What It’s Like to Be an Artist

Here is an example of the kind of instructions I get everyday. On the left is the chicken scratch I get for instructions. This is usually all I have to work with. On the right, is my interpetration, which becomes an ad.

Here is an example of the kind of instructions I get everyday. On the left is the chicken scratch I get for instructions. This is usually all I have to work with. On the right, is my interpretation, which becomes an ad.

Here's instructions on the left, and my results on the right. Notice in this one, the rep admits to not having anything to work with at all. In this case, there were no photos, no logo, no headline and no ad copy. I had to start from scratch, using stock photography and my own graphics

Here’s instructions on the left, and my results on the right. Notice in this one, the rep admits to not having anything to work with at all. In this case, there were no photos, no logo, no headline and no ad copy. I had to start from scratch, using stock photography and my own graphics.

Instructions on left, ad result on the right. Again, almost nothing to work with.  They did have a logo, but is was so poorly done and low resolution, that I had to re-create it.

Instructions on left, ad result on the right. Again, almost nothing to work with. They did have a logo, but is was so poorly done and low resolution, that I had to re-create it.

“Every child is born an artist, the problem is to remain one once they grow up.”-  Pablo Picasso

People always ask me what I do for a living.  When I tell them that I am a graphic artist, I can tell they are thinking, “Oh, an ARTIST? Poor thing.”  My teenagers think I spend my days at work coloring in coloring books or drawing goofy cartoons.  They don’t know that being an advertising designer means dealing with strict deadlines and lazy, entitled, know-it-all salespeople, not to mention budget-restricted small business clients and cranky female bosses with chips on their shoulders.  All for very little pay.  You’ve  heard of the “starving artist” stereotype?  It’s for real. At least in my case.

Being an artist, by definition, means having the ability to create something beautiful from basically nothing.  This describes my job perfectly.  I create ads, logos, flyers and other artwork for small business clients through the group of community newspapers that I work for.  Often, these clients have little, or nothing to work with.  Sometimes I have to start completely from scratch.  Notes scribbled on bar napkins and sticky notes, Polaroids from the 70’s, drawings made by the client’s ten-year-old son – I’ve seen them all in my 23 years as a professional.  Sometimes you just have to roll with what’s given. Although, I’d probably draw the line if the client wrote his instructions on toilet paper.  Ewww.

Over the years, I’ve learned to be resourceful when asked to be creative using nothing but my imagination. I do this not because of some great talent, but more out of necessity, since we generally don’t serve clients with extravagant budgets. We also do things in high-stress mode, often turning over large projects in one or two hours, rather than the weeks that it takes large ad agencies to design a single magazine ad.  My department completes between 200 and 300 art projects per week.

I think the affinity that I have for art is definitely inborn. From a young age, I’d always been interested in drawing, painting, crafting, and design. In the deepest sense, art is what makes me who I am.  Unlike what most people believe, being gifted with an artistic bent doesn’t make me egotistical, troubled, or full of angst. In fact, being in the middle of a project is when I feel truly humble, as I fumble and grope for ways of capturing the life, atmosphere, movement, and emotion of the world around me in a design or a painting.  I am never sure it is going to come together in way that I envision in my mind.

Not long ago, I realized that I had unknowingly passed this cursed artistic “gene” to my daughter Amanda. She announced recently that she wants to major in photography in college. So this month we started researching colleges with photography schools. Already I can see this inborn sense of design in her, because her amateur photography is truly captivating and full of promise.  Photography is all about artistic vision and ability to see the world from a unique and soul-stirring perspective.

It occurred to me that all types of artists have certain characteristics in common:

1)      We perceive the world differently.  You might hardly notice an evening sunset, but we see a flaming fireball on the horizon about to explode onto the earth, just begging to be captured immediately in film or on canvas. You might see a dead leaf fall off a tree in autumn, but we see an orange and yellow swirl of color painted on the wind and feel the sadness of the passing of time.

2)      We want to open the window to our soul. We have an unexplainable desire to capture the world around us, connect with our viewer, and leave something tangible behind after we are gone… something visual that others can somehow connect to.  We are constantly trying to open that elusive window.

3)      We like to break the rules. Push the envelope.  You know, color outside the lines. Shock you with the unexpected.

4)      We are visionaries. We have no problem looking at a blank room, or a blank canvas and envisioning all of the possibilities.

5)      A successful design is an award in itself.  Creating a successful design feels almost like winning a million bucks.  Well, almost. Ok, not really. But it’s pretty darn self-affirming and satisfying.

6)      We crave artistic expression.  When life gets too busy, and I don’t find time to be artistic in some way, I don’t feel whole.  It know it sounds cheesy, but artists MUST create.  And work for pay usually doesn’t count. It’s working for yourself, like writing this blog, with no one else’s imposed rules, that really matter.

People ask me if I “like” my job. The answer is yes and mostly no.  I like the ability to express myself artistically in challenging ways each day.  I am lucky to make a living doing something I like and am skilled, talented, experienced and equipped to do so.  But that’s where the “like” ends for me.

I hate being chained like a slave to a desk for 8 hours a day. I hate following the instructions of complete idiots who have no idea what balance, composition, typography and color harmony mean.  I hate being paid a starvation wage just because that’s the standard in the artistic field.  And most of all, I hate, hate, HATE giving all the best years of life, and all the hours of my days, to a company who doesn’t give a crap about me.

Do I fantasize about quitting and then building a sunny little art studio in my backyard, and then painting or designing jewelry or writing stories for the rest of my days?  Absolutely. Every single day.  But now is not the time.

I need to work to make the college dreams come true for someone else much more important than myself.  Should I talk my daughter out of the artist lifestyle?  Maybe. Don’t I want her to have money? Of course!  But I want happiness and fulfillment for her even more.  No one could have talked me out of it when I was young, no more than they could have talked me out of being brunette or brown-eyed.  It just WAS.  And maybe it’s the same for her.

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About thedaughterdiaries

Here’s a secret for all you moms of cute toddlers out there.... when you get to the teen years, things are not much better, I'm sorry to say. They still act exactly like toddlers...wild mood swings, strange sleep patterns, irrational behavior, crying fits and screaming. Wait..that last one is mostly me. Only now I can't bribe them with candy like I used to.
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