Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cheerleading tryouts in the Fine Art world

Let’s say you have a hobby that you enjoy.  You knit or read fortunes or glue stuff on other stuff.  You want to start a business.  How do you start?  What do you do?  If you got fired and had about ten minutes to start making money somehow, could you do it?

After I stopped blubbering about getting fired from my corporate job in 2005, I started peddling my pencil portraits at craft shows.  I had no clue how to go about it; I’d never even gone to a craft show before.  My last day at work was February 28, and my first craft show, at our local county fairgrounds, was in early April. Considering I did some serious post-job sulking, I’m surprised I got started as quickly as I did.  Fortunately, that first craft show turned out to be a decent show, just ten minutes away.  I still do it up to three times a year.

Nothing makes my former mechanical engineer father happier than designing something and building it.  I brag regularly about how he invented the moving walkway.  He’s also brewed up some other handy contraptions over the years, like a pulley system that allowed our old Volkswagen Rabbit to yank his speed boat out of the lake and a custom desk that runs along one wall of my brother’s old room and into the closet.  It’s gorgeous.  My dad is in heaven working with his hands. 

When I signed up for my first craft show, I had to come up with some sort of booth, or exhibit.  I had a cutesy idea in my head of suspending a sign from a big pencil.  I sketched it quickly and emailed it to my dad, asking if he could help. 

I think it was just a couple days later that we went shopping together at Menard’s and my dad built a pencil for me out of PVC pipe.  The supports that held up the pencil could be stored inside it.  He put together special clamps and floor supports that attached to the table.  Look how much that dang pencil looks like my drawing!  My dad is brilliant.

There's a big pencil, so you know I'm good.

I spray painted it bright yellow, covered the metal tip in contact paper, made the pencil lead out of the end of a plastic ice cream cone from my kid’s play kitchen and fashioned an eraser out of foam paper and silver curling ribbon.  Years later, the lady in charge of that first craft show still asks me, “What happened to your big pencil?”  It made an early, immediate impression when I didn’t have much else to show. 

I printed out some inquiry forms, hoping people would fill them out at the show like the corporate conventions I'd worked with my dad.  I made a sample book that included photos my clients had given to me and the resulting portraits.  I crossed my fingers.  Looking at this first display, I can’t even believe how little I started out with.  Twenty-four people filled out forms.  My husband and I excitedly shuffled through all those potential orders, mentally counting our load of cash.  Of course, only a couple people actually placed orders, which was a lesson I’d learn over and over, eventually making me the poster child of skeptism I am today.  No matter how sincerely somebody praises my work, promises that they’ll order a portrait, that they'll call me tomorrow, come back the next day with photos, very few actually follow through, because they are busy with real jobs.  Nobody needs a portrait that bad.

Craft shows worked well for me as I learned, little by little, what I needed for a professional display.  There were few traditional artists at craft shows and I felt like my work was more impressive when I was next to potholders, lamps made from booze bottles and "sh*t on a stick" (as art fair insiders affectionately call lower end craft shows).  I wasn’t confident that my work could stand up next to talented painters and sculptors.  

For outdoor shows, I bought an E-Z up tent from Sam’s Club for $200.  Ouch.  At the time it felt like a big investment.   I had no clue how expensive my outdoor display would eventually be.  At first, I displayed my portraits by spraying the backs with adhesive and slapping them on foam board.  I hung them from fishing line tied to my tent supports.  Snazzy!  The foam board would get dirty and beat up, but I felt like a pro.  People actually ordered portraits by looking at the foam board flapping around in the breeze.  Do you recognize pretend-dead Grandpa in the middle? 

What an artistic water bottle you have there.

