Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day, third try

Though I have a digital image of this, I scanned the postcard that's been hanging from my
bulletin board, to show warts and all, including the hole where the thumbtack goes. Drawing
mostly to entertain myself, I still get a narcissistic kick out of looking at this.
Ten years ago, I changed my business name from somerset words and pictures co. to shawn turner illustration (all lowercase, e. e. cummings style, for optimum irk).

The first iteration, somerset, was my declaration of independence from the traditional work world. After long desire, I finally squirmed out of the rabbit warren of cubicles when a wise colleague and friend — and a former mercenary; I thought it unwise to disbelieve his story — told me, "You're gonna die here if you stay. If you don't go out and try your idea, I'm gonna kick your ass!"

He had street cred. Off I went. Eighteen years ago today.

Our toddler son became the symbol of my first independence, the illustration based on his successful escape from the waves at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
Somerset suggested the place we lived; the variation on somersault an attempted hint at smart fun. The rough-hewn dictionary entry form of my company name declared, Hey, I'm a writer, man! Write on!

The second iteration, shawn turner illustration, declared a new independence, dumping words for pictures. Though I like writing — as this semi-weekly blather attests — I wanted to concentrate on illustration, and force myself to rely on and get better at it.

I discovered that everyone is a writer —true, or false — and words are immensely malleable. So some clients changed my work. Sometimes a lot, making me wonder why clients hired me in the first place.

My moment of decision came in a phone call with a client about an early draft of copy I had written for his client, a maker of an inconsequential product.

We need to make some changes, my client told me in even, measured tones, as pleasant as he could make them. In the background, his client was saying the same thing — except in shouts and imprecations punctuated by what sounded like feet stamping or fists hitting a dashboard. They were riding around in my client's car. "What's this guy thinking?" the client's client shouted. "This isn't what I had in mind at all." That sorta thing. Minus the pointed name calling. This is a family blog.

You'd think I had tattooed the words on his client's butt with a rusty fork tine, rather than written them in the ephemeral algorithms of a Word document, delicate as mouse clicks.

Screams and shouts no longer seemed worth my trouble.

Pictures are intractable. For the most part, anyway. Clients hire illustrators, I still believe, because they are not illustrators themselves, and truly need such services.
A client once altered my illustration without consulting or asking permission. Though physically possible — just get into the illustration program and monkey around — I hadn't thought it feasible until then. It is no longer a client.
The change in business coincided with our family move, thus the postcard above. Get it? It's announcing that I have moved my office, but the move is emotional. I'm not sure a lot of recipients got the maudlin fun that I had making this.

As independence goes, this was stepping into the void: I'm not trained as an artist or illustrator (which may not surprise you), but as a news writer. Being an artist was an avocation, not a living. Except for one art class at Cal Poly, where I got a C, I bypassed art class and art school.

But I've always drawn, always drawn to it. I've learned by observation, learned by doing (the Cal Poly way!)

The new direction gained steam, as more and more people recognized me as an illustrator rather than writer. I sent out postcards like the one above, made calls, and little by little, gained illustration clients to match what I once had for writing clients.

The wheels wobbled about the time the World Trade Center towers fell. Businesses reined in, budgets fell. I fumbled around for a while, then found teaching as my savior. Got a credential, taught for two years, then the economy for teaching imploded.

The smartest move I'd made in a while was to keep shawn turner illustration open, somehow maintaining long-term projects while working very early mornings and very late nights just trying to keep afloat as a rookie teacher.

When I decided pursuing new teaching positions in a broken economy — standing at the end of a line behind veteran teachers also laid off — was just wasted energy, I re-ignited my business.

It was a Rip Van Winkle moment. The Internet got invented in my absence, and marketing (my thorniest challenge as a business owner) took on new twists. But also more opportunities, which I set aside as much time as I can to explore.

This is my third independence, slowly rebuilding shawn turner illustration, doing what I love, which is what it's all about, ain't it?
I'm celebrated independence today by swimming the length of my home Lake Natoma, a haggard cramp-hampered four-plus miles under a strong current. It's called the Firecracker Swim, but each year I say it really needs to be called the Salmon Run.
Happy independence to you.

Self same card back. Don't send anything to suite b: Even though the U.S. Postal Service told me it's a
a great idea, really it's not. And fax? What's a fax. Better you should email me. It still works …

No comments:

Post a Comment