I wish that I could say I’ve spent my time away from Blogalopod being crazy creative and producing a ton of awesome artwork, but if anything, it’s been corporate whorage : lots of great clients, making stuff for commercial purposes. “Building a portfolio” is the “don’t kill yourself” word for it.

I’ve had a creative block for a long time, in terms of anything that didn’t immediately bring me cash. I guess that’s the thing you drag around behind you when your day job pays you about 60% of living wage in your county—that constant quest for the other 40% with all of the waking hours of your day, waiting for a resume to hit home with someone, or that dream job to finally come through and be unleashed by its corporate leash holders. There’s an awesome writing-traveling-creative-social media job on the horizon, but it’s a horizon that keeps on creeping back with every step I take.

So I took a few days off to see Jeff Mangum’s first show in Burlington VT (as seen here on Splice). Something about sitting in the church, seeing this guy play, freed up a lot of creative stuff that I’d been hesitating on, or unable to get through my hands. My drawing skills felt crippled, but they found their way out. And I started working on the next series of trading cards I’ve been commissioned to do : Suckpax Series 3.

Most of the rest are kinda pornographic, so I’ve been debating about making them public. I still want to illustrate a childrens book some day. Still, it’s fun to work with someone else’s themes.

Comics and custom toys are on the art-roster, and it feels pretty okay. As always, updates on Facebook.

[Half-finished post from January 8th, 2011]

So, what’s been happening?

It’s been snowing in New York. I wouldn’t mind moving to a place that was gloriously snow-less and had restaurants shaped like giant animal skulls. I made an attempt at driving to work yesterday, but my tires have exceeded their expiration date due to a constant lack of funds, and I was spinning and sliding far too much. The snow continued to fall until closing time anyhow, and my town was mentioned on the news for getting the brunt of the storm and having poor road conditions. The people I work with drive SUVs or live 2 minutes away, so I’m the odd one out. No one mentions my town on the news unless someone is killed or going to be killed, circumstantially. We’re New York’s great inconsequence.

Christmas wasn’t a disaster, but I’m very prepared to walk away from family and never return. My girlfriend got me Green Lantern shoes, an awesome Ghost Rider shirt and a giant talking Galactus, among other things. It’s nice to finally date someone who doesn’t shoot down my appreciation for comic things, and despite not being interested in comics upon entering the relationship, completely understands why I’m into them. Weirdly costumed people who bend reality and have complicated stories? Why not?

I’m halfway through four or five new drawings and paintings which I’m not completely ready to show off yet. Hexagons, skulls, and a drawing of Galactus which is pretty awesome. I’m still drawing and painting, and it feels great to balance all of it.

I’m still pushing through a deluge of client work. The current project entails creating 100 icons : 5 icons for 20 different keywords. In essence, I have to interpret “pets” in three ways, “house” in three ways, etc. It’s a challenge to create five diverse aesthetics that are consistent throughout a set, and it would be more enjoyable if the client didn’t take 2 days to respond to every question. Or forget to officially “approve” the contract. Freelancers set deadlines for two reasons :

a) to get your project done on time
b) to get paid at a certain time

… so when your lack of response pushes back a project for no good reason, it doesn’t help your artist by “giving them more time”. We have bills, guy.

Working through is insanely, unnecessarily complicated. There are a million little steps that barely function, but the competition there is minimal, since most of the users are still stuck in MSPaint. You can click on just about any profile and find a winning image, like this.

[End transmission]

I’ve been away for a while, but only because I found myself weighed down by a bunch of little deadlines handed down by clients that suddenly clustered around me. In a grand scheme, it’s very fortunate that I was able to freelance my art things out and build up my credibility on a few freelancing websites (like eLance and Guru), but it’s exhausting. And none of the work has really been that creative – just interpreting ideas of clients and being told that I wasn’t doing it just like they had in their head.

I wrote about it here.

It really emphasizes the gulf between basic communication skills and what people expect in terms of what the “artist” produces. I can’t even describe how many files I created, was told that they needed to be changed, and had the client go back to the original samples I send them. It’s a lot of wasted time and efficiency that could be used on bigger ideas, not smaller ones. The creative ideas are constantly clipped for more generic, expected, simple ideas that don’t really emphasize the merits of the project or product – but I guess that’s why these folks hire outside artists. I just wish that they were more receptive to the ideas of people who have seen the breadth of these projects, have interacted with the push and pull of visual marketing, and know what they’re doing. There’s a synthesis of the intellectual and the emotional that a lot of people forget to integrate properly.

I’m at the other end of the client tunnel, and I want to take a break, but I also can’t wait to embrace the challenges of each new project. I’ve designed 5 t-shirts, 4 Boy Scout-type patches, 24 coloring book and dot-to-dot pages, and a whole bunch of other stuff, but if I don’t take a break and focus on the tangible, I’m going to lose my mind.