I enthusiastically sent this photo with my first fine art show application to the Prairie Arts show in Schaumburg.  They laughed (probably) and rejected me in a frosty letter accompanying my returned check.  People had been so kind, building up my hopes with all kinds of nice compliments.  I was shocked that they wouldn’t let me in their fine art club.  How dare they!  Little did I know, the photo of an artist’s display is just as important as the quality of the work, for fancy fine art shows.  Let’s observe the fact that in this photo, my artwork isn’t very visible, it is CROOKED, there is some crap underneath and on top of my table and I am clearly a complete hack.  When applying to a fine art show, a panel or jury decides whether your artwork and display are up to snuff.  You can’t look like a 12 yr old created your display, no matter how adorable your drawings are. I had flashbacks of trying out for high school cheerleading, smiling in terror and hollering the routines, all hopeful and doomed.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing then and I'm still learning.  But I wouldn’t give up.

Once I understood the  importance of a professional display, I promptly half-assed it, as usual. 
Cheap lattice provides the best yield of splinters during set up.

I do not like to spend money.  At all.  On anything.  So rather than invest in some art display walls, I built folding screens out of lattice – the wood bric-a-brac used underneath our deck.  They were rickety, uneven and needed to be plastic-tied to my tent or they would fall down. At first, I thought they’d look better if they were painted white.  I figured my kids could do the painting, since I was always looking for something that would hold their little boy attention for more than five minutes to avoid my impending insanity.  After I spent a good half hour setting up all the stuff, they painted for about four minutes and then wandered away. This was their usual peekaboo window of interest in anything that took me more than 20 minutes to prepare.  More paint was on the lawn than on my screens.  Rather than finish it myself, I decided the portraits looked better hanging on the natural (cheap) wood than on white wood.  So in addition to the lack of sturdiness and unevenness, a couple of the screens were about ¼ covered in gloppy, dried white paint drips.  Classy! 

Here I come, fine art world!

Continuing my “only the best for me” approach, I coughed up $10 a piece for 16x20 plastic frames from Wal-Mart.  I soon discovered that the plexiglass immediately got scratched and/or cracked and/or accented by uncleanable smudges.  But what a difference from dirty, crooked foamboard.  I was legit!  Sort of.  Regardless of the lattice screens’ endearing faults, my work looked a hell of a lot better in frames, especially from a distance.  Plus, the total cost for my three home-made screens, hinges and amateur carpenter labor: $70.  Cost of the professional display walls that I would eventually buy: around $750.  Cost of the big girl tent I’d eventually buy:  $1000.  Weight of the plastic bins full of frames with actual glass in them: back breaking.  My set up was quick and light back in those days.  I’d pop up the crappy screens, hang my beat up plastic frames, done!!

I limped along for the first three years, building my business on a shoestring.  I upgraded my website,, building it myself using a Godaddy template, listing my show schedule which was starting to include some nicer shows.  (Don't look at my show list right now because it is from last year.  I broke my website and am currently in the middle of procrastinating.  Seriously, I was going to fix it today, but went to lunch and wrote this blog instead.)

As my shows improved, I asked fellow artists for recommendations and check out their set up. Every time I’d see better displays, I felt more and more embarrassed of my flea market setup.  I’d cart my stuff to the next church, high school or fairgrounds and look around at my glue gun creation neighbors, thinking, “Is this really where I really fit in?  Next to the bedazzled t-shirt lady and the doggie treat guy?”  Occasionally people would ask me, “What are you doing here?”  My price point was way beyond lawn art or silk flower arrangements.  Some people would pick up my price sheet, shudder and put it right back down. As time went on, I built a library of portrait prints that I could sell on site, rather than always leaving each show with nothing in my pockets except hope.  I drew historical figures and sports images, offering multiple sizes and greeting cards.  Sometimes those $4 cards made the difference between a good show and a miserable one.

Finally, I bit the bullet and bought mesh walls for my tent from, for $750. 

Actual booth photo that is taken on my SLANTED yard.
It looked better, but the setup of my “walls” went from a few minutes to the better part of an hour.  During my first craft shows, I used to wave good-bye to Bob Schmidt, a sports collectible guy and one of my favorite fellow crafters.  He’d have tons more to pack up and he’d shake his fist at me as I’d skip out among the first to leave the show.  As my set up got more complicated and professional, he’d laugh at me as I’d be staying with him later and later, still breaking down after most of the other crafters had packed up their American Girl doll clothes.  I’d added shelves, lights, a carousel of greeting cards and an extra table to my set up.  “Ha ha, you used to be out of here in a half hour!” he teased, when I was still packing up 90 minutes later.  Packing up is NOT the fun part. It's faster than the set up, but usually done while pouting. I built a crappy pull-cart with a piece of plywood and hauled my growing display out to my gas-guzzling Durango, sometimes in pouring rain, often tipping an overloaded pile of stuff and breaking something while swearing at the top of my lungs.

