Happy New Year, Friends!

As much as I like to say, “Oh, I never make New Year’s Resolutions” you would never believe me, now would you? I mean all I talked about over on Instagram were cookies for the last month or so—and you know where that leads. But here, I made a few here and feel free to steal them.

How does your brain work?

Despite my constant defense that artists are not crazy (well, no crazier than the rest of the population), I do think our minds work slightly differently than, say, a software engineer, research librarian or the restaurant server who remembers everyone’s order without writing anything down. If Wally Waffle had required me to commit the entire menu to memory, I may not have made it through that second year of art school.

Over the years I’ve managed to accept that multiple tracks of information, ideas and every embarrassing moment of my life are all running at full speed and I’ve even devised a few methods to stop at the right station in order to get something (anything) done. So what do you do to corral the ideas, quiet the chatter and forgive yourself for that thing you said? Personally I am pouring all of it into drawing cartoons, writing and teaching what I know so I can blessedly sleep, knowing that it will all be waiting for me in the morning.

HonorYourBrainPS. My new Skillshare class, “How to make Money with Art Licensing” is now live. Use this link to get 2 months free–just think what you could learn in just two months!

Another Show Season Behind Us…

Funny how the illustrators who develop art for products see the year begin and end in mid-May when the trade shows rear their trendy heads. Whether or not you exhibit or attend, so many of the blogs and social media posts are tracking the anticipation of the shows. This year I attended with multi-faceted goals. I met up with some of my coaching clients–live and in person (some were shorter than they looked on Skype and some were taller-ha!), I did some mini-coaching sessions, chatted with some of the folks I’ve been consulting with and had a minimum of 6.5 hilarious conversations per day–and at least 7.2 serious ones.  And I drank coffee, wine and ate pasta with some of my favorite people. And it case you missed it–or just miss it, here are a few of my observations from the shows.

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The Seven Stages of Surtex…

Welcome to my annual Surtex blog! If you want to step in the way-back machine, you can read previous ones here, here and here. This year I’m delivering all that wisdom in graphic novel form–which stage are you hanging out in?

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I will be attending SURTEX and the National Stationery Show–and I’m looking forward to meeting all of you! Best wishes for a great show!

Ronnie

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What if…?

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A few weeks ago I spoke to six (count ’em 6!) classes at a local high school. I was asked to speak to a variety of classes about how I use technology in my business because apparently just as we used to say, “why do I have to know how to use a slide rule?” they are saying “why do I have to know how a spread sheet works?”  Yeah, I know.

So I put together a talk about how even though I draw pictures and talk to people for a living my business if no different from say, Boeing or Target or Hostess Twinkies except they are super large and I am super tiny. We still have to deal with things like Sales, Marketing, Finance, Customer Service and Production (that’s the picture drawing part). Those big guys have entire departments to manage those things but I just have little old me (and little old Jim) to pay attention to each aspect of the business. I explained to them that in order to handle those things I use technology for keeping track of customers and money, to make the production side easier (you know, like Photoshop?) and word processing so that me can write pretty some day (stole that line from David Sedaris).

And for the most part they listened and nodded and asked me really good questions—except the students in the 7 am hour because—7 am. I like speaking at these kinds of events because I want the students to see a couple of things.

Like:

  1. You can indeed have a career essentially doing the same thing you did in third grade.
  2. You can do it no matter how damn old you are.

I also love these kids because it brings me back to that simpler/confusing/horrific place called high school and how it feels to be figuring out what your eventual place will be in this world.

But this is a long way to tell you a sweet story.

You know how whenever someone has a hugely horrible thing happen to them or a horrendous illness or they dangled over a cliff for two days holding on by their shoe lace and they say, “Well, if I can just help one person then it was all worth it”? That’s how I feel about appearing in a classroom at 7 o’clock in the morning. I know, I’m a giver.

I don’t know when the last time you were in a high school, but some of the ninth graders look like they still get a sucker at the doctor’s office while the seniors could be substitute wrestlers at the most recent WWF match.

As one of the classes got themselves organized, I chatted with 2 boys who showed me what they were working on in Photoshop. They told me all kinds of things that were completely over my head while I smiled sweetly and pretended that they weren’t 4,286 steps ahead of me in the Photoshop learning curve.

