Rob's Hand Made Sign

Art Show Beginner

Business

Taking the business to the next level involves taking my prints to the people. So far I’ve had pretty good experiences, but I’m only three shows into my print career so I have a lot to learn. Nonetheless, here are my experiences at the Claremont Art Walk and the OC Weekly’s Artopia in Downtown Santa Ana.

Chronologically Claremont came first. It came to me by way of a friend-of-a-friend who has taken over the Art Walk. I’m not sure exactly when the whole thing started, but when I jumped onboard it was the first time that Rebecca had run an Art Walk. It was also the return of the walk from a brief hiatus. As I wrote about a month ago in my previous article the Art Walk had shakey beginnings. Now under the guidance of Janelle Rensch and Rebecca Ustrell it is on track for the first Saturday every month.

When I think about my night there it makes me think of a club house. A hangout for your friends where you can feel free to joke, share new experiences, and wonder about the future. Since the Art Walk is just getting back on it’s feet there wasn’t much fanfare to attract visitors. Although I did notice that between the time I lived near the area and now, a difference of four or five years, that the Packing House filled in it’s empty store fronts. That led to steady traffic throughout the night and since you have people waiting for their tables at the hipstery Whisper House restaurant, you have a chance to catch a few eyes from there. Passers by from other eateries like the amazingly delicious Eureka! Burger helped fill in some of that foot traffic as well.

Considering it was a free, juried* show the amount of cash earned that night was strictly profit. After three shows at this level my average sales seem to float around ten prints at a very, very reasonable price point. You can do the math on that, but until the show earns some more notoriety I would imagine that earnings for someone like me will stay kind of low. The other people participating that day didn’t seem to do as well (a guitarist, and high-end French gift basket vendor).

The Claremont Packing House was one of the first renovations to take place in the area and is one of the nicest places to visit. It’s had a hard time attracting business in the past, but when I visited for the show it was buzzing with activity which is good to see. Downtown Claremont is a little hidden from the world, which is how I believe the residents prefer it, but I’m seeing signs of growth. The venue itself is pleasant with reclaimed wood floors and dim lighting. It was suggested that I bring my own lighting and I’m glad I did. It was nice to be indoors too and while it looked like it might rain that day it luckily never did. During the summer months it can get really hot out there so I imagine that being inside will be helpful in future walks, but there is talk of expanding to the outside courtyard between the parking structure and the Packing House.

Overall the Claremont experience was nice and people were a lot friendlier than I have experienced in the one previous show that I’ve been a part of. Not that people were rude, just less engaging. Quite the opposite in Claremont. The Santa Ana art show on the following weekend would have some parallels.

When my wife sent me an ad from the OC Weekly hosting an art show the second week of May I was cynical about it. The annual Artopia, also held in LA and a few other cities I think, was a vote-for-your favorite kind of marketing scheme. If you’ve ever participated in a Pepsi school fundraiser where you have to get as many people you can to sign up on a website and vote for your school then you know what I’m talking about. It’s a way for the OC Weekly to build email lists and send you junk mail. Normally I wouldn’t go for this sort of thing, but I thought I might be able to piggyback off the OC Weekly’s promotion efforts and at the very least get my name out in the open.

I didn’t ask anyone to vote for me. I’ve tried my hand in a similar promotion years ago with the tee shirt company Threadless and met with awful results. Personally I don’t like being marketed to and I will walk all the way around something that smells a little bit like advertising, so I get it. People don’t want to go on Facebook and see that shit. No problem.

However, my wife is my biggest promoter and jumped on that wagon quicker that you can say “hold your horses”. That’s probably what got me through the door because she convinced a lot of friends to sign up to vote which got into the top ten out of thirty pre-approved artists. I’d love to know what the vote looked like because I’d be willing to bet that there weren’t that many votes and I probably defaulted in because I was one of the few that got votes.

In any case this was a pretty good operation. Plenty of communication, parking maps, wristbands, club lights, dj… the whole loft party package. Which gave it the feel of a mid-sized, exclusive event. The staff, led I think by Jenna Moothart of OC Weekly Marketing, was incredibly friendly and helpful. I really felt like they were there to cater to me and there were a lot of OC Weekly shirts to provide manpower. So even when there were some kinks, which I later found out was caused by unfamiliarity in a new venue, they were fast to respond, and really accommodating.

Although typically rented out as a wedding space the venue itself, The 1912, was nice. A contemporary upstairs take on the hipster packing house trend that is slowly taking over southern California, the wood floors and beams give it a warm feel with the old style warehouse windows letting in nice light during the day, and antique edison style lights with some small, moving, track lighting type dj lights and gobos (or patterns) for the night. It was really dark in my corner and my neighbor, by the end of the night, was living in shadow. So I was glad that I packed my lamps.

When I first set up next to the bathroom, the kitchen (or storage room of some sort), and a cocktail table there was pretty good lighting in that spot, but I was bumped for a photo-booth (maybe paid for by the event) and sent to the corner. It was a little odd, but it was better than being isolated in the alternative space, a room hidden around the corner that another artist briefly sat in until it she realized that no one would see her art. Also, I didn’t have to worry about someone hanging out by the cocktail table and spilling their drink on my prints or the terrible bathroom smell oozing into the space.

