Creative Depression And How I Got Rid of It

When I die one day, my biggest creative regret will likely be all the artwork I didn't have a chance to finish. Headlines marketed at artists and illustrators like "How to Increase Your Creativity" and "Get Your Creative Juices Flowing" never make sense to me.

Ideas aren't the problem. Time to execute them to my satisfaction is. 



Not every idea makes it past the sketch phase. 

So it may seem strange when I say that looking back, I was in a creative depression for much of last year. I was almost locked-up, I could barely act. Everything seemed too difficult: opening the research files, choosing digital or paper sketching, creating process templates, setting up the easel, dealing with my dismantled studio - it was all too much.

I think I know why, now.


I quit my full-time, 10-year, well-paying job managing an art store the day after I found out my wife was pregnant back in 2010. One friend put it, that he, "nods approvingly at the madness of it".  The final few months of my wife's pregnancy had me working from home, getting a steady stream of small revenue but exciting science-art projects. When Calvin was born, it was great, all three of us together. 


I completed this commission, Tylosaurus Reef around the time of my son being born. 

It was the best time of my life (being a dad, being freelance, blogging for freakin' Scientific American is a dream come true) but barely being able to keep up financially was hurting us. Michelle and I have weathered tough times before - we've been married for 9 years - but it was just us. The weight of responsibility for my son to have what he needs was all-encompassing. The cafe job felt professionally like dues I've already paid as a younger man, but ya do what ya gotta do. 

When Michelle went back to teaching, this was the state of things. I worked those 4 part-time jobs while being a full-time stay-at-home dad. Being a freelancing dad was a process I never finished learning how to do.


I painted this small oil on my first day of full-time freelancing. "Freelance Leap". I never did figure out how to fly all the way to those freelancing fairgrounds in the distance. 

The depression really set in for me last fall after my son started daycare. It was the right time for him to go: he loved it almost immediately, running around, learning like an exuberant, friendly and hyper little sponge. 


The new expense of daycare and the empty house/studio brought it all home for me: 

  • With the publishing market being where it is, 
  • With scientific funding being so small, 
  • With science-art as a field barely crawling on the periphery of cultural awareness, 
  • With my history growing up with one parent struggling to keep my sisters and I going,
  • With my experience going from job-to-job in a steady stream since I was 14 years old, 
  • With my amazing wife and amazing son being here in my life, 

I realized something.

I am not cut out for full-time freelancing.

I sent out resumes to a very small number of studios around Toronto that do work I respect and might be good for my 
fine art/science/social media/management background, and you know what? One of 'em hired me, and it's fantastic. 

My energy is back, I'm excited to go to work (the team there is brilliant, welcoming and fun), and I'm excited to get up at 5 a.m. to blog or sketch again. And we have groceries. 


The fallout is, there are a few people who have commissioned me I owe apologies to for being later than I ever expected. Three of those projects are still in the works and I hope I make them kick-ass and worth the patience that's been given to me.

I lifted the creative depression by starting to become part of a team doing work I believe in, and by bringing my share into the household. Never underestimate the impact that 


  • supportive people
  • new influences and 
  • livable income 

can have on your creativity. 


Okay, so it's not all perfect. For example: my face. 

Art is no longer a grind, and in 2013, I think it will be an adventure again. 

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite © to Glendon Mellow
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The best terrible painting (and decision) I've made.


It's been a year.

A year since I left my management job with a dynamic art supply retailer I'd been employed by for 10 years.

Above is a little painting I did the following Monday, my first day as a full-time freelancer.  It's kind of a poorly-painted little oil painting I call Freelance Leap, and it represents my excitement and anxiety at leaving a secure job and diving into my illustration and social media work.

I'm still glad I made the change to challenge myself in most ways. But I cannot deny, times have also been much rougher than I ever imagined. It's been the best and worst year ever.

Reading Jesse Bering's piece on Bering in Mind, Half Dead: Men and the "Mid-Life Crisis" has me wondering about which option of Jacques' will happen with my creativity in mid-life (note to self: you're 37 you're already there): will my current state of anxiety propel me to greater heights like Bach? Or will I do a major about-face in my creative style, brining me larger success than before?  (The third option, dying somehow, is off the table as far as I'm concerned.)

Good friend and amazing illustrator Eric Orchard shared this piece on G+ yesterday, by Scott Timberg from Salon: The Creative Class is a Lie. It's an engaging piece, covering everything from retail jobs to writers. And it offers a ton of interesting things to think about for illustrators.

Up until now, my business model has been:
1. Make cool artwork, mostly for a niche scientifically-literate audience
2. Put online for people to view for free.
3. Take commissions for originals or prints from people who like it enough to want their own, or have a budget.

