Success looks different for everyone.
Just tried washing white house paint off the sleeve of my favorite olive-colored sweater. Half of the paint is now permanently part of my sweater sleeve. Now my paint-christened sleeve is wet and cold feeling yucky and clammy rolled up against my arm.
“Fuck it,” I said to myself because none of my cats were in the kitchen at the time to hear me.Several weeks ago I crossed an invisible line. An alarmingly growing number of my favorite clothes and shoes are now dotted with paint and glue. Tiny feathers and cat hair have been well-established as part of my wardrobe. The paint and glue round out my look.
For decades I mostly made drawings using pencils, pen and ink, Flair and Sharpie markers and created small watercolor images. Every image I made needed to fit on the bed of my scanner so it could be scanned into the computer so I could continue to do whatever the project required. This phase of my life was not hard on my wardrobe.
Now I regularly crack open half-empty gallons of left-over house paint to prep the second-hand canvases I use for my torn paper art. Yesterday I prepped ten small canvases and got white paint on the sleeve of my favorite olive-colored sweater.
Crossing A Second LineFor several years I’ve been consciously heading in a slightly different direction. I wanted to spend less time on client work, and more time on my own work. For the past several years I’ve been positioning myself to shift how I spend the majority of my time.
The biggest obstacle to overcome? Being able to afford to shift directions.
Moving to Wisconsin and leaving the crazy high cost of living in Illinois behind was a high first step and a scary one.
I’ve been a self-employed, freelance artist/illustrator, and single mom for over three decades. It’s been a very tough slog throughout the years I spent single parenting two wonderful, night and day children.
The kids both launched successfully. Both found best friends to marry. It makes my heart sing every time I think about it.
Since the beginning of this new year, I have come to realize, I have been spending less of my time on client projects and more time on my own projects.
Art Business Number One, Freelance Illustrations
I’m so thankful I’ve run my own business as a freelance illustrator/map marker for over three decades. I’ve created thousands of custom images for clients. Much of my work has centered around telling stories of natural areas and restoration. Telling stories of different ecosystems, what makes each ecosystem unique, and what’s required for an ecosystem to be healthy and functioning from its hydrology to its flying creatures and the tiny insects that require a healthy place to live and who also contribute to the health of each ecosystem. Everything truly is connected.
It’s been humbling and a privilege to make so many important ecological stories accessible to the public.
I recognized as the shift in my priorities was changing, that this new direction, the 2-D torn paper art is also a business. Not the same type of business as Freelance Illustrations, which is 100% client-centric, but a different type of art business that needs to be run exactly like a business.
Art Business Number Two, Bracelet LuvAbout ten years ago I unintentionally joined the gypsy-maker-entrepreneur tribe. I was burned out from endless client work and needed some therapy. A friend asked if I had seen the leather wrap bracelets that were all the rage back then. I looked them up and thought it would be fun to teach myself how to make them. Not long after I showed several friends my new bracelets, they loved them and urged me to sell them - which had not been my intention when I began making the bracelets. I started small getting into local art fairs. I had an eye and ear for what people wanted and liked. Over the past ten years, I’ve developed a lovely vibrant, and loyal following for my bracelets and earned a nice chunk of my income by selling bracelets at art fairs.
Ten years on, I still enjoy making and selling my bracelets and continue to find new and beautiful combinations of beads that continue to make my heart sing. I made half a dozen bracelets over the past few days and each one is a tiny jewel.
Art Business Number Three, Creating and Selling 2-D Art
Learning how to navigate all the necessary steps to be accepted into and sell bracelets at art shows has given me a leg up regarding what I need to know to take this next step, the step into the world of making and showing my own art at art shows.
Selling 2-D art at art shows is the toughest sell of all. Show producers seem to be very welcoming of good 2-D artists. The first year I tried my hand at doing art shows I applied with my collection of plein air oil paintings. I was accepted into every show I applied for. I sold almost every small piece and was granted a purchase award for one of my larger paintings.
At the end of that first season, I had barely broke even. My daughter was still living at home at the time.Heartbroken, I knew breaking even was not an acceptable end result. I decided to not apply to art shows the following summer. I couldn’t afford to simply “break even.”
That was the winter I began making beaded bracelets for therapy. And, see the previous section, I launched, unintentionally back into doing art shows with the bracelets and began making enough money to continue.
Feeling much braver and more confident in my new torn paper art, I’ve applied for several prestigious art fairs this upcoming summer. To date, I’ve been accepted into half the shows I’ve applied to, still waiting to hear from the remaining 50%.
The goal this summer is to sell more of the torn paper pieces. I won several awards for my torn paper work last year and have sold several pieces. I’ve been creating large pieces for the past few years in preparation for the gallery show that hung for eight weeks in the beautiful gallery in the upper midwest river town of LaCrosse, WI.The key to the future I’d like for myself is to sell more 2-D torn paper work.
Maneuvering Into PositionEver since I can remember, in fact, some of my earliest memories are of making art that made me happy and made other people happy. All I’ve ever really wanted to do was make my own art that makes me happy and hopefully makes others happy too. More accurately, I want to make art that inspires people to feel something, good, bad, or ugly.
Doing that requires me to be conscious of how I’m feeling when I’m making new art. I don’t want to bring sadness, or unhappy to my work now. There’s more than enough sad and unhappy everywhere if we lift our eyes up for a nanosecond. I won’t add to the negative energy out there.Head down, one foot in front of the other for the past several years, my intention consciously in mind:less time on client work, more time on my work. less time on client work, more time on my work.
less time on client work, more time on my work.