As details rolled in from Jenna I took note of certain things: one thing that I thought would have an effect on sales was the cover charge. Tickets were $30 online pre-sale with a discount code I could hand out lowering it to $20. At the door prices went up to $35. Toward the end of the event I talked to the staff who said that total tickets sold were about two hundred fifty tickets sold out of three hundred available. This is different than past Artopia events which the staff said had twenty artists (instead of ten) with around one thousand attendees. They wanted to go smaller, more intimate this year. Maybe to cut costs?

Who knows.

If you’re tracking the event’s numbers that means they’re getting between $5,000 and $9,000 before expenses which probably included bartending, dj, venue rental, staff wages, table rentals, etc, etc. All told they probably took a small loss on the event.

The only problem I had was trying to talk over the sound of the dj who always wants to get the party started by blasting beats. I liked the music he played, but having conversations with people who are interested in buying your art while there is a rock concert going on behind you is a pain in the ass. You only hear every other word and have to piece together their meaning through chunks of conversation that you repeat several times.

With somewhere between two hundred fifty and three hundred people attending I did a little better than my ten print average. Again it was a free show so one hundred percent of the profit goes to me and with a slightly heavier wallet I’m happy.

Between the Tustin Art Walk, the Claremont Art Walk, and the OC Artopia here’s what I’ve gathered about running a booth at art events:

As I mentioned, my average sales are around ten prints per show. This tells me that I need to offer a few more options to get people interested in what I’m doing. The price point seems good (you can visit my Etsy site if you want to see) and with a few lower price point options I think I’m catching a few people that might have walked away. One thing that I want to play with is raising prices. Claremont, for example, is a pretty wealthy community, so I can probably bump my better selling prints up a few dollars without scaring people away. Make a few more bucks.

I would guess that half of the people that stop by my booth are attracted to the display. The dark stained wood and slick orange lamps are all part of a package and I think eyes have been drawn to the light and overall aesthetic as much as the art it’s trying to sell. I’ve received a lot of compliments on the display and I like to joke with customers that it makes my crappy art look even better than it really is, but with the packing house architectural style being so popular right now I fit in really well among people with style. Which I think helps my art stand out even more.

Overall sales are a lot lower than I’d like and that might be a combination of things. One thing that I’m ready to try is to get into a paid show like Patchwork (which incidentally is going on this Sunday in Santa Ana). The Patchwork Show has notoriety and big crowds. I figure I can probably triple my profits by signing up for a half-booth ($150) on these one-day craft fairs. That’s totally doable right now and at minimum I figure I can break even.

On the other side of that coin I need to get some more product up. Some people like to say “Develop a style”, but right now I’m not seeing people demand that. With a couple of different series running people are choosing from all of them. Since these are things that I like, there’s a good chance that people will have similar crossing interests. What I’m not seeing though is that “Oh I have to have this” reaction from people yet. The closest I get is a long, smiling stare at my Yosemite print which is probably more the name brand than anything. I’ll take the compliment, but I’d rather have the money.

I have a few other tweaks that I want to do to the display – add more signage, build out as more product gets developed, make it more visible from a distance, make it easier to transport, and so on. There are a couple of questions that I get asked frequently, like “What is screen printing” and “Are you the artist”. Some signage could be helpful with this, but at least for now it helps me refine my pitch. The bottom line here is that art shows like these already make up the bulk of my sales.

Right now I’d say that compared to online sales, shows make up three quarters of total sales. That’s something that I’d like to change and I’m hoping to grab more show goers and pull them over to my Etsy site. But I think that just comes down to offering more and better product online. I did see a microscopic bump online from the OC Weekly event, but no sales to speak of. Yet.

If you are considering any of these shows I’d say that they are good testing grounds for newbies like me or maybe just trying out new ideas. All the shows I participated in are minimal in cost and if you have a winning product you only stand to earn. I can’t say what it’s like from the other side of the booth – the customer side. I think that one problem is that it’s hard to find out about these events. Other than everyone being so pleasant and curious, even if they are not handing over their hard earned cash, you are with your people at these events. Everyone that shows up is into what you are doing and probably has similar backgrounds to you. That makes it fun, like hanging out in the neighborhood club house with all your friends. So at the very least you get plenty of instant feedback, because people always have opinions – not always a bad thing – and you get to meet cool people.

 

*I’ve only learned this year that “Juried” and “Unjuried” shows make a difference. Juried shows are selective of the people who participate and are generally better in service. Unjuried tends to be a free for all.

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Special Combo

Special Combo

Business

I love making sets of prints. It makes a lot of sense to get the buyer to want to complete the collection, but I’ve found that this doesn’t quite go down the way that I intended. I might have to change up my tactics a little.

My art is on the cheap side of the print world. Rock poster gods typically do larger prints for twice as much money – on the low end. So my pricing undercuts them by a lot, but I’m also not quite at the thirty to one hundred dollar class yet. My street cred is low and my talent needs shoring up in a few small places, but I figure in another five thousand hours I’ll start catching up.

In the meantime I’m hoping to build enough stock to bring in a steady stream of online sales and that might be purely volume based. That is to say: the more prints I offer the better sales will be. Right now it’s a small collection and the more popular earners on Etsy just have bigger collections.

In my head I think, “You can make up the difference by promoting sets”. Sell two or three at a time and it’s just as good as the higher end sales. Then I can keep building stock and have the previous prints pay for the new prints. Problem is, customers are only buying one at a time.

