Alexa + Your Creative Biz = Best Friends!

People seem to have a love/hate relationship with voice technology (like Siri, Google and Alexa, Amazon’s voice streaming service). They either love the convenience of being able to get any answers they need by just talking to an inanimate object (as opposed to shouting at Uncle Howard camped out in your recliner at Christmas) or they are pretty sure The Government, Russia and Mrs Peterson from church is listening to your every request.

But even though I have some reservations and would probably refrain from a question like, “Alexa, what’s the best place to bury a body?” I wouldn’t mind asking her to reorder my favorite hair products. So I’ve jumped in!

If you have an Alexa devise and use “flash briefings” , you can add “Your Creative Biz Minute with Ronnie Walter” along with your weather reports, breaking news and tips for getting out household stains. Each week I will bring you a quick tip, a little inspiration and maybe even a nudge to keep being your adorable and talented self— all in less than two minutes.

You can sign up here and let me know how you like it!

The Curse of Curiosity

I was at a party over the holidays and one of my neighbors asked me what I was doing these days. And since I have my elevator speech down, I said, “Besides my illustration work, I also coach artists to help them make more money with their art.”

“How do you coach artists? Isn’t that kind of hard?” he asked as he took a big scoop of my super fabulous Pimento Cheese.

I knew what he was thinking. You know, “all artists are crazy, how can you possibly work with them and anyway, aren’t artists supposed to starve?” Or maybe he was just thinking how awesome that pimento cheese is.  I know I was.

I explained that artists aren’t any different than the rest of the population (I left out that I find us far more interesting, but whatever…), but I told him that although what may look like crazy or off-beat to “the civilians” around us is what we are blessed/cursed with. Or what I would call “hyper curiosity”.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

Hey…what if I…?

But if I do that, will I be able to do that?

Hmmm. That’s interesting. I should research that.

But what about this other thing?

Is that right for me?

Ooh…did you see this thing? That looks so cool!

Wait, what was I working on?

One idea leads to the next, and the next and the next and pretty soon you’ve headed down another rabbit hole, changed your mind and you can’t even remember where all this started.

Not that it’s ever happened to me…

But here’s the thing—that’s how we figure out the good stuff. That’s how we’re built; to see the possibilities, to try new things, to make the old ideas new.

But we’re also built to feed our bodies and have shelter from the weather and the nastier creatures we share with this earth. We must figure out when to stop asking all the questions and start crafting our ideas to reflect what’s happening culturally, helping people express their emotions and figuring out what the heck the market wants—while staying true to our purpose and values.

Now, that’s the hard part.

When Bad Things Happen to Good Artists

RonnieInCup-WEBIf you know anything about me, you know I’m pretty positive. I try to be upbeat in the worst of situations, in fact sometimes I feel like I am cursed with a sunny disposition.

And I know how much we want to put a rainbow and Skittles® face on how super uber fabulous drawing pictures for a living is. And it is.

Mostly.

I have been in the illustration biz almost longer than I have not been. I have had products that stayed on the market for years generating good royalties in some of the biggest retailers in America. At any given moment I have projects cooking, my work is under consideration somewhere and the royalty fairies are working their magic.

I have managed to not have a ”job job” despite the cultural bias that says that artists can’t be successful and we’re all a bunch of flakes. OK, maybe the second part of that can be true in some cases, but I’m not naming names. Although I could.

And of course, getting paid via royalties can involve wild swings from “I’m rich!” to “I’m broke!” over the course of any given year (or week). And truth be told, I have managed to make enough money to not worry every night about whether or not I will be eating cat food when I’m 82. I mean, I even went on vacation that one time!

So far, so good.

But what do you do if, for instance, in spite of your best efforts you never ever get that client or project you want? Or things were going along swimmingly, and then all of a sudden pulling together your next mortgage payment, or student loan–or grocery money—becomes tricky at best, or maybe scary beyond what you have previously known in your life?

What if a project that showed so much promise and consumed months of your work and talent tanked at retail? Like really tanked—even though all kinds of pretty smart, experienced people gave it the green light every step of the way?

What if you were having conversations with someone about a juicy awesome project and you shared your whole bloody hopes, dreams and unique plans with them, and five minutes after they passed on it (with you) you see that they have implemented your hopes, dreams and unique plans with someone else?

Or (deep breaths, kids) you found yourself in the middle of a (gulp) really expensive lawsuit?

Well, there! How’s that sunny demeanor working out now? And just so you know, over the course of my career every one of those things has happened to me at least once. Thankfully, not all in one year but spread over lots of years of drawing pictures for a living.

Ask anyone who has a business doing anything. The guy who owns the tire store. Your hair stylist. Heck, even your gynecologist (because who doesn’t like a bit of small talk during your exam?). They will tell you this: business is fraught with risk. And rewards. That’s why many of the wealthiest people in the world are business owners. They have weathered any number of hardships and slip-ups and bone-headed moves and still managed to stay focused on the big picture. Of course, many businesses do not make it. That does not make them horrible people or losers or any kind of “less-than”. But most of them will tell you, it’s not how many times you fall; it’s how many times you get up that makes the difference. And knowing when enough is truly enough helps too.

Each time I was tripped up I chose to get up. To brush myself off. To absorb the hurt and maybe the anger. To make it right when I could. And forgive myself when I couldn’t.

And then I go find something funny or surround myself with the people who love me and still think I am adorable and hilarious.

And then I draw a picture. Or maybe two or three.

What I’ve Learned Half-way through my 100 Days Project

bossofyouRoughly 52 days ago I decided I would start a 100 Days Project like I have seen other artists do on Instagram. Or some do 365 Days of Paintings or 52 Weeks of Something. There are any number of ways to slice and dice the concept.