The trick has been to maneuver myself into a position where I could afford to do that. Without a partner’s additional income, basically - ever - it’s taken until this point in my life to be able to afford to make the shift to spending more of my time on my work and less time on client work. I will continue to do more interesting client work, the kind of work I’m really good at. If a client wants a type of work that I prefer less, the price of that work is going up. If the client wants me to do the work I’m less interested in for the higher price, I’ll be happy to do it. My time is precious. If the client feels the price is too high, they can go find someone else to help them. There are gazillions of ways and artists out there willing and able to create custom art.I had to establish a consistent, non-emotional way to price my work. I needed a way to arrive at a base price and then a repeatable means of adding in the 20, 30, or 40% galleries charge.
A Lifetime of Practice
People often ask, “how long did it take you to make that?”
The honest answer is, “a lifetime.”
Now, with paint and glue on many of my favorite clothes, I can’t wait to wake up every morning to begin a new torn paper piece or continue on with a piece in progress. I can’t wait to see where each piece takes me.
This week was the beginning of a new series, “Small Gems.” I”m creating a series of small pieces with the goal of each one being like a Faberge egg - not to set the bar too high. Art doesn’t need to be huge to have an impact. These new small pieces are little wonderlands of textures, layers, colors, bits of my illustration work, dried flowers and leaves, and always feathers from my zebra finches and canaries. And a new element, random bits of plastic leaves and stems from my great aunt’s jewelry factory in New Jersey. The bits are from the late 60s and early 70s and are borderline kitsch. Her factory mass-produced low-budget costume jewelry. I can get lost looking through all the bits and pieces of brightly painted metal and plastic components produced in her factory. Hopefully, I'm using the plastic bits in a tasteful way - lol. We’ll see.
Early on I knew I wanted to chronicle my journey. I’d never read a story quite the journey I’m on. I wanted to remember every step of the way. I’m so glad I chose to keep a record. Reading back through it reminds me of how far I’ve already traveled and how much further I’d like to go.
Thanks for coming along on this journey with me.
Beaver Hollow sign installed at North Pikes Creek Wetlands in the Upper Peninsula, MI, Photo by Kathy Wendling
It’s always gratifying to receive photos from clients.
Photos represent the culmination of a long creative process we’ve undertaken — together.
In many instances, it may be the first time the client has been part of the creative process involved in creating an interpretive sign or a series of signs.
At some point, a group of folks got together and decided it would be an excellent idea to have interpretive signs made for their favorite natural area. Often a grant has been written and awarded. Sometimes groups hold fundraisers to have interpretive signs created.
By the time I’m contacted, the group, or organization has invested a lot of time and energy into the project. There are pretty clear ideas of what stories should be told.
From that point, I lead the team through the creative process, creating just-right, unique signs that best tell the stories of their favorite place.
In the instance of North Pikes Creek Wetlands, located in the Upper Peninsula, MI, the group knew they wanted very few words on their sign. They also wanted the hand-drawn image to be loaded with as many critters and native plants shrubs and trees as I could fit in.
Reference photos of their critters were supplied. I put together a sloppy copy — I love making these super quick, raw sloppy sketches. I always assure my clients in the end they will get the high-quality illustration I’m known for.
Sloppy copy or concept sketch. By Lynda Wallis, Freelance Illustrations
The sloppy copy allows clients to make large changes to the separate elements, layout, placement, and overall composition of the work before I get into the final art.
Throughout the process of creating the final illustration, I often refer back to the energy and looseness of the first sloppy copy. There are often elements in the sloppy copy that I try to retain in the final work.
It can take a month or more to finalize a drawing — it all depends on the client’s deadline or how much work I have in-house when each individual project comes in. The back and forth is often. I never want a client to be confronted by any surprises when we reach the end of a project.
Wendling’s kind words sum up the goal of this project perfectly.
..."I watch people walking by it, and almost all of them stop and look at it for a while, and point out species on the sign. I would say it’s a hit, and it is doing what we intended. Thank you for all your work on this project! We really appreciate it." Kathy Wendling, Naturalist, North Pikes Creek Wetlands
Need interpretive signs?
Consider hiring me.
Desperate for a release from the gray, bitter winters in the midwest, I made this piece imagining the return of spring.
This piece does exactly what I had hoped. It captures the joyful exuberance of spring's welcome return.
The fresh new green of emerging plants is a vibrant color best appreciated with the sunlight shining in from behind. I made the pen & ink illustration of the trout lily, Erythronium americanum, a number of years ago to promote a small hidden nature preserve in northeastern Illinois. The trout lily is a harbinger of spring, it was a perfect addition to this piece. I chose the tissue papers and reclaimed wrapping papers because of their joyful vibrance. Flower petals and leaves from my dried flower collection dance across the surface of this piece. Hints of metallic gold flash and play in the light throughout the day.
The textures and soft edges of the torn paper will make you want to be outdoors to welcome spring's return yourself - or serve as a perfect stand-in until you can get outside yourself.
OMGosh!!! One of three pieces I entered in White Bear Center for the Arts "Northern Lights" show received an award.
I already felt a win when all three of the pieces I submitted were chosen to be included in the exhibit.
White Bear Center for the Arts in St. Paul, MN is a thriving art center that has captivated the local population. Offering a long and ever expanding list of classes, talks, and exhibits, White Bear Center for the Arts has found how to be relevant in the lives of the folks that live in and around the area.
650 pieces were submitted for consideration for the "Northern Lights" show, three judges whittled the total down to 100. Of that 100, all three of my pieces were selected for inclusion. That was a win for me.
Learning one of my three pieces won an award put me over the moon.