In my 5th year, I had to face the fact that my cheap tent wasn’t going to hack it anymore.  It was leaking and pulling apart at the seams.  One time, the center pole poked through the top of the tent after I’d had everything set up.  I had to take everything down, reposition the pole, and set up again, while crying and feeling sorry for myself.  Nothing panicked me more than the first time it rained outside AND inside my tent.  Crafters cleverly use hula hoops and pool noodles in the corners of the cheap tents to keep it from sagging with pooled rainwater, leaking buckets into the tent.  I’ve lost a lot of work to rain, which is never a friend to paper.  Replacing a few soggy prints is nothing compared to the unfortunate souls stuck in serious storms… the cheap tents can crumple like tin cans, blowing out into traffic. After consulting (such a great resource), I chose a Showoff Trimline tent, which is one of the easiest of the fancy tents to assemble by yourself.  Spending $1000 felt like a swift kick to the gut, contributing much stomach acid to my panic attack that always accompanies any big expense.  Setting up my old tent was like opening an umbrella… the new one had to be built in stages.  But it was water tight. 

The first time that I set up my brand new tent at a show, I built the domed canopy structure on the ground, like I'd practiced.  It was a windy day, and when I attached a second leg to the tent top, the wind yanked it like a kite and wrenched it straight up, snapping off a piece of my brand new expensive structure.  I held the broken piece in my hand in horror, realizing that I would have to load everything back in my car, go home and get my cheap leaky tent.  I had to miss my Bunko group for the first time and I cried on the phone to my Bunko friend Karen, feeling sorry for myself again.  I have the emotional constitution of a five year old.  After I got a replacement part shipped to me, I made sure that the tent top was weighted down any time there was even the slightest breeze before I put the legs on.  It's a nonstop learning experience.  Sometimes my husband and boys help with setup or breakdown (hallelujah!)... mostly I'm on my own.  My husband insisted that I buy a nice cart this year and it has made a world of difference. 
Fancy!  But those curtains take forever to put up.

Now the majority of my shows are fine art shows… I get into most, but many are still too selective to let me in… maybe my display still isn’t fancy enough, or maybe my work isn’t good enough either. Each time I apply to a new show, I still feel like I'm trying out for cheerleading, yelling as loud as I can, trying to smile, fearful I won't make it.  But unlike my failed cheerleading career, I make it in fine art a good part of the time.  I’ve even won some ribbons at a few shows and I’ve landed some larger clients.  But as the shows get nicer, my display is starting to feel like it needs yet more upgrades.  And then it's suddenly as if I’m out there for the first time again, with my card table and big ole pencil.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dead dogs and funeral homes

I’ve drawn more than my share of dead dogs.  Of course they aren't dead in the photographs, but memorial pet portraits have been a regular request, even before I started my business.  There are a lot of doggy mamas and doggy daddies out there who love animals much more than people.  I'll bet you know someone who prefers pets to people, dressing them like royalty and feeding them fancier food than some kids eat.  I sort of get it... people can be weird and rude.  Animals love you and forgive you and don’t keep score.  And dogs in particular nearly crap themselves with joy when you walk in the door.  I've drawn cats, horses, birds... but dogs are the most popular.  When those furry joyful faces disappear from life, people grieve deeply.

During my initial panicked joblessness, my mind raced constantly about how I could find a regular source of drawing income.  My last day of corporate life was 2/28/2005... my father's birthday of all days, considering I owed my career to him.  It was after Christmas, there was no obvious event coming up other than Mother's Day.  Birthdays? Anniversaries?  What happens regularly that would motivate somebody to pay me for a pencil portrait?

