Category Archives: Commercial Success?

The Stall & Craft Collective (Exclusive Interview!)

The Stall & Craft Collective is an online craft & gift marketplace, and events directory, which launched in June of this year. This October, they’ve reached over 30,000 unique visitors and 227,000 page views — and climbing. Part of their success lies in the fact that they have undertaken an extensive marketing campaign in UK craft magazines, securing over 25 full page advertisements that have reached a potential readership of over 650,000.

stall and crafts collective

If you’re thinking, “This is just like Etsy,” well, it’s not quite the same. But I’ll let the founder of the collector, Helen Eskins, tell you more about it.

helen eskinsHello & welcome, Helen! Tell us a bit about yourself, please.

My name is Helen Eskins and I’m a mother of two from Birmingham, West Midlands. My background is on the administrative side of Child Protection and criminal law. I have been self-employed for around 11 years now, after having started a company working from home transcribing court hearings and police interviews. My own little craft business is called Harriet-Rose Crafts.

I began to attend local craft fairs and met some wonderful people along the way. I soon began to get a bit disillusioned with all the local craft fairs I was attending due to the obvious lack of advertising and promoting being done by the organisers, resulting in very poor attendance by customers, so I decided to start up my own events organising company to help my fellow crafters, a lot of whom had become very close friends. This resulted in the formation of Moon & Light Markets some five or so years ago now. Moon & Light Markets have been incredibly successful and we organise events all across the West Midlands, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire areas, until recently holding fairs once a month. This in turn then led to the idea of Stall & Craft Collective.

What is the purpose of Stall & Craft Collective:

The idea of Stall & Craft Collective was formed whilst organising craft fairs through Moon & Light Markets. I began to think how much easier it would be for event organisers if there was a website they could go to where everything they needed to organise an event was there all under one roof so to speak. My husband, Mark Eskins, had just taken redundancy from work so it seemed an ideal opportunity for us to take on a new challenge together and turn this idea into a reality.

product offerings stall craft collective ukWe want Stall & Craft Collective to provide event organisers with free advertising of their events, and in turn for potential customers to find their local events to attend. We also want event organisers and stallholders to be able to easily find and contact each other so that stalls can be filled. Stallholders are then able to list the events they are attending so customers can see where their favourite stallholders will be, and will also be able to look through the stallholders at an event they are going to, in case there is anything they can pre-order or have personalised etc.

Another wish I had was for our stallholders to be able to have a forum where they could sell their items at any given time to a nationwide audience, rather than just once a month at a craft fair. Having attended craft fairs myself as a stallholder and as an organiser, I was aware that a lot of stallholders find it difficult to make a living from their craft and I wanted to ensure that they had a selling platform without the high fees and commission taken from other high end shopping sites. We therefore decided on a small yearly fee with no commission or other charges to give an opportunity to every stallholder to join up.

We welcome all crafters, stallholders, and small business owners. There are categories to suit everybody including vintage, antiques, clothing, shabby chic, furniture, jewellery, home décor, cakes, wedding services, etc. and we welcome your suggestions for any different categories if you can’t find something suitable.

Is this just for folks in the UK?

It is at present but there may be plans to change this in the future.

(Fingers crossed!)

If you’re a buyer, just head on over to the Stall & Craft Collective Marketplace, look at upcoming fairs and events, or begin browsing news about products & sellers in the Spotlight.

If you’re an event organizer, register and list your event(s) now — for free.

If you are a maker or seller of things, however…

Here’s what you need to know about becoming a stallholder.

Prices start at just £15 per year; there is no commission on your sales.

Stallholders have three different registration packages to choose from which includes:

  • the creation of your own mini webpage
  • the opportunity to sell your items on our online marketplace
  • use of an individual noticeboard where you can advertise sales, promotions and news
  • ability to link your Social Media pages and website
  • promotion of your attendance at events
  • opportunity to submit news and interviews
  • use of a private message service

You can also keep up with the Stall & Craft Collective on Facebook & Twitter.

Struggling with Art on Online Stores


I’m trying to make my ASCII art work for the online stores. So far I am sticking with working on Zazzle (recommended by a friend with many names) and CafePress (mostly because it’s been around a long time and I like the name). It is a very uphill battle. Each time I make some progress something else comes along to slow down the progress. Sadly, I only have one image showing on CafePress though I have loaded it with 5 or 6 on products. There is that small difference of loading up images (which was the simple part) and then getting the images on products which is turning out to be the tricky part. With Zazzle there are ever more tricky parts and my patience is pretty thin with them right now.

Of course, this is not where the story began. First, before I could make even this much progress, I had to adapt my art. ASCII art is not high resolution like a photograph, so I had to find a way to change that. A few weeks later I found the solution, thanks to an obscure video on YouTube which I have not been able to find twice. That’s an adventure I will write more about on my ASCII Artist blog for those who really want to know the details. Basically, it worked!

