Yes, Art Matters

Last week, the world was dealt a devastating blow. An entire nation was brought to its knees with the stunning realization that racism, fascism, and the general population’s distrust of our government is a perfect storm for a Person Like Him to rise to power. I have a lot to say about that, but for now I’m going to shift focus on how I’ve seen current events affect artists and friends of mine.

Being self-employed, independent, freelance designers and artists means relying on social media and nearly constant self-promotion to remind people that you exist and are interesting and you are making cool things. Make no mistake that I find this work exhausting and would rather be locked in my studio making, making, making. 

With mixed feelings last week, I had to keep marching on towards two major art shows that I’ve worked incredibly hard for and arranged my whole life around. This is work that I live for, honestly. But last week, I didn’t feel like selling my work, and I didn’t feel like selling myself.

At the same time, something snapped inside of me. I’ve spent so much of my life being polite and playing it safe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total rule breaker. I just prefer to break the rules quietly. 

On election night, that polite part of me broke and I publicly let my feelings be known. Then I made protest art. I didn’t give myself time to let the work rest, or get critiques from friends. I published “PUSSY GRABS BACK” quickly as a rallying cry before I lost my nerve. 

At West Coast Craft, I took Polaroids of people holding a giant PUSSY GRABS BACK print that I made. People laughed, and cheered, and stared, and rolled their eyes, and threw their fists in the air in support. This is the proudest moment of my career.

“What’s the point? Making art feels useless. I feel guilty for continuing,” are phrases I’ve heard again and again by my closest artist friends this week. We had to talk each other through it, reminding each other that our work matters and it isn’t pointless. The world still needs art. We need art that informs, art that soothes, art that renews rage so that we maintain momentum and keep fighting. To put your brushes down at this point would be a disservice to everyone. 

We all need each other right now.

Self-employed folks are having a hard time justifying putting their work out right now. 

Especially women. 

Especially women of color. 

It doesn’t help when industry voices publicly criticize this choice. I want to be clear about this: there’s a difference between ignoring current events and continuing to make a living. There’s also a difference between artists selling political work for pure profit, and artists selling work for profit that is donated to charities and political organizations.

It’s okay for independent designers to keep plugging along right now. And it’s okay for employed designers to keep going to work and trying to do their jobs. And it’s okay for anyone who has had a hard time getting out of bed. And it’s okay for anyone who keeps getting dressed. And it's okay for anyone who’s afraid of slowing down for a second, because if they do, they might collapse in grief. And it’s okay for everyone who can’t handle the news or social media right now. And it’s definitely alright for people who are mad as hell to organize, protest, and say whatever the fuck they want because we are in dark times, and the time for politeness is over.

Please continue to support independent artists and designers during this time. We rely on you to make a living, and we need our community more than ever right now.

Here’s a list of women and people of color making art that gives back right now:

Who else is giving back? Let me know in the comments. ❤️

Productivity

Most people either say they're a morning person or an evening person. When you work for yourself, you can get super nuanced about when you want to do different types of creative work. For me, that mostly means I see very few people during the week. Yeah, I'm a work hermit. Not always. But sometimes I just get in this mood that lasts for weeks where I feel like I constantly have something that I want to be doing. Instead of wondering if this is good or bad, I'm rolling with it. Texting other stay-at-home club members (when my phone isn't in Do Not Disturb) helps me make sure I still have a social life. :)

I get the most work done early in the morning, late at night, on Friday afternoons, or during big events like the Super Bowl. I think it’s because the world is a little quieter. I feel like I can get away with brave, creative, honest work when the whole world isn’t looking – no judgment and no noise. Finding the space to be creatively WEIRD and WONDERFUL is one of the best gifts you can give yourself! That's what Tuff Stuff and 100 scribbled-down half-baked ideas are all about. When we take our work too seriously, it shows. Give yourself room to play! And remember:

When do you feel the most focused and creative? What helps you get loose and make silly stuff??

Baby's First Sabbatical

Last September, I decided to take three months off of client work to focus on personal work. There are a few reasons why I took time off. First, I was tired. I had done a year’s worth of client work in 10 months. (Whoa.) Second, I was a little burnt out. I had just planned my third conference in two years, in New York at ADC Global. (Amazing.) Third, I was ramping up for my first art exhibition in San Francisco – West Coast Craft. Okay, now I’m hyperventilating. That is a lot of things! 

The Secret Handshake Conference at ADC Global, Oct 2 & 3

The Secret Handshake Conference at ADC Global, Oct 2 & 3

West Coast Craft, Nov 14-15

West Coast Craft, Nov 14-15

I’ve spent a bit of time kicking myself for not *doing enough* during this time off. It’s not a good feeling. When I think about what three months of free time looks like, I imagine how much can be done with a clean slate. But the truth is, it wasn’t really a clean slate! I had planned a lot of events and activities during this time! So I did those, and there wasn't time for anything else. The first time Stefan Sagmeister took a year-long sabbatical, he basically did nothing because he didn't come up with a plan beforehand. His story makes me feel a lot better about the way I spent my time.