It made sense to apply the dead dog theory to people… some of us actually love people even more than our pets.  We have parents and grandparents and God forbid, spouses and children who leave our lives and we need to grieve and remember in our own special ways.  What if I started doing memorial portraits for funeral homes?  I can finish an 8x10” drawing of one person in about an hour and a half.  Maybe I could scan the image and print it on on prayer cards or thank you notes, too. 

When I get a new idea like this, I go mildly insane with excitement.  I think this is part of my unfortunate case of ADD.  I can’t sleep, I have racing thoughts, escalating the idea to worldwide fame status.  By 2 am, I’ve built my idea up to be the single most magnificent thought of my life.  I remember this happening for the first time when I was about 12.  I had the idea to try and get a job at Al's Country Store in nearby Gages Lake.  I could ride my bike there, I would have money for new 45 records or Love's Baby Soft or some sweet roller ball lip gloss.  I laid awake all night spending my money, wondering if I'd wear an apron.  After my brief whiff of sleep, I woke up thinking, "Why in the hell would I want to work in a store?  I'm a kid." 
Not getting a job.
But this memorial portrait idea... it was going to be BIG.  Who would I invite to my talk show appearances after my business booms thanks to my genius?  I woke up still gung-ho and ready to take the funeral biz by storm.  To use as an example, I framed a portrait of a client’s grandfather - with permission as he wasn't actually dead and I was afraid his family would see it at a funeral home and worry.  I trotted the pretend-dead grandpa around to funeral homes, full of naive enthusiasm.  I made up some sample prayer cards, using my horrible ex-boyfriend's name, which made me giggle.  Sometimes I crack myself up.  Not that death is funny.  Neither is rejection.

I got a lukewarm reception in several places I visited.  One woman even rolled her eyes when she thought I wasn't looking.  Was I going about it in the wrong way?  What do I know about the funeral business?  I was convinced this was a sure fire idea, but I didn't know that most funeral homes are part of big Wal-Mart like conglomerates and decisions aren't made at the local level. 

But m
y optimism knows no limits when I get good and torked up.  If I buy a lottery ticket, I give some serious and sober thought to how I should share the money with my family and whether I can get away with not sharing it with the mean ones.  I’m stunned when things don’t go my way.  What the??  I couldn’t figure out why these funeral people weren’t getting it.

Until I jumped out of the bushes and hit a little funeral jackpot.

I’d passed the Salata Funeral Home hundreds of times.  After getting the bum’s rush elsewhere, I dropped by Salata’s, accidentally parking in the neighboring business’s driveway.  I could see through the bushes that it looked like the Salata owners were walking to their cars.  Determined, I crammed myself through the bushes, waving my portrait and book, shouting hello, making them jump back in surprise.

John and Loretta Salata were kind people and they liked the idea.  Larry Stanczak, a prominent North Chicago businessman, had just passed away and they wanted to do something special for him anyway.  They ordered a portrait package and I had my first happy, regular customer.  For a while, life was great for me in the funeral world.  If it was your time, I hoped your family called Salata.

For almost a year, I drew a portrait for every family they served, including prayer cards and thank you notes.  They surprised each family with the portrait hanging above the guest book at the service.  Some weeks there were three or four memorial portrait packages.  My fledgling artist bottom line needed every penny and I was grateful and pretty tickled with myself.  It felt good to be helping families honor their loved ones.  To this day, memorial portraits are the most meaningful portraits that I draw. Sometimes the photos weren’t very clear, but I did my best.  At one point the funeral director refused to believe that I was drawing the portraits by hand.  “It doesn’t matter to me,” he said, “but I’m sure you’re doing it with a computer.”  I had to go out to my car to get a half-finished portrait to prove that I was really drawing them.  He probably couldn't draw a stick figure.

All good things must come to an end. The director began giving me some push back on my price. The owners' son decided that the portraits should be a paid option for the families, not a surprise, not a gift.  John had felt that by doing it every time for every family, it would set them apart.  I thought it was a lovely idea and damn, it was good work while it lasted. 

