What is your most frequently used medium of art?
India ink. I began working with this medium in college, but it really became my primary medium several years after graduating. I used to just do line-work with it, but now I have developed a technique of ink washes over the line-work that helps give my drawings shadow and dimension. It is basically the same sort of technique that you use with watercolors. It’s a combination of wet-in-wet technique and dry brush I would say. The reason a lot of my work is black and white/grayscale is because india ink is my main medium. I have not ventured into colored India inks yet, but prefer to use watercolor with India ink if I feel the need to inject some color. I love the way the inks dry and the luminous quality you can achieve using this medium. It’s definitely not a forgiving medium if you make a big mistake, so I have to be very careful about my process to prevent unintended drips and drops of ink on the paper. I’ve been doing it a pretty long time now so it’s not as stressful as it once was. I also dabble with graphite.
Where do you work?
I work at home. I have never had a studio separate from where I live. I would love to have a studio outside of my residence some day, but right now it is not financially possible. I make do pretty well considering that I have quite a small work space. Luckily I am not doing 10 foot paintings, but mainly small drawings. It is possible to make good work without a studio or a fancy space, you just have to be efficient with the space you have. You also have to not mind being around your workspace mess. I imagine an advantage of working out of the home would be you have less distraction. You go to that space specifically to work, and the comforts of home are not luring you away from work.
How much of your annual income comes from your art, and how much comes from other sources?
Right now all of my income comes from my art, one way or another. This is the 2nd year my income has been from art sources. While my degree is in illustration, that work only represents a percentage of my income right now. Fresh out of college, it was very difficult to get freelance illustration work and there was no way to survive on what little I could get. I worked odd part time jobs for a number of years, many of which had little to do with what I was trained in. However, all the time I was working these jobs and trying to get freelance illustration, I was also cultivating my own personal work. That eventually became the work that I exhibit in galleries, something I never really thought I would do. However, the gallery work really took off around 2010 and I am now consistently producing work for shows. That has also become a large part of my income. Aside from illustration and gallery work, I sell work privately if people contact me inquiring about purchasing pieces, and I also sell art prints and products through a website called Society6. Once in a rare while I am contacted to do private commissions.
What percentage of your time do you actually spend working in your studio? And what do you spend the rest of your life doing to support that time?
I’d say I spend about 70% of my time in my studio. As I said, my studio is part of my house, so it’s pretty likely that I can be found there. The rest of the time I am trying to do something to relax and not think about work. Because I work at home, I like to try and get out of the house and away from the studio mess when I’m trying to relax.
Do you belong to any professional associations? If so, why? What are the advantages that membership provides you?
Not at this time, however that is another thing I think could be beneficial in the future. The main advantage I would imagine would be having access to people you could network with and possibly attain work through.
Do you belong to a wider artist’s community, beyond any professional associations? What is that community, and why do you participate in it?
I would like to think that I do. I live in Portland Oregon, and it has a very tight-knit art community. I used to live in Baltimore, which is where I went to college, and after college, I was just kind of floating around the city and didn’t feel like I fit in to any sort of artist community. It was rather isolated feeling. I don’t know if it has to do with the fact that I am more established now, but the Portland artist community has been so good to me. And it can be daunting moving to a new city and trying to ingratiate yourself into some kind creative world of talented people. However, I need not have worried because a few weeks after moving to Portland I was already meeting people who wanted to offer me opportunities to show my work. I used to not think it mattered so much where you lived in order to be an artist, but in terms of making connections, it is so much easier and effective to make them in person. That is one thing I have learned without a doubt. I have also made genuine friends who are artists here. I would say that the majority of my friends are artists in one form or another. Some make their living from art and some don’t, but they are all unique and passionate about their work. So I guess if I had to use one word to describe the art community here, it would be “welcoming”.
Who is your audience? Who buys your work? Does your audience consist of one consistent demographic, or different demographics? How have you expanded your audience over time?
I don’t know if I can really accurately answer this question, as I have probably not met a lot people who admire my work, in person. I think it’s a range, from high schoolers to people well past middle age. The demographic in Portland is probably a bit skewed since Portland is a pretty art-loving city. I can say that my audience has definitely expanded over time, which is still pretty amazing to me. Up until I moved to Portland, I was not really able to make a lot of helpful contacts in person, based mainly on where I lived, so I relied on the internet. Social media has been huge help for me, as well as websites like Flickr, Society6 and Behance. After college when I was just dabbling with making my own work, not even exhibiting it in galleries, I was posting it on Flickr. I gradually joined some groups on there and shared my work with other users. I was also keeping a blog on blogger and posting daily drawings. I took advantage of websites that encouraged people to share their art, like Illustration Friday. I joined Twitter and Facebook (created my own art page) and connected with more people who I had met on Flickr and Society6. I used Twitter to link to all these other sites I was part of. It’s all like a big spider web and you want to connect the strands. Aside from help from the internet, exhibiting with galleries and having work in publications are other ways I gained exposure. It kind of snowballs once you put your work out there.
How do you market your work?
In terms of illustration, I was very diligent about sending out postcards in the beginning, and even doing cold call emails to art directors. Now I don’t do as much as I should, but I get a fair number of people emailing me about freelance work every month. Right now I am searching for a creative promo idea before I tackle my next round of mailers. I don’t really contact art galleries, but have been fortunate to be invited to exhibit my work over the years. I think the exposure I gained from showing my work in galleries really helped me get illustration work. I still have a list of places I would love to exhibit with. Again, I would say that social media has been really helpful in marketing my work.
What sort of education and/or training have you pursued in your career as an artist, if any? Was it worth it? What were the most valuable things you’ve taken away from your education or training?
I have a BFA in Illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art. I took community art classes as a child because I loved art, not because I was training to be an artist or had any grand aspirations. It was just fun. I would say that all my training has been worth it. It lead me to the path that I am on now. Also, on a side note, I met my best friends because of those educational experiences, and that’s invaluable. A lot of artists question whether school is necessary to be successful, and I can say that it is not. However, every person is different. Some people need the structure of school to become self-disciplined. Some people need school to learn how to critique and evaluate their own work. And others just need it to find out who they are and be pushed to limits they would never push themselves. You are learning a whole lot more than technique in school. Technique will only help you so much. I really benefitted from being forced to try things I would probably not have tried on my own. If you don’t invest a lot of time and energy into your education, it’s unlikely you will get much out of it. I worked very hard in college, and I feel like it has all helped me in one way or another.
Does your art practice have an impact on the way you do your taxes? If so, how?
Well, because I am self-employed, I have to be somewhat disciplined about keeping records. I have to keep track of what clients I have worked with during the year, how much I was paid (whether I was paid), how much I made from my other income sources (selling prints and work in galleries) etc etc. Being organized in the business aspect of your work is pretty essential, even though it’s not something that comes naturally to all artists (me included). It’s just another thing that comes along with the job and is necessary.
What sorts of legal issues, if any, have you had to deal with in making or selling your art?
Luckily, none so far, although I can probably speak for other artists when I say that that is something we all dread and fear.