Looking back to look forward


I’ve heard the phrase plenty of times that you should always look forward, never back. Which, like any other totalitarian idea, is more of a sledgehammer than a finessed thought.

I mean, I understand where they are coming from. You don’t want to be so beholden to the past that you can’t move forward. That there are new ideas and new experiences to explore, and the past can hold you back.

But the problem with that is that if you never look back, you never remember those lessons you’ve already learned. You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are or where you’ve been.

Case in point, these very articles that I write for the Apex Book Company. I’ve been writing them since owner Jason Sizemore first allowed me to soil his fine site way back in January 2010. In the two years since, I’ve been able to write about the things that I see each month as an artist.

Originally published by Apex Book Company, March 2012

Recently, I was able to collect all of those articles into a new ebook, called Life As An Artist In Repose. In the process of collecting the articles and creating the ebook, I learned quite a lot about EPub, Mobi, and other file formats. I learned how ebooks reflow, how to deal with the images in each chapter, adding CSS and HTML tags, and even how to use the free program Calibre to get what I need in the end for the various formats.

Aside from practical knowledge (which is highly important, being a freelance designer), the ebook allowed me a great chance to go back through the articles (some that I didn’t send to Apex, even) and learn what I wrote over that time. I made the excuse that was editing them for publication (which is, technically true), but really I was just reliving those statements I made each month.

On the positive articles (I know, you don’t think there were are any), the messages about trying hard, not giving up, even dealing with depression, still hold to what I believe. Those were a good reminder to me too, that I need to follow my own advice and keep moving forward.

Even on the “meaner” articles it was interesting that, nearly all of the time, the opinions that I put into each article still held. Yes, there are still plenty of stupid looking covers out there. Yes, there are still LOTS of authors, editors, and publishers that give no credit at all to their artists (BASTARDS!). Talking with other artists, and sharing what I know with everyone else freely, is still a wonderful thing.

I had originally thought that going back through the articles would mean changing a lot, that maybe in my particularly cussing tones I may have been too aggressive, too harsh (bullshit). But really, those same things that angered me continue to be great points that folks should work on.

When you revisit the past, there’s also a good chance that it can take a turn for the worse. Those last two years have been pretty rough. I was laid off in perhaps the worst job market in 80 years. My career, and my life as an artist, reached low points during that time that I haven’t felt before.

Rereading those articles put me in a position to remember those dark times (not they are necessarily gone, mind you), and push hard not to be pulled into that depression and darkness again. It’s no mean feat, even if you’ve beaten it at some point you still relive it a bit when you go back and look at the past.

ebook_cover_hardnight_color600But something interesting happened when I read through that depressing side of life: I realized that things had actually become better for me. On top of that, during that depressing time I had actually created more artwork than perhaps I have ever done. In just the last year, even during the worst of the depression, I somehow managed to create well north of sixty new pieces of art.

Even now, my frame of mind is more of creation than it has been before. Part of that, I realize, is that I must create and sell things if my family will be able to eat in the coming years. If I want to do things like have a booth at the great Spectrum Fantastic Art Live show, I’m going to have to make a lot of art happen.

There’s also a sense that I don’t have the previous soul-crushing day jobs sucking the life out of me. That’s not to say all jobs in the world are terrible, I’m sure there are great, fun jobs to have. I haven’t had those. I also realize that, being unemployed, many of you are saying “you now have all day to do art!”. Which isn’t necessarily true, since, getting money from the government for being unemployed, I have to spend quite a bit of my day looking for a new position.

But the catharsis offered by writing those articles has been great, it’s helped me enormously. I also hope that, by writing about who I am and how things happen as an artist, that others can feel less lonely. I know for many years I thought I was the only one who was depressed, or thought they should give up art, or that there are some really ugly cover art pieces out there. But knowing you are not alone can help a great deal, and I hope that I’ve helped others realize that in the process.

Looking back through the articles was really no different than looking through my old sketchbooks and old pieces. There are good ideas there, things to remember, and, as always, lots of things to work on. I can’t ignore the past, and in fact I should always remember what I’ve thought and done before.

It’s up to me to apply what I’ve learned, and move forward towards better things.

If you’re curious about those previous articles, or didn’t have a chance to see them yourself when they were on the Apex site, check out the cheap (in price, not construction) ebook of mine, Life As An Artist In Repose, listed on multiple sites in multiple formats here.

It even has a non-idiotic, kick-ass cover (if I don’t say so myself).

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