Tag Archives: being an artist

My outline for making a living with what you love:


I did a panel sharing what I’ve learned with the DragonCon crowd a few years back, and used the following list to extemporaneously discourse on each point as I remembered stuff. I’m convinced that everyone would be happier if we all earned our keep doing what we were born to do.

Marrus’ Nine Suggestions (there are no rules) For Turning the Pictures in Your Head into a Roof Over It

1. Know what you want to do. 
Start with one thing. It’s the clearest thing in your head. It keeps you up at night, working. Too many projects is a great way to distract yourself from earning a living with one.

2. Have a plan.
Who needs this thing that you want to do? You’re gonna have to hit the road to find the people who are looking for YOU.

3. Learn what you need to get there.
A lot of success comes from being in the right place at the right time. Everything can be an opportunity. Even that job you hate. Keep in mind what it is you want to do, and keep at, keep learning, keep pushing. 

4. Stay true to your vision.
It’s fine to take a job off-center of ideal, but keep working on the thing for YOU. We lose our artistic integrity when we only cater to an established audience. Choose your allies and your addictions wisely.

5. Give back.
Teach the things you learn along the way. Sacred knowledge should be shared, not hoarded.

6. Use every tool you can find.
Barter. Use libraries, social networking sites. Blog. Question people more knowledgeable than you in your field – they started somewhere, too. Don’t overlook the guy who runs the bar down the street. Network everywhere, but be nice about it. And if an opportunity comes along that’s not right for you, pass it along to a friend.

7. Stay hungry.
That means keep learning. Keep looking. Get out of your comfort zone.

8. Be professional.
People will believe you are how you present yourself. Value your work and the time & knowledge that went into it. You’re gonna be a small business owner, so market yourself as well as your art. Remember, if it’s on the web, assume everyone you never wanted to see it WILL see it.

9. Never give up.
You won’t get the life you want if you quit fighting for it.

A final word: If you can see ANY other way to make a living, do that instead. This path can be long & hard, and unless it’s your entire world, the effort it’ll take probably won’t be worth it to you. You may realign your forces dozens of times, but each time, you’ll learn something new, make a new connection, and get that much closer to making a living with your passion.

(And if you want to hear more about this stuff, have I mentioned lately that I wrote a book? No really – I did. It’s good. (Other people have told me.)


New Orleans Royalty

I had one of my too-rare, up-close brushes with New Orleans jazz royalty last night.

 You can sense them coming before they arrive, because crowds part for these women. Oh, these women.

 They move with the timeless majesty of African elephants, slowly, decisively, owning the ground on which they walk. These were voluptuous, made-up beautifully, with wide, bright smiles, perfect pedicures, expensive, draping dresses, sparkling headwraps, bling dripping from ears & throats and wrists and ankles.

 Accepting accolades from the locals, gracious with the uncomprehending stares from the tourists, they answered questions about the most recent gig, who played what, where they were next.

 Then they stopped, and fell into my work. One peppered me with questions tinted through the lens of the music industry: Where you from, sugar? Who’s managing you? Where you showing? Who’s your agent?

 And I deflected with, “All me, for now, but I’m so ready for the next step…”

 She said, “oh, yes, baby, you are…” And she and her friends moved on.

 No, they didn’t buy anything. That doesn’t matter, because they will be back, bringing more royalty. Quality flocks. The top-level music makers here run things as surely as the politicians, just from the other, funkier end. I want more of these people in my life – the ones secure in their own greatness, with quiet, fearless grace.

 I never know what mystery the night will bring, but a bit of magic always happens. I’ll be out there again this weekend:)

“Why All Paintings Don’t Grow Up to be Prints”, or “Self-Preservation in the Age of Be-Backs”


I’m hearing a lot of grousing about why I don’t make prints of every painting that I do, and I’d like to explain my reasons.

