Hello, and thanks for joining me in my brand-new corner of the internet.
I am treating this post as Newsletter #0, and I thought this might be a neat opportunity to take stock, and also talk about the practice of taking stock.
I'll talk about how I used to chart my life regularly in sketchbooks, the struggles of trying to do that when it feels like nothing is happening, how those experiences have led to me making the work I make now, and how that's going for me.
There was a time - it feels like 15.000 years ago but was actually 5 years ago - where I took a year out and backpacked around Asia and Australia for a little while. That's when I started using a sketchbook/journal properly - you might be thinking this was to draw all the wondeful places I was seeing. I was doing that a little, sure - but more truthfully, I was spending quite a lot of time by myself, and writing my thoughts down helped with the loneliness.
At some point, I started doing this thing I called the State of the Union - a weekly snapshot of where I was and how I was doing.
I have no idea what made me use this particular term, I must have heard it somewhere and liked it, but I doubt I even looked up where it came from. I just belatedly googled it now and the term state of the union refers to an annual address given by the President of the United States. It now seems weird to me that I would use this term, which describes a specific thing that happens annually, for a weekly stock take of my life. I find it mildly infuriating/amusing when people celebrate "one month anniversaries", so this seems very against my usual pedantry. But I digress!
In Australia, I settled down in one place for a few months, and the SOTU became obsolete: nothing was changing enough week on week to be important enough to be written down. I was in the same place, and I was feeling pretty much the same way, too. Incidentally, I felt really, really sad, further making it difficult to record what I felt should be an amazing time in my life.
I kept writing and drawing in the sketchbooks, but I no longer adhered to the structure I had been keeping up before. For most of the time I spent in that bungalow in the south of Melbourne I felt like I was floating - untethered, without direction, no idea where I should go. So, eventually I just went home. The writing that I did do that year formed the basis of the first comics I ever wrote - if you've followed me for a long time, you may recall them!
Since that year, I have kept the practice of journaling going more or less sucessfully - I could probably write a whole essay about that! But for the purpose of this post, I am going to jump in time to March 2020, when the pandemic hit.
Everyone's experience to being plunged into lockdown was different, of course. I have now learned that some people managed to do quite a lot: write books, have children, exercise, etc. I can only speak for myself, and my reaction was to not do anything at all. Again, similarly to being in that house in the suburbs of Melbourne, I felt like nothing was happening; nothing could be written about. This seems counterintuitive, doesn't it? Objectively, something was happening: a once-in-a-lifetime (well, I hope) event. People dying of a pandemic that was spreading through the world. Government-issued lockdown. The face masks, the hoarding of toilet roll, the endless zoom quizzes. And yet ... I didn't feel like I could write about anything. From one day to the next and from one week to the next, I just couldn't figure out what I was meant to do with the time I was living in.
I very much know that I had it a lot better than many people, and I'm aware that this whole section might come across a bit whiny. But at this time, I was feeling quite sorry for myself. I had a Master's degree in Illustration and it was proving absolutely worthless: not only was I not really making any art, I was also unemployed, therefore quite broke, living with friends cheaply. I was in a different country to my family, yet again, but this time I didn't want to go back. I had things keeping me in Edinburgh - and for some reason, I still believed deep down that I could figure it out, turn it around, make art.
After a few months of aimless floating, I forced myself to document the things that were happening - and started posting them on Instagram.
Something shifted, that year. I had been quite concerned with figuring out my purpose as an artist. I wanted my work to be beautiful, meaningful, considered. Well, I threw all that out of the window. I started living by the motto "the best work you can make is the work you make today, not the work you plan to make one day". I suppose it's an "anything is better than nothing" approach. It wasn't true that nothing was happening. I just needed to learn how to make work about anything.
So, on I went, making work, writing about truly anything, once again fueled a little bit by loneliness, by desperation, by frustration. And maybe that's why my work began to reasonate with people: in 2020, I went from having a few hundred followers reading my comics to 1.000, and from there it sort of grew steadily.