It works. It works better than not being online ever did. It works haltingly, in fits and starts, with many months in between. It's not enough to feed my family. How does this whole creative economy do that? Or all we destined to be like rock stars, where only a tiny few ever make it despite the public''s hunger for imagery and illustration?

I outlined in my Symbiartic post, It's Time for Illustrators to Take Back the Net that illustrators supporting each other when faced with image theft online could put the profession back on a path to respectability.  Would income follow?

I miss the guy I was when I did that terrible little painting, above. I'm still optimistic I might get to that amusement park in the distance, but my feathers are bedraggled.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
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--> Find me on Symbiartic, the art+science blog on the new Scientific American Blog Network!

Cory Doctorow's Internet Problem - some questions

Cory Doctorow has an excellent new column today at the Guardian, The Internet Problem: when an abundance of choice becomes a problem.  


I've been a fan of Cory Doctorow's writing for a few years, (love the occasional Toronto settings!) and most people have at least skimmed his writing on Boing Boing. He's a creative writer who has a passion for copyright reform (short version: open access is the future).  As an artist-illustrator passionate about communicating my own sometimes surreal riffs on science, I avidly read and ponder what Cory (may I call him Cory?) has to say about copyright law, and how it relates to business.  



I agree with much of his model.  The past few (almost 4!) years of art blogging, I essentially give away my artwork for free under Creative Commons (some restrictions) while I promote, share, and have a good time with others who have similar interests. I do it partly in the hopes of others looking at my artwork and saying "That's good.  I want that for me."  And that happens on occasion (here and here). 



I have some questions about today's column. In it, Cory writes, 


"I decided that I'd give the ebooks away (as I've done with my other books); sell a variety of paperbacks with different covers (the net made it easy to tap artist friends for cover designs and work with them over long distances); and do 250 super-limited, hand-sewn hardcovers with all sorts of premium stuff – an SD card set into the cover with the audiobook and full text and unique endpapers made of original sentimental paper ephemera donated by dozens of writer friends from all over the world. The audiobook was read by voice-actor pals in three countries...", 


Do those artist-friends and voice-actor pals get renumeration for their work?  Or is "pals" a euphemism for people who will give Cory work for free? Other than being friends and wanting to help Cory's work (which is so brilliant and current, I love it)  is there a measurable monetary gain for them?  For example, would one of the artists who provided a special cover for the print version actually gain enough notoriety they would make money elsewhere - prints, new contracts etc. -for realz?



I've been freelancing the last few months, and right now I have no shortage of opportunities and venues to make art - Cory is right.  There is an abundance of choice.  I'm grateful my artwork has resonance with such a variety of brilliant dynamic people, people I would never reach without the internet.  Most of these venues are unlikely to help me pay my rent however. I really want to do some of them -for fun, for establishing the contacts, for friends, for my portfolio- but I'm still limited by choosing ones with a potential to make money or lead to an art-print where mmmaaaaybe I'll make a bit of money. 



I haven't found the right formula for me yet. 


"There's so much that you can do to elaborate on a project of this nature: limited edition covers, pricing experimentation, novel forms of audio distribution … While this sort of thing was once constrained by the inherent capital costs of trying them, no such costs obtain today: all of these things can be done for "free", costing only the time spent in trying them out."


My second set of questions:  where are these opportunities?  Are there really places that allow you to assemble hand-sewn bindings on books for free?  SD cards inlaid in the cover?  I realize I'm small-time: it's understandable why Little Brother, a book about teenaged programmers fighting the government (flash mobs!) has more of an audience than some anatomically-incorrect trilobites.  Cory Doctorow naturally has more connections to these cool-tools online.





In the New Year, I plan to start publishing my Trilobite Boy story online, and would love to make a print version available.  I know this is a successful model for many comic artists, and it's become a real passion for me as the Trilobite Boy story coalesces in my brain and on the page.

I'd also love to have that collaborative book I've mentioned -consisting of my already-done paintings with 1 page short stories written by a variety of writers with little oversight from me- published, or at least shopped around. In the end, I want the writers to receive compensation as well as myself. Is there a way to do that fairly?

Cory Doctorow's column is terrific - as usual, I find his writing about the internet + copyright + creativity provide a signpost in the path to the future.  This time though, I feel like he's pointed to an abundant rainforest but I don't know where to look for fruit. Or should it be tubers? 


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Baby update



Time for a baby update.

announced a few months ago that my wife and I are expecting a baby, our first.  Everything is healthy and fine.  The official due date is December 21st, but we're wondering if it may be earlier: our spectacular obstetrician thinks it's likely. The again, 1st babies are often late they say, so who knows.