CafePress liked most of my newly resolutioned images. Half of them were not the 600 x 600 standard though. So I went back to the drawing board, sort of literally. I opened up my old, trusty MS FrontPage Image Editor (that’s not the actual, legal name) and I cut and patched something together to make it the right size. That worked. So, except for the fact that only one image is showing up on CafePress, I am happy with CafePress. The store looks nice. However, the lack of products actually showing up is a pretty large issue.

Also, today, I noticed the store index is not really working either. On the main page I can see products for greeting cards but if you click the index it goes into denial. So, even though CafePress was less headaches to load up images and products to sell and I did finally find a widget for my store to add to the blog (not by searching CafePress) I may eventually have to dump CafePress for lack of functionality. In shorter words, it’s not working.

Zazzle’s two main problems are that it screws up the images in between the process of loading them and placing them on products. I don’t know if it does this with photos being placed on products, it may just be a text art problem. It is a pretty big problem as it means all the time I spend uploading the image and fussing over getting it all working on the product was time I could have spent having a hot shower, making fresh coffee, or just about anything else which could have been even slightly productive.

The other Zazzle problem is being forced to decide and categorize everything. Not just the image but each individual product. How do I know what occasion someone might want to send someone else a coffee mug with an ASCII art lighthouse?… Also, just finding a category for lighthouse took far more time and patience than I was enjoying.

So, chances are I will be off and adventuring into other online stores like ArtFire and the odd other which I have found in my wandering. I just want something that works, it doesn’t have to be rich and famous.

An Interview With Ghosts In The Machines Creator Erika Iris Simmons

I so fell in love with the stunning art made from cassette tapes by Erika Iris Simmons that I just had to speak with her and learn more about her incredibly iconic works.

Erika Iris Simmons

Erika, I don’t like to ask a lady her age — especially right at the start! — but in this case I feel compelled to do so… Your works, especially the Ghosts In Machines, have a youthful pop culture quality, but the detail work is incredible, which lends me to believing you are older (at least in art years!) than I think. So, how old are you, when did you begin the Ghost In The Machine Series, and how long have you been working as an independent artist?

Thanks! No worries, I’m not shy, I’m 27 now but I started making this series in 2008, when I was 24 I think.

I was a waitress at Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando at the time, looking for interesting art projects. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on art supplies so I went through all the junk drawers at home, tearing up anything I could find, dabbling in composite art. I was fascinated with optical illusions and wanted to make something really different. I think going to work everyday surrounded by music memorabilia definitely had an impact! haha

One day I thought to use the cassette tapes in my art – when I started messing with the ribbon it curled up and reminded me of Jimi Hendrix’s afro, so that was the first portrait I made.

Ghost in the Machine: Jimi Hendrix, Cassette Tape On Canvas

At the time I was reading some science books about the philosophy of the mind; that’s where the “ghost in the machine” theme came from. It was great to sit there while working on these, wondering about the meaning in the data on the tapes and how by simply rearranging the tape on the board I could make it look like a face. My goal was to not cut the tape or take any away, just arrange it.

I’ve been working as a full-time independent artist for two years now.

Have you had any formal training or study, an art degree?

No formal art training; I got a ton of art books out from the library, but mostly its just been trial and error.

The Ghost In The Machine pieces are how I first found you — the amaze me because they incorporate the spirit of the medium, the tape and film, and display the iconic images we see when we experience their performances. What inspired the works?

I never wanted to be an artist until I saw the work of Ken Knowlton. He makes incredible composite portraits. My favorite is his portrait of Einstein using nothing but black dice. It blew my mind and I thought I want to make something like that, something that would resonate with people. I just kept experimenting after that.

Ghost In Machine: Madonna

They are incredibly fluid and effortless looking, as if they just spilled out that way, but I suspect there’s a lot more to them than that. 😉 Can you tell us more about the work involved, how long it takes to make a piece — how many tapes, etc. are used?

I almost always just need a single cassette, unless the work is really big. You’d be surprised how long the tape is inside.

Every piece is different, but I usually start by drawing the basic outline, focusing on the facial details first. I go about filling in the design, either gluing the tape flat and cutting away when necessary, or folding and twisting the tape into the desired shapes. This can take weeks if its very detailed. Toward the end I try to let the tape fall into really natural shapes and “capture” that movement with dots of glue. Finally, I use epoxy to permanently mount the case.

Of the works I’ve seen, you seem to use or recycle other items to create your works of art. Do you consider these altered art works? How do you feel about that term?

I call these cassette tape or film sculptures, but the term altered art works too. It falls into a lot of categories, I think. I often hear people call them “installations.” I don’t know why.

Your Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast At Tiffany’s piece is probably my favorite, so far! I love the use of 8mm film, right down to the reel!