I reached out to a few other funeral homes and at one point, I was working with five or six at a time.  If they had all ordered at once, I might have been in trouble.  Other business came from the funeral homes too, I did a retirement portrait for one, an engagement portrait for another, wedding invitations for yet another.  But the portrait packages dwindled.  A grieving family has enough decisions to make.  I loved the idea of giving a portrait to every family, and not just because it helped me pay my bills.  Everyone seemed so happy about it.  I’d get letters from the families, thanking me.  Years later at art shows, I’d get asked, “Did you used to draw portraits for Salata?”  It did make the impression that John had hoped for.  If they'd stuck with it, I think it would have blended beautifully with the important work they do, easing families through such difficult times.

I actually interviewed with a funeral home during one of my fits of exasperation in my corporate life.  I was running on my treadmill, reading an article about big life changes in Men’s Health magazine.  One man had been in the corporate grind and changed careers to the funeral business.  He said something like, “Now my work is meaningful and I never take a single day for granted.”  Wow.  It spoke to me.  I wanted to do something meaningful too, and there are always plenty of customers in that business.  It’s not a field for everyone, but I am a tail-wagging codependent and love to care for people. I pictured myself holding the hands of the grieving a la Mother Teresa.  It turned out that the job entailed selling cemetery plots to my friends and family.  Screw that. Drawing memorial portraits fulfilled my altruistic yet capitalist urge without cold calling my friends to talk about how they will die someday and that I should benefit.

A couple months after I started drawing for Salata, I exhibited my work at my hometown summer festival.  I heard a family talking as they approached my display, “I wonder if this is the artist who drew Grandpa?” one of them wondered aloud.  It was the wife and family of Larry Stanzcak, my first memorial portrait for Salata. 

His grandson, Chris Finkel, turned out to be one of my high school classmates.  We’d gone to college together too.  We hugged and laughed at the coincidence. 

Chris’s grandmother pulled out a laminated prayer card with my portrait of her husband on it.  “I carry it everywhere,” she said, touching my arm.

I was sad to hear, years later, that John Salata Sr., whose health had been failing, passed away. He was such a warm person, happy to see you and glad to talk your ear off.  I would have been honored to draw his portrait if someone had thought to call me.  In their grief, perhaps they didn’t think of it.  I think John had been my true champion. 

Five years later, one last portrait order came from Salata and I had a final falling out with the funeral director.  The economy had taken such a toll on all of us, we just couldn’t agree on what was fair, couldn't agree on who was at fault about a subsequent mistake on the prayer cards.  (It wasn't me.  Just saying.) I hoped that last grieving family was happy with the portrait of that last precious face, that father, husband, grandfather.  I’ll always be grateful that I ambushed the Salata’s when I needed them the most.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Back to the drawing board

Guess what I should be doing?


Guess what I'm doing?

Farting around.

I've been drawing pencil portraits since the late 80's, full time since 2005.  In my pre-artist, corporate days, I had no choice but to drag my sorry, possibly hung over ass out of bed at an unholy hour.  If there was something important going on at work that day, I'd probably lost a good 3-4 hours of sleep flopping around, freaking out about it the night before.  I have a number of self-soothing mental tricks I try to play on myself when I'm worked up at night.  They rarely work.  I'd lie there and picture sabotaging myself in a variety of ridiculous ways.

To make up for my meager allotment of sleep, I would debate before bed whether my curly hair could make it another day so I could snag a shower's worth of extra morning snoozing.  Or I would choose my business clothes ahead of time and maybe even inspect them for baby spit up or coffee stains before my coworkers pointed them out during the work day. Regardless, work mornings would find me tearing around, swearing and stomping, throwing papers all over the kitchen island looking for something or other, ravaging the junk drawer for parking change, flying out the door in a panic.  I'm chronically disorganized and quite dramatic about any inconvenience.  This is fun for my husband because I'm always inconveniencing myself and usually him, too.  Those mornings were not fun.

I always waited till the last possible moment to wake one of my boys.  It is a crime against humanity to wake a sleeping child. 

