I can finally reveal the book cover I was working on for Tundra Books (A division of Penguin Random House)! It is available for pre-order now, and will be released September 8, 2015. It’s a lovely story written by Linda Bailey. I was smitten by it from the first reading. I’ll give more detail in future posts, but I’m now in the midst of self-publishing my next book in time for TCAF, which is fast approaching. TCAF runs May 9 and 10 in Toronto. For complete event details, here’s a link to TCAF’s website.
What follows is a candid and unedited episode from my life. Well, some things were edited I guess. I apologize if the graphic details are disturbing. Some of the events are explicit and may be difficult to read, but I think it’s important that the truth is out there.
I like butter. I cook with butter. Because I cook with butter, I have to measure butter. Luckily, butter packaging is printed with handy little markings so you can easily cut off just the right amount without messing up any measuring cups. alas, the iconic butter package has its limitations, for it only marks the first two 1/4 cups, then a 1/2 and then one cup.
It means that if I cut off the first two quarter cups, and then I want to cut off another 1/4, I am forced to awkwardly lift the butter over to the markings with my bare hand so I can accurately measure. It’s a messy process, but this is the unpleasant, harsh reality of butter measuring.
Then a couple of years ago I discovered that I have been subjected to a lifetime of unnecessary frustration and greasy fingers caused by bad butter packaging.
So, what, might you ask, was my moment of illumination? Brace yourself.
Like I did so many times before, I took a package of butter from my fridge and opened the flap to reveal the measurement markings. I gasped. For upon this particular package were markings for every 1/4 cup starting at one end and preposterously continuing all the way to the other. First one 1/4, then another, then absurdly, another six individually marked 1/4 cups divided the entire two cups contained within this butter package. It didn’t end there. Every 1/3 cup was marked as well.
How could this be? Everyone knows that a butter package has the first two 1/4 cups marked, then 1/2, then one cup. But not any more! My heart raced and I squinted at the label: Selection brand. It was from my local Food Basics.
At first I was furious thinking back at countless years subjected to slipshod butter packaging negligently flaunting perfunctory measurement markings. However, the joy I experienced at the sight of this perfect butter package filled my heart with smiling images of easy future butter measuring. The world had been liberated from unspeakable butter package design.
But no. No? That’s right, no. No, I bought butter from another shop and its antiquated inadequate markings mocked me, in a way that only butter packaging can. I bought yet another brand from another shop and discovered the same. Surely other brands would eventually follow suit?
To make a two-year story considerably less so, I am sad to announce that the only butter packaging I have found to show the world what measurements can be is Selection brand butter. Could there be others out there? Perhaps in shops I don’t go to in towns I have never visited? One can only hope.
I do so love good design. When good design is simply a matter of printing a few numbers and nobody does it, I face palm.
I recently heard this episode of Marc Maron’s podcast WTF that set off fireworks in my head. Here’s a link. Rhett Miller is the guest and he talks very candidly about his life and experience as a musician.
Rhett lived with artists and other passionate young creatives when he was younger and saw what a struggle it was for visual artists to make a living. He realized that music made more sense to him.
“You make a painting—that painting doesn’t do shit, it just sits there. One person buys it one time. You know, if I do a song I could play it every night, I can put it on a record, I can sell it. So, it just seemed like an easier commodity to negotiate.”
It’s a lesson every artist learns. Being true to your vision and uncompromising with your artistic integrity is the most important value when you’re committed to a creative life. It’s the first commandment, and it’s your driving force. But the second creative commandment that Rhett figured out at a young age, is finding a medium that you can sell to make a living. The two commandments can co-exist, and it’s the responsibility of the artist to find that balance.
This idea has shaped my creative pursuits. It’s the reason I started making books. Books are, as Rhett puts it, commodities that seem easier for me to negotiate.
If you’re creative, you do commercial work, and it’s rare that commercial work respects artistic integrity. The creative people I know compartmentalize. They put commercial work in its own category and they do it in order to fund personal art-making. I do it myself. I’m a graphic designer and I take on commissions for artwork. We haven’t given up, sold out or compromised. It’s quite the opposite. We’re finding a way to make a living so we can continue creating autonomously. The goal for every creative person—the holy grail of the artist—is to work for a personal vision and make uncompromising work that finds commercial success on its own merit. No changes, no adaptations. It just sells itself.
