A couple of weeks ago, I kinda fell into an illustration job for a huge, multi-national corporation. I haven’t been actively looking for illustration work. I’ve been happily (and busily) illustrating my own books and using my creative talent for my own projects.
This is my happy place… and art still makes me happy – it switches on a little bulb inside of me… it makes me glow. And – right now – my art is precious to me.
It’s a weird thing to write; “my art is precious to me”… but I am a bit sensitive and protective of my-time-spent-with-the-pen-and-paintbrush.
Partly – because I feel like I’ve been given a second chance… a new lease on life… after burying my illustration talents (for SO many years).
And partly because… selling my creative talents (as I did when I owned the graphic design business which culminated in the notorious bathtub moment)… resulted in the slow, progressive demise of a chunk of me… and I don’t think I’ll ever get it back.
The years spent doing graphic design work for clients… slowly but surely killed off the part of me that used to be fascinated with and enthusiastic about all-things-design.
Years of overbearing clients leaning over my shoulder, insisting upon awful fonts… enlarging their ugly logos… and demanding that I stick obediently to their “brand” colours and style (even if those choices were completely irrelevant to the project at hand). Asking me to add “watermarks” (usually of their logo)… nagging me to photoshop them (black clients wanted their skin to be lightened… white clients wanted to be slimmer)… and, I think… after the years and years of churning out mediocre promotional material (like some kind of factory production line)… I eventually began to loathe graphic design. Some creative part of me fell into a deep coma – and never woke up again.
“The most important thing that a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not. Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this, and plan accordingly” – Hugh MacLeod
I never knew this. I certainly never planned accordingly. In a sense – it feels as though I prostituted my talent during those years.
I gave away a precious, personal part of me… for money. I let something special… slowly shrivel up and die… for money.
I played the game. I smiled at the clients. I gave them what they wanted. And I pretended to enjoy it.
And afterwards… I’d tell myself that it was worth it because…. well… at least the money was good.
“The price of anything is the amount of LIFE you exchange for it” – Henry David Thoreau
It was my wise husband who said to me (about a year ago, if I recall)… that our time is running out.
He said: “When I sign up for a new project, I am selling my employers a piece of my life. I am giving them time that I will never, ever get back… time that I could spend investing in other things. Time that I could be spending with my family. That is what they are paying for when they pay for my services”.
For that reason – alone – we both try our best to ensure that the work we do… the LIFE we sell to others… needs to be (at best) meaningful and enjoyable… or, at least enjoyable.
The other option… the option of exchanging our short, precious LIVES for meaningless, vapid jobs… that progressively diminish our passions… and trap us in disheartening cycles of boredom and misery (anaesthetised with weekend shopping sprees at the mall) is no longer an option. Been there, done that… still recovering.
I think so many of us have been programmed to be sooooooo brown-nosingly grateful to our employers for the money… the money…. the money….
… that we’ve forgotten about the TIME – which, I think, is in many ways, way more precious than the money.
I fell into an illustration job a couple of weeks ago (a Facebook friend recommended me to a large multi-national corporation) – and they commissioned me with a massive project – with a very tight deadline… and now it feels as though every moment of every day, I am beholden to this big corporation… to “come up with the goods”. I feel as though I owe-it-to-them. I feel this sense of grovelling gratitude… after all… they “did choose me”… and “the money is good”…
The Big Corporation has a very tight deadline (for all these illustrations they want me to complete). And I have been obediently… gratefully… squeezing their illustration work into my life. Or rather… my LIFE has been squeezed into their illustration deadline!
Last weekend, I sat at a table… at my friend’s birthday party… illustrating for this corporation (instead of truly enjoying the moment with my friends)… because of “The Deadline” and because of “The Money” and out of a sense of beholden gratitude to the Big Corporation to be willing to pay me.
We also had a farewell for Alec, Nick’s young cousin, who is returning to Liverpool… and, instead of truly savouring these rare and precious moments with Alec and with my family… I sat at the dinner table illustrating for this corporation… because of “The Deadline”… and “The Money”… and “I really ought to”…. and “I can’t let them down”…
(but it’s okay to let my family down?)
We cut short an evening with Nick’s parents who have just returned from 6 months in Greece. The kids haven’t seen their grandparents for 6 months… but no, now we have to cut the visit short and rush home because of “The Deadline” and “The Money”… and “we don’t want to piss the corporates off”…
What kind of fucked up priorities are these?
The irony is… I don’t need the money.
Do I want the money? Absolutely! There’s a whole bunch of things I’d like to spend that money on. Nice things… important things….
But I don’t need the money. It’s not as though my kids are going to starve if I don’t do this job. It’s not as though we’re in a desperate situation with no roof over our head. It’s not as if the debt-collectors are pounding on our door issuing dark threats.
I don’t need the money. We are not desperate for the money.
And I didn’t need the money during those life-sucking graphic design years either.
- I chose to employ 7 people (who then required salaries).
- I chose to fill our home with unnecessary shit.
- I chose to buy the big professional printing machine and all those new desks.
- I chose to buy 3 iMacs.
- I chose the expensive cell phone contract.
- We chose the gym contract, the DSTV, the big house in the ‘burbs, the new car, the expensive restaurants, the Day Care, the clothes, the gadgets….
I CHOSE money and stuff – instead of LIFE. I CHOSE to work with those clients and give them what they wanted. I CHOSE not to say “no”.
I can’t blame anyone – except myself – for the choices I have made. The Big Corporation (who offered me the current illustration job) didn’t force my hand… they didn’t make me take on all this work and these insane deadlines. I did it to myself. I weighed up a the pro’s and con’s in my head – and I made a decision… and I’ve met their first deadline (the second deadline is on the 30th January).
And I will finish this job – because I said I would… and because it will pay for repairs to our boundary wall (currently falling into the neighbour’s yard)… so we can fix this house (again)… and move out (again)… and do what we REALLY want to do – which is travel! This chunk of LIFE I am selling to the Big Corporation is actually an investment into the life I want to lead… the experiences with my family that I want to have… the memories with my children that I want to make (the money from the illustration job will also be able to pay for plane tickets).
I don’t regret taking on this illustration job.
But it has reminded me of something important… (something that I often seem to forget): that LIFE is precious… and short… and we only get ONE CHANCE to live it to the fullest. I need to choose how I spend my time wisely… and to think very carefully before I sell my next chunk of LIFE off to the highest bidder.
Time – which is LIFE – is ultimately more valuable than money… and especially when most of our money is being ultimately wasted on the acquisition of more stuff… (which, when I look around me this Festive Season, seems to be most often the case).
I choose time. I choose LIFE.