I’m not entirely sure why that is. Maybe they are only in love with a single print and not so much the rest. Or with shipping prices maybe they’re doing the math and thinking “I have to buy a frame too,” which adds to the overall costs of a single print. In any case people are not buying the sets so clearly my strategy needs some tweaking.

One problem is my inconsistent marketing. I’m still trying to get a feel for pushing product online and being socially awkward I’m not sure what to do or say other than be myself, which I think sometimes pushes people away. Nevertheless I need to a) take some social media dietary fiber and get more regular on my posting. People respond really well when I’m consistent. And b) be a little less advertisey. Recently I ran a bunch of posts that were heavy on the marketing lingo and I got ZERO reaction. Not that I’m surprised really, because I hate advertising myself. Lesson learned. Chill with that shit.

However, I don’t do a good job of showing the sets together and I need to start promoting the sets and not just the individual pieces.

Another issue could be that people are not quite impressed with my style yet – or maybe I haven’t fully fleshed out a style and people smell weakness. This will take care of itself in time, but I’ve seen worse things go out so I kind of think the problem lies somewhere else. Besides, I’m getting likes on my work, just not – what’s the word – conversions. Which tells me people like it plenty, just not enough to fork over cash-money.

One customer hinted that if there were framing options they might be more inclined to make the buy and that has been ringing in my ears ever since. I like to build crap with wood so if I can find a way to quickly and cheaply manufacture my own frames then I can sell the prints + frames as a package deal. I really want to believe that this will help sales, but part of me thinks it’s only marginal at best.

Ultimately I think it comes down promoting effectively. I loath advice that tells you need to chase down keywords and like and follow your way to the top. It feels sticky like car salesmen tactics and I get that it works, and if you want to make money… blah, blah, blah. It’s clear to me that going too heavy on advertising doesn’t work because people get turned off by it. You need to have a plain message that appeals to customers (which is still advertising) without sounding and looking like advertising.

One last thought: the stuff I’m making is pretty niche. I’m not sure how many people really like Cats with geometric shapes or 666 posters (which at this time has 1 view in the past 30 days – my worst performing poster to date – compared to my highest performer which has 43 views), so maybe I need to mix it up with a couple of prints with broader appeal.

Be more consistent. Spell it out for people. Don’t be a car salesman.

Hey thanks for listening. Sometimes I just have to work it out.

Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Elenkoff

Fugscreen Studios

Videos
[vimeo 66652730 w=700]

Making screen prints can be an exciting and addicting process because it takes an idea that only existed in you head and makes it become a part of the real world. There is nothing more thrilling than seeing something come to life and like Elenkoff says, there are only a handful of these created. The community is really great too and I’ve had experiences – on a different level – with people who want to talk shop and share.

Claremont Art Walk

Claremont Artwalk

Events

Claremont is surprisingly hidden from the world. It doesn’t offer much near freeway exits and the charming downtown is a little tucked away. So I guess it’s no surprise that a lot of people miss this bad ass gem. However there are stirrings in the wind that tell me there are changes coming.

The Claremont Art Walk has been fighting for its life. Run by volunteers this monthly event has had a difficult time getting off the ground. Which is too bad since Claremont has a lot to offer, but part of the problem is a perceived highbrow, snooty, college town atmosphere where million dollar homes would make even my rich OC neighbors jealous of the Jone’s. It’s a very, very small place that has all the problems of small town politics. Add to the equation a rowdy next door neighbor with dirt under the finger nails, Pomona, which had it’s own downtown art scene that burgeoned for more than a decade, but is now fizzling out. Now Claremont is finding itself in a place that it is not really accustomed to bringing in a scruffier crowd.

When you cross under the freeway the tension between the two sides is palatable. Pomona’s grimy brick buildings and Mid Century blue collar homes paired against the pristine, manicured landscaping along side the adobe of Claremont and it’s no mystery. I never really heard anyone talk about the other side when you are facing one side of the freeway or the other. However, the energy was there. Yet now with the changes taking place we are seeing some groups shifting over to Claremont. And to Upland which is another nearby town of local flavor.

Claremont has always had an art scene, but one very different from the Pomona breed. It’s traditionally been the kind of wine drinking, flowing clothes wearing, slightly grayed type of artist that represents a class of well heeled bohemian that I’m accustomed to in places like Santa Fe, Sedona, or Laguna Beach. Now, there is a fresher look moving in. A younger, purple haired, with more slender physique fitting clothes artisan moving in.

It sounds like Pomona has chased out the artists. They have done their job and raised the rent for developers to point to buyers and say, “Look here! Artists are cool and you want to be cool so buy my property and move in.” I don’t know if gentrification is winning in Pomona, but it seems clear that the once tight knit community of artists there has broken up due to what Pomona doesn’t offer anymore.

Bunny Gunner, an art studio that held turf on Pomona’s 2nd Street down the road from the Glass House, has now moved to greener pastures of Bonita in the Claremont Village. A few others have joined in the fray like Mirrored Society which is celebrating its three month anniversary above a fairy land trinket store (*yawn*) separated by oaky white railing. Not the traditional dark stain we see in hipstery places, but give it time.

So when a friend of mine contacted me and asked me if I could do an art show in Claremont I said sure. Fuck it. Not knowing about the shifting climate in the region of my former stomping ground, it sounded like a good time because I like Claremont anyway, but now, looking from the outside in, it looks like Claremont offers an opportunity for artists that seem to be graduating because the well ran dry.