I proceeded to give my talk and then, as the class reorganized themselves for the next session, one of these boys quietly asked me a question. Now picture this. He’s one of those tiny ninth graders, holding an enormous stuffed to the gills backpack on his lap. He peered over the backpack and quietly said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure”, I responded.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

“Ah, good question!” I answered. That would have been a good question to be asked in front of the whole classroom, but of course in the emotional quagmire which is high school, there was no way this kid could have asked his question out loud since he would have not been able to predict if his simple inquiry would  set off a chain reaction of humiliating interactions for years to come.

But I told him this: Every time you are starting a new project or get stuck on a particular part of a project ask yourself “What if…?”

What if this is bigger? What if this is smaller? What if it’s red? What if it’s black? What if I market to a new audience? What if I find a new client? What if I develop my own products? And if that doesn’t help you move forward, you can do what I told this kid to do.

Open a folder on your computer and name it “I don’t know where I’m going with this” (yes, I have one of these folders). And the next time you find yourself looking for ideas, look in that folder first and you may see those ideas in a different light. He smiled and thanked me and then hoisted that giant backpack on his back and off he went to his next class. I hope I helped him, both creatively and of course metaphorically (because I am deep that way).

Oddly, time and distance help us see the path more clearly sometimes. And that’s when you grow from that little kid peeking over your backpack to the professional wrestler you were meant to be.

 

Ronnie Walter is an artist, writer and art business coach.  She has mostly recovered from high school.

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These Girls…

I was out of the studio for a whole week, last week. It was a long planned trip with my four best friends to celebrate a year of (pretty big) birthdays and our 46 years of friendship. I packed clothes, gifts, and a ton of art supplies–and big plans to use them.  We envisioned lazy afternoons on the deck overlooking Lake Michigan, trolling around charming towns, enjoying good food and the occasional glass of wine. We did all of those things—and so much more.

I am grateful and blessed to have these four strong, unique and hilarious women in my life. Over the years we’ve witnessed marriages, sparkly sunsets on Sanibel Island, great hilarity in Texas, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island; we’ve celebrated new life and held each others hands through the complicated, the sad and the sometimes wretched heartache that is all part of living on this earth.

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We rented a house big enough to hold us AND our giant personalities and embarked on a week that we wanted to be rejuvenating, relaxing and restorative. We split up the cooking duties, Claire led us through a communal art project, and we celebrated each birthday on a separate day of the week—or as we said, “Hey! It’s my fake birthday”! Debi personalized journals for each of us with her popular font, Cantoni, and in them we wrote letters to the “birthday girl” with funny memories, things we admire and love about that person and encouragement to follow their path to peace and fulfillment. Then we would read the letters out loud at our nightly camp fires. Yes, it was blissful. Yes, I am so grateful for each of them. And yes, we are planning our next trip.

Oh, in case you were wondering—of COURSE we got on each others nerves now and then! I mean, really; five women, forty six years, one house—and did I mention the big personalities? But here’s the thing. We get it. A long time ago we accepted that if we expect the others to be patient with our weirdo tendencies then we need to show a little tolerance to theirs. So we’re a little more tender, a little less judgmental and can usually craft a response that either cracks everybody up or figure it’s a good time head out and clean up the kitchen.

I loved watching my friends enjoying a quiet swim by themselves, or seeing two heads bowed together as they talked about something profound or maybe something silly. But the best times were when we were all together—breaking bread (and brownies) around the dining room table looking like the world’s oddest quintuplets, sprawled on couches in the living room, squished into the car heading out on an adventure or crisscrossing the kitchen as one chopped, one cooked, one cleaned up and a few either entertained or just got in the way.

You may be thinking, “Yeah, yeah Ronnie, that’s a sweet little story—but how does it apply to me?”

Well, besides your family (who come with their own joys and irritations) the friends who’ve known you the longest are probably the ones who care the most about you. So gather your friends. Call them up. Reach out. Make it work.

And remember this quote from Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home”.

Well, I couldn’t pick better people to walk this journey next to me.

 

PS. The art supplies stayed in the suitcase.

 

Sewing Notions

SewingRonnieEvery couple of years I get this notion to sew.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time on Pinterest looking at pins that claim I can “Make this cute top in less than 2 hours” or “I made this Anthropologie kimono with $6 worth of fabric”. And it all seems so easy and powerful. I mean in two short hours I could have a cute top that will fit me perfectly—fashion and confidence-wise.

