As I sit in my living room this morning, looking out at the line of arborvitae dancing in the wind at the edge of my yard, now and then distracted by the swirling snowflakes (and my dog’s gentle snores) I am reminded that life a year ago today looked incredibly different. 2021 was not the year we all hoped it would be, was it? After all, another year grinding past with an international pandemic that looks to be here to stay is nothing to wink at, I suppose. We hoped for recovery, for world-wide vaccination, for some measure of safety… We are all, I think, dealing with so much daily anxiety and uncertainty (while also frantically digging into our pockets for the anticipated student loan payments, which somehow keep getting pushed just ahead, like a horrible poisoned carrot you know is eventually dropping back into your mouth) that of course mental health is just… well a struggle for most of us.
And yet, and yet, I am here, sitting in my new home, which I have had the pleasure to own for almost a year now (we closed on the house January 20th - isn’t that wild?). My mind wanders to all the things that changed this year, like the newest member to our family, a sweet & also very rambunctious pitbull, Bronwyn. And, getting to see my family again after well over a year of separation, due to living so very far apart as well as the specter of covid.
But, this is a studio update after all (albeit the first update in a long, long time) and I suppose I should focus on all the things that have evolved in my art practice and my business over the last 12 months.
2021 was a year of so much growth. I walked away from a company I had been licensing with for over 2 years. This was a significant loss of income, yet I knew it was the right thing to do. Although I’ve certainly felt the impact of the decision, I am glad to know that I see enough worth in myself & my work to walk away from inequitable situations. This was really, really hard to do! I’m an anxious person to begin with, and feeling like I was being backed into a corner just ramped up my anxious internal debate skills. Thank goodness I had so many people support me in making this decision; friends talked me through my feelings, lawyers gave advice, and my wife took on the literal financial support that made it possible.
I mention all of this for 2 reasons:
- To remind myself and you that none of us can do this alone. Working as a creative person in the world is hard and isolating enough, especially if you work from home like I do. Remember to seek out a community, and give back as much as you take. I’m still working on this.
- To underline for myself and all creative folx out there: if your work is worth something to someone, then it’s worth paying you fairly and treating you fairly for the right to engage with it. ❤️
This was also the year I made more progress on returning to my traditional art practice. Last year I started playing with acrylic paint again, with what I will call some mixed success. This year, I went from dipping my toe in what I would categorize as a pretty controlled and even limited way, to going all out with countless trips to the local art supply store, dedicated hours of sketchbook work in several mediums and just pushing myself to *try new things*.
It’s been so lovely to begin to really re-integrate drawing and painting into my creative work flow. As a reward for surviving most of the holiday crush (erm I mean rush?) I gave myself a full day to play with a few new supplies I ordered. I gave myself an assignment: Fill up this sketchbook page; Use every art material you have that you haven’t used yet; Don’t judge the results. Glorious.
I think undergrad college-aged Callie would have burst out laughing if she read this paragraph. After all, working in my sketchbook was a constant pass-time, totally taken for granted and understood as necessary. I’m hoping that this time next year, I will feel similarly. But, I’m not going to judge myself too harshly either way. (See? Don’t judge the results).
On the whole, I think my creative production ramped up this year, both in traditional media and digital media. I really should keep a log of every illustration I create and when I finish it, because … I am now tempted to count up the number of finished pieces I did in 2021. Oh god. I might just do that. Glass of hard cider anyone?
[I did. As of December 28th, I have completed 97 illustrations].
Numbers aside, I set a schedule for myself with the expectation of drawing (or painting) for at least an hour 5-6 days a week, and most often I did meet that goal. And, I think it had an impact! I guess the more you do something, generally speaking, the better you get at it. My favorite illustrations for the year are:
- Seek out the magical beauty of small moments
- Trust your hopes more than your fears
- Sometimes for a wound to heal you have to stop touching it
- Grab Me and I’ll cut you
- Read books and dismantle systems of oppression
- Cultivate Your Dreams
- Chronic Pain Babe
- Fueled by feminism
- If The plot no longer works
The biggest flop of the year? Well, the illustration that immediately came to mind was ‘Feminism Is Magical’. I spent a lot of time working on this one - specifically on the crystal illustration, which I did on Procreate via my increasingly aged iPad pro. I’m still learning how I’d like to use procreate and this particular illustration gave me the opportunity to play more with layers, transparency - and frankly I just really like crystals and gems. Always have. (You haven’t seen my rock collection, friends, but let’s just say it started when I was a kid & it’s large and in charge.) So, yeah, I was excited to share this bad boy on instagram when it was done and post the product listings to my website / etsy… And then - crickets. Really, not much of a response at all.