In my base of operations, Tustin, we have a similar thing going. Probably not as highly priced, but it’s people are older, the streets are clean, and we are bordered by a rough around the edges city. Sandwiched between more expensive property and grittier Santa Ana, Tustin is a relative oasis in the property wars we are struggling to live through. Tustin is primed to take overflow from places like Orange whose rents have been escalating astronomically and pushing out businesses. Claremont is not the cheapest place to rent, but like Tustin it does offers a pocket in a sea of struggling businesses where people can gain a foothold.

I like Claremont. If I can play a role in opening its bounty to the world around its borders and maybe learn something in the process, I’ll pitch in. It begins by drawing me back in with the Art Walk, May 7. For artists like me this is opportunity knocking. A new hole in the market that I can slip into.

I don’t know if the Art Walk is good or bad. Worth it or not. But in my mind change is always good. And besides, there’s really good food and even better drinks. After your hearty meal think about how you are breaking ground on a new shift in cultural boundaries. Participating in the flux of people trying to make it work. The artist’s struggle.

And maybe, if you didn’t eat and drink too much, come by and see me the first Saturday of May, 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM in the Packing House on First Street. Technically I’m still filling out the paperwork for this show, but something tells me I’ll be there rain or shine. And with some new art to boot.

Cats versus Dog

Cats v. Dogs

Random Thoughts

Cats and Dogs. They have always been a symbol for things that don’t attract. Don’t belong together. When someone requests dog art, what does a cat owner do?

I have a cat print up on Etsy and I got an odd compliment saying basically they liked it but if I had a Lab print (or maybe it was retriever) they’d be more willing to buy.

I don’t know what to say to this. Am I in the business of taking requests? This is the customer. And the customer is supposed to the be the end all, be all. Right?

In life there are dog people and cat people. We have drawn that line and I currently stand on the cat side. When he dies there is a good chance I’ll be switching sides and go with team dog, but for now it’s cat time. Still, making a dog print may not work for me. Not just because I don’t own a dog, but because people who own dogs or cats are usually all in. They don’t switch sides and they don’t want to see cat prints mingling with their dog prints just like they tend not to mix real life cats and dogs. There is only dog, or only cat.

Branding – and I hate this overused marketing bullshit, vomit word – is a real thing. When you choose to make dinosaur pictures people come to expect more dinosaurs from you. It’s that consistency that helps people decide whether or not to stick around and see what’s coming next. It’s like watching the X-Files: you come back to see Mulder and Scully do their thing no matter how cheesy it is because it’s familiar. It’s the same reason why Free Bird is the most played song in bars and why you’ll always order the same crappy Jumbo Jack meal after a night of drinking (or Del Taco if you’re like my wife). We like consistency.

So getting back to the cat and dog thing. As a businessman I can see the dollar signs in making a dog print. Dog people really love their dogs and anything that resembles that would probably sell. But. If I plant that print next to my cat print it might work against me. People will know that I’m an impostor trying to make a quick buck. Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t make a dog poster. It may mean that I have to wait until I sell out of my cat prints. Or maybe when we make the switch to puppy love I’ll take the cat offline and make the switch then. Or maybe I’m just over analyzing the situation entirely and people don’t really care that much.

To the customer that made the request: I might get to you down the road, but right now I’m going to hold out for a while before including dogs into the lineup. Sorry. Some things just don’t mix and it’s that black and white line between cats and dogs that make me timid. Then again, money is a pretty good motivator.

 

Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Disaster Design

Disaster Design

Random Thoughts, Reviews

In the 1950s we had movies that showed engineers tackling important problems with science and the future was bright with technology making life more manageable and comfortable. I love those videos because it was the heyday for people who daydreamed about endless possibilities. My favorite pass time. Fast forward to today and that kind of thinking is lost. We are a little less hopeful. A little more cynical. And we no longer rely on engineers to solve our problems. Today when you hear someone talk about building something whether it’s the sock in your drawer or your career, it’s typically prefaced with the title “designed”.

We have elevated the design world to almost godlike status. Just look at this new documentary out about big names in the design industry: Design Disruptors.

This is a highly commercialized vision of design is nothing new. It has its roots in the way engineering was marketed. We could probably come up with a few examples from back in the day when engineering used to be the catch word for everything from toys to washing machines. Over the years the language of modern marvels went from “superior engineering” to “well designed” and it has little bit to do with how we have changed our views over the last century or two.

Let’s bring in Foolproof, a book by Greg Ip which takes an interesting perspective on some of our recent catastrophes like The Great Recession and hurricane Katrina. Explaining that as a society we have become overly cautious in a way that allows small problems to balloon into more disastrous problems, the book looks at the battle between two concepts of problem management that has erupted within the last one hundred or so: Engineers versus Ecologists.

By early 1900s ways of thinking, we believed we could control every aspect our world through scientific knowledge. Whip nature into submission. Hunt the last buffalo and reap the endless natural resources in the name of progress. Ip called these people engineers. These are the people who conquered the West taming wildfires or building tremendous dikes and canals so that settlers could use the land more efficiently. On the other side of the table are is a relatively new school of thought that natural processes serve as a control and by interfering we ultimately cause harm to the entire system. These ecologists have fought within the last fifty years or so to allow nature to take its course and you can see it in periodic controlled burns that are supposed to reduce wildfire risk, mimicking smaller naturally caused fires. Under this filter you can start to see a tension throughout recent history as policies become split along this divide with different attempts to address problems of our day either by whipping or nurturing.