My girlfriend and I went to Tim & Eric live right after Thanksgiving, and there were never so many super-hip dorks collected in one place. I wrote about it here. On the way in, I foolishly left my multitool out in my bag, when I had about a million options to put it somewhere safe. When the security guy saw it, he suggested that I throw it in some bushes and hope that I find it later. I tried to give it to the box office with my business card, but they were assholes about it, and I finally got a security guard to take it, but despite my best efforts, I never saw him again. At about 1 AM I got a phone call from him asking me where I was, but I was already about 100 miles away and in bed, so I told him to keep it an enjoy it. Fortunately, I found a replacement on eBay for 99 cents. I’m not a fan of unnecessary loss.


Finally, I’ve been seeking a few more clients. The most recent one who took up my evening is based in California. What was presented as a job making graphic icons was ACTUALLY a job making complex, text-based icons. And they needed to use very specific fonts – which she didn’t know the names of, and could not provide. She wanted every font file I used, even though I explained that all fonts would be provided as images (outlines, to you AI people) on a separate layer. And she wanted each complex text image to come in 15 color variations – literally 15. It would have worked out to $2 an hour, for about 35 hours.

I was informed that I was competing against bids of $4 per image. I replied that I can’t compete with Pakistan, withdrew the bid, and registered a complaint regarding the nature of the proposal and the nature of the final project being completely different.

Thus ends my negative rampage. Things are good, too – I have a great girlfriend, a better job is possibly on the horizon, and hamburgers are delicious. So there.

It took me almost 3 weeks to complete a series of 65 icons for a website which is revamping itself, Game Friends. It should have taken less time, but the day job and daily writing tasks tend to keep me away from art. I’m excited to hunt down more freelance art work after this project is over, because the challenge is exceptional. The icons will represent levels of interactivity on this website. I’ll leave the official ones secret for the site’s ultimate reveal, but here are some rejected ones I like :

So, there’s that.

I’ll be participating in another project in Portland involving NES carts and an 8-bit skull. Details to follow, no doubt.

… which would be an awesome indie band name.

So, a few days ago I set out to find a pinball machine to refurbish. Everything was either far away or too expensive, so I was shooting for anything under $500 and local. Yesterday, I made a deal with someone in Wappingers for a $375 Space Shuttle pinball machine from 1984.

The display doesn’t light up (possibly a fuse or a bum wire), it’s been poorly repainted, and it’s probably a little shaky – but it’s MINE. I’ve been watching pinball refurbishing tutorials all night, so I’m learning all of the magical tricks to making this thing look brand new. I’m picking it up today after work. If I can’t get it to work, it shouldn’t be hard to resell it – I just happened to beat out a handful of other buyers due to my close proximity to the seller.

Regardless, it’s an awesome theme, and I’ve been taking astronaut photos lately.

Also, and this is especially neat, I won an Emmy.

Well, Star Wars : Uncut won an Emmy, and I have some film in it. The top-rated Cantina scene, no less. Can I call myself an Emmy winner now?

Try and stop me.

I’ve been doing a lot of free freelance consulting lately, on a very unofficial level. Lots of “this idea is good, but” and “don’t call it that” and “you have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m a genius” stuff. Trying to be a diplomat and maintain gainful employment while subtly steering the ship away from the icebergs.

I feel like a lot of website owners set out with a really great, organic, altruistic goal – a stroke of genius which gets worn down to a nub by a lack of focus, endless additions to the site’s core functionality, and a forced invasion of monetization when all profits will generally come naturally if a website does what it does and does it passionately and intelligently. When Brian & I were running All Nerd Review, we spent years building up content without really concerning ourselves with turning a profit – access to a few conventions and some freebies were nice, but we created the site because most of the nerd-writings on the Internet were just poorly done – and we sought to change that.

With that genuine passion for dorkstuff and writing, we forged careers for ourselves as professional writers, teaching ourselves the ropes of online ‘journalism’ with an amazing amount of success. If other (more profitable) work didn’t take over for both of us, ANR would probably be a pretty prominent site by now – but it’s because we never tried to overcomplicate it, and we kept it true to what we knew.

A recent freelancing gig is holding my meager $50 payment hostage until I have a phone conversation with the owner. He’s a 40-something (I presume from photographs I’ve seen) shooting for a 20-something demographic, and while I can’t go into detail, he’s asking this audience to pay for things which might appeal to MTV’s version of 20-somethings – but not my own friends within that demographic. It’s a generic mess, and maybe I belong to a quirkier demographic than I’d originally thought, but pinball machines and Darth Vader helmets sound like a lot more fun than spa getaways and tailgate parties.

