Saturday, September 10, 2011

It never hurts to add an extra dog or two.

When people hear that I write and illustrate greeting cards they always, I mean ALWAYS, say “That sounds like fun!” And I’m not going to deny that there is a lot to be said for working in your pajamas and seeing the product of your labors on the gift store card rack in the Minneapolis airport. It also doesn’t hurt to get royalty checks on work you did 5 years ago. Royalties are my friends.

The flip side of the coin is that you work very hard on products that might not, probably won’t, sell. Ask any freelance artist in any medium. And it’s surprisingly stressful. For one thing, when you're thinking, and this job requires a lot of thinking, it looks like you're not doing anything. Modern society requires that, unless you're inert in front of the tv, you need to be doing something. Something visible.

So. I was always the kid who drew pictures. In kindergarten I remember another girl asking if I would draw a horse for her. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a very good horse, considering I still can’t draw horses worth diddly. My high school notes were liberally festooned with doodles. I drew my own cartoon Christmas cards.

But, here’s the thing. I didn’t think it was Art. I went to the University of Oregon where the painting teacher pretty much told us to express ourselves and then she went somewhere and drank coffee until the term was over. For that, my parents paid tuition? One time I asked a friend of mine who was a successful painter to tell me the difference between a painting and an illustration. She said illustration is about the subject matter. A painting is about the paint. That, I thought, is a very clear definition. My work is about the joke, son. So. I didn’t find out I was an artist until I was 37 years old. How did I know? I finally got paid for doing art. Until someone else put a value on my work, I didn’t value it myself.

In 1990 I moved in with a money-centric man who couldn’t fathom that I did elaborate greeting cards just for my loved ones. For free. He badgered me to submit my work to card companies until, just to silence the nagging, I assembled a dozen samples and mailed them out to several outfits including Recycled Paper Greetings. Imagine my astonishment when four art directors wanted to buy my stuff. Who knew? Twenty years later, the IRS thinks I’m an artist, even if my old painting teacher doesn’t.

Quite a few people have told me I should teach cartooning. My reply has always been a terrified look and the observation that no one has any idea how many false starts, how big a pile of eraser shavings, or how many embarrassing sketches it takes to produce a completed cartoon. But today I had a stab at it when I was invited to talk to a group of very funny ladies who have an annual gathering and invite someone to teach them something. Last year it was a mason bee expert. This year they got me. I told them all the stuff above and made them draw their hands without looking at the paper and heard, in turn, their hilarious senior (literally) prom and life drawing stories. And one of them offered to give me her exceedingly glamorous shoes. Today, the learning went both ways. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Are You Happy Now?

A few days ago I was awakened at six a.m. as, outside my little house, some guy yelled "Are you happy now??!" accompanied by a loud bang. Later in the morning I found a metallic green cell phone lying in my yard that had parted company with its battery. A short search in the bushes turned up the battery which I installed and which permitted us to read a few of the text messages chronicling the lead-up to the six a.m. phone-fling. The apparent owner was pictured, sans clothing, among the phone's photos, but I didn't recognize her as being from the 'hood. Her contact list included such characters as Dave(Hippy), clearly she knows a variety of Daves, and Ass-Munch Monhagen. We couldn't decide who to call to report the phone as found (Dave? Ass-Munch?), and now, sadly, a night in the rain and the dwindling battery have rendered it useless.*

* Editor's note: after this blog entry was composed the phone dried out sufficiently that I was able to call "Mom" who, when I explained the circumstances, sighed heavily and said, "I'll tell her." I swear I could hear her rolling her eyes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Town

I really have a yen
To go back once again
Back to the place where no one wears a frown.
To see once more those super-special just plain folks in my Home Town.
from My Home Town by Tom Lehrer

There's something so jolly about those dancing Statues of Liberty with the big arrow-shaped TAXES signs who gyrate on the corner from January until April 15, grooving to their iPods in their pointy green tiaras and matching robes. They're the best thing about being stuck at an interminable light during tax season.

But only in my neighborhood, home of two murders in the last three years and a recent police shoot-out over a stolen squad car, have I seen a guy in a conical purple wizard hat, adorned with silver stars and crescent moons, dancing his heart out with a sign reading Guns and Ammo.