I sell my work at festivals around the country and online. Originals start around $300 and go into the stratosphere from there, while prints average about $50 each. It used to be that I’d make a new lithograph if I’d really put my heart into the painting, thinking that if I’d spent so much time loving it, other people would, too.

Not the case. I learned the hard (and expensive) way that my tastes and those of the buying public don’t always coincide.

I use an online fan page to determine which new paintings have the biggest audience for a potential print run. When the clamoring grows loud enough, the painting is digitally shot, which is about $75. Then, off to color correct the image to the original so the colors between the screen, the original, and the press jibe – $85/hour (averaging 3 hours/image). Then paper selection, figuring out other pieces to gang up on the press, rinse, repeat.

Every time I make new lithographs, I’m investing at least a thousand dollars. Yay credit cards! (I won’t even go into everything that happens AFTER a piece has been printed, and what it takes to get an artist’s work out into the world – I wrote a whole BOOK about that.)

And then, that piece that everyone wanted? That I got emailed and messaged and called about? That racked up 143 “likes” on Facebook? That provoked so many buried memories from all who saw it? That made that one chick burst into tears?

Two sell.

And I’m on the hook for the rest of them.

A discomforting disconnect has emerged from the ensconced safety of our screens. We comparative shop with the best of the bots. We rarely, if ever, see the salespeople, let alone the maker of our purchase. Storefronts have become streaming lists of ones & zeros, and the human interaction is removed from the equation.

Many of us like it this way. If I need a new coil of rope light, I don’t want to deal with rush hour traffic and a bored employee to get it. I just want to hop on Amazon.

But there is a difference when we deal directly with the person who has MADE the thing. Or does the performance. Or is having a party. I’ve written elsewhere about the blessing/curse that is the intertubz, but a disturbing new trend is emerging, once again fueled by the facelessness that is the online world.

If you and I were sitting in a coffee shop, and I told you I was having a party in a week, and you said, OH BOY I’M SO COMING!! WHAT CAN I BRING, chances are pretty good that you’re gonna show up to my party.

Enter Evite & Facebook Events. How many art shows/musical events/birthday parties/dinners have you “joined”, with little intention of actually showing up? Clicking is easy, right?

But saying you’re joining an event is not the same as “liking” a post. Someone may be making food. Buying booze for coquetailes. Renting a theatre. Hiring additional help. And it’s all based on those RSVPs which have become more and more suspect.

I live in New Orleans, which means being bombarded with requests to stay at my place for Mardi Gras. (We’d better be really tight if you ask to stay for Mardi Gras, and be good riding a bicycle, cuz I ain’t driving you.) I’ve been forced to tell old friends that I don’t believe them til I see a receipt for their flight. Because people talk big, tell me they’re coming, and then just don’t show up.

I think it’s a combo of the be-back mentality (“Be-backs” are what we who sell directly to the public call uncommitted shoppers, as in, “I really like your art…I’m gonna look around and be back…”) plus internet anominity that allows us to say anything with impunity. Maybe it’s just that our integrity has gone to shit. Whatever it is, my business model has gotten caught in the middle.

I’ve always been a stickler for honesty. If I SAY I will do something, you can take that to the bank. I like being a person who can be counted on. And I’d love to see a reversal in this trend, so I put forth a challenge:

If you see an event, and you think you might go, pull out your calendar. Talk to your significant other. Make a decision. And if that decision is “yes”, and only then, click “attend”. Then SHOW UP.

If your child asks to go to a movie, and you say “yes”, look at your schedule. Figure out a time. Put it on the calendar. Then GO.

If your friend has written a book, and you think the idea is great, and your friend actually manages to get it published, BUY IT.

If there’s an artist whose work you love, and you write OHMIGODMAKEPRINTSOFTHAT, and the artist does, GET IT.

And at the very least, if you love something, link to it. Get your friends excited about it. Boost the signal. Reward the ones that have the stones to put it out there, to make something, to make something HAPPEN.

Our words are the only thing we have. Make them count.