Audrey Hepburn Work In Progress...

Audrey Hepburn Ghost In Machine, 8mm Film

Erika Iris Simmons Artwork In Progress

Working With Film To Make Ghost In Machine

"Reel" Breakfast At Tiffany's Hair

Shadow Details

Audrey Hepburn Ghost In Machine

The Graceful Ghost In The Machine

I read at your blog that the Breakfast At Tiffany’s work was the result of a woman who approached you about doing a series of collection of Audrey Hepburn pieces… Does that mean you do custom or commissioned works?

Thanks! I’ve actually made my living for the last few years making custom pieces for people; I still do sometimes, but not as my bread-and-butter like I used to.

Does doing works that way, at the direction of others, frustrate you in any way as an artist?

Yes, every single time! haha. There is no way of avoiding the pressure of “performance.” I am not a performer and I’ve found that my work is much better when it comes from the heart and not from a need to pay rent. I find myself questioning every action. Instead, I just take the commissions that I feel a spark for. I used to have a “custom work” page on my website, but I don’t solicit those offers anymore. A lot more time for experimenting.

How much do you charge for such works? And, as you currently have no originals for sale, only prints at Etsy, how much do original works cost?

Honestly every piece is different. I sell some for hundreds, some for many thousands, so its a hard question to answer… An average Ghost in the Machine piece is about $2500. The only prints I sell are letter size and A2. But the size of the originals range from 12 by 16, up to 40 by 60 inches, so there is a wide range.

Your other works, that I’ve seen at Flickr mainly, are also composite or altered works. Do you feel that will likely remain a part of your style, or do you feel that you’ll need to move on in a completely different direction at some point in time?

I don’t really define what I do by the medium. I feel like the running theme in my head is finding a story within a single object. Recursion and nested concepts are what fascinate me, so whether I’m painting or writing or doing any other creative activity I think this theme will remain.

Portrait of former Dodger's pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, made from an authentic major-league baseball, "grass stains and all."

When you are best known for a series, or when someone spots an older series, like Ghosts In Machines, how do you as an artist feel when you move onto another series, project or style of work?

It doesn’t bother me that I will probably never “out-do” the success of this series because I know the biggest thrill is the idea and execution rather than what other people think. The images will one day be played like that song on the radio that you’ve heard fifty times too many, but I will always remember what it felt like to hold something like that in my hands before the glue was even dry, having never sold a piece of artwork, knowing that I made something special.

Its nice that people are still interested though, I do appreciate it.

Bob Dylan by Erika Iris Simmons for AARP

At The Ungulate, we hear a lot about how “success” is at least partly defined as making a living in art; yet we also hear from artists who feel great frustration in the commercial aspects of that sort of success. Aside from not soliciting custom works as much as you once did, how do you plan to address or balance these issues for yourself as an artist?

I’ve never been interested in money – I threaten to quit art and go back to waiting tables any day! ha. But seriously, making art for a living is by far harder than I expected, and I feel I’m one of the lucky ones to have so much support and exposure. But some months I still barely scrape by. Don’t get me wrong; when it rains it pours. But its hard counting on the weatherman. In lieu of commissions I’m working with a stationary company for a little rolling income. The ‘m’ word: Merchandising. We’re still putting the website together – I don’t know a date it will be live…

But you’ll let us know, right?

Of course!

Until then, we can still marvel at the other works by Ericka Iris Simmons, and enjoy spotting them all sorts of places, like the Bob Dylan piece for the AARP.

The Interview With Collin David

Collin David

I’ve known Collin David for like 5-6 years now; we met when we both started writing for Collectors’ Quest. I quickly discovered his passion for comics, action figures, robots, cephalopods, etc. was entwined with something more… His art.

In the past year, Collin’s art work has been getting him more attention, respect, and, yes, money. So it seemed now was the time to sit down with him — you know, before he’s too busy for a “remember me” request for an interview. *wink*

Call me old, uncool — old and uncool, even — but I can’t seem to follow all your art news, projects, events, etc. on Facebook. (I am, after all, a Twitter girl *neener neener*) So help me out and give me a general run down about you, ResonantFish, what the heck you do as a freelancer art and design dude. You drop names like “Ninja Turtles show in Philly” and “Gallery1988”; so don’t forget those.

Well, my business cards say “Collin David makes stuff”, because that’s the most accurate phrase I could come up with.

This includes comics, sculpture, digital design (like icons, iPhone games, business cards), ink portraiture, painting, and even animation occasionally—every project calls for some new approach. I’ve never seen the merit of those artists who approach very different problems with the same approach, over and over. It’s completely marketable, but it’s transparent. There’s a way to find a balance, and it’s not by being creatively lazy.