I haven't blogged or produced much art last week while I did some temporary part-time work, and made sure things are ready for the baby.  I'm ridiculously excited to meet the little guy. 

Family and friend support has been wonderful and fun - we can clothe him until he's 18 if he likes onesies.  Our Nephew (age 9), is excited, and recently hunted for coupons for baby items in a flyer, of his own volition. We even received a gift from a blogger, the inimitable Scicurious!  Thanks for the keen hand-made blanket, Sci! 


Applying a cherry blossom wall sticker. Michelle told me we were expecting high Park, when the blossoms were in bloom and redwing blackbirds and butterflies were all around. Yeah: she's awesome. 
Southern Ontario Butterfly mobile. 
Mirrored swallows on the wall.
The blanket from Sci is on the crib, and the Jack Skellington was a gift from friend and blogger Chris Zenga


So, in addition to attempting to make an illustration career for myself, I'll be finding a new work/life balance.  Up until October, I was working the full-time management job, and making art and blogging in the wee hours of the mornings and evenings, and it drove my wife nuts;I was incapable of relaxing. We discussed this move to full-time freelancing, knowing we're expecting the little guy; it's been educational in figuring out what I want to do next, and a number of tentative offers have come in.  Next, I'll likely return to some full- or part-time work while balancing family, illustration and blogging and work.

Sleep is for the weak.


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
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Report card on freelancing

Okay, so at the beginning of October, I left my job of 10 years to give freelance illustration and fine art a try. The Strong and Free(lance) series is my attempt to document what I can for myself and others wanting to do the same.

Here's a report card.

Creative 
I have been painting and sketching a lot, and still have a healthy list of self-driven projects to work on.  No boredom in the creative arena. Many days, I start painting, either with oils or ArtRage, lose track of time and forget to eat lunch. I tried setting a timer on my iPod, but I just turn it off and think "20 minutes more" and lose the afternoon.

 A number of people have asked about a Trilobite Boy comic or graphic novel. 
Anyone else want to see that? If there's interest in a story, it could be worth a try. 


Months back, I raised the idea of a book of my art with one-page or short science fiction stories by various writers. A couple of readers and peeps expressed interest in writing for it.  I'm not sure how to get it off the ground: pay two of you to write stories I can shop around? 
Grade: 
B+  Good ideas and quality. Needs to work on routine and output speed.
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Professional


New business cards.  New calendar for sale, as well as lots of new prints. New baby onesie.  I'm grateful for each one of these items sold, but I don't make a lot of money off of each print.  I keep it going because I really love when someone has my art on their wall.

Launched a couple of items on Etsy. I'll add more and announce.

Freelancing is a slow process.  I'm still sending out portfolios, and I've had a few nibbles, but nothing is past the contract stage.

Some of the artwork I created the last several weeks has generated more interest than many of my pieces have in the past, so that's really heartening.  I think if I was attempting to try freelance without the benefit of feedback on my blog and satellite social media, I would have folded up into a ball and given up by now.

So the biz side: I'm broke, but it's going as well as I should expect, I guess - there's not a lot of money in the science community or in publishing for new artists.  So I won't be able to afford to do this full-time.
Grade: D  Running and running to stay in place.  Is science-art marketable at a living wage?

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Family
It's been a big year of changes. My wife, a school teacher, switched schools. I earned my B.F.A.  We moved into a new apartment. I left my job.  We're expecting a healthy baby next month (who looks like Jack Skellington in the latest ultrasound photo).  Our nephew continues his awesomeness.
Grade: B  Needs to financially support family to get top marks.

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Attitude
Optimistic and excited by upcoming ideas, both in art and blog.
Financially, sometimes I wonder if I'd be better off painting half-naked amazon women.  Holding trilobites. 

I have plenty of moments of self-doubt and cursing myself for stupidity. A huge portion of the public has no idea what a trilobite is. Things have changed enough that most people expect to see cool images for free, all day long. The business model I have been hoping to see develop, is to put enough quality work on this blog, aimed at a scientifically literate audience, and maybe an institution or publisher will start to pay for new images.  It hasn't happened so far, which gets me down...

...and then I have a coffee, and remember that I can't understate how grateful I am for my fans and supporters. And I feel optimistic again.
Grade: C
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Needs to work on
-Finding a new job.
-Decide whether I keep going as I am right now, doing a bit of everything to cast a wide net in the job market (scientific illustration, comic-style stuff, more concept art, fine art) or settle into just one field which could reap greater commercial rewards. Lately, I've been thinking the latter.  I can't do it all: there's literally not enough hours in the day. I'm leaning toward book illustration and maybe a Trilobite Boy story of some kind.
Final Grade: C+


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
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Freelance Leap

First Monday in my new career as a freelancer. 