What does “make a living” mean? The answer is entirely personal and it defines how you live your creative life. You need to define it for yourself by answering three questions:
1. What comforts can’t I live without?
2. How much money do I need to get them?
3. How do I want to spend my time?
That’s the formula for every artist and it is a struggle. A non-artist doesn’t struggle with these questions. The non-artist who struggles with these questions is suppressing an inner-artist.
If you’re an artist, you must find a way of living that supports your creative life, as much as your creative life supports your way of living. This is a beautiful and dynamic balance. It’s a state of bliss. How you spend your time becomes a habit that either helps you live in bliss or hinders your bliss.
If you’re wondering how you’re supposed to know whether you’re doing something that helps or hinders your bliss, the answer is remarkably simple. If what you are doing does not help your bliss, it’s hindering your bliss.
Yes, I have read Joseph Campbell. And yes, I know life has a habit of throwing curve-balls at bliss in the form of injury, sickness, disease, disorders, death and just plain bad luck. That’s why the life of an artist can be so hard. There are so many reasons for giving up and catatonically drooling at a continuous stream of videos until you shrivel up into an arthritic fist of sore wrinkles. As impossible as it feels to commit your life to art, living without art doesn’t just feel impossible for the artist, it is impossible. There is simply no other way to be. Likewise, making a living has no alternative. We’re all in the same boat.
I’m going to conclude by saying something that only people who have committed to a life of art can understand: there is no such thing as a “starving artist.” The “starving” some artists do is superficial—they earn less, live simply and have few possessions. But what they gain is focus, commitment to a vision, and less time spent on distractions like expensive leisure activities and maintaining possessions. Without the liberties that money affords, artists are more resourceful and find more time to spend making art. Hard-working artists who really do starve are just like non-artists who starve: they lack opportunity, privilege, and resources necessary to navigate our capitalist system. They simply don’t know how to apply their skills in a way that is marketable. As Rhett Miller put it, they haven’t discovered a commodity that is easy to negotiate.
Maybe you’re an artist who hasn’t yet discovered your commodity. So, how do you do it? I’m going to explore that throughout articles and interviews in the coming year. Stay tuned!
I thought it fitting to wrap up the last day of 2014 with a year-end update. I recently took part in the winter edition of Bazaar of the Bizarre. Another great show organized by Adriana at Plastik Wrap.
Louise Peacock took tons of photos and posted them on her blog Fashion Business Fun. Take a look. I’m sure this will entice anyone who missed it to come next time, especially if you’re often stumped for gift ideas. I picked up a bunch of Christmas gifts from my favourite maker of handmade body care products, Peculiar Potions. Quality products made from ingredients that are not cruelly tested on animals. It was a pleasure chatting with Peculiar Potions’ Becka. It was easy to do since she was positioned directly across from my table!
At the Bazaar, I signed a book for “The Addams Family”. I kid you not. The lovely woman I was signing the book for explained that she and her husband will be legally changing their family surname to Addams since neither felt comfortable acquiring the other’s last name and Addams suited their personalities. What a fantastic idea!
A little while later, the soon to be Mrs. Addams gave me a gift “from the Addams family to the Soelberg family.” They are beautiful ornaments. It turns out the nearly Mrs. Addams is also known as Marla from Gloom Matter, and she was selling her wares at the Bazaar too. Thank you Marla.
Before I say goodbye to 2014, I want to share a lovely note I received from a fan. I made a couple of new prints this winter, both requested by fans. So, as of now, my shop has brand new prints of Tilda and Shaw. I promised not to make Tilda available before Christmas because it was a secret gift. The print of Shaw was requested by Jenn, who was decked out in a fantastic Mars Attacks! costume at the recent Hamilton Comic Con. I found payment from Jenn yesterday in my rusty old mailbox with a nice note written on the envelope. Thank you Jenn. Your words mean a lot.
So, I’ll be spending the rest of my time off putting the finishing touches on my fence (yes, that’s still happening!) and doing lots of nothing with my family. Here’s to another year!