Reflections on three or so years of working (mostly) for myself

Self-Portrait at Vestal School. 24 Dec 2021. Samsung Maxima Zoom 105/Kodak Ultramax 400.

It’s 2022, and I’m still working towards the goal of being some sort of Professional Artist. This idea is not new. By the time I hit high school at the very, very end of the 80s 1 my hope was that I’d have a career in comics and/or graphic art. I was all set to go to art school upon graduation, but due to a series of unfortunate events (best told another time), it didn’t happen. Instead, I worked a succession of crappy jobs throughout the rest of my time in Connecticut, which carried over to my brief California foray and the early years of living here in Portland. But after I started doing my own comics and zines in the late 90s, doing art on the side became a thing. Draw a flyer for someone, get fifty bucks. I wasn’t going to survive on it, but it felt good.

When I returned from The Big Tour in late 2011, I was unemployed. I hoped that I could do “something with bikes” as a job, but since I’m not a mechanic (nor do I want to be one), the prospects for that were scant. I applied for two delivery jobs, but didn’t get them. So I kept plugging away at art. Thankfully it seemed by this point people liked my art and were commissioning me for various things. I somehow managed to do OK with this for much of 2012. But I was not at ease. I desperately wanted to get out of my living situation–living with my partner’s former roommates was starting to grate. But the days of dirt cheap rents in Portland were gone. If I wanted to find another place, I’d need steady income. So when my former job at the hostel had a position open, I went back. Nevermind that it was a bad idea.

And the job now took up more time. Before, it was three to four days a week, now it was a five day grind. I had little energy to hustle art “in my free time”, so that side of me suffered for many years. I drew infrequently. And then I realized that working for myself on creative projects actually made me feel fulfilled. The hostel’s fulfillment possibilities dwindled each year I stayed on.

In 2018 I decided to do something about it. That summer I stopped being a full-time employee of the hostel, switching to part-time. That didn’t last, as even two days a week there was too much, so I finally quit in November, aiming to sustain myself by doing work for Emee’s business and my “art”. I say art in quotations because it’s not like I’m selling paintings, it’s more than that: while physical goods like comics, zines, stickers, buttons, and postcards are an aspect, creating unique experiences for people through bike rides, challenges, and clubs is a big part too. It’s art as life. My life.

It’s not been the easiest road, but I didn’t expect it to be. 2019 was a year of figuring things out, and I probably didn’t motivate myself as much as I should have. Then 2020 hit and in came pandemic. Despite all the bad shit that ensued, I started to get my bearings. Things really took off when I started doing the “mail in journal” challenges with Three Speed October. I wasn’t expecting much interest, but about seventy people registered. Then Midnite Bicycle League came around, and wow! 125 people participating!

The interest in the challenges waned in 2021, but people seemed to be paying more attention to me, especially my online store. For many years I’d have an order maybe every couple months. But now I’d be getting orders at least on a weekly basis, and as the year rolled on, it would more often be several orders a week. During busier times I could get several orders a day!

All this was definitely an ego boost, and made me feel good about my decision to do this. But of course there’s room for improvement. I haven’t done much art commissions in the past couple years, something I hoped would become again a regular occurrence. But I do have to admit that while the payout is bigger, there’s more work when it comes to the back-and-forth between artist and client. I thought a good middle ground would be offering up a couple options for custom art. But it’s hard to price it at a point that both people will want to pay and that fairly covers my work. The last personal commission I got for custom art was difficult due to the lack of communication by the customer. And I hadn’t gotten any orders this year, so I’ve decided to stop offering that service, for now. But I’m still open to doing illustration jobs, so if you are interested, get in touch.

What do I see for the future? This year I’ll be concentrating less on the challenges and more on publications. There’s a lot of comics, zines, and the like I’d like to get done over the next twenty-four months. So you’ll be seeing more info about them in the coming months. For now, I still have publications available in my shop, and my next zine, GOING TO CALIFORNIA, is still at the pre-order price.

I’m really happy that I’ve come this far. My life has been more fulfilling since I decided to do this. But there’s still a ways until I feel that all this stuff will totally sustain me. I feel like it can happen at some point. I thank all of you for your support, and take this moment to remind you that you can always purchase things from my shop, commission me for art, or donate via Ko-fi.

And special thanks to Emee for all your support!

Like my stuff? Go to my Ko-fi page to buy me a coffee!

1 True, most of my high schooling happened in the 90s, but since I started high school in September of 1989, I just like saying it.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on three or so years of working (mostly) for myself

Add yours

  1. ❤ So much love for doing what you love:) I was very excited when you quit the hostel ("he's doing it!!") and still very excited for you on your journey:)

    (Also, "art as life" is fantastic:)

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