If you have known me for my whole life – you will know that I have always loved drawing. Art and music have been in my blood from Day 1.
At school, all I wanted to do was draw… I wanted to tell stories through art (I never had much interest in being a “serious” artist – I just wanted to scribble… and doodle… and create cartoons and pictures that could tell a story in a fun and memorable way).
The schools I attended didn’t give much of a shit about art or music instruction.
Art and music were deemed to be superfluous… hobbies. Silly, nonsensical stuff that you could do in your free time. “Real” schoolwork was maths, science, biology and history. I was told to forget-the-art… to stop daydreaming… stop doodling… and to focus on getting my grades up so that, one day, I could get a “real” job. One that didn’t involve art (or music).
I can’t begin to tell you how much that whole mentality damaged me. Mostly because… well… I believed it.
When I was 15 years old, I created my first Zine (a hand-drawn, hand-produced magazine). I illustrated it together with my best friend, Tracy… or “The J” as was her nickname at the time. My nickname was Hat. I wanted to create zines and illustrate books. I decided that I would open a company called “Mad Hatter’s Art-ery” – and I illustrated a logo that I thought would go nicely with my new venture.
Because I am painfully nostalgic – and because I keep mountains of memorabilia from my childhood – I still have that original illustration.
Here it is:
The sucky part of this story is that Mad-Hatter’s Art-ery never happened.
After school, I was quickly swallowed up into “real” life… and, as I had been repeatedly told and taught… Real Life would not involve art or music (unless I took them on as hobbies… which, for a time, I did).
I got my first job at the age of 16. A waitress. (Doesn’t every 16 year old do time waiting on tables?)
I was also fired for the first time.
Yes… fired from my very first job. I was clumsy. I knew nothing about food (or how to serve it) – I’d serve red wine in ice buckets… and white wine at room temperature. I spilled gravy on patrons. I tripped. I dropped plates. Eventually, I was hoofed out. Not that I cared. I was happy not to be a waitress any more.
After that, I had a string of jobs (all of which made me incredibly miserable).
Dental assistant, receptionist at big hospital, sales secretary for courier company, junior personnel consultant, sales representative and merchandiser for a company selling electrical components… I even worked for my father, operating his plastic injection-moulding machines… and driving around the city, delivering boxes of moulded plugs to retailers.
The stuff I really loved – of course – came after hours… when the “real” working day was over.
That’s when I’d illustrate greeting cards and caricatures… or compose songs on my piano. My little hobbies. My secret ways of staying sane.
As the years passed, I gradually discovered that my creativity could – perhaps – generate some money (in spite of what I’d been told at school). This realisation took a while to sink in – although I was strongly discouraged from exploring these avenues (by certain family members).
“You have a good salary as a sales secretary”, one family member told me, “I think it will be really stupid of you to throw that all away, trying to get an arty job”.
But I did throw it all away – such was my desperation (and my misery and contempt with the utterly mundane routine of what the secretary job required of me). I offered myself as the office-slave to an art director of a small ad agency. I told him I’d work for free – I just wanted experience… I just wanted to get my foot in the proverbial door of (insert grand musical score here)… The Advertising Industry – apparently (or at least in my eyes) – the ONLY place where you could be creative AND make money! Woo-the-hoo-hoo!
And that’s how my many years as Graphic Designer began.
It’s a long story…
Graphic Design was (and especially during the early years) a lifesaver for me – and especially when I purchased my own equipment and went freelance. It was a pleasant way to make money. I didn’t dread… or loathe work any more. I didn’t wake up in the mornings with a sense of impending doom (until many years later when I eventually burned myself out).
Graphic design earned me a fair amount of money – and it was a “good living” – which is another way of saying that it was kinda okay.
I “got by”. It was “fine”. It wasn’t thrilling… it wasn’t challenging or particularly exciting… but hey – at least I wasn’t typing out endless CV’s at the personnel consultant’s office… and at least I wasn’t counting and arranging cables and multi-plugs in the local Checkers for Pr0-Lec… and at least I wasn’t being fired (for a second time) by the guys at RTT transport (for falling asleep at my desk… out of sheer boredom).
But graphic design – and ART – were like two very separate entities for me.
Graphic Design was “work”. My job was to make other people’s products and services seem more palatable and appealing. Someone (I think it was a copywriter) once said of her work: “My job is to roll other people’s turds in glitter”.
And – I will admit – on many occasions, that’s exactly what I felt like I was doing. I was using all of my creative energy and know-how – to beautify and promote products and services that… truth be told… I thought were more than just a little bit shitty. (Obviously – this is not true of all of my clients… but it was true of enough of them to make me feel distinctly uncomfortable).
My Art, on the other hand… my illustration, my story-telling-through-scribbles, my “purging” my thoughts and ideas on to paper, my secret imagineering… well, that was my private space of sanity – a time where I got to pour my creativity out on to paper for no other reason… than for the deep satisfaction it gave me to do so.
But it was always in private… on the back-burner – and when I became very busy – my Art was ignored completely. My paints and magic markers dried up. My illustrations were boxed away and forgotten.
The last time somebody referred to me an “artist” was in high-school. Back then, I was known, flatteringly, as The Artist (by school peers – and even a few teachers). I liked the sound of that. I identified with that word: Artist. I identified with it both as a musician… and as an illustrator.
But for years – it was a word that had been turfed from my vocabulary.
There are “Real” Artists (in the same way, apparently, that there are “Real” Jobs). Real Artists – in my mind – were people like my Aunt Wendy, who created “REAL” art (aka large, beautiful canvases of oils and water colours)… and she had REAL exhibitions in REAL art galleries (and people paid ‘real’ money for her ‘real’ paintings too!).
Aunty Wendy was a “REAL” Artist. Definitely not me.
My “art” was a silly hobby. Scribbles… and stories… and collages… and bits of scrap… and blobs of paint… and lots of cross-hatching. My “art” was messy… and not “serious” enough… I didn’t speak the right Art Jargon… or read the right Art Books… or have an intrinsic understanding of Art History. I hadn’t been trained at Art School – and I far preferred the works of Norman Rockwell to the works of Monet or Gauguin (I think what I loved most about Norman Rockwell’s paintings – and specifically his covers for the Saturday Evening Post – was that each of them told such a wonderful story! ).
What this long-winded post is actually about… is to announce that finally – after 25 years, I have come full-circle – and I’m returning to my first love: art, illustration and zine making.
I don’t know why it has taken me so long. I really don’t. Creating pictures and stories still makes me feel alive and fulfilled – in the same way that it did when I was a kid – and I have been drawing-like-a-fiend for the past month… drawing as though I have 25 years of catching up to do (which, in a sense, I have!).
It’s also time for me to be brave.
I have decided to stop hiding my art and my stories away from the world – whilst viewing them as a “hobby”… and I’m going to bring them out into the open (which I should have done a long time ago) – and share them with others – and earn a bit of an income at the same time. Art always was my “real” work – it just took me a very long time to understand – and embrace it.
So – I’m making zines again. I’m drawing, painting and scribbling again. And who knows where this will lead?
Mad-Hatter’s Art-ery is finally a reality – after 25 years.
Three days ago, I was buying a pretty dress at a clothing store and I started chatting with the shop assistant. Eventually she asked: “So, what do you do?”
And for the first time in my life, I answered without hesitation… and I said: “I’m an artist”.