Thursday, February 26, 2009

squatter's rights

I feel like an imposter, sometimes.

I started renting a studio this week. It's a 500 sq. ft. unit on the 5th floor of a renovated paper mill, which sits on a river beside a wide, roaring waterfall. I share the floor with a costume designer, a glass worker, a watercolor painter and a score of other diverse artists. There's even another cartoonist, I think, about three doors down from me.

I rented the space because I can't work from home anymore. I've been doing graphic design from my home for six months, and quite frankly, it sucks. When you work from home, you are bombarded by a symphony of sirens every day. They take the form of laundry and bills and dirty dishes. You can pull an Odysseus and tie yourself to the mast if you want, but you have to come out of your bedroom/office at some point, and when you do, you think to yourself: "Damn, I'd better clean this place before someone calls FEMA."

So. I rented a studio for the sake of my graphic design business. And I rented a studio, too, because I have this overwhelming sense of expectation.

I'm drawing comics again. Last week, I wrote, illustrated, colored, lettered and published my first comic in seven years. Parts of it were clumsy. And you know what? That's okay. They say you never forget how to ride a bike. But honestly, you have to catch your balance once or twice if it's been a while since your last ride. I've been gone a long time from comics, but I've finally come back. It's the art I was born with, the art I will likely stay with for the rest of my life. And with that return is this electric sense of expectation.

Signing a year lease on a studio was definitely an "oh, shit" moment, though. Now, intention has become realilty. I have made a true, visceral move to realize a dream. That's nerve-wrecking. When you keep a dream inside your head, it's safe there, you know? But once it's born, it's subject to the rigors and pains of exposure.

Not only that, but here I am in a studio, sharing a floor with folks more trained and specialized than I am. Today, when I picked up the keys and entered the empty studio, I wanted to run into the hallway, drop to my knees and scream: "Okay, okay, okay! I confess, alright!? I haven't had any formal training as a visual artist since high school! And you know what? I've never taken a class on HTML, CSS, PHP or graphic design in my life and I've been doing it for almost a year! I'm a fake, I'm a fake! Oh, God, please, don't hurt me!"

I feel like such an imposter among artists, Neighbors. And to be honest, moving on to a floor full of artists is more than intimidating.

It's not just my lack of credentials. The word "artist" tends to be synonymous with a particular brand of culture that I've always felt excluded from. I don't understand why Keroauc should be revered. I make no statements with my clothes other than, "This is comfortable and doesn't smell like man-waft at the moment." And no matter how hard I try, Neighbors, I will never, ever look comfortable with a cigarette in my mouth.

To be honest, the only reason I'm an artist is because, I make art. I'm like the bus in the movie Speed: if I stopped making art, I would explode. That's why I do it.

So, in the midst of this new commitment, I comfort myself. I say to myself, you're renting a studio because there is no other option. Remember in third grade, when you drew cartoons to escape the daily ridicule of your classmates, when you sat at the desk furthest from your teacher to set up a makeshift studio and draw people's favorite characters on request? What you're doing now is no different, just a little more sophisticated. You're not an imposter at all.

This is who you have always been, and always will be.


jamie said...

if i stopped making art, i would explode.

artistry is not how you look..
but i love kerouac.

you're great.

ptr grg knt said...

stephen thank you.
deeply affirming, to hear your thought process.
I'll say the obvious, of course: you are not alone.

Kimberly Taylor said...

dear friend. i am so darn proud of you. truly truly.


Malachi Ward said...

I very much appreciate your statements.

Also, comics are cool.

thekitchenboy said...

i am so glad you posted these thoughts. for so many layered reasons upon reasons.

Andy Jendrzejewski said...

stephen, after being credentialed with an BFA and an MFA and a full professorship in a university, and with prizes and awards, and almost 60 years of involvment with the arts, I share your feeling of feeling like an imposter. Please, please, don't get comfortable. It's when you feel comfotable that you are an imposter. Hang on the edge.