As a freelancer, I tend to do a lot of digital art, because that’s what the freelance market wants right now. As far as my portion of the freelance market goes, a majority of it is technology-based, and people trying to make their technology pretty. While my brain is fueled by robots and meat and monsters, my bank account relies on icons for travel websites and improving old logos for businesses. Every so often, a project comes along where I serve as an art director and have total creative freedom, or I get to use real paper and ink, but those are far less common.

It all comes back to “making stuff”, for whatever purpose it may serve in the end. Every project is an education towards greater things. In my free time, I’m sometimes invited to do group art shows all around the world about things that I love: toys, Ninja Turtles, pretty girls, Star Wars. I don’t know how that happened, honestly, because that was just a natural progression.

Custom Robolucha For International Show

Ah, you sort of glossed over those art show invitations… Where have you your works, been seen recently? What’s it like to get the invite?

Right now, I have three ink pieces in Gallery1988 in California, in a show centered around Beetlejuice, Back to the Future and Bill & Ted.

Piece From 3B Show at Gallery1988

I also currently have an acrylic Ninja Turtles piece in Philly. Both of these shows are through The Autumn Society, a collection of great illustrators who just happen to do lots of shows together that seem to focus on 1980s pop culture. Recently, I was honored enough to show alongside Wallace & Grommit’s Nick Park in the UK for a group show (via a Twitter invite), an arcade in Texas, and a few other places I don’t remember. I’m horrible at keeping track, but should probably comb my e-mails in order to get my stuff back. I don’t want to say something stupid like “art is so pure that I keep it separate from business”, but 100% of my focus is on creation, and whatever happens outside of that to get it out there is fate and luck and whatever momentum gravity has granted me, or if Facebook is behaving properly.

MUMM-RA! For The Autumn Society's '80s POP!' Show

Invites always come with a sense of dread. Can I make something worthwhile? Will this show be worth my time? Will my art get destroyed by the gallery or post office again? Do I have enough time to make something? How do I approach this uniquely? I’ve had so many bad gallery experiences that it’s a process I’ve learned to hate, so I do far fewer showings than is ideal, and I don’t seek them out. I love a challenge, but I’d rather that challenge be creative over diplomatically begging for my art back for a year from an unscrupulous gallery director like Rocket Pop’s David Rodriguez or APW’s Hans Yim.

How is the invitation to group art shows “just a natural progression”?

It’s momentum. If you really do things that you love and believe in, it’s infectious. Eventually.

It’s a long, long crawl towards respect, and if you ever stop digging your nails in, you’ll slip backwards into anonymity. Some people (who I’m not going to name here) market themselves raw and have absolutely no skill to back it up, but they get a ton of work and notoriety. I’m just not the kind of person to write press releases in the third person or describe myself as “up-and-coming”. It’s one way to progress, and it’s tried and true and not invalid, but it’s not natural. There’s no foundation in that, and you don’t get a realistic perspective of yourself or your work. Some promotion, sure – but not a full-time marketing machine.

I make stuff constantly, and people see it, and sometimes they like it, and share it, and eventually, it falls onto the right eyes. And I wish it were more profitable, but I’ll take truth over an elaborate self-deception any time.

In-progress sculpt for "Into the Darkness"

"Into the Darkness @ 1:AM Gallery in SF

I’ve known you for awhile now, and there’s been a big change in the amount of work you’re now doing. I wouldn’t say this, but you recently commented to me that you somehow see this as “awful,” as if this wasn’t just one of the risks of going pro; explain to me how you see the increase in work, recognition, and, I presume, pay.

About six months ago, I was spread out everywhere, doing work-for-hire for a ton of different venues—most of it writing, and I burnt out. I decided to drop (mostly) everything and focus on seeing how far my art could get me, because that’s what really matters to me, at my core. I wouldn’t say it defines me, and I wouldn’t call myself an “artist” (because I hate that word), but it definitely made me feel the most complete.

As it turns out, the rise to credibility was faster than I expected, and it was great. I’d been doing spot illustrations for magazines and things like that since high school, just to experiment with the wide world of art publishing, but the Internet enabled me to pursue these things in earnest, at least 40 hours a week and in parallel with a full-time job. The “Artist’s Market” books never did me any good except for a rejection letter from Cricket Magazine.

The process of making art is never “awful”, but it becomes awful when other people start sticking their hot little fingers in it. As a freelancer, you’re doing work for someone else, and you’re being paid to serve. I don’t have a problem with that, at all, ever. Ideally, one would be hired on the merits of their talents, and not their ability to parrot their employer. It’s the difference between having a hard-working employee and a yes-man, and it shows in the final product.