In thinking about Ip’s analogies it occurred to me that by midcentury American society was getting high on science and technology. You used to see all kinds of articles, movies, magazines, comics, and TV shows promoting the miracles of modern science. Engineers were working to solve everyday problems and make life better for every man and child.

That language has gone away and probably represents a sea change in crises management thinking, but out of the fight has birthed this idea that life is “Designed.” We have Graphic Designers, Website Designers, Robot Designers, Landscape Designers, Fashion Designers, Furniture Designers, home decor is designed, and cars are designed. We design rocket ships and dams – all jobs that used to belong engineers.

With recent technology and commercial success “designer” has also become a generic word for people who make pretend things that only exist in computers or on the Internet. We draw pictures, we create data files, we plan out events, but we don’t actually manufacture things any more. Since the economy has moved on from production to more imaginary things we needed a new term to describe the things our economy does. It’s the new economy. A new way of doing business that just has shitty words to use when describing new jobs.

Today the term designer encompasses so much partly because it offers commercialized success by making all things sound more expensive. But it also connects the two worlds using the skills and knowledge of one realm with the wisdom and foresight of the other. It interests me to think that Ip’s engineers and ecologists have merged to make designer babies (which a scary thought for a different article) hybridizing these once separate fields.

Once upon time I worked with the U.S. Green Building Council which promotes environmentally conscientious building standards. In this nonprofit is a collection of literal engineers and builders coming together to balance construction with ecological concerns. The perfect melding of control freaks and nature lovers that previously would have been impossible. In this world of people getting all Al Green and blending the engineer and ecologist DNA we tended to use the word design. If only to help lay people understand what the hell we were talking about.

In Foolproof Ip spends a lot of time on the financial crisis saying that the body of policy that is built on old-school engineer thinking is going to create larger problems for us down the road. Unless we can find a way to bleed off some of the pressure. Foolproof gives us the example of the Dutch who have started to move away from the canal systems that are so iconic in their country to more natural designs. Instead of trying to fight nature, controlling water flow by building ever bigger canals and dikes the inevitably break and cause larger and larger chaos, they have started building parks that can be used as natural flood control areas that release the pent-up pressure accumulating in their system. It is a compromise reached with an understanding of how the two worlds intertwine both protecting existing populations and working within the confines natural physics.

With so much bickering in the world right now, especially in politics, it’s heartening to think that there is progress in the world. That we don’t have to be cynical all the time. As a control freak myself I can relate to the kind of thinking that leads to a flattened, standardized world. Yet I know that in the war between man and nature we lose every scenario. What we see in the presidential race I think reflects a worldwide epidemic. There is pressure that has built up and needs to be released before it grows so big that it wipes out entire cities. It’s the blending of ideas that will help us to better manage crises before they happen. Or should I say, “We can design a better world”.

***

Greg Ip’s book is a quick read and talks about historical disasters that you might not have known about. I especially like how he addresses the management styles in relation to the crises we have faced, but I do wish he dove a little deeper into a couple of chapters. The full title is Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe. Check it out.

Photo by Stephen Radford

Copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

Robots Rule

Robot Junkie

Videos

There’s something about robots that I cannot get enough of. I think I was meant to be an industrial designer, creating sleek lines like a luxury car on a self propelled automaton. This video comes by way of Imgur (thanks Imgurians) and will probably stir up some robot sketches.

Take Chances

Steps Into Darkness

Random Thoughts

My beautiful wife has started setting aside time to work on herself lately – I’m so proud of her – and recently she has been thinking out loud about how taking risks is an important part of growth. I agree with her that risks are a part of life and the people that I see growing the fastest are the risk takers, but neither one of us is really a daredevil. So what does that mean for us?

I’ve known for a long time that I wouldn’t fit into a certain mold. I’m not a wheeler-dealer, or fast talker. I’m not able to sell the pants off a chimpanzee or bring people together locked in kumbaya arms even for free hamburgers and beer. At one time I thought I could pull some tabula rasa shit and force myself to become a different person and I actually had some success. Although it was a lot of work and I just ended up feeling like crap and fraudulent. I’ve decided that it’s time to pull back and focus on the things that when distilled, boils down to that brown-black, crusty essence of Rob that’s left after all the water burns off. In a way the riskiest bet you can make is to lay down your identity. That thing that gives you a Spiderman origin story and helps you bind together all the mismatched jigsaw pieces of the world that forms your perspective. If you lose that bet you’ve gambled everything you’ve ever known about the world sending you silently screaming into in a psychopathic dissociative meltdown. Quite a lot to risk.

Generally speaking I think the United States has become culturally risk averse. I hear a lot of talk about crime and there seems to be an abundance of anxiety about it, but when I think about it I can go outside right this minute and freely walk in places that twenty years ago I might have been shot or mugged in. We have warning labels on things that should be obvious. We worry about the tiniest details to the point where young people are now becoming defensive for other people, whether it’s needed or not. People fear government overreach even though nobody has really threatened anything that drastic – well, nobody currently in power that is. The future is uncertain and it’s almost as if we don’t know how to be happy unless we have something to be worried about. In reality things have never been as good as it is right now. It might feel like desperate times, with Paris, San Bernardino, and now Brussels under attack. My heart goes out to Brussels, so I don’t mean to make light of their suffering, however if you ask any Syrian refugee to compare their lives to ours I’m pretty sure you’re going to see a huge dichotomy.