Before I started, I pondered what I would—and could–commit to. I decided to do 100 Days of Advice as my concept and hashtag. I thought this would give me a broad enough subject so if I wandered about with funny ones, or super serious or heartfelt advice I would still be within the parameters I had set up for myself. But it also allowed me to stay focused and not head into the all too familiar “what the heck should I do?” territory of creative life.  And I reminded myself that there weren’t any 100 Days Police out there ready to write me a citation if I headed in a new direction, skipped a day or abandoned the whole idea and turned to How to Make Oven Mitts out of Bath Mats as my next project.

Here are some things I learned so far:

  • Some days it’s really hard! Even though you have set your intention about what you want to do, actually continuing to have ideas—or enthusiasm–can be difficult to conjure up. But soldier on, my darlings—let yourself off the hook by doing simpler designs some days or a shorter message and get on with it!
  • Consistent daily action toward anything will bring you progress. If you picked up a harmonica tomorrow and practiced for the next 99 days thereafter, I’m pretty sure we could recognize a lively rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In”*. In 100 days you will have an enormous body of work that you didn’t have before—now how cool is that?
  • As I look back on even these first 50 days, I am definitely seeing an evolution of my work. I don’t know where it will take me yet but I know that at the end I will have 100 seeds of ideas to develop further, to group together in ways I couldn’t see before and I suspect a few creative a-ha! moments.
  • Posting for 100 days in a row (more or less, trust me–people aren’t counting) will increase your visibility on Instagram and wherever else you post. More followers, potential clients or interesting projects have the potential to come your way because You. Showed. Up. Doing a consistent daily action and not sharing it is a valid way to grow as an artist, but if you want to be seem—or make money—you need to show it to the world.

So how do you start?

beginagainPick a date. Any date. Or join a group that is doing it together. The adorable folks at They Draw and Cook are starting one beginning April 19th. Go see them on Instagram to join the fun.

Pick your topic. Make it broad but specific (ha!). You might just share 100 Days of Sketches or 100 Days of Flowers or you can get more specific and do 100 Days of Wildflowers or 100 Days of Cupcakes—you get the idea. Pick something that you are pretty sure you can accomplish but not so narrow that by day 37 you are sick to death of it!.

Once I finish my 100 Days of Advice, I know what my next topic will be—it may kill me, but I won’t know until I try, right?

You can follow along with my #100DaysofAdvice—I am @ronniewalter on Instagram.

 

*It’s the only thing I learned to play. I apologize to my family. And the dog.

How Artists Get Their Groove Back

I’ve stolen a phrase from fire fighters about how to put out the flames if you happen to be on fire. But what if you want to start a fire–like your creative fire for instance? Funny! It’s the same three little words! Soon you’ll be smokin’ hot–creatively, I mean!

StopDropRollArt-WEB

And just where do I apply for that job?

TwylaTharp“We want our artists to take the mundane materials of our lives, run it through their imaginations, and surprise us.”
–Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit, Learn It and Use It for Life

Well, that sounds like a job description for Art Licensing to me!

The first Christmas card was published in 1843*—so for 173 years we’ve managed to come up with thousands of new cards every single year—that’s a lot of cards, each starting with an artist and a pencil (or stylus) coming up with a new twist or color scheme of our particular vision of Old St. Nick.

Generations of illustrators have developed designs for this particular season and we still pick up a greeting card, gift bag or Christmas coffee mug and think, “Isn’t this cute?” or “Ooh—I love this one!” Our collective creative souls show up and bring something new to the party all the time—on a really adorable paper plate, of course. How meaningful that we get to corral our hearts, our heads and our hands to present something new to our customers. All. The. Time.

So, yes, I would like to apply for that job—again and again and again.

(and if you haven’t read Twyla Tharp’s book on creativity, you need to go get it. Now.)

*yes, I actually did research; I didn’t make it up this time.

Deeper, funnier, stronger…you

RonnieWalterIllustrationYou get it. You know what it feels like to sit up with a sick kid and clean up puke in the middle of the night–again. You are the one that has held a friend’s hand when she’s had a bad breakup, lost a job—or worse, gotten a bad haircut. You watched as your parents became confused or sat with them as they slipped into the next world. You’ve been there—and back.

So for all of you artists, writers and potential dreamers of creative careers, remember this; it’s the tattered and sometimes faded memories and experiences that bring the depth, the seasoning and the patina to your work. Don’t believe me? Take a look at that cute twenty-six year old sitting there in her cute shoes, unlined skin and that fresh illustration degree. She’s talented and clever and has a big future ahead of her. She’s your go-to gal for the ‘aren’t we cool and sophisticated?’ images (which I love by the way). But is she the one that can write a greeting card about loss or courage or see the rip snorting hilarity surrounding sagging boobs and hot flashes? Can she write a book about the horror of watching her adorably sweet former baby drive off in her hand me down car for the first time—alone?

Wear your badge with honor, ladies—fly that “I have seen what life serves up and I can still find the humor, the joy and the pride” flag with style and confidence!

Don’t let anyone tell you its too late. Sit down, cut that crap out and draw and paint and write from the very depths of your heart. And once you’ve mopped up the tears and finished the wine just look at what you’ve done. Maybe it’s a tear and wine stained mess but somewhere in there is the nugget of what you want to say, what you want to portray and what and how you want to send a message to someone walking the same mile in the same cute shoes as you. And whether you serve it up with humor, sentiment, scripture or with gorgeously rendered images, the message is this:

It’ll be OK.
I’m there for you.
Life is pretty good, when you think about it.
I understand.
I will not leave you.

So tap your inner goddess, the mama warrior, that holder of truths won from age and experience, and let that woman out already! You, my dear, are the conqueror of complacency!

And remember, you get it.