From the VinylPulse Dragon Eats Knight Show

In terms of “awful”, I was recently hired to design a series of monsters for an iPhone game. The project started out with the client telling me that I had total creative freedom, because he liked my work. When the first drafts came around, he had changes to make : facial expressions, colors, and the like. In the freelancing world, these kinds of changes are acceptable. The employer has a vision which they weren’t able to articulate before (thought they should have probably tried harder), but now that they see the product, they can understand what they want better. A second round of changes was made, and I was sent back screencaps from Pixar films, which bore no resemblance to any prior work, and a few notes that essentially said, “Make it look like this.”

I obliged, while still giving these monsters their own uniqueness. When these monsters met his descriptions dead-on, he sent me back a picture of Spongebob Squarepants and asked me to trace it for his game, instead of all of the work I’d previously done. When I asked him to sign a contract to free me from all legal and moral responsibility when Nickelodeon came down to smite him and completely crush his business on the grounds of copyright infringement, we ended the project. I walked away with character design and consultation fees and a clean slate. He walked away with the sudden understanding that it wasn’t actually okay to plagiarize well-known cartoon characters for profit.

These are the “awful” things, and they’re pretty common, but not universal. Sometimes, you spend more time justifying yourself or explaining how “art” works than actually putting together work.

[Interviewer Aside: Check out Collin’s The Nine Circles Of Freelancing Hell for more on this; I giggled an groaned through the whole true thing.]

"The Golden Faces" for Multiple Personalities 2 @ LIFT Gallery, MI. "The Jello didn't making the trip because of last-minute damage, alas!"

And you can’t work on one project at once. Four seems to be the magic number, given the amount of time that clients can take to get back to you with revisions. You start on one project, work on a couple of others, and close out another one. This way, you generally always have something to do and a way to generate profit. It helps if your clients are in different time zones as well. Qatar is great if you work early in the morning or very late at night. It also helps to take breaks to play GoldenEye.

It’s all about momentum. Once you actually land a project or two by mastering the art of crafting a proposal, and can show these products off to other relevant jobs, the work will come.

"Something From Long Ago" by Collin David

Why do you hate the word “artist”?

The word “artist” is used like it’s an excuse for erratic behavior or a refusal to be a productive member of society. “Artists” don’t have to maintain jobs – not because they’re highly skilled, but because they’ve appointed themselves to the title of “artist”. It’s not a universal perception of the word, but it’s definitely not uncommon, and I really want no part of it.

I once had someone come up to the desk at the library where I worked who refused to pay late fees because she was an “artist”, and “artists” break all of the rules. I refrained from “artistically” punching her in the face, even though by her own definition it would have been perfectly acceptable.

I make stuff, and some of it is “art” because it’s totally impractical and self-indulgent. I don’t have any misperceptions that I’m making the world better by making pictures, but I hope I’m making tiny little parts of peoples’ lives better. Either way, it’s something I can’t stop doing, and I enjoy doing it.

APW Arts on Record Vol. 2: The Skeletron

“Sometimes, you spend more time justifying yourself or explaining how “art” works than actually putting together work.” Like this interview? 😛

Though, I imagine this sort of thing is preferable to schooling a client in the ways of intellectual property… At least it’s more fun!

I hope.

But seriously, in terms of being a guy who makes stuff, how important are interviews? First, in terms of making the stuff — do you find reading interviews inspiring or motivational or helpful at all? And second, what makes participating in an interview worth the time away from making stuff? Is it just the promotional aspects? (Links: How the internet was won!)

Interviews are fun! They force you to take a look at why you do what you do, and they open up your eyes to how others might perceive you, and every shade of this will color your work, whether you like it or not. Observing it changes the experimental results.

My favorite interviews are in Hi Fructose Magazine, because I find myself reading things I’ve been thinking for years coming from artists who I admire. It’s inspiring to know that I’m on the right path, and it’s always useful to be reminded to stay true to yourself.

I don’t think I’ve ever landed any work through an interview (yet), but the introspection makes them worthwhile to participate in. A lot of what I feel like I have to say about art may sound negative or like I don’t respect other artists, but it’s just passion for good, true creators and an impatience with the imitators – so I have to bite my tongue a lot.

Plush Custom Art Called Either "Fuckface the Fucknificent" or "You & Your Ugly Heart"

For many, making some money off a creative gig seems like the ultimate goal, the real mark of professional success; but as you’ve discussed there’s a clear divide between creative expression, making stuff for the sake of making it, and commerce, selling stuff &/or making stuff to sell. How do you best balance what can be at times such contradictory positions and determine success for yourself?

Well, I’m not yet in a place where I can turn down well-paying jobs, so they’ve taken over. About six months ago, I decided to focus on making commercially viable stuff and hunting down clients, and perfecting the skills necessary to work on the highly technical professional stuff. I’ve always done paintings on commission, and small works for small magazines, but I really needed to conduct a concentrated test about the viability of doing this kind of thing for a living. So, I dropped everything (including personal projects and writing gigs) and started researching what people want right now in the creative world, and how to do those things. Art school didn’t provide a single iota of information that was useful in finding an art-related job, so it’s a very do-it-yourself kind of education.

