I’m having lunch on the floor, because these days that is most comfortable (growing belly) and while it looks like Maggie is being sweet in letting me read to her, it’s really more about my chicken sandwich. In any case, this is Lisbeth Zwerger, one of my favourite illustrators. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat and looked at children’s books, so you’re looking at a special moment where I was suddenly hit with inspiration. Those magical feelings that reading a good picture book will stir up—where imagination takes off.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately of picture books. About whether I will ever do one again, about whether I remember how, and whether I have the skill (it is no small feat). But I crave the lonely, quiet focus picture book-making entails. The months of production and accumulation of work, of being inside an idea, of problem-solving.
I know I’m thinking these things because 2017 has been all about product-making and selling and while I am grateful for the wonderful people who have purchased my work (truly, truly), and felt the pleasure and satisfaction at seeing their smiles and chuckles and warming hearts and eyes, the art of product-making is dimming its light for me.
Truthfully, it has been such a challenge juggling all the things that have nothing to do at all with painting. Finding the right manufacturer (trial and error and then trial and error and so on), one you can afford to purchase from and at prices where you don’t have to charge your customers arms and legs to make even a small profit, one where the quality meets your standards and where the standards are consistent—is just a small part of the picture. Product-making and selling is heavy on the money. Inventory, price calculations, tracking sheets, budgets, marketing. There’s online shop up-keep—photographing, listing, description writing, shipping quotes (accuracy is crucial), ordering shipping supplies, website fees, shop fees, service provider updates that make website maintenance a regular thing and suddenly you’re a programmer. There’s branding your products and branding yourself and designing catalogues and promotional materials (hidden costs), there’s finding the right venue to sell direct, and there’s networking and emailing shop owners on the constant (they’re REALLY busy) which brings me to packaging the artwork for shelves—designing and purchasing labels, ribbons, and boxes and coming up with clever tag-lines and clear descriptions—the art of wholesale.
Add on top of that, the production line of the product you’re selling. Hours standing at the ironing board, what have you.
And all this to very little compensation. In fact, sometimes it amazes me how the whole handmade revolution has completely blown up. It must be for the love of making, because it certainly can’t be for the love of making money.
The handmade revolution has me raising eyebrows. The amount of craft sales sprouting up and sporting an amount of un-original goods is dis-heartening. Mind, I don’t mean to say it’s all that way, but I practically cry when I come across a piece of art made with integrity and love and imagination. I’ve met a lot of vendors (you know who you are and I love you and I probably have some of your things or am lusting after them) who are truly honest and beautiful in their work and let me tell you, they wear their heart on the outside.
Just please, no more mugs that say the word fuck on them.
I’ll try and take this back to where I started. I think I started this post with the intention of speaking about integrity, about the whole meaning of creativity (for me) and why. With regaining my identity as an artist. Maybe living as an artist means living a cyclical life—of creating, burn-out, resting, returning to the true self, and creating again. And so on.
I began by speaking about a book. I guess that’s where it all started for me. I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil, and the drawings have always been about stories. Interesting the title of the book I captured here is called Wonderment. It’s not only the wonderment that books and illustration give me, but it’s being in wonderment while illustrating. Something I haven’t felt in a long time.