Sunday, January 30, 2011

When I was 10 years old, I had my first job.
It was an ordinary job, a paper route that was passed onto me by my 16 year old brother. I was in fifth grade, having received a $2 per week allowance from my father over the past several years, but now I no longer had the patience to save up for those things in my life that I wanted, like the $42 pair of Nike sneakers with rubber baseball cleats.
Fashion forges ahead.
Yes, it gives a nod to the past, but moves forward nonetheless.
At the rate that I was going, it would have taken about 6 months to finally purchase those sneakers!
Each afternoon, I would get home from school to see the pile of
The Toronto Star newspapers resting outside the entrance of my parents home; I'd bring them inside, stuff the newspapers into a bag and then walk, or sometimes ride my bike around the block placing them into each of the customers' mailboxes. But on the weekends because so many more people subscribed to the The Toronto Star, my father offered to help me deliver them. The number of homes we went to remains fuzzy in my head, but I do recall that the newspapers were incredibly thick. My father and I woke up very early on the weekends to receive the newspapers and then placed the inserts inside each one of them. We lined the foyer floor with clean sheets of blank paper, or sometimes plastic to prevent it from getting dirty, and then hauled in the stacks of newspapers and inserts into the house. I remember part of my soul wretched a little because I knew that this paper route caused me to miss a handful of those Saturday morning cartoons that I loved so much; back in 1985 it was the jingles that I liked the most about them, the songs and music at the beginning of these cartoons that I sang along to:
Band of brothers marching together
Heads held high in all types of weather
With fiery blast, our roaring rockets rise
Beyond the earth, beyond the sky
At the sight of Robin take your stand
With the gallant leader of our band.
Send a joyous shout throughout the land
For Rocket Robin Hood
One by one, my father and I placed each of the inserts into the middle sections of the newspaper. We didn't speak much while we did this, but only ploughed through the work in front of us, like factory workers do. After the piles were completed we carried the stacks into the back seat of the car (that my father again had lined with some fabric to prevent it from getting dirty) and then he drove me from house to house around the block. We did this every weekend for 3 years, and although I despised it, I appreciated the lessons that I was taught about work ethic, organization, the value of money, and not to wait for somebody to give me $2 a week for 6 months to buy a pair of $42 sneakers, but to go and get it myself.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Two weeks ago I drafted a timetable for myself.
My days are now broken into sections on somewhat of an hourly basis. For example in the photo at the top of the page, I had allocated about an hour in the morning to do administrative work; then I spent the next hour and a half on commercial work; I had a conference call with a client at 1pm, after which I headed into Manhattan for an appointment later that afternoon; following this I went to the gym for about an hour; returned to my studio in Brooklyn to work on commercial work until about 8pm. It seems somewhat militant, I know, but for so long now I've wanted to breathe life into some projects that have existed on the margins of my career; however, I haven't understood how to incorporate them into my daily routines. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been reading some books which have helped me organize myself better throughout the day. It's very common sense: the authors describe the need to organize and prioritize one's tasks in order to be productive. I've believed for a very long time that I was a very organized person, but somewhere in the root of my brain, I knew that this wasn't entirely true. I have always worked hard, but now I realize that I have never worked smartly.

I am very good with deadlines, and in the past nine years, I think that I have only missed one , which was during a sketch stage. In retrospect, I understand why this happened (which was near the end of last year) because I had spread myself too thin; I took on too many tasks, worked on too many projects, and as a result I could feel myself edging towards the brink of a burn-out. I'm familiar with this feeling, where I've pushed myself to my limits, having taken on so much work partly out of the fact that I wanted to, but also because of my own psychoses. To beat a dead horse, 2009 and part of 2010 were not great years for me financially, and so in essence I felt fearful that if I didn't take on nearly every project that came my way, that I would regret it.

This time I'm trying a different course of action. Whether or not it works, who can say? But in the meantime, things are going very well. As freelancers, we are not bound to any kind of structure. We can be as free as we would like, choosing to work at home, or in a separate studio, alone, or with our friends and peers. There are no hard and fast rules to help us succeed because the products that we create - our pictures - are made up of an aesthetic and vocabulary that is primarily shaped by who we are, our own tastes, which appeal, or don't appeal, to whoever our audience happens to be (sidenote, I understand that an illustration is dependent on other things such as a story, or article, but my focus here is on the elements of the style of a picture, those superficial qualities that help set it apart from other illustrations). Of course crossovers exist such that genres of illustrations, or styles done by several Illustrators appear similar to one another; however, despite the visual similarities, the work methods that one illustrator might employ towards his/her business of promotion and advertising, might not work for another. Yes, there are some basic methods that a young illustrator can use in order to get his/her first... or second... and then third job... but then what's next? I think that I've finally realized that I have lacked a kind of accountability within my profession. Although meeting deadlines, and paying taxes are only 2 forms of that; still, throughout the day, much of my time is oftentimes wasted on things that lay outside of whatever the focus of my tasks should be. It's human nature, I know.
But also I have the tendency to spend too much time on one thing or another, which is not only time wasted, but energy as well.
This idea of accountability means that I can keep track of what I do throughout the day. Weeding out those tasks that might be extraneous, while spending quality time on each of the projects that I have in front of me, means that I can leave the studio at a reasonable time. Of course there are moments when my timetable needs to flex for whatever reason, but more or less, this hourly to-do list is working so far, and is giving me the kind of structure that I believe is working for now.

