Art is meant to be shared.
For the 11 years between the couple of art classes I took in community college, up until I was 32, I made all of my art in isolation. Not having attending art school, I have not had many friends that continued a visual art practice into adulthood. I lurked online, posted my sketchbook drawings to social media now and then, hungry for connection and feedback. On the rare occasion I did take a class or workshop, I worked quietly and alone, not even trying to meet anyone new.
Humans are social beings: positive connections help us blossom.
When I was working as a birth doula, I went from being brand new on the scene to having a steady flow of business within a year of starting my practice. I started out very small, invested money back into my business by attending lots of continuing education trainings, upgrading my website and client lending library, and created marketing materials that reflected who I was. All of these contributed to my business, but the number one practice that helped me grow professionally was to get meet other people - ALL the people, not just those that I thought might boost my career.
Networking is a gross word to me. Marketing, as I understood it in my 20s, makes me want to barf. It feels like manipulation, and I am not cool with that. But here’s the thing: I never felt like I was marketing nor networking when I had my birth business. I was super passionate about the work I was doing, loved nothing more than to talk about it and listen to others talk about their work, or listen to families share their birth stories, questions or fears about what childbirth might be like. It didn’t feel like I was networking to simply be my passionate self in the world, and talk about what I did for a living, and what I loved about it.
Nerding out with like-minded people is fun. And sometimes it lays the groundwork for future collaboration.
Even though I am no longer attending births for a living, I still have many of these connections today! I am working on a graphic journalism project on birth work and have been able to tap into these connections to enmesh my love for birth work and birth workers, and my love for sequential art. Wanting to work on this project at a higher level led me to seek out ways to elevate my storytelling and drawing skills. You know what I found to be the best way to do that? Working with other people! Exchanging critique: looking at other people’s work and sharing what I saw with them, and asking people working on similar projects do the same for me.
I have made some amazing sequential art/creativity practice connections, many of them at home, sitting on my butt, via the good old internet. Because I work full time and have children, I long thought it would be impossible to connect with other artists in this way. It’s not! Of course you should go out and meet people in person too, but I understand that for many of us, it’s not so simple.
Here’s some resources that I am so grateful to have found. If there are others that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments!
The Sequential Artists Workshop
I freaking love the Sequential Artists Workshop. After reading Tom Hart’s beautiful and devastating memoir, Rosalie Lightning, I sought out more of his work and story. SAW was right there on his website, though I’d never heard of it before then.
SAW, located in Gainsville, Florida, specializes in comics and sequential visual storytelling. They aim to make classes affordable and accessible to all, by including a growing range of online classes (both live and self-paced), downloadable free materials, and a benevolent social networking group for students and working artists at all levels.
Art schools tend to be pretty unfriendly to people that have non-creative responsibilities, like children and full time work. As a mom and family breadwinner, I thought my options were limited to waiting until my kids were grown to finally finish a degree program or continue studying by my lonesome. At 21 when I was considering enrolling in my city’s fanciest, most schmanciest 4-year art program, the advisor reviewing my portfolio told me I might do well there because “a lot of our older students do.”
SAW believes comics and storytelling are for everyone. The instructors are accomplished, kind and attentive, even in their online courses. Since finding SAW in early 2018, I’ve been steadily enrolled in one or more of their online classes or working groups and I have learned so much about sequential art technique, drawing, and my own process. I’ve also made some amazing connections with people that I consider to be long-distance art friends.
It’s a truly unique school and I have so much adoration and gratitude for its instructors and students. As a working mom, I’ve been able to deepen my practice and grow my tribe of art pals through SAW’s online programming. Especially if getting to an art program is a hardship to you because of time, money, disability, and/or other life-related realness, check them out. And if none of those apply to you, check them out anyway. They’re rad.
Time is our most valuable asset. As I age into a comfortable reclusivity, the idea of having to drive across town and interact with other humans, in person, has become something I’d like to avoid. I’m lucky to get to work my day job at home, in the same office/studio I keep my art materials in. There are a lot of evenings in which I simply put on fresh pajamas before bedtime.
But even I know that there is so much value in connecting with others in person, when you can. The comics community where I live (Seattle) is diverse and active. There are regular drawing nights and a growing number of local co-ops, studios, and meet up groups that get together and work or workshop.
Admittedly, I have only dipped my toe into my local community. This largely has to do with time, and it’s a goal of mine to connect in person more often next year, when some long-time commitments end for me. I totally understand that getting out into the world may not be an option for everyone, but if you can swing it, here’s a couple of places that might help you find folks near you that are already meeting up.
Connect with your nearest comics or zine festival organization. Much of the time, festival leaders are committed to boosting their local community. Find their website and see if they have resources listed, or reach out to them and see how you can get involved.
Try MeetUp.com. While I haven’t used MeetUp personally, I’ve heard success stories from people with many different interests that have. MeetUp would also be a great way for you to start your own group if you aren’t seeing one that calls to you.
This post ended up being WAY longer than I expected! Stay tuned for Part 3: Even More Resources coming soon!