Recently, I painted a huge poster for an upcoming event at one of my jobs. It was challenging, since it’s a retail store, and I didn’t really have a conducive space to work at. But I always put 110% of myself in when I’m creating something from nothing. I set myself up in the training room, working entirely with tools marked down from the store, and set to creating something my supervisor would be proud of. While working on this and a few other art projects there, I’ve lost track of the comments I received that left me puzzled and just a little frustrated. They went something like this…
“Oh, goofing off, I see!”
“Are we crafting today?”
“Ah, you must be the new sign maker.”
“Are you still working on that”
“When are you getting back to work?”
Granted, these comments were made in light hearted, conversational tones. And I didn’t let them distract me from my goals or ruin my day. But it got me to thinking about the modern perception of what an artist (writer, costumer, leatherworker, etc) is. Some people think we’re the ones who never grew up, who never got a “real” job, and never took responsibility for our lives. We’re slackers, dreamers, idealists, rebels. Well, I guess we are rebels in a way…
We’re more than rebels, though. We are pioneers. We either opted out of, or were not born for the 9-5 grind. I had a superviser take me into her office one day and say, “Let’s face it, you suck at answering phones.” I agreed with her. For whatever reason, be it ADHD, a creative brain, or just lack of aptitude in that environment, answering a phone while trying to work on three projects at the same time would completely derail me. But when I draw, paint, design or write, I find myself in an accelerated place of learning and achieving. My brain goes haywire, and I find that I’m thinking 10 steps ahead. I’m in the zone. It’s like I’m supposed to be doing this. And I am. I gave up administrative work because I was not good at it, and I found I had a talent in something completely different. In giving up a standard job, I gave up a lot: regular benefits, paid holidays, sick leave, predictable paydays… I’ve had that upon occasion in the graphic design positions I’ve held over the years, but I’ve been laid off of most of those jobs due to the economy.
Still, it’s who I am. And it’s who many of my friends are. Many of us are working from home, busting our butts, being our own bosses, juggling deadlines, setting our own schedules, doggedly researching the best ways to promote ourselves, and finding new ways to keep our goals achievable and met. We have to work harder to make less money than most of our peers.
When I work on a drawing or a painting, it takes more energy than you’d imagine. I can spend days trying to find the right idea in my head. I’ll sit down, and stare at the blank page or canvas before I know how I want to begin. Once I have the course plotted, I’ll spend hours bent over my paper/computer/canvas, focusing intently on what I’m making. Occasionally I’ll remember to get up and stretch when my back, neck and eyes start to complain. I’ll rail against the clock and the fates at my deadlines. But in the end, when I am finished, I am a new parent. This is a part of me that I have taken out of myself to share with the world. Each week, I create something from nothing and send it off into the world, turning back to prepare to do it all over again. You’ll never see me stop doing this, in spite of the difficulties. It’s what I was born to do. I can feel it in my bones.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun, and we enjoy what we do. Otherwise, we’d be masochists! We do what we love for love of the craft. But we also commit to a lot more challenges than are readily apparent. There’s an unsung heroism in going off the beaten track. We’re grateful and touched by the appreciation, support and patronage we receive for our work. But we’d probably do it anyway, because something inside of us tells us we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.
The next time you talk to an artist, writer, costumer, or anyone who has a creative vocation, try to see past the glamour of pursuing a dream and getting to play for a living. Try to see the dedication, self motivation and self discipline, that upon occasion are our only fallbacks.