Sunday, September 30, 2012

The road so far, or "a story of art, unemployment and hard descisions"

Hello all. I know I've been sadly inactive for awhile now, so for my own piece of mind and as a public service to others struggling during these crappy times, I've to decided to chronicle the turbulence of the last year. This will be a long post, with very little (if any) art, so apologies to my followers who stop by for the visuals (though there haven't been many visuals lately anyway...). Well, here we go.

It all started sometime around September 2011 when I made the choice to put pursuing a full time career in art on hold. For me, this was a huge deal. I'd spent 6 years, pretty much my entire adult life, pursuing that goal, and making the choice to move to other things felt a little like quitting. I didn't decide to give up art entirely, but I realized I wasn't any closer to becoming a full time artist/illustrator than I was when I left college. In fact, I was starting to feel like that goal was getting further away. It was time to sit down and take a hard look at what I really wanted from life, and figure out a way to get there. It was a painful decision, but at the time, it seemed like the right move.

There were quite a few things that led me to that point, but the final nail in my artistic coffin was the author's show at Benjamin Benjamin. The reception to the "Murakami's girls" series was incredible, but it was a bit too little too late. The overwhelming response highlighted some huge weaknesses in my situation that I'd tried to ignore for too long. In short, my "artistic infrastructure", if you wanna call it that, finally began to fall apart. My computer, which had been on life support for around a year, finally crapped out on me, and just as I was able to Frankenstein my printer up to an old Mac G4 to fill the mounting print orders, it started dieing as well.

I realized that I was at one of the highest points in my career, but I literally couldn't afford to move any further. The recession had hit me pretty hard, and while I could cover my bills between my part-time job and print sales, illustration jobs had dried up and no one was buying originals. Without those big ticket sales or freelance gigs, I didn't have the savings to upgrade my set-up, and without upgrading I couldn't get the jobs that would add to my savings. The proverbial catch 22. So I made the decision.

I had a few other gallery commitments after the author's show, but I basically started looking for a full time "big boy" job as soon as the new year rolled around. Job searches are painful in the best of times, but I definitely felt the pain of failure. All I ever wanted to do was freelance illustration, and looking for full-time positions as customer service reps or admin assistants was demoralizing for sure. I just kept telling myself that it was the responsible thing to do, and that helped push me forward. After a few months of searching I found a decent paying gig with a company called SnapNames. Though not creative at all, it was going to be the full deal; a real salary, benefits, paid time off (oh man-paid time off!). It was tough to do it, but I quit my part-time job of three years and made the leap.

 The work was boring, but my co-workers were awesome and it turned out I was good at the job. I settled in to a nice rhythm and after a month or so, I was pretty content. I had also decided on a plan of action to keep myself focused. I'd work for a few years, build my war chest, and then then hit the ground running with a pocket full of savings and sparkly new equipment. In the mean time I could get my online store set up, take some classes, and keep myself in the art game with some personal projects. With money no longer looming over everything I did, maybe I could take some risks and bring my stuff to a whole new level. Good plan right?

Then it happened. SnapNames decided to go through a "management change". What a dreadful phrase. It seemed fine at first-some new policies and a new chain of command-but it became pretty clear, pretty fast that my department was in trouble. The company hired a bunch of people in Florida (where the labor laws are less strict) and was barely paying attention to the Portland office, except to occasionally tell us when we could or couldn't piss. They ignored our ideas and warnings and cut us out of the information loop. My co-workers and I constantly made "if we're still here" jokes to lighten the mood, but we were worried. Still, I had hope. According to their own metrics (another terrible, corporate word) I was one of their most productive employees, and while technically still a temp, my old manager assured me that I was doing a great job and shouldn't be worried.

On July 10th I got into work early to prep for a visit from our new Floridian manager. I was supposed to become a real employee at 90 days, and this was something like the 105th, so I was a bit nervous that they were going to keep me a temp forever. Thinking that I might need to prove my worth, I printed out some positive feedback from customers and a couple of graphs showing my productivity (bleh). When she arrived, I was almost immediately called into the conference room. I gathered my documents, set aside an e-mail I was working on, took a breath and entered ready to present a damn good case on why it would be worth it to bring me on full time.

Before I even sat down she started, "I want to do this real quick. We have decided to terminate the temp position". I felt the blood rush out of my face and asked what that meant exactly, though I already knew. I was getting laid off. I asked if I had done a good job but all she could say was "Its a business decision." No 'thank you' for my hard work and no humanity towards the situation. I was led to my desk to clear out my things and when I tried to say good-bye to a few people, I was stopped with the same heartless line, "Its a business", and ushered out of the office. SnapNames was funny. I'd never had so much quantifiable proof that I was doing a great job but been treated so poorly in return. Being led out of the office like a criminal was just their perfect little "f-you for everything". But hey, that's the corporate world for you. Within the next month and a half, my entire department would be gone.

People talk a lot about hitting bottom, and I think getting laid off was definitely my professional bottom. It hurt particularly bad because when I took the job, I believed I was doing the responsible thing for myself and my future. I put my dream on hold for stability but now I was questioning everything. Before SnapNames I at least had a part-time job to pay the bills. Now I was stuck without any prospects, no income, and to make things worse, I was literally 8 hours shy of qualifying for unemployment because my previous work was all on a contract or freelance basis (take note freelancers in Oregon). The only thing saving me was that I had suspected the lay-off was coming, and had saved up a small cushion. I had enough to last about 3 months, but I was scared.

The first weeks after my lay-off are a little blurry. I was pissed, not only at the company but myself. I remember staring at Craigslist and endlessly hitting the refresh button. I went through a couple of maddening experiences with unemployment (including a week long circus to get my name changed after they had entered it incorrectly) before realizing I wouldn't even qualify. Some people suggested that I could make art again because I was temporarily free, but I was so worried about my situation that any creative thought was so exhausting I'd just end up back on the couch. Art was only a 'maybe', and I felt that every moment spent doing anything other than looking for a new job was irresponsible and wasted. Time with friends was spent worrying and time at home felt claustrophobic. In short, I was kinda a mess.

Time passed though, and eventually I got to where I am today. I was lucky and able to secure myself a new job at a company that seems pretty cool. Nice people, good benefits. The full deal. So is this a happy ending, and where does this put me with art? I don't know. I'm pretty shell-shocked after everything that happened. And I still haven't done anything creative in almost a full year. I'm hoping that after some time I'll settle in again and feel stable enough to invest in myself again. I still want to get new equipment, get my print store up, take some classes, etc. but I'm not sure where any of that will take me. There are other things besides art/illustration that I'd love to do; own my own store, travel, etc; and at least for now, I'm just going do what feels right. I'll make art when the feeling hits me, but I'm not going to do it because I think I have to. Though I will admit the itch is coming back.

So that's the story up till now. Long, I know. If you stuck with me, good for you. I'm not sure if there is anything to learn, but maybe if you've gone through the same thing you'll know you aren't alone. Anyway I just wanted to put this all out there for the people who do follow me and have wanted to know the story. If and when there is movement on a store, I'll make sure to contact everyone who has contacted me about prints. with luck it will be sooner than later. Until then, thanks for following!

 My unused, but hopefully not for much longer, studio.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Aww, I've been SuperPunched!


That was a pleasant surprise since I've been so inactive lately. SuperPunch is an awesome time wasting site and its kinda an honor for me to get featured there. I've popped up a few times when I had shows going on, but I wasn't expecting this at all. Always nice to know your art is still circulating even when you aren't actively showing.