The Underbelly

Let's talk about the underbelly for a spell.

The underbelly fascinates me. The underbelly of anything-- everything. We all have one, it’s straight up human nature.

Subcultures have them too. Underbellys are the places where people step into when the dark twisty takes over. Or when they want to take a walk through something that’s not necessarily socially acceptable, we step into these places that are hidden just beneath the shiny veneer of what is considered plausible or palatable.

Society has multiple underbellys. Our current political shit show is showing us all just how deep and damaged the underbelly really is. And when a demagogue taps into that hate-filled underbelly where anger and violence dwell-- he has the power to destroy.

Destroy social constructs. Destroy human decency. Destroy democracy-- if we ever really had it in the first place. Our underbellys are there for our understanding. We can learn so much from them if we open our eyes just a little and acknowledge that they exist.

But we have to first agree that the underbelly exists and expose it for examination. We then have to recognize our role in allowing the situations which feed the underbelly to exist in the first place. How long have we ignored the situations that caused the underbelly to swell and bloat?

Then we must reverse engineer the problem. Examine the structure as though it’s a virus and find the source. Begin to remove the source and slowly work your way out from there.

Let’s look at something like human trafficking. We all know that young girls are forced into slavery for the sex trade industry, but we often think this problem exists in countries without infrastructure or protections for its most vulnerable citizens.

But no, this problem is massive and it lives in our backyards. Every single one of us.

But what can we do? I don’t really know-- honestly. I’m new to this issue. But we can start by acknowledging the problem itself. Then we can begin to reverse engineer the sources of the problem. Targeting those who pay for the services of these young victims-- and those who sell these children like common, everyday objects to be used and discarded.

And gutting the market itself would be a lovely place to start. Then, we need to look at the core reasons why children end up as sex slaves in the first place. Poverty. Lack of education. Runaways. Kidnapping.

All problems with solutions--one family and one child at a time. But how often do we talk about these underbellys? Not very. In fact, almost never. We’ve become immune to the underbellys. We look away or we glaze over.

We’re uber desensitized. We’re tapped out. We’re at a loss for compassion-- we just don’t have enough to give. I get it. We live in a fucked up world and we’re constantly looking at mass scale violence and politicians who do nothing to stop it. Nothing.

Why? They’re bought and controlled by the very shadow forces that feed the underbelly. And even worse-- these forces use people’s emotional biases to manipulate the masses into supporting the demagogues and criminals.

It’s truly stunning when everyday people continually vote against their best interest because they blindly believe what the television or social media tells them. When people blindly walk through life gorging on the misinformation of the powerful-- we end up in a society held together by the underbelly.

And that, my friends, is a terrifying place to be.

I hold onto the hope there are those among us doing the hard work of exposing, acknowledging and removing these underbellys in our world. I know they exist-- I see them every day. They are the hackers, activists, social workers, documentarians, writers, healers and compassionate souls who open their eyes to the those trapped in the underbelly and say, “I’m here. I’ll help.”

And I’m proud to be one doing the work-- in whatever small or large ways that I am. I hope you’ll join us too.

Left Behind

Old objects left behind by man have always fascinated me. Maybe it’s the Raider’s of the Lost Ark effect (I’m a child of the 80s) but old objects speak to me. They have story, history, texture and character.

I spend every winter in the deserts of Arizona in a tiny town that was once a booming miner’s depot and hot swap meet. For one to two weeks out of the year, it still tries to be this hub, but it has changed.

This entire town has been left behind. The old timers living in the year round RV parks, who originally came here for the gem shows and cheaper lifestyle, are now stuck. They are dying slowly in their RVs, with no family or social services to help them. It’s heartbreaking to see.

There are elements of every genernation that once frequented this place left behind in nooks and crannies throughout town. The metal sign from the 1950s promoting the show grounds, the no-tell motel from the 1960s serving Friday fish fries and cheap overnight stays, the gas station from the 1930s that used to fuel the old Fords as they made their way across the deserts. Hell, there’s even remenants of the old jail and camel barn from the 1800s hanging on to be remembered out here.

The point is, most of this town is left behind. And this town is not alone. All across this country, the mark of our human life on this beautiful land can be found. Where rust meets paint, metal meets Earth and cement slowly crumbles back to dust.

The Left Behind Collection is an ongoing documentation of these objects and places that we’ve simply left behind. No longer useful, no longer functioning-- no longer serving the purpose it was created for-- these items are simply left to rot.

And in that decay there is beauty. A beauty of texture, hidden story and unique craftsmanship. You don’t find signs in the modern world that can withstand 60 years of harsh desert sunlight.  In this decay lies a human story as well. An object that helped someone accomplish a small-- or large-- feat. An object that had value to someone, maybe even a life and death value, yet here it sits, decaying and neglected.