Those chubby little fists laying next to their pink angel faces... just shoot me.  They looked like I was robbing them of at least five more hours sleep.  Something howled inside me when I woke them.  I'd tickle their backs, snuggle them for as long as I could before changing/dressing/feeding them, doing all I could to ease them into their happy little boy days away from me.  All the while I was trying to ignore that loud TICK TICK TICK of time passing too fast.  I thought the worst part of those mornings was a full out sprint at the train station, or the horror of potentionally MISSING the stupid train.  Being a few sweaty strides away from closing commuter train doors is almost as bad as a minor car accident or getting a ticket on the way to work.  So easily avoidable and so damn infuriating... you can't even believe it's happening.  But the train was nothing.  That clock ticking was my life, my babies, my house, my stress level.  Time was never, ever my friend.

My corporate job in downtown Chicago wasn't bad, although it often seemed like I was being punk'd by my career path.  The IT world is quite methodical and precise.  Add accounting and it's almost hilarious that I worked in it... exactly the opposite of every creative, emotional, distracted aspect of my being.  It was a bunch of grown ups always wanting to analyze serious stuff instead of joking around with me.  Actually, I got away with a lot of smart ass comments during serious meetings, which is kind of awesome. I carved out a creative little niche for myself and kicked a little ass, as much as work drove me beserk, I was proud of my accomplishments, my little sales trophies.

And then it was over.  After 20+ years of a losing battle of balancing work and home, it was all over.  They say that men define themselves by their work, but women do, too.  All I'd ever been was a professional (okay, sort of immature, but still corporate) person.  I'd won some awards, gained respect in the channel.  Now I was just fired.  I kind of deserved it for thinking that I was indispensable, threatening to leave and criticizing my boss.  As much as it hurt, and it hurt bad, there was a big shiny satin bow on the axe that fell on me.

I lost my job when my youngest, Max, was starting kindergarten and Joey was starting third grade - the first big year of homework. I've been there every day for hugs goodbye and hello, snacks, help, friend-rides.  When Joey was able to take the bus straight home for the first time - no day care pick up, he walked in the front door, his sweet little voice calling out, "I'm home!" It was just about worth my complete professional humiliation.

Transitioning from a corporate life to becoming a full time artist was hard. I cried over my my lost job for almost two months.  I'm a mess like that when something - anything - is wrong... a blubbering pile of woe is me.  More fun for my husband.  Growing my new little business was a different kind of stress.  It's a will I fail kind of stress. It's a how am I going to make a pencil into a bill paying magic wand kind of stress.

It's been a long and weepy road.  But my mornings... especially now that the boys are big and can pick out clothes (kind of) and wipe their own asses, there is no comparison to how my mornings have changed.  Ahhhh, my mornings.  In the first few years, I used to walk the kids to the bus stop in my running clothes, go for a run and get right to work.  Eventually it turned into coffee, yogurt, email and Facebook before running, often meaning that sometimes running doesn't happen.  It sure isn't happening this morning because I did something really weird to my right butt and thigh muscle at spin class on Monday morning.  Thank you, Fran, spin dominatrix.

After marketing my portraits for seven years, I'm not in such a panic anymore.  But maybe I shouldn't be quite so relaxed either.  Running a small business that was just starting to take off right before an economic crash has meant tightening our belts.  Sometimes to the point of looking like that creepy picture from Ripley's where the woman has a 9 inch freak waist.  Shouldn't I be hustling a little more?  Maybe take a page from my old corporate days and sprint for the train once in awhile?  I really want to get HBO again.

Yeah, yeah enough farting around.  Back to the drawing board.  Right after I answer a couple personal emails and see if I can find my creepy ex-boyfriend on Facebook.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I can't draw a stick figure...

In my relentless pursuit of procrastination, I was reading a blog (People I Want to Punch in the Throat) that I discovered on Facebook.  Facebook has stolen a great deal of money and cleanliness from my life.  I'm not working, showering or cleaning my house for many hours due to Facebook, so thanks for that, Mr. Zuckerberg.  (Hey, do you know what's sad?  I had to Google "creator of Facebook" because I couldn't remember his damn name.  I am on the road to early onset Alzheimer's, I just know it, especially since I hate crosswords.)  So in the aforementioned very funny blog, I was reading all the author's little links back to other blogs she'd written and stumbled upon her advice to bloggers.  There were plenty of helpful tips but the one that stuck was:  "Start now.  Right now."  So I'm starting.