"The Spacemen: Burn-Up Re-Entry Model" Custom Toys, Edition of Four, by Collin David

For me, it was a solid moment of decision, so the “real” art happens between gigs. There’s never a shortage of work if you know how to ferret it out, and I’m never at a lack of ideas for personal art. I have five sketchbooks full of projects that want to be done. I don’t think I’ve found the kind of success I want just yet, but I don’t think I ever will. That’s the kind of thing that keeps you moving and evolving, so the dissatisfaction isn’t all bad.

I’d love for art to be a full-time job, but I don’t think I could do the corporate letterhead design thing for more than a few weeks at a time before losing my mind. There are too many ghosts in my head for that, and they all want to be painted.

Detail from 'Queen of the Bees', which is "about a cheating, lying ex-girlfriend."

If you had to pick one piece or project that you feel marked professional success or otherwise signified success to you, what would it be and how does it reflect success to you?

Star Wars cards. During middle school, and high school, and college, there were a few things that I held in such high creative regard that I never envisioned myself touching them, and Star Wars was way up there. Last year, I was asked to draw a whole bunch of original sketch cards which were randomly packaged with packs of Star Wars cards. They’re quirky and fun drawings of aliens, and they had to be done quickly so they’re not top quality, but I don’t think I could ever do anything cooler than official Star Wars art. Being accepted into such an established and impenetrable universe marks success for me.

Star Wars Series V Sketch Card by Collin David

Here at The Ungulate we try to focus on adding creativity and art (making and buying/owning) to your life, on inspiring people to just make stuff and to delight in stuff that’s made. One of the things we hear most often is how hard it is to just start. How do you respond to that, what advice do you have?

This is probably an answer that’s been given a hundred times, but just do it. I’ve created thousands of embarrassing drawings, and had even more terrible ideas, but you have to realize that creativity is flawed, and that’s just par for the course, like anything else. It’s not a perfect, pristine, inaccessible spirit that needs to be handled delicately. It’s a dirty, frustrating thing that you can’t be afraid to smack around. You need to throw away any delusions of preciousness.

I remember the moment in high school when I realized that I’d been holding back because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by drawing something dumb. And then I realized that no one ever had to see it but me. As long as art fits in the garbage, you’re safe, so just go for it. Also realize that no time spent creating is wasted time, because every second is an enormous education: how materials work, which lines are beautiful, which ideas are disasters, how to use color and space. These things are much more visceral when you’re doing them, and you really can’t learn them from a book without doing them.

And there you have it, good advice from an artist a busy guy who “makes stuff.”

I’d like to thank Collin for sharing all this — and encourage the rest of you to visit all the links to “all things Collin David”  in this interview.  (He’s got so much going on, if you only have time for two, it’s these two: ResonantFish and ResonantFish on Facebook.)

An Interview With Sam Garton, The Illustrator Behind The Adorable Otter & Robot Suicides

I first met Sam at Tumblr, where I immediately was attracted to the dark yet whimsical works…

Mr. Gerald Beaufort, the rat, making plans to break in:

A robot suicide:

A dog who finds scary movies too scary:

But Sam, it turns out, is more known for his role as The Otter Keeper, the creator of I Am Otter.

Tell us a little about yourself, Sam… Did you go to art school? How long have you been doing I Am Otter?

I’m 28 and have an office job by day but also work as a freelance illustrator. I graduated from Derby University with a degree in illustration in 2005. I’m obsessed with otters and I enjoy putting sweets in the freezer so they last longer (especially jelly tots). I’ve been doing I Am Otter for about 2 years now!

How would you describe I Am Otter in terms of a project?

I am Otter is a website dedicated to a modern day domestic otter who lives with her Otter Keeper in the London suburbs. Nobody (not even me) can quite remember the day I became obsessed with an otter and decided to dedicate a rather unhealthy amount of time to her. I have a theory it happened when walking to work one day but you can’t be too sure about these things.

It’s a basic html site but I have also got quite into flash recently, so there are games and interactive elements too. At first you could be mistaken for thinking the site is directly aimed at children, but upon closer inspection you’ll find there is plenty of humour that will appeal to adults too. The site also has a built in blog where you can find lots of mini Otter stories, which I update frequently.

When did you start your shop? When did you feel you (and Otter) were ready for a shop?

People would ask me to buy prints so I decided eventually a shop was the best option, sadly me and Otter don’t get too much custom these days and there is a monthly fee. I keep meaning to change over to etsy or a free service but I spent quite a long time customizing this one so I’m reluctant to change for that reason.

What’s the story behind your Tumblr… Not only is the art different, but it’s rather orphaned from the rest of Otter’s world.