"Freelance Leap" ©  Glendon Mellow 2010

I did this as a quick oil study about how it feels to make the leap to freelance. Those are feathers on the figure's arms, not flames. *shouldhaveusedturquoise*

I'll probably scan it properly when it dries a bit.  The photo has a bit of flash-sparkle on the left side.

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Good-bye and some art by colleagues

Today marks my last day working for DeSerres, Canada's largest art craft and creative retailer.  (You need a  postal code to enter the site and there's no shipping outside Canada - here's a Toronto postal code for non-residents who are curious about where I've been working: M6J 2C8).

I've never named where I work directly in a blog post, although you can see where on my LinkedIn profile or if you ask me.

It's been 10 years since I started in the company, most of that time managing stores and working with dynamic, creative people.

I thought in honour of my last day I would post the artwork of just a few of the people I have had the privilege of working with.  Please make sure to visit their websites and blogs.  I wish I could somehow showcase the compassion and talent of many of the non-artsy by essential people who give the company heart as well.  To my colleagues I have neglected to include in this post, my apologies.

I've learned a lot from everyone there, and I hope you've learned some things from me.
* * *




The Affair, © by Jesse Graham.  Blog: ILL Droppings 
A squid and a mermaid!

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Art ©  by Adam Swinbourne.  His site here - head over for the ka-pow.
I keep meaning to ask Adam if that dog is Laika.
***



Carousel, © by Michael Kuchma.  A review of his work and life at Angell Gallery
I need to pause here and say a few things about Michael.  Michael only worked on my team briefly, for about 3 months back in 2007. He was a fascinating guy, nonchalant and unpretentious and he liked talking about big ideas: the universe, time, and art.  He was interested in urban spaces, both to walk in and to paint.  We lost touch after a while, and in 2009 I found out Michael had died, having taken his own life in March 2008.

Michael was very individual, and typical of the people I have worked with over the years: talented artistically, compassionate towards others, with a really clever mind. He started up a blog talking about art in many of the galleries here on West Queen West, and shrugged off the criticisms with ease and had fun with it.

I remember one day in March 2007, frustrated with my self for having done nothing with my artwork after many years of painting and sitting stewing about while having a day off from work, I decided to check out Michael's blog, and see if there was some way I could teach myself to start an art blog.  If he could do it, maybe I could. Not knowing a damn thing about it, I started The Flying Trilobite that day.  I owe a lot to Michael's example.  

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©  Anna-Karoliina Koskinen.  Her gallery site is here.
Karoliina's an amazing portrait painter.
Run from the Rainbow Land Sprite, children!
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Background painting © by Taras Ostapchuk. His blog is here
I love lamp.
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This roaringly good (har har) piece is © Gillian Newland.  You can read her profile at McClelland.com and Gillians's also a member of Sketchkrieg. Children's books with her illustrations can be found on Amazon.
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A drawing of Maddy Kettle and her flying boat, © Eric Orchard.  Eric's amazing blog is here, and he updates like every day. You can also see Eric's portfolio here, and his books on Amazon here.
Watch for his upcoming comic book and other projects.
The enthusiasm Eric shows on his blog for art is only surpassed by his enthusiasm in person.
***




Bride and Doom, ©  Holly Gilmour.
Holly has tremendous talent and I expect she'll be picked up by some major studio one day.
Everything she paints would be a cool action figure.
Holly's blog: Miss HollyHoolaHoop
Go and check out the hipster bunny and zombie ice cream.

***
S'long, folks!  But not good-bye.


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
under
Creative Commons Licence.


All art work in this post is © to the respective artists.
Please visit their sites for copyright info or contact them before copying this artwork.
Thanks.
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October 2nd: Strong and Freelance

After discussion, we have a date: October 1st 2010 will be my last day of work at my full-time job, after 10 great years with the company.

Making October 2nd my first day of full-time freelance!  I'm excited and scared and elated.

I've been writing about my preparation to go freelance 
here.  More to come.

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Original artwork on 
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Creative Commons Licence.
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What freelance illustration will look like



Studio mostly set-up. I like to have a lot of past + present sketches on the walls where I work, so there's that to do.

Those of you who know Michelle and I are expecting are probably aghast at the pointy, unsecured and strange pigments visible in this photo.  It's okay really, I plan on painting every painting I ever wanted to do ever in the next 4 months.  Then I'll pack this stuff up and replace it with a ball pit.

Nuthin' safer than a ball pit.

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