I hit 5k followers sometime in early 2021 - I think that's when I started to realise that maybe the thing I was doing wasn't silly - maybe the stuff I was posting was having a real impact on people.
I receive really lovely messages all the time from people letting me know that something I wrote meant a lot to them - I've become somewhat desensitised to these messages, because if I allow myself to really think it through, it becomes a bit too mind-boggling. I mean, I don't know about you, but I find it a bit mad that strangers all over the world could read something on the internet, be really moved by it, and tell the author - and that I am that author!
In early 2021, I dipped my toes into selling prints of my work, and then zines. I set up a BigCartel shop and taught myself as I went along.
To make my first little perfect-bound book, I Was Thinking, I wrote all the comics, put the book together in InDesign, had 50 copies printed, packaged them all up in my living room, became quite familiar with my local post office... and then did it all again! I have sold almost 150 copies of I Was Thinking, and almost 100 copies of Change, the book I released earlier this year. You can check them out here, if you're interested:
Since I started my shop, I have sent almost 500 orders out to people all around the world - which means I have written almost 500 thank-you notes and lovingly tucked them inside envelopes!
In case you are curious - no, I don't make a living off running my little shop. Compared to my 9-5 part-time job and the money I earn with illustration commissions, it's quite an unpredictable and sporadic income - and that is ok! It is such a massive compliment for people to buy my work. Until now, it's been the only way that readers of my work were able to support me financially, and each and every sale really has meant a lot to me and given me a lot of confidence.
So, you might be wondering, what is stopping me from continuing on exactly like I have? Write some comics, post them on Instagram, rake in the endorphins from the nice comments, sell a couple of prints, rinse and repeat.
Maybe it's just that I need a change.
I am beginning to feel like I'm floating again, feeling stuck, feeling directionless - even though I have plenty of creative inspiration. In fact, I have what feels like a million ideas for things I want to do! So, what has helped me figure things out is to revisit the State of the Union concept: I've taken a long hard look at everything I've been doing, and what I have enjoyed, and what has made me happy.
One of the things I've realised is that Instagram as a platform is responsible for a lot of my frustrations.
Instagram is an amazing place to share work and connect with other people, and, as I mentioned above, it's made it possible for me to earn a bit of money as an artist, by helping more people find my work than I ever thought possible. And yet, I have some complicated feelings (which I probably should elaborate on in a different post). The gist of it is this: Instagram has changed, the experience of posting content on it as well as consuming content.
And, in the back of my mind, as someone who’s been on the internet for a solid decade, I also know that social media sites rise and fall - not to mention that, feasibly, my account could be banned, deleted, hacked, etc. Sure, the world would keep turning - but it would mean that I would have to rebuild another page, post my content and hope that all of you nice people find me again. The one thing that seems to not have gone out of fashion in my liftetime is emails, so began to wonder if there was a way to reach people that way.
And finally, I realised that I had to make a choice: stop making so much work available for free, or stop making that work altogether. Perhaps I'll go into detail about this in another post (if anyone is interested to hear my musings about how artists can make a living on the internet), but the long and short of it is: I decided that I had to find a way to give people the option to pay me for my posts, otherwise it just wasn't going to be sustainable to keep going.
I began to think that I wanted to create a new home for my work. Somewhere that was independent of social media sites, without ads, without an algorithm, where I have full agency over how my content is presented. Not just a backup, but a new start. I'm too cynical to think that I can ever be fully in control or that any one thing can neatly solve all my problems, but creating this page feels like a step in the right direction. This whole time - keeping those sketchbooks, making comics, putting them on Instagram, turning them into books - I've gone with my gut. I don't really know what I'm doing - I'm figuring it out all the time.
It's been a slow proccess, but if you are reading this, it means you've found your way here - welcome!
I hope you've found reading this entertaining in some way, and that I've been able to explain my progression from angst-filled sketchbook scribbling to slightly less angst-filled comic making.
If you liked reading this and would like more like this in the future, please do consider becoming a subscriber! It's the best thing you can do to enable me to keep making work.
Thanks for reading.