Well believe it or not I haven’t always drawn an Otter and her Teddy!

I’m actually very fond of a darker palette and enjoy more sinister and serious themes. There is just no place for that in otters world and so I really wanted somewhere I could be more myself and not be tied down. There is also the fact that lots of kids follow Otter and I wouldn’t want to scare anyone. 🙂

It’s gone well so far, but I’m still getting used to using Tumblr which is very different from WordPress.

The otter series is rather unusual… It’s almost like a graphic novel, more than an art series, isn’t it? Did you plan on this narrative sort of storytelling from the start, or did that evolve more organically?

It all sort of evolved organically to be honest. I Never set out with a master plan. I just started drawing otter and after a while my imagination just took over – I then had to keep drawing her to get the stories out of my head!

I never thought I could write particularly well (and I’m not saying I can) but it was quite a surprise how much I enjoy writing the text that comes along with the picture. I now feel the pictures require the story and vice versa. It does take me a while though – I’m constantly re-writing sentences to get the pacing right and I’m very picky over the words I use.

Do you have any plans to do this sort of presentation with the darker works? Any plans to sell prints of these works?

I would always sell prints to anyone who wanted them. I have my special printer I invested in and it creates great prints.

Sadly printing, packaging and trips to the post office take up time! And after doing otter shop for a while I’ve begun to find the whole process a bit tedious. But, unfortunately, I also have a bit of a dislike for the third party printers. “We print on anything and post to your customer” – great! “We also take 70% of your profit” – not so great. And I don’t like to use them either.

If I sell anything, I like the customer to be happy and get a good deal. It’s almost impossible to do this and make it worthwhile with the middle man too!

How do you feel the commercial aspects, selling prints, running sites, etc., have affected or impacted your work?

The creation of the websites and learning software like Photoshop are half the fun for me, if I’m honest. I guess they have impacted on my work in so much as I don’t do as much drawing because I’m learning WordPress or trying to make a new flash game for Otter. But If I didn’t do this, then it’s not like anyone would know about Otter in the first place!

And, like I said, the process of selling prints is a bit of a pain. I’d rather spend the time learning/drawing something new.

Do you feel more obligated to produce new works or, in the case of blogging, new posts?

I start to feel guilty after a week or so goes by with no Otter story. Half of this is because I know a few fans really enjoy the stories and are waiting for the next; the other half is that I actually feel bad for Otter! I need to make up her next adventure to keep her world alive… and I take this responsibility very seriously. 🙂

I don’t think I’d ever be able to stop writing about Otter… It would make me feel too sad?

As an artist, what is your definition of success?

For me success would be to make enough money out of my art that allowed me to do it full time! This would be fantastic as I have so much in my head I want to get out, but just not enough time. I’m sure this is the same for most artists. And I envy the ones that get to that level very much.

It also makes me very happy that my work can affect people in a positive way. For example, I get really nice messages from people saying that reading about Otter has really turned around a bad day they were having, or similar things to this. I’m not sure my darker stuff has this affect on people but hopefully it still invokes a positive or inspiring reaction of some kind.

It sure does, Sam; it inspired this interview.

 

2009, The Year In Quilting

I’m not a quilter — despite the ridiculous number of quilting books (old and new) and boxes of fabric (vintage and modern) I own. I made one honest attempt at making my daughter a crazy quilt… But, well, I’m saving it all for that magical One Day when I’ll have the time and patience to really learn what I’m doing. Still, I love to look at quilts, especially the less traditional textile art pieces.

In 2009 there were, in my mind, two notable quilting stories — and both center on Mark Lipinski.

march-april-2009-issue-of-quilters-home-magazineFirst, as I reported in April over at Kitsch Slapped, the March/April issue of Lipinski’s Quilter’s Home magazine was “too hot” for Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts to carry — despite Lipinski having paid $2,500 to wrap each copy of the issue in plastic like a porno mag.

Why so much fuss about a quilting magazine? Because the publication dared to include Shocking Quilts, an article by Jake Finc which featured quilts on such controversial (yet culturally aware/abundant) themes as lynching and erectile dysfunction. Part of my response (where you can see some of the quilts in question & under condemnation) was:

These quilts are the very definition of art — not just something made by hand, but unique works exploring issues of our society. You remember art, don’t you? It’s one of the ways people communicate & exchange ideas, start dialogs. Well, Jo-Ann will have none of that.

Please confine your creativity to the kits provided.

The second bit of news in 2009 quilting news is also another low point.

In September, Lipinksi announced that he was stepping down as editor of Quilter’s Home magazine and breaking all ties with the publication. This was a result of New Track Media‘s July ’09 purchase of CK Media. The ol’ “creative differences.”