I'm a full time pencil portrait artist working from home.  Here is my family... my husband Joe, my son Joey, Max and me.  The boys are bigger now, but this is the only drawing of the four of us I've managed to do:
Here we are now:

I used to be corporate person for over 20 years until I told the president of the company to stop lying to everyone.  I cleverly wrote this suggestion in an email so that he could print it out and angrily wave it at me later.  Plus, I thought I had another job elsewhere, but I like to leave that part out.  In any case, that was the end of my corporate life. 

My husband and my mother urged me to try drawing full time.  It had been a fun little side hobby that generated a bit of income without much marketing effort on my part.  I never, ever, ever would have quit a decently paying job to draw pictures for a living.  I have such a deep rooted fear of not having enough money that I have had full blown panic attacks when my husband decides I need to participate in bill paying.  I promise him that I will remain calm and stop panicking, but I never can.  After one or two sessions, he gives up and just handles it on his own, putting up with my occasional shock and outrage that we have credit card debt when I dare to open any envelopes.  Mostly I just like to hand them to him in my happy, clueless ostrich way.  If I was very, very wealthy, I might not shop in resale shops, garage sales, Wal Mart and clearance racks, but I doubt it.

So in utter fear of impending poverty, I started my full time portrait business, Pencil Portraits & Cards in 2005, drawing stuff from photos that people like or love, or that they want to give as a gift to people they like or love.  It's been incredibly rewarding.  I hear things like, "You're so talented!  What I wouldn't give to be able to draw!  I can't draw a stick figure!"  It's funny how dramatic people like to be when announcing how artistically bereft they are.  Here are the most popular ones....

I can't draw a stick figure!
I can't draw a straight line!
I can't even write my name!

That last one cracks me up.  Really?  That's a shame, because it seems to me you must have had a plenty of practice writing your own damn name all this time.  But I'm all for melodrama.  When somebody has a skill that is missing from my tool box, I always compulsively point out my shortcomings as well.  Anytime I walk into somebody's neat house, I like to immediately say, "Wow, what a beautiful house!  You are never allowed to come over to mine because it is filthy."  When people are very fit and slim, I like to accuse them of having good genes and over-share about my love of wine and Cheez-its while stalking people on Facebook when I should be drawing.  All my organizational, neatness, time management and math skills have been reassigned to being able to look at a picture and draw it in pencil. 

It amazes me that people will drop a couple, few hundred on my drawings.  I do draw pretty well, but I like to think that it isn't just being able to draw one hell of a stick figure.  My ability to capture images on paper also has much to do with how much I love people, how much I care about relationships and how desperately I need to please.  Actually, the drawing stuff was never what I cared about growing up.  I cared about writing.  I cared about stories and talking with funny, compassionate people.  It's what life is all about.  When I first started drawing full time, I noticed after a few months without any corporate written communication, I was spelling words wrong for the first time in my life.  I was also using the wrong words randomly which is startling to discover and of course yet another sign of my upcoming dementia.  It's like I have my own unfunny version of autocorrect that is punking me.

To remedy the deterioration of my writing skills and to keep busy (there weren't nearly enough drawing projects in the beginning...), I wrote a book about losing my corporate job and becoming a full time artist. I worked hard on it for awhile until a friend of mine in the New York City publishing world told me it would never get published.  He suggested self publishing.  That was around seven years ago.  This is cheaper.  Procrastination: check!  Tightwad factor: check! 

So for those of you with Pencil Envy, I covet your clean house, your ability to argue without feeling like the world is ending, your steady pay check, your lovely singing voice, your slim legs, your clear skin.  I hope you will enjoy my ramblings.  I'd love to hear your story and draw some stuff for you someday, or you can just stalk me.