I often wonder what that goodbye was like for the person. Did they even know they were seeing this object for the last time? When that gas station from the 1930s was shuttered for the last time, did the owner give a tearful goodbye? Did the government sieze it for money owed and simply shut it down? Did the owner pass away with a final farewell to his labor of love?

I know many people don’t think of objects this way, but I do. For whatever reason, when an object has a profound impact on me, I have an energetic connection to it. One of my more vivid early memories was when my dad sold his old, 1960s grey Chevy pickup truck with the wheelwell indentations on the bed. I loved that truck-- everything about it! The day he sold it, I sat at my bedroom window and wept like I’d lost a loved one as the man who bought it drove her out of my life. I was 5 years old.

When my dad passed away at a young age, I eventually began driving his pickup truck. She’s a 1995 Nissan 4x4 and she is like an appendage to my body. She’s old in need of repair, but I drive her everyday. I often joke that if anything ever happens to her (because I’ll be damned if I repeat that memory from when I was 5) I’ll need some serious therapy to get past it. And I’m not actually joking.

As a child, I used to play in my dad’s old 1949 Dodge sedan that he was always restoring or tinkering with. He redid the interior and it was stunning. I used to sit in the back seat and admire all the chrome and metal. The way it felt under my fingers, the old radio knobs and glass dials, the eternal craftsmanship that would never truly age with time. It only got better. And the smell of sliding into that backseat. There’s no other smell like that of an antique car. It just sings to my soul. She’s got character-- she’s got bones.

That’s the origin of my fascination with things that are left behind. It started when I was young and continues now.

This latest collection is my interpretation of the town of Quartzsite and all the elements left behind that piqued my interest. 

Stepping Back into Art

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a camera in my hands. Since age 10. A real, legit, 35mm “pro” camera. The Canon AE-1 SLR with a 50mm lens. She was my first love. It was all she wrote after that.

Fast forward to year 36. I’d traveled the world with my cameras, documenting the cultural preservation of displaced populations in post conflict communities. That’s a mouthful.

I’d had major clients, like Whole Foods and Nissan and even been a line producer for nationally televised commercials for a big fast food joint that shall remain nameless.

It was all too much. That last gig for the soulless corporation landed me in a not very good place. Chained to a freelance career that was taking me to new production places but leaving me at the mercy of a gig-to-gig lifestyle producing shit work for faceless corporations.

I broke. It was inevitable. And in that broken period, I realized two things. I needed to make true art again. And I needed to stop doing the production work.

So, I stopped. I waited for something to show itself. And, over the next few months, my sidehustle of consulting small businesses on communication strategies for social media evolved into a website production business.

A small, nimble, one-woman business that found a place in the world of chiropractors transitioning to functional medicine. Can’t niche down more than that, huh?

I built this business up for 4 years. I incorporated. I learned to hack together my bookkeeping and I learned the value of a balance sheet. I learned how to break my limiting beliefs around money and I learned how to fucking make money.

Shocker, right?

I also learned, just recently, the value of paid advertising on social media. Now, I know it has tremendous value in theory and I’ve seen the success stories left and right. But I’ve never applied it directly to my own business. During the last year, as my website company has evolved into a more robust communications agency, I’ve been able to work with clients in securing their paid digital media strategies. And the process has been eye-opening.

 

I get to see the actual advertising dollars in action and the study the metrics in real time and I see how this all works now. In real life scenarios.

But more than anything, 2016 has taught me to stop being romantic about how I make my money. That’s a GaryV line there, but when I first heard that line, it reverberated throughout my being.

I’ve always been romantic about how I make my money. My entire creative process is grounded in the romance of film and analog. I couldn’t be any more romantic about my art. I get pissed at so many things about where my industry has gone over the past decade that I spend more time than I care to admit stewing over the current state of professional photography and resenting the less than stellar “artists” who know business-- not art.

I’m romantic. Period.

About three weeks ago, I clicked on a fucking Instagram ad for an art ecommerce website and my whole world shifted. I stepped into a ridiculous digital sales funnel (willingly) and rode the wave of their sales machine towards a new business.

That’s right. One fucking ad on Instagram (which I not so long ago said was creepy because it was serving me what the algorithm thought I wanted) has allowed me to finally step into that second declarative statement when I was broken by commercial TV production.

Here was the perfect platform to deliver all the shiny technology, metrics, analytics and social media behaviors in one fabulous bundle designed to do one thing only-- SELL ART.

And I pulled the trigger. As a business woman selling a finished product created by me many moons ago.

I launched business number two-- officially-- to finally be an artist running a business around her art.

Without romance. Without limiting beliefs. Without old narratives of “artists can’t make money and run a business”.

Fuck all of that. This artist right here is now a business woman. And she’s merging her art with her entrepreneurial experience to make something big and juicy.

And yes, I just referred to myself in the 3rd person, deal with it.