The Good

Free time is amazing. I feel so well rested and low-key stress-free in most aspects of life. I’ve been able to take a step back and reflect on the types of work that I want to be doing, and who I want to be working with. This is a super radical idea to me, since I jumped into freelance in late 2014 and just started swimming. I’ve even started saying “no” to projects that aren’t the right fit for me – something I don’t think I would have done without this time off.

The Bad

Free time is scary, because you have *so much space* to think about what you want. Too much space means you start playing the what if game. “What if I can’t get what I want? What if I’m not good enough? What if no one wants me for this type of work?” When you start to work towards what you really want in life, you don’t have anyone to blame if things don’t pan out. You’ve got to live with that possibility.

The Ugly

There are more projects I wanted to do after West Coast Craft. I wanted to keep that creativity train goin’ and work on everything, including one very special project that’s close to my heart. But after West Coast Craft, I gave a Creative Mornings talk! Then it was Thanksgiving! Then I made a book for zine fest! Then it was Christmas! I can’t do *any* project in fits and starts – I need continuity. For awhile I felt guilty about not making progress on all those little spare projects. Now I know that I didn’t actually have space for them, and that’s okay. It’s also okay that I haven’t finished posting travel photos from last year, or made music, or perfected sourdough. Patience, my friends.

I need continuity. I need a daily practice. I need lots of time to sit and make and think and explore and process and refine and produce and photograph and show and tell. These are big undertakings. For awhile I guilted myself, “I had three months, I should have been able to do this!” But when I look at reality, there is just no way I could have done all those projects. I was busy making other things!

What happens next?

Now it’s January, and I’ve been quietly thinking and planning my year while slowly ramping up client work. In the future when I take time off for personal work, I will:

• not plan it over the holidays
• set up a project timeline with deliverables and a due date
• be realistic about time management

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter that I didn’t “do more”. Because I did enough. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t crank out that one project that I’m dying to get into the world. Because I will. When I’m ready for that project, it will be my sole focus, and I will plan all my time around it. I will give it the attention it deserves. Nothing gets done without planning first! 

Have you ever taken time off from work? What did that look like for you? Let me know!

Dress Up for What

Since working from home the last few months, my style has taken an interesting turn. I still have a portion of my closet dedicated to office-appropriate basics (hello, Everlane). But working from home requires a different kind of wardrobe. Being in my pajamas all day is just not an option. 

I've found a few pieces that help me feel ready to take on the world, even just from home. Flowy dresses? Check. Wide-legged pants? Check. Soft cotton dresses and sweaters? Check. 

via  tumblr

via tumblr

I practically live in this dress from Nasty Gal. Cozy for home, suitable for work, and perfect for San Francisco's day-to-night look.

Even if I'm just going down the street to get a coffee, it's nice to feel put-together.

Of course, working for myself also means I have a great excuse to play with fashion. When the mood strikes, I like to mix things up and wear more colorful & extravagant vintage pieces from my closet.

What do you wear when working from home? How does your wardrobe change outside the office?

New Year, Same Me

Happy new year, everyone! I hope you enjoyed a serious break and relaxation over the holidays. 

Our sweet airbnb in Nashville

Our sweet airbnb in Nashville

I was home in Tennessee, in a loving rapture of doing absolutely nothing at all. I got to spend time with my family and my nephew, who is the cutest little boy on the face of the planet. He's so curious about everything, it's really inspiring to be around him and listen to him make up stories. 

My nephew taking photos on his first camera

My nephew taking photos on his first camera

Now I’m back in San Francisco, easing into the new year. A sinus infection is holding me back a little, so I’m grateful that I didn’t fill my plate too much this week. And that’s something I did on purpose.

 

My only resolution for 2015 is to guard my time. Do the things I say I'm going to do.

“Time is the coin of your life. You spend it. Do not allow others to spend it for you.” Carl Sandburg

I’m thrilled to be working for myself, and I’m working with a handful of wonderful clients on interesting, exciting projects. However, being the guardian of my own time proved to be difficult. Time goes by so quickly in a day, especially when you mix in running errands with conducting meetings. I’m also super social, and love the freedom of meeting up for coffee and lunch anywhere, anytime. But if I’m not careful, the best and most creative parts of my day get wiled away and there’s no recovery.

As much as I want to meet up with other creative people during the week, I have to put my business first. So my only resolution is protect my precious work time and dedicate myself to it. This is a lot easier to do now that I work from home instead of an open office. I’m not nervous about anyone looking over my shoulder, interrupting me to ask a question, or attending a meeting just as I’m getting into a work groove. 

I’m really looking forward to what this year brings. Between starting my business and diving into The Secret Handshake content, 2015 is looking bright.

What are your resolutions this year? What are you looking forward to in your life?