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An Artist's Journey

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Chapter 13: A Lifestyle Made for the Digital Age

This diptych, "Rooftops", was done in 2000. It is the view from the roof of the casita looking north and east. The painting is in the collection of my nephew, Jason Weeks, currently living in Avondale, Arizona. Each half is approximately 5' x 2'.

Tucson cityscape

The new millennium began with three important transitions. In February, 2001, I got a call from the bankruptcy judge. We resolved some final issues over the phone, the process was completed and I was officially free of all unsecured debt. There was a tangible feeling of relief in the mind and body...I could breathe more easily and began to smile more.

Later that month my father died. He had been a constant support and lived long enough to help me through the bankruptcy process by paying the legal and court fees. I couldn't have done it without his help.

Then, in March, I received word from Alexa Noble that my dear friend and mentor, St. Andrew (see Bio Chapter 4), had died . He had been a source of insights on matters both spiritual and earthly to the end. As a tribute to him, I've posted a collection of his artwork here.

Business continued to be slow and the slump intensified after the World Trade Center attack of 9-11. I continued to get an occasional assignment that helped get me through many tight months, and my mother kicked in money to get me through other months. I was behind the curve with my old, underpowered PC and minimal digital skills, and realized that my future in commercial graphics called for upgrades of both, but it would have to wait.

In the meantime... 

That fall Nora Kuehl called. She was curating exhibits for Muse, a new gallery in Tucson, and arranged a showing of recent paintings that ran through the holiday season. She selected the pieces and I helped her install the exhibit. It was lots of fun, got good exposure locally and resulted in a sold painting.

As the Muse show was going on, my sister and her husband gave me a little Ford Festiva that their daughter, Amanda, had used while attending Northern Arizona University. Although I was content without a car, family felt otherwise. Since I had it, I began attending open drawing sessions at the Drawing Studio, founded by Andrew Rush, a former printmaking teacher of mine at the University of Arizona. The studio offers a variety of art classes as well as sessions where artists can work from models at minimal cost.

Examples of pastel and conté drawings done at the Drawing Studio in the spring and summer of 2002. They are on 18x24 charcoal paper.

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Also that summer my niece, Elizabeth (Lizz), moved in. She and her father were in conflict, and he ordered her out of their Denver home. They had lived in Tucson most of her life, and she returned to stay with friends briefly before coming to me. She moved into the casita while I made the studio my bedroom and main hangout. We shared the casita's kitchen and shower.

Lizz, in the black top, and her friend, Nicole. These conté drawings were done from photos.

She stayed a year. In that time she got a job at Penny's and was able to contribute to monthly expenses. The little Festiva again came in handy as her transportation for several months. During that year she finished her last year of high school through a GED program, had her wisdom teeth removed, turned 21, got her driver's license and her own car, acquired two cats, and generally caught up with things she had put off. Her parents divorced while she was with me. She moved out to live with her mother after receiving her High School diploma in May, 2003.

Digital skills improve and business evolves

In the fall of 2002 there was a rare flurry of projects from Positive Promotions, and most of the income went towards a refurbished Dell Computer, a small pen tablet, a used 15" LCD monitor, and graphics software. The computer was a big improvement in performance from the 5-year-old model I had. That, along with the pen tablet, allowed training at a higher level for bigger projects. After much practice I was able to produce artwork completely digitally and prepare files for books and other graphic projects. By February, 2003, I felt confident enough in my new skills to send an email announcement of my illustration and design service to every internet-based publisher I could find.

One of them was a new company, BookSurge (now Createspace), that catered to self-publishing authors. A sales person there, Roy Francia, responded the next day and connected me with Leroy C. Leach, a client of theirs who needed a cover design for his book, "A Lost Love and Other Poems". I negotiated a price with Leroy, and his book cover became my first job in the internet-based self publishing industry.

Lost Love cover

I also got responses from other companies that led to a few more small illustration assignments. Dealing with these first projects was at times an anxious learning experience. I was uncertain about many technical aspects of digital files and what would work in the emerging print-on-demand publishing world. Although there were occasional stumbles and miscommunications the jobs got done, the clients were very pleased, and I was on my way.

By the end of 2003 I had a steady business illustrating and designing storybooks for self-publishing authors, mostly referrals from BookSurge in what they described as a "win win" association. In 2005 another upgrade to a more powerful computer, better software, and a larger pen tablet and monitor made digital illustration and design much more efficient and enjoyable.

On the home front...

The latest building project was a box garden across the boardwalk. It was made from scrap lumber given to me when neighbors on either side tore down their old, wood fences to have masonry patio walls built.

The box garden when it was first built early in 2006.

The garden as it appears in the spring and summer.

Other fence lumber is stacked to form a rustic fence.

One of the stockpiles for future projects.

A recent view of the yard between Sala Grande and La Casita.

"Shovelsawrus"

This lifestyle seems made for the digital age. I'm an urban hermit. I like being home and don't care for going to meetings or working in an office on someone else's schedule. I prefer my bicycle and use the car only when necessary. I can create books for people anywhere as long as they have access to the internet. As of this writing I've designed and illustrated dozens of storybooks and covers for authors around the USA and the world.

Was it possible that I had finally found an occupational niche that would provide a steady source of income from work I enjoyed, was good at, and found fulfilling? The answer soon came when the world suddenly tumbled into a severe financial crisis.

 

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