How hard could that be?

So I rifle through my fabric stash in the closet that also holds crafty stuff, artwork I scratched out in 1986 and the sewing box my adorable little mother-in law gave me.  This closet also houses all her spools of thread that I have organized into clear plastic boxes in color spectrum order–as I am not a barbarian. This closet is opened infrequently—like when I need to find one of the 8 or so gluing options for something that may or may not have fallen apart.

Realizing that I don’t have the fabric on hand to replicate the $188 kimono that that other lady on Pinterest made, this notion will now require a trip to Joann’s; the only fabric store we have in this sleepy little edge of Florida. And I may be drummed out of the creative community when I say this, but any trip to Joann’s or Michael’s can send me into an episode of daytime drinking or worse–elbow deep in a bag of Lay’s faster than my royalty checks go from the mailbox to the bank.

But a proper art supply store? Well, that is a complete other worldly experience. That is more like “sit on the curb afterward and take a long drag off a cigarette and bask in the afterglow that comes with well-ordered open stock pastels and sketchbooks in every shape, size and paper weight beguiling their way into my sweaty palms.”* But we don’t have one of those here. And I am not bitter.

Now. I grew up in a family of girls. A lot of them. And at some point due to our challenging financial state and dreams of looking as cute as Susan Dey, we started making our own clothes. Rather badly for the most part.

My mother was born without the crafting gene but she made up for it with a genetic make-up that enabled her to read stacks of books, man the gavel at an array of benevolent and professional organizations and shuttle her seven daughters into successful adulthood–all while having stimulating and intellectual discussions with other clever and articulate people. We were left to our own domestic devices.

But for some reason (maybe it was the seventies with all those crocheted granny square vests we coveted), we began to sew. With our babysitting money in hand, my sisters and I would head to the discount store downtown to flip through the giant Simplicity and Butterick pattern books. We would consult with each other. “Think I could make this one?” “Sure!” we’d encourage each other. “This one’s cute!  Look! It has a matching triangle scarf!”

Laying out the fabric and pattern pieces on shag carpet while a cat laid on them was a bit challenging but we managed to cobble together outfits that held together (for the most part) and weren’t completely embarrassing to wear.** There were failures of course, complete with muttered curses and tears of self-recrimination—particularly when darts were involved. My sisters and I still refer to shapeless solid color frocks we may see out in the word as “Mennonite Playwear”—a term my mother coined (while taking a drag off her Benson & Hedges) when she saw one of us modeling yet another ill-conceived garment of questionable silhouette and hue.

Now, full disclosure—at least two of my sisters have made money off their crafty ways and my oldest sister Mary Ellen just retired from a thriving career sewing intricate costumes for professional theaters, operas and ballets in the Pacific Northwest.

Which brings me back (finally) to this current idea that I could run up a few charming tops on my sewing machine to supplement my end of summer wardrobe (which looks a whole lot like my autumn, winter and spring ones) in two hours and for less than $6. This will not happen. If I go down this road there will definitely be swearing and there may be tears. There will certainly be an extra garment or two thrown in the charity box. It’s a diversion from what I know to be true—if I stay focused on the stuff I do pretty well, the activities that rarely make me curse or cry, I can actually BUY a few cute tops to see me through—but not the $188 Kimono from Anthropologie.

I can totally make that.

 

*Of COURSE I don’t smoke! But every story improves with a reference to a long drag off a cigarette—even the imaginary ones. As many of you have witnessed.  I apologize in advance for the rest of you if you ever meet me in person.

**Although if I ever find my 10th Grade school picture we can debate this point. I only ask that you be kind—or bring your own school picture along so we may compare and contrast.

Fifty (or so) Jewels

I am honored to be featured in the “Coffee Talk” department at the very cool Fifty Jewels©Ronnie Walter - artist - writer - smart aleck website, a gathering place for  fashion, food, new ideas and interviews with interesting women. It’s worth a trip over just to see my corporate head shot from somewhere in the mid-eighties—the one not included in this trifecta of Ronnie heads.

Have fun over there, Kimberly has tons of tips and advice for those of us who have gathered our fifty jewels–so far!