*The photos above are of my U/V light table that Mikee built for me so that I can silkscreen. I put it on hiatus since the summer, but I'm using it again. Heads up for some new silkscreened projects. To be continued...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

This is the first post without a photo; not because I'm choosing not-to, but because I can't. I'm at Zenkichi restaurant right now in Brooklyn - it's a Japanese Brasserie? And one of my favorite restaurants.
It's my birthday today.
And I've chosen to spend it by myself.
Well that's not entirely true.
I spent it with Mikee, Rita, and Yuko.
My dinner however, I have chosen to spend it alone.
Earlier on in the week I thought that I was going to plan something - at least a dinner, but as my birthday neared I decided not to. I like to be quiet sometimes; I enjoy spending time alone. I wonder if it's a product of getting older, although I don't think that it is. I often find myself in experiences that I want to freeze in time for one reason or another; and today it's one of those days.
My food is getting cold.
But that's cool.
Because I want to reflect.
I'm 36 today.
And my initial thought is, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, how did that happen?"
I don't want to suggest that I have issues with getting older because I don't, but as I do get older, even if only for one year I take a mental inventory of my life: business and personal. And I feel as I mentioned in my previous post, that I'm at a new beginning.
It could be that I'm being melodramatic. It could be that the weight of the food in my belly has offset the equilibrium in my brain. Whatever the reason is extraneous.
It feels good to be here.
I'm in space too small to be a cubicle or a closet with sake, udon, cod, and pork belly. Too much for one person to entirely eat, but seriously do I care?
Yes, call it waste or whatever, it won't phase me tonight.
All that I care about is centering myself.
In food.
Light jazz is floating somewhere between the laughter and conversation that surrounds me.
"this place is amazing, dude."
"oh my gawd."
"it was like really caj." (ie casual)
"i hurt so bad."
"I know it's like his room."
"yeah, right, but it's so bad."
"and he was talking..."
"yeah but still -"
"it was so gross!"
Music to me.
I'm nearly done eating.
I think I've sunken into the arms of Gluttony
But we'll embrace tonight.

Tonight was truly a celebration of life.
Even though I spent this supper alone, I wasn't lonely.
I thought about a lot of things; about a lot of the super cool and loving people in my life.
Didn't I say "love is cool?"... Because it is...
I'm totally doing fine.
Happy birthday to me.
And many good vibes to you.

2011 has already begun feeling like a hustle, but I'm entirely cool with that. I really believe that those who have a top-kind of recognition in our industry have achieved this by the sheer ferocity of their work ethic. Sure, luck sometimes shows her face and helps out, but for the most part, it's one's push to do better which directly translates into a positive outcome (as long as one's intentions are honest).

I was extremely fortunate as a young illustrator to land an international advertising campaign shortly after school, called Lavalife. This project was divided into more than 9 campaigns spanning about 9 years; the first of which was sold to the client as a complete buyout; which means that I no longer own the rights (copyrights or moral rights) to these particular images. It was both a blessing and a curse because the project truly provided me with a kind of financial freedom I had never known. I might be able to compare it to an expired television series that goes into syndication, in which the actors who are on this program benefit from the royalties of it. This campaign lasted for several years, and although it took only a few weeks worth of work per year to create the drawings, it constituted about one-third of my income, not only from the fee that I received for the new drawings, but also for the reuse of those images in some of the previous campaigns. Nowadays, my work with this client has ceased for the most part, and so has the money. And although I feel a bit pained because my pocket-book feels lighter, I also am a somewhat relieved that a new part of my career is beginning.

I've written in the past about new beginnings, and for a long time I thought that "a new beginning" was that flash moment in time, that denouement in a story where things are suddenly reshaped, but it's not.
Love to believe that life unfolds in this manner, but I don't buy it.

New beginnings occur over a period of time, and for me, I realized over the past few days that I have been in the midst of a beginning for several months now, which will, like any other part of one's studio practice, have setbacks and successes. The idea of embracing the possibility of failure is something that truly frightens me. There's no need to expand on this (and yes, I know, I've written about this before).

Success makes me happy.
Failure makes me sad.
But it's those teachings that rise out of failure --wait, let me digress here, and pull back a bit -- it's the information we discover in those uncomfortable moments within our studio practice that makes us stronger artists. It helps us to think more critically about our work; define our vision and to to clarify, and concretize our vocabulary so that our work can over time, become a style, or signature that a client and our peers recognize.

* The illustration above was drawn for Bloomberg magazine - a portrait of Deepak Chopra and Russell Simmons.