However, since New Track Media had also purchased Quilters News Network TV in 2007, Lipinksi also announced this meant we was discontinuing any involvement with QNNtv.com, including co-hosting Quilt Out Loud!, the internet television program.

mark-lipinski-tupli-violet-petunia-holiday-2009-last-issueWhile these two low points or lowlights in quilting 2009 seem to indicate negativity, exposing the continued blanding of art by the very commercial outfits which should be encouraging creativity, I choose to be optimistic: Thank gawd quilters, artists, and art lovers everywhere have Mark Lipinski, a man dedicated to his craft, to creativity, who won’t knuckle-under to the knuckleheads of mediocrity.

To show support of Lipinski and his values, pony up some pennies and purchase from his shop. There you can even buy back issues — including copies with the Shocking Quilts feature as well as the last issue Lipinski had a hand in. And keep an eye on his blog for more news — rumor has it, there are fabulous projects in the works!

Pop Art: Pop Culture Defined

I dated a musician, once upon a time; a jazz musician. He was often put off by my love of certain music, deriding it as ‘pop music.’ I had to remind him that the ‘pop’ stood for popular, and that meant that a large body of folks had to like it to make it ‘popular’. I even reminded him that jazz was once ‘pop music.’

Of course, that didn’t always sit well. For either of us.

lost_supermarket_flyer_-boutwell-draper-gallery_ben-frost-exhibitI can’t speak directly for him, but his disdain for ‘pop’ certainly smelled snobby to me, and I felt as if I had to prove that I still had ‘good taste’ (at least most of the time) despite occasional descent into liking what other people did…

Pop culture has become synonymous with kitsch, defined as ‘bad taste,’ and while the two may overlap, there are distinctions.

Pop Culture Defined: Dictionaries define Popular Culture, or pop culture, as “the vernacular (people’s) culture that prevails in a modern society,” and as “the currency or iconography of a contemporary culture.”

In any case, popular culture is both dynamic, as cultures are constantly changing, and it is static in the sense that it is specific to both place(s) and time(s) or period(s). What is pop culture in the USA, now, is not the same as China, nor is it the same as the USA in 1950.

Pop culture is built largely by industries & groups that disseminate cultural material & the relationships these groups have with the population or consumers. In the US, examples of these groups are the film, television, news media, & publishing industries, as well as political groups, religions, and social organizations. It isn’t just what they ‘push’ at us, it is how we, as consumers, interact with it. Do we buy it? Not just commercially, but do we buy into it

As my jazz musician felt, popular culture is not always ‘high brow.’ It does however merit study. Why do people believe, act, buy…?

pup-art-pop-art-quilt-by-nancy-brownAnd don’t think it is merely of interest to corporations or marketing teams either. Heck, it’s part of the science of anthropology! Those scientists know that these same motivators and triggers allow us to believe in marriage, religion, food, clothing, education, language, rituals & traditions. They know that pop culture buy-ins affect those things!

So if you ever feel your love of Mickey Mouse, Pig Latin, G.I. Joe, Marilyn Monroe, Dr. Suess, anime, Andy Warhol, The Simpsons, Gone With the Wind, Michael Jordan, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, & yes, even jazz, isn’t worthy, think again! They are to Americans as patriotic as baseball, apple pie, and mom.

Yes, your mom is a pop culture phenomenon!

Image credits: Pop art poster for Ben Frost‘s exhibit at the Boutwell Draper Gallery; Pup Art quilt by Nancy Brown, via Susan Brubaker Knapp’s Blue Moon River blog.

Michael Jackson: King Of Commissioned Kitsch

We keep hearing how poor MJ was, but the dude spent a fortune commissioning art — of himself. And while he was one helluva a musical artist & entertainer, he didn’t have a clue about art.

Just unveiled, Kehinde Wiley’s monumental commissioned portrait of Michael Jackson:

kehinde-wileys-monumental-commissioned-portrait-of-michael-jackson

And here’s a 1990 painting of Jackson by David Nordahl:

MJ_Art Lover_REPRO.indd

Now maybe you’re not surprised to see the size of MJ’s ego displayed in such works. I’m not; but I thought he had more of an artistic sense. All that money to promote yourself as a kitsch icon? Such high prices for such low kitsch? I mean he could have commissioned such portraits from any high school art class student. All he’d have to do is give the kid a copy of an art history book along with the deposit check. But what screams to me the most from all of this is that Jackson would have put these on display, likely in his home.

Where his kids could see them.

So I no longer can buy Prince, Paris and Blanket dressed in masks, scarves and blankets as some sort of shield protecting the kids so that they’d grow up normal. Not when he was willing to subject them to such portraits of daddy. These painting not only distort images of dad as a real person but distort images of real art too.

Well, at least I don’t think Jackson commissioned such artworks to include his kids’ faces as cherubs or whatnot. Or maybe I just don’t recognize his kids.

Or maybe there are frightening family portraits we have yet to see.

See also the edible MJ.