Here’s the thing, when you take romance out of the equation and the notion that art and commerce can’t co-exist, it becomes a numbers game. Simply, cut and dry numbers.

Using this website platform to sell images really does take so much of the guesswork out of selling art. If I drive X amount of traffic to the site and convert 1-2% of that traffic into sales, I can make X amount of dollars each month. Simple, right?

And guess what? My communications business has taught me how to drive traffic.

Now, I just have to set everything up like a real business-- which is a formula that I can follow-- put some serious sweat and love into the work and then study the numbers. Tweak strategy, study numbers, monitor conversions and create a sales engine for my work.

Oh, and then I get to create more art. With a powerful economic engine behind the production of that art.

That, my friends, is the evolution of an artistic entrepreneur. It didn’t happen overnight, but it is happening.

Follow me on this journey and I’ll show you how I navigate the ins and outs of making a million-dollar documentary art photography business.

Mic Drop.

The Journey of an Artistic Entrepreneur

We all have many paths in our lives. Obvious statement, I get that, but think of the many paths that brought you to this article.

Are you seeking to learn more about the business of being an artist?

Are you looking to enhance your relationship with money as an artist?

Are you a collector looking to understand the artist behind the work a little better?

Or did someone pass this along because they think you would benefit from hearing the nuances of running a business selling art?

Whatever the path that brought us together-- and set you on the road to art to begin with-- let’s take a moment to respect that path.

Cause shit’s about to get real, dear friends.

Artists listen up-- understand business. Period.

I know, the two, art and business, don’t often coexist in our minds. In fact, the need to derive money from our art could be the very thing that’s stopping you from making your true art. I get that, I’ve wrestled with that very thing for years.

So, don’t. Don’t make money from your art-- for now. Keep creating, keep dreaming and keep pouring your passion into your creations. But don’t sell them. Yet.

WTF? Isn’t this an article about business and art?

Yes, exactly. If you can’t separate your art from the business side of things, then don’t. Start a tiny (or big) side hustle that uses a tiny fraction of your amazing artistic abilities and make money from that. And here’s why....the very act of running a small side hustle (either online or off) will grease the wheels to your relationship with money.

Your side hustle will also introduce you to the nuances of making money without the romance that can cloud your decisions because you’re too emotionally connected to your art.

Start an Etsy store and sell the materials that you use to make your art.

Launch an Etsy store that sells vintage finds that you dig up from your local thrift store.

Start an EBay Hustle that flips objects or items connected to your passions-- or not. Just flip things that have good profit margins.

Launch a BigCartel.Com store that’s connected to Etsy and dropships your graphic design prints or kitchy t-shirts.

Set up a booth at the local flea market and sell handmade coasters of digital prints from your artwork.

 

It doesn’t matter what it is. Make your sidehustle something that fits in your work schedule, is somewhat related to your passion (so you don’t have to relearn a new skillset) and is something that is low-cost to launch and maintain.

And while you’re doing this side hustle, understand the many aspects that make selling your goods work. Branding, marketing, advertising on social media, setting up ecommerce shopping carts, writing descriptions for products, keywords, P&L statements, Quickbooks, Paypal, Stripe, customer service, project management, managing your work and your life, etc, etc, etc.

Play with business. Win and lose with something that’s not so closely attached to your heart. And when you’re turning a profit with your side hustle, roll those extra funds into launching your art business. Use the same digital tools and processes you applied to your side hustle.

Because truly, at the end of the day, running an art business is a numbers game. Once you’re able to detach the romance from your art products, you’re able to make solid business decisions based on what’s healthy for the business, not how the art community will perceive your pricing or what your art professor will think of commoditizing your art.

Fuck that, we all have to eat. And here’s the cold hard truth-- if you can’t make a living and a profit from your art, you won’t be able to give your passion and your art the wings it needs to change the world or impact a person.

Being able to create powerful art that moves people is not cheap. How much more powerful could your art be if you weren’t worried about making rent or feeding the kids? How much more art could you create if you didn’t have to shuffle off to a 9-5 during the week to survive in this world? Not to mention the soul crushing vortex that working in a cube for the Man will do to your creative energy.

So, let’s get real. The artistic excuse of being right-brained and unable to manage a SquareSpace website or a mind-numbing easy Etsy store is just that-- an excuse. Stop it. Right now.

Just like any skill, understanding how to run your art store takes time, effort and practice. So set your ego aside and dust off that inner-entrepreneur that’s dying to get ahold of your bank account.

Start your side hustle and begin learning how to run a business.

You’ll know when the time is right to then flip the switch on your art business. When you can look at a clear opportunity, run the numbers (and understand the numbers) and know that the time to profit from your passion is now, then go for it.

The world needs your art, lovely one. But the world doesn’t need your art to drive you into a poverty tsunami because you won’t learn the business side of art

You can do it. I can see it. And if you have questions, just ask me.