In a previous post I talked about having good people around you and more than a few times I’ve found that to be true. I was born with more bone in my skull than brains so it can take some time before lessons get hammered into my head, but keeping good people around is one condition that has saved my ass time and again while taking risks. Without that firm ground to stand on, without the confidence of being able to retreat into a safe place, and without a cheer-leading section to keep your momentum up it can be difficult to grow.

For those people that I count among my friends all of them live with varying degrees of risk taking. Some have gone more or less solo, chasing down that dream of being your own boss. Something I aspire to. Others are locked in jobs that make them feel like their life is a waste. Something I’m sympathetic to. The best of us find hobbies and interests that make us real people outside of work instead of cardboard cutouts that get propped up in cubicles and storefronts. Wasting away. Trapped in the chains of the economy. Public policy. “Synergy” and oceans of pointless vomit, piss, and shit built up over the centuries and sold as gold bricks by previous generations. We all crave something better, but it can seem daunting to take on massive institutions.

If I look at people who have built a solid business they don’t look like me. Outgoing, gregarious, smart with money, well invested, and well planned. I don’t really see those qualities in me. Others might, but impostor syndrome is a real thing. What I’ve realized though, after a couple of years in the working world, is that no one knows what the f**k they are doing. We are all just making this up as we go. That realization was an empowering moment. It’s as if I was given permission to learn by screwing up, which really is the best way for a thick-headed ape like me to learn, because everyone else is screwing it up right alongside. So when risk goes from something that keeps us up at night to transforming into a life lesson in disguise then it develops into an important tool for growth that you can kind of manage.

Fear, and fear of failure, is a significant factor to overcome especially if you are like me and risk averse. The wife shared an Instagram post with me from designer, Nathan Yoder of Yonder Studios, who points out that sometimes that fear might just be laziness, or as he says, “… sometimes I’m merely too tired to even try failing.”

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Lunchtime sketch in the park. The other day I was thinking about the whole "fear of failure" idea. It struck me that, though at times that fear is very real, sometimes I'm merely too tired to even try failing. I think at times we can get so caught up in the stresses and burdens of our days that we don't even allow ourselves the first steps towards something worth fearing to fail at. This can come from past failures which have caused us to become tiresome and cautious or simply from our obliviousness to all that we are capable of. There is so much in life to be thankful and excited for. I don't know about you but I think a world of excited people sounds like a more fun place to be a part of than one filled with pessimistic people and I don't want to be one of the later bringing down the first. I hope that if you haven't found that thing that gets you jazzed that you will soon and, if you find yourself tired of trying, I hope that you will find once again that childlike curiosity that sees the best in others and constantly wants to go, ask, try, and do.

A post shared by Nathan Douglas Yoder (@nathanyoder) on

It’s worth noting that fear might be hiding under the guise of stress so that if you are running from place to place, plugging holes, barely keeping your head above water, its is very, very hard to justify the necessary risks when you are draining your resources on other things. You only need to go as far as the nearest poverty stricken nation to see what desperation does to taking risks. But this rings true for us as well since we work full time during the week, fighting for space to work on side hustle projects.

The United States government and Small Business Administration like to say that it takes five years for a business to sink or swim. I’d be willing to bet that you can tell in three. In the first year you are going to lose money. Just plan on it. The initial investments alone are going to set you back more than you’ll earn. I’ve had to put money down on a press, some screens, ink, paper, websites, Etsy fees, shipping costs, advertising and on, and on. So far I’ve spent more money than I’ve made by a margin so wide it probably makes the Grand Canyon resemble the G.I. Joe sized rivers I made in the backyard with a garden hose when I was a kid. Until my Mother would come out yelling at me to turn off the damn water. The second year you break even because you’ve figured a few things out, but are still learning to walk. In my case I now have a stockroom full of work that I can sell either in person or online. By year’s end I expect to break even after a few sales, recovering from previous purchases. By year three you can actually turn a profit because you’ve developed into a mature business with your shit kind of in order. Hopefully all the ground work that I’ve laid today will translate into stability going into the future that will allow the business to support itself. So that’s what financial risk looks like. Not too bad if you think about it.

Fear, time and lack of energy, all gang up against your hopes. I don’t think it’s hopeless though. If you can schedule an hour a day, a couple of days a week then you can start building steam. That’s something you can decide to do right this minute – one hour during lunch, or after dinner, every Wednesday. Commit to a schedule and do the work whether you feel like it or not. If it’s something you enjoy then you’ll probably turn your mood around anyway, just by taking the first steps. Sometimes I don’t want to draw, but if I force myself I find that I don’t want to quit because I’m having fun. Don’t stop there though. You have to put your work out there. Post it on Facebook and watch people’s reactions. You’ll probably be surprised at what people appreciate and while it’s implausible to please everyone you might find the confidence to take another step further out onto the stage exposing yourself a little more each time. That’s how I did it. And from that seed grows the knowledge that risk is nothing more than a teaching tool to make life better. Because every time you push out a little further, things become more exciting. Packed with potential. We can train ourselves to push the limits, not because a motivational poster told us, but because we have found the intrinsic and extrinsic values of being in control of our lives.

Over time that step out into the darkness will feel less like an abyss and more like an adventure.

