year finds me reflective.  The Canadian Rockies are breathtaking in the fall and it somehow makes me want to slow down and find a little more peace.

Earlier this month, I found myself paying attention to the goings on at Photoshop World in Las Vegas, a conference I’ve attended for the past four years, but one I decided to take a break from this time.

It was a surprise to me that I missed being there, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, since not going was a conscious decision.  The last couple of years, I’d been going for networking, socializing, and making strategic moves to further my career via different connections and affiliations.  While that proved to be well worth my time, it also tainted the experience I’d had the first couple of years when I’d been taking classes and was really excited to be there.

When I first began this self-directed career, I was always hungry to become better.  Having never gone to art school and starting pretty late to this business of art, I felt a need to catch up to my competitors, to prove I could hold my own, even had a chip on my shoulder about the whole thing.  Over time, through a lot of trial and error, I eventually found the work I love most.  But during that period, I was learning new techniques from other artists, watching DVDs, reading articles, tutorials, and taking classes.

Then there came what I thought was a natural evolution.  Suddenly, I’m the one writing articles, recording videos and training DVDs, doing demos and training for companies, schools and groups, and figuring that this was what I was supposed to be doing now, moving up to the teaching level.  Many friends and colleagues have made teaching a large part of their businesses and some of them are not only very good at it, they really seem to thrive on the experience.

But more teaching will involve more traveling, writing scripts, recording, and less time doing the work I enjoy most.  It will also involve breaking down the work I love so much into an assembly process, evaluating it to death and sucking all the life out of it.  There’s still a feeling of magic in my work when I draw and paint, a connection to something else that isn’t me, as nauseatingly artsy as that might sound.  It’s what I love most about painting, the soul of it all.  You can’t dissect something without killing it.

The opportunity to speak and demo at the Wacom booth last year in Vegas was one I enjoyed.  Even as an introvert (not to be confused with shy), I’ve got no problem with public speaking or talking with people, and I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it.  Repeating that experience now and then is something I’m happy to do.  I’ve realized that I do not, however, want teaching to be a large part of my career, at least not now.  I’m fine with showing how I do it, talking about what I’m thinking, and trying to inspire others to explore their own creative instincts, but breaking my work down to stereo instructions is not something I enjoy.

I’ve written in the past that one way to find out what you want to do is to start checking off the things you don’t, then look at the choices that remain.

Over the past few weeks and months, an underlying melancholy has been lurking just below the surface, this feeling that something is missing.  This week, while taking one of my regular walks up Cougar Creek, on the day I took the photo you see above, I realized what has been bugging me.  I miss being a student.

When you’re self-employed at anything, especially in a creative field, fear is a part of daily life.  After you’ve been in the gig for a number of years and are making a good living at it, the fear can stop being a motivator, however, and can instead keep you from moving forward, a fear of losing what you have already gained.  It can happen so subtly that you don’t even realize that you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

The last couple of years have found me concerning myself with marketing moves, making connections and evaluating promotion strategies, all absolutely necessary for anyone who has chosen  art as a profession.  But when you’re going ninety miles an hour trying not to fall behind where you think everybody else is (a race you can NEVER win), you start missing the reason you’re on the road in the first place.  That’s when it’s time for a change.

I still plan to draw the daily editorial cartoons, paint my whimsical wildlife paintings and some portraits, and take illustration and painting commissions as usual.  I’ll still be promoting my work the same way I’ve always done, running my booth at the Calgary Expo in the Spring, and evaluating each opportunity as it comes along.  I’ve worked very hard to get to a place where I make a good living doing the work I love, and I still do have to make a living, so I’ll always run my business to the best of my ability.

But, I’ve decided to take my foot off the pedal for a little while.  I’m tired of running all the time and want to slow down.  There is some fear that if I stop scrambling in the promotion game, that I may ‘lose ground’ but really, what the hell does that mean anyway?  Lose ground to whom?

I miss being a student, so I’m going to spend more time being one.  I can’t recall the last time I sat and read an article about painting or drawing or took some lessons to become better.  Lately, when I see other artists and illustrators posting teaching and training videos, I’m not thinking, “I should be doing that.”  What I’m actually thinking is, “I want to learn from these people.”

When in doubt, trust your gut, and this just feels right.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.