Here’s the thing : generic doesn’t attract an audience, even if statistically, it would make the most sense. You absolutely need to factor in the attention span which the average Internet 20-something employs. Viral is inherently quirky, and it draws enough attention to make a potential difference. We’re also regularly shown websites which promise free video game consoles, cars, vacations, and whatever else might be popular at the moment – and 95% of these things are scams. We filter them out without even allowing ourselves a flicker of hope that these things are real, because fuck, it’s the Internet. Getting around these filters that we’ve been forced to develop isn’t done with louder promises – it’s done with interesting, tangible promises.

Aside from this, I trawled through eLance today with the intention of using up all of my credits before the end of the month rolled around and I lost them. Placing indiscriminate bids on things might prove rewarding.

As far as freelance art goes, I’m participating in a show in the UK at the beginning of August to debut the Jinny toy from BitBots. I can’t really show it off yet, but I made a lumpy plush guy to house the 2″ toy, which was far tinier than I’d expected. It’s hard to customize something so tiny. I secretly call the whole thing ‘Fuckface the Fucknificent’, but for public purposes, he’s called ‘You and Your Ugly Heart’. It cost $30 freaking dollars to send to London – and I don’t even get it back.

It’s one of many recent instances of ending up in the red because of giving away artwork, and it’s a habit I need to break.

If I’ve ever wanted to live inside of a song, this is it. I was walking home from the bus stop during some summer month of high school, on a very quiet road in the middle of the forest. Everything was dead silent and yellowed, and I had my headphones on, black cord slipping out from a discman in my backpack, and this song came on. It was the most meaningful thing in the world, completely incongruous with my surroundings, and I’ve been in abject, unrequited love ever since.

After returning from the organic farm and the weekend with the hot French girl, things haven’t been the same. I came home to a weird little life full of excess junk – stuff I’d purchased, never used, never could use, was taking over my life. Life hasn’t felt right, and I feel like I’m in this desperate struggle against an invisible clock to get things together. I cut off a ponytail that I’ve had since junior high school, I’ve ripped down posters and filled garbage bags with my life. I’ve spent entire days unable to really eat or get out of bed. I’ve read really bad comic books, and I’ve had a hard time balancing everything, or functioning like a normal person.

I’m just putting the finishing touches on a mobile of robots that I designed for my friends and their baby, laser-cut from MDF for about $100, hand-painted, and miraculously, fitting together perfectly on my first attempt. I’m getting the hang of this laser plotting stuff. I’ve also working on conceptualizing and storyboarding a children’s book about a superhero, and a pinball machine design for a friend’s project. It’s been a rough week to make anything, because I can’t see the light at the end of it all, but I guess I might as well keep busy.

I honestly don’t know what it all means anymore, but I’m working towards finding a stable rental situation with my friend, searching out home listings that are cheaper than the insane Westchester & Putnam Country rates – even going so far as to spend a Thursday hunting down Humane Society locations and picking out dogs to take care of. We eventually had to leave when they failed to take us seriously due to our giggling. Around this time last year, I had signed a lease and put down a deposit on a place in Philly which didn’t work out. There’s a place in a little town called Ancram or something similar which we’re looking into.

Back to art things. Wish me luck.

I’ve been in kind of a lull since I’ve done trading cards for Topps, simply because I don’t know how to do anything cooler. And then I got an idea.

I started bugging other trading card companies to see if I could do sketch cards for them. I currently have a small portfolio of Marvel characters which are in at the great Rittenhouse. I’ve exhaustively browsed around, looking for other examples of cards by Rittenhouse artists. Many are comic-styled, and many are graffiti styled, and there are a few ultra-cute ones in between. I opted to approach this in an animated-detailed style. They’re currently being reviewed by the trading card company and Marvel. Getting real, honest-to-god work with Marvel would probably be another highlight I’d never be able to surpass.

Here’s what I submitted.

PS : If I get this Marvel job, I’m shaving my head. I’m shooting for a 50/50 chance, but I know I can do better than some of these folks.

Other current projects include a baby mobile comprised of robots, and a design for the case of a small pinball machine mechanism. I’m squeezing all of this in between jobs, jobs, and more jobs – including applying for roughly 25-30 jobs on eLance this month. No bites yet, but that’s because I’m asking for a realistic wage.

I’ve been especially ornery and impatient at work. I want that to not happen anymore.

April Annihilus Awesomeness : Day 7

I had the pleasure of being part of the March Modok Madness blog, and I indeed took part of some of my own Modok Madness. I also bought the first five appearance of MODOK in the comic books.

But I don’t want it to be over. I think that there should be a month dedicated to every Jack Kirby character. I hereby christen April Annihilus Awesomeness. I could have gone with Arnim Zola, but he’s got August. So, I’m going to post a new picture of Annihilus for every day of this month, or otherwise celebrate the character creatively. Here’s a basic interpretation.

Annihilus : 4/1/2010

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