Good Tracks

Ripping Ourselves Apart

Music

Iggy Pop and Nick Cave were never on my radar growing up. I was metal kid who converted to sounds of Metallica when they had enough steam to top the charts and ran with that theme while friends introduced me to Led Zeppelin and Ozzy. Lately, I’ve become addicted to that searing angst of good old fashioned punk. Not the poppy bull shit of the nineties that force fed us f**king vomit like Green Day, but heyday punk when there were two worlds ripping at the seams.

It occurs to me that my Mother’s generation grew up in defiance of their parents and grandparents. Hated “the Man”, fought political corruption, witnessed massive social change and tried their damnedest to become something other than what came before and boomers deserve a lot of credit. They faced some real challenges, but I have trouble imagining my classical and jazz loving mother would have ever dreamed up that her people opened up a stream of storming hedonism during a time when the social contrasts were turned up seven hundred percent. A smell that’s familiar today.

Punk (the late seventies) and post punk (eighties) appears to be violent and angry on the surface. When I met the friend that would drive me craziest in young life, but I love her for it, she was an old school punk kid that I never believed would get anywhere in life and who likes to remind me that I hated punk back in the day. That was before I knew what good Punk sounded like. But the image of no control was there and at the time I was eating the bullshit of my Republican mother. Don’t worry. All of that has evaporated in a cloud of cynicism.

Now I listen with utter fascination to the lyrics and intense raspy guitars, that have been hanging out in smoky bars too long, like The Birthday Party’s The Friend Catcher. It’s more than good musicianship it’s a record history of a world split in two with a dark, hidden underbelly that was both shunned and feared by people in denial of their own stink. It was a time when society had run off the rails with drug stunned counterculture ripping the thread from the seams as they ran head first into stupidity.

Punk emerged into this world the other side of the same coin. Fully entrenched and embracing in the other’s shit. The previous generation having broken the throttle handle on the train had jumped ship and turned away from the monster they created. Damn kids. I love watching the movies of the seventies were old men yell “Punks!” at criminal degenerate youths. It seems so precious now.

The Birthday Party were by no means first on the scene. In fact they kind of came late to game, young as they were. But they hold up to the likes of Iggy Pop and his Stooges whose Shake Appeal still has a hint of patchouli left over from the sixties on the guitars. Both bands were abandoned by the seventies, but born in the dank, sweaty corners of clubs like CBGB and colored in frustration that most people continue to misunderstand. Including me.

Now that Mr. Pop has his new album out, aptly named “Post Pop Depression”, we can book end his career with a whole slew of self-styled punk artists. Shamefully those influences include (coincidentally named?) Iggy Azalea or Lady Gaga who make claims on outsider status even though they’ve reached millions of mouth frothing fans. Not very fringe sounding to me. Thankfully we can add a number of grittier bands that follow a little more closely in the footsteps of Mr. Pop and Mr. Cave such as Australia’s latest addition East Link – named after the much maligned construction project in Melborne. And lately I’ve been addicted to Useless Eaters hailing out of San Francisco and who are said to have protege’d under Jay Reatard. Although, technically I think they’re garage rock the psycho surfer sound of the Eater’s Retro Hoax never gets tired.

You can look back over the last couple of years and see the recession has been hugged by a grittier, dirtier, angstier style of music that harkens back to the heady days of punk. When the streets ran red with drug stained blood. When people brutalized each other with rape, racism, murder, robbery and class warfare and the only escape for some were the ear bleeding clubs and basements of rock venues. As I listen to these masterful scumbags shred my hearing to pieces I can’t help thinking that the hypocrisy of pop-punk nineties has been redeemed to some extent. Although, I don’t think we come anywhere near to the mix of ungodly hedonism and violence that fed the legacy makers in the early days, it still somehow feels right. Like maybe the storm of psychopathic politics and shitty economy is still holding a knife to our throats. Nothing like a healthy dose of F.U. to keep rolling forward when things seem shitty.

I love punk and so should you if only for the history it can teach us. For the reminders that things really aren’t as bad as they used to be and even if a mad man takes the reins in the upcoming presidential election we can find a way to vent.

Listen like a real scumbag:

  • East Link, self titled – best track on the album by far is Spring Street, but over all the album is a worthy addition to the collection
  • Useless Eaters, Bleeding Moon – my favorite track right now, although it’s hard to pick one off this album, Proper Conduct
  • Worthy of mention: The Julie Ruin, Run Fast – Oh Come On is one that I can’t put to rest
  • The Stooges, Funhouse Remastered for the truly musically inclined – T.V. Eye gives you the roots of the punk movement in the U.S.
  • Finally, The Birthday Party featuring Nick Cave’s early work; currently I picked up their hits from 1992 with Nick The Stripper in discordant chords that leaves me slapping my arm for another hit

copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson

F**k Off

Mind My Business

Random Thoughts

One thing about starting a creative enterprise is that everyone is super excited for you. Being a cranky, reclusive artist makes it hard to really appreciate the cheering section, but I’m learning to reframe my opinions so that I can look at it as people being excited for me and not just trying to tell me what to do. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

My Mother and I don’t get along much these days and it’s been pretty rocky for at least half of my life. I’ve been kicked out of the house a couple of times; the last time was when I showed up on a Christmas Morning and my key no longer worked on the front door. I’ve run away a few times too. Once when I was probably five or six years old I cruised across town to where our former neighbors moved, several miles away from home, with only my memory to use as a map. I guess I have always had a pretty good sense of direction.