I completed this illustration in September, and now with some distance I can look at the composition more critically. And, the beauty of working digitally is that you can carve up your work in a totally new draft; rearrange, recolor, re-do and re-use, so that no labor need really be wasted. (Ugh I’m not sure such economy should really be related to art-making, but since art-making is also my income, it’s not an irrelevant issue). I’m already imagining new ways to play around with this crystal, and hopefully the next illustration will be a bit better received. ;)
And now, as the year is slipping away more quickly with each passing moment, it’s time to look forward to 2022. I’m rarely much one for committed resolutions, though I am certainly one for making general goals and lists. Actually, lots of lists. However, I sat down the other day and mapped out my entire plan for next year and the big things I hoped to accomplish. It was… well it was a little overwhelming. And, I suppose it always is. I love making art, but the marketing side of things, the social media, the search engine optimization, the maintaining multiple platforms and the constant pressure to put myself (not just my art) out there is sometimes downright exhausting.
I’m not entirely sure how I want to shift my approach to this in 2022. This past year felt more than ever like flying by the seat of my pants, and that was an OK thing. After all, we did adopt a wild puppy dog, buy a house, start serious renovations on that house, move to a new state, continue to cope with a terrifying pandemic and cope with soul crushing anxiety about the world and environment. So, “just go with it” seems like a totally appropriate response. Now that things have settled a bit, at least in my domestic life, I think it’s time I’m turning my attention back to setting the hearth to order, rather than just putting out the stray fires. (Ok, I have been listening to The Hobbit and that was as hobbit-y a metaphor I think I could come up with & I wasn’t even trying).
I might be entertaining the idea of going back to school part time for a masters in art therapy. (Funny thought after I swore I’d never return to academia post-MFA).
I might be reconsidering the structure of my business and how I go about it all.
I will end this studio update with three things I loved about this year ‘in the studio’ in just a moment, but I first wanted to introduce this thought, which came from Yvonne Orji’s closing dialogue in ‘Yearly Departed’ season 2…
“I’m saying goodbye to hustle and grind. We live in a culture that celebrates being on and popping […] We are so afraid that if we sit down for one doggon' second we are gonna be left behind. Left behind where? They’re already going to space without us.”
Orji was, rightfully, focusing on the increased pressure Black women face to be constantly ON and hustling, but it just struck me so intensely in the moment, and I’ve been sitting with that feeling.
“Basically the pandemic made me realize that life Is short, and tomorrow is not promised.[…] What are we working so hard for if we cannot enjoy the fruits of our labor? So tonight I am putting down hustle and grind. Bye bye. And I am picking up ease and flow.”
So, I want to feel a bit more organized and together with my life and my career, but I want the direction to not be forced, not be so heavy and so restrictive… I want to lean into the things that make me happy, that I do well and that excite and interest me. And, I want to approach my days and my tasks with Ease and Flow.
This whole side journey comes with a big, necessary caveat for any white person reading:
It is good to take inspiration from Orji’s words. Goodness knows they have stuck with me and I have no doubt will strongly impact the movements I make in the coming months. But we have to simultaneously ask ourselves: How does your privilege allow you to make the choice to put down hustle and grind more easily than it might be for a person of color? And, How can I better support the labor and the rest of people of color?
Well now I have come to the end of this studio update (and I will take a moment to remind myself now that I hope I’ll write many more of these in 2022 than I managed in 2021) and it’s time to share my 3 favorite things from the studio of 2021:
1. Little owl illustration: this sweet little guy happened not too long after I invested in some art supplies for the first time in years. I had a precious collection of Tombow watercolor markers, some colored pencils and a new watercolor pad, and this drawing was the thing that reminded me that I love to take time and focus with a fine lead and just draw. Finding those lines is so peaceful to me, and when the end result is simple and lovely, it feels a little magical. The sunflower/wooden post are admittedly not my favorite, but this moment sticks out for the important role it played in helping me get back to making traditional art again, and loving it.
2. Queer Cuties Kissing: this is a top moment because I just really, really loved drawing it. I specifically remember curling up on the couch with my coffee and sketchbook, some music in the background and deciding I wanted to draw some queers! My work in undergrad and the start of grad school was almost exclusively figurative, and this little sketch might be a glimpse at a return to some of that. We shall see.
3. Chickadee in acrylic ink: this ink painting was a gift I gave myself for Christmas. I decided that to close out the year, I would invest in a few more traditional art supplies, favoring materials I hadn’t used before. After long deliberation I settled on this set of liquitex acrylic ink in a muted palette. I set myself up at the dining room table, as my wife has been working very long hours away from home & we wouldn’t be eating meals there since she doesn’t get home before 9pm most nights. With the christmas tree and decorations as the backdrop to my work station, I decided to put together a nighttime scene that would be somewhat abstracted, simplified and composed only of things I love. I was loosely inspired by vintage travel stickers/hotel tags, sprinkled of course with botanic illustration and a little bit of celestial magic. Believe it or not the moon was the last bit I completed, and up to the very end I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it. It feels like a testament to the fact that sometimes just ‘winging it’ and trusting your gut is the way to go. I like to think this illustration is the perfect marriage of watercolor and acrylic ink (with touches of colored pencil here & there). I’m definitely here for it. I love that this will be the final completed piece in my sketchbook for 2021, and the first completed illustration for 2022. How fitting.