I have finally finished the monumental task of rebuilding my website from scratch. My old website was hosted by a service that provided an infrastructure that was difficult to keep updated and expensive. And because of that, I never updated it and it was stale. I knew that I had to economize and find a creative work around to that site and I had to do it by March 18th. I am three days ahead of schedule.
At first, I toyed around with building the site on Blogger now that they have up to ten static pages that are designed as tabs on the top of the opening page. I looked at hundreds of gallery style XML pages that you can import into Blogger. I thought that was workable and affordable (free!) and could link it up with my Flickr pages that could work as a portfolio. There were so many neat free sites that can help an artist showcase their work my head was spinning. I looked at a site called Carbonmade which was a simple flash site that could host portfolios. IPhones cannot see Flash (shocking, isnt it?) so I decided against Carbonmade. After looking at lots of sites that discussed the merits of all the different art hosting sites, I decided on Jimdo, a website building company based in Germany.
The structure was the most elegant I had seen, and making it bend to my aesthetic was not only not difficult but enjoyable. I dont need to or want to learn CSS and am thrilled I can just focus on what I need to do to showcase what it is that I DO.
That was the next question. What do I do? What do I want to do?
Well, I have a story Ive not told. It was a perfect storm of 3 events:
1. a bad review
2. a busted neck
3. the financial blow out/ banker scheme / economy implosion
1.) I have illustrated several children's books. I had a rep in New York that I liked a lot, but the fact is that reps are in the business of making money just like anybody else. I came to understand that my rep really reps the clients as they are the ones who are buying art. The last book illustration project I did should have been a perfect job for me. It featured a folk tale from a foreign land with a bird as the central character. However, on this job, there was a young art director that had very definite ideas about how the art should look. It's rare that an illustrator gets total free reign on a project -but most art directors hired me for the strengths they saw in my portfolio and I was always happy and proud of the finished product. On this job, the art director wanted a different color palette than I normally used and wanted the art silhouetted on a white page -thus taking away the kind of lush backgrounds I had been doing.
I did express my concerns and even painted full pages my way, but lost the battle. I was under contract and finished the job in the style the AD wanted. When the book came out the printing wasn't very good and the colors looked even more washed out. I was crushed and even embarrassed, but I didnt know it could get worse and it did. When the book was reviewed, the person reviewing the book wrote about the wonderful story that had been ruined by the awful illustrations. I cannot begin to express how hard I took this and when I see it on Amazon, to this day, I still just want to dig a hole and hide in it.
When people are in a book store and they read that cover that says "illustrated by", they will never know that what they are seeing may have been something created by an invisible art director.
Even worse, I realized that I had traded away my integrity and aesthetic and reputation for money. And not that much, either.
2.) While I was working on this dreadful project, my neck was getting increasingly worse. I had already had one neck surgery which was the result of a horse crash I had in my 30's. My arm was getting numb and at times I had to take my left hand and open up my right hand to get a pencil or paint brush out of it. To draw and paint the intricate things I do takes a lot of physical control -it requires a sort of stiff posture and that was always about being bent over a desk. 8, 10, 12 hours a day or more with severe deadlines. I ate lots of Vicodin to keep going when I knew I shouldve stopped. I went to an expensive sports clinic where my arm was rubbed while I did tasks, it was called ART - active release technique. It didnt work.
Meanwhile, I was stressed out and feeling fat so I enrolled in a Pilates and Yoga bootcamp and on the second day of the last week, I blew my neck out so bad that I had to be sedated twice in a hospital while waiting for my surgery because the pain was so great my blood pressure was spiking high. I couldnt sleep, eat, lay down, sit or do anything but weep. I had to constantly move like a shark, and when my surgeon saw my MRI he said it was the worst he had ever seen that wasn't the result of a car wreck or other catestrophic event. He operated, and when I woke up, I could tell it was over -the pain from surgery was like nothing after that.
While I was recovering my rep and I parted ways.
3.) After a long road back, and a tentative return to my studio, I made my christmas ornaments and built an Etsy shop and had no clue how I was going to make a living. I was freeloading a studio space at V's company and getting free power and internet. Then the housing crisis happened, the bailouts, the decline in V's business and the decline in buying anything, much less art, happened. I was so disturbed by the obvious fraud and corruption in the financial system that I had a loss of faith in the american future and abandoned my projects, mainly seeing if I couldnt either license or manufacture my christmas ornaments which I still think are commercially viable.
So I went up to Chickory and thought about how better to use my time. I thought maybe I was played out as an artist and just didnt know if anything would ever happen. I built a garden and started learning about food. Over time, I realized I actually preferred this integrated life of nature and growing things, and writing about it and painting. I hadnt realized how narrow my artistic life had been and now I was interested in having the art reflect this new way of being. I found that I really liked making the folk art paintings, meeting and talking to people at the farmers market and sort of cobbling together a living with all kinds of different projects in this little town I call home now. In a way, it seemed my job was as an evangelist to a saner less materialistic crazy frenzy life - and it resonated with many.
Long story, I know. The new website isn't about the one thing. Its about all things. Because what art is to me is a way of living. I dont really make a distinction between writing a blog or taking a photograph or making a painting. They are all manifestations of how I see the world; how