Lately, I’ve noticed that when I spend time with my Mother I get angsty, irritable, and usually come away feeling really shitty about myself. She’s said some pretty awful things and I’m not claiming to be the best son in the world, but it’s hard to reconcile how one minute she tells me she supports me then spits on my dreams the next. This past winter she was asking about my illustration, how the Art Walk went and everything seemed fine. I admitted that I didn’t make a whole lot of money at the Art Walk, but before I could lay out my plan about how I want to grow this into a full time gig she told me, “You’ll never make any real money from this. Maybe some beer money.”

I was stunned into silence. It made me furious because this is one more shitty comment stacked onto a pile of shitty comments that stretches back to my teenage years when she assured me that I would never make a living as an artist.

Then, in the last couple of weeks some really nice things were happening in my Mother’s world. She was given recognition and a prestigious award for her time on a college board. Something in me told me not to go to the ceremony. I fought it internally for a couple of weeks, having a mental tantrum. I eventually caved thinking, “You know, this is a good thing and it means a lot to my Mother. Let’s just get it over with.” Everything went fine. We had an… okay time. At one point she seemed to be panicking over her speech for the ceremony and I tried to offer a suggestion to which she simply said, “You don’t understand,” and then mumbled something about wanting to read her diary.

There’s that shitty feeling again. But I can shrug it off. This is the way she is and I’m not sticking around for the rest of the ceremony anyway. Only I didn’t shrug it off. Not really. The water was set to boil.

I get a couple of random emails from Mother over the next couple of weeks about how she’s so excited to feel like she’s back in action. Friends that she hasn’t talked to in years – due to her reclusive nature and poor health – are coming out of the woodwork to see her. She feels better than she has in a long time. Whatever.

This last weekend I get an email from a friend that she had lunch with. Someone I’ve heard around the house but not someone that I’m familiar with. He’s asking if I know a trustee at the college where I work. Personally I’d prefer to ignore the email, but my Mother was copied on the conversation to which she responded by saying that she thinks this guy might have something up his sleeve which in my mind reads, “Do me a favor”. Enraged is how I feel. The water starts to boil over because I’ve spent the last ten years building myself up from bottom without asking for a single favor. I feel rage because I am more or less a self made man and people that I know nothing about and a Mother who doesn’t really care about what I am trying to accomplish are putting their noses into my business and I overreact. I spend the morning writing ten or fifteen different draft emails as my anger bleeds off, but by the final draft I feel pretty confident that I have reached the perfect balance of hostility and confidence. So I shoot an email off saying back off – mind your own damn business.

I get a reply, “Yep, yes, yep. Understood. Send the photos from the award ceremony.” I’m a little relieved. Maybe I’m in the clear. But then there’s a follow up to an email. I sent some words to her friend where I explained that my Mother’s house was falling down around her ears and that she needed help. My plan was, still is, if she has such great friends then maybe they would be willing to help her get her head back up above water after years of being ill, unable to clean house, take care of finances, and just being a stubborn mess who doesn’t accept help. She was copied on the email again and she replied that I’m selfish and vapid. We have stopped talking to each other for the moment.

I could go on about all the shitty things we’ve done to each other. Years of complicated history that has verged on abuse. Decades into making this Gordian knot are going to be difficult to unravel but I have a secret weapon in the best person to come along in my life: my wife.

She has done so much to ease the raging beast that burns inside of me and while it’s not gone completely I can say that my wife has been the biggest contributing factor to changing my mindset about letting people into the inner circle. For the first time since probably childhood I feel really good about life largely because of her.

Everyone has advice. It’s not usually solicited and that used to drive me insane. The problem is that it takes much more effort and resources to make things happen that when people start suggesting business ideas I get stressed out just thinking about the extra work. Plus, with all that background noise echoing in my head from years of hostility I start getting defensive. It’s a protection mechanism trying to keep a fragile sense of self on life support and by curling up into a ball or lashing out I can keep that tiny seed safe.

However, instead of giving into those feelings when caring friends talk to me about my work I now just kind of nod, smile, and say thanks. Sometimes I even use the conversation to springboard into trying out new ideas that I’m dreaming up. It’s a small step in the right direction, but I’m starting to see a different perspective now that I surround myself with people who are excited about my work and want to join in the fun of making something cool. It’s flattering and if I can hold on to that then I can start to build on this good feeling I get with such supportive friends.

Framing how you see the world is important. That’s what determines whether or not you push forward and feel confident enough to take risks. But you can’t do it in a toxic environment. The people in your life will either lift you up or tear you down and until you can get away from the people that hurt you, their poison will slow you down. Whatever, whoever is poisoning you, cut it out of your life. Get some space between you and that evil so that you have time to heal and build up your strength. Nothing works better to heal those wounds than being truly loved by encouraging people.

For my Mother, I hope she can find peace of mind too. As I am writing this I am making plans behind her back to bring her friends together in an effort demonstrate that she doesn’t have to keep up her stern facade and live out her hardships alone. I don’t know if it’ll make any difference or just anger her in the way it used to anger me. I can only hope.

But for me, things will get better now. I’m in control of my happiness thanks to the people that have helped me through the hard times. I hope to share that sweet-sweet goodness with my tribe too, because good times are only sweeter when everyone’s dancing at the party.

PS. To any friends out there reading this: keep giving me your thoughts. I love that you guys are as excited as I am and I think you have good ideas. Just give me some time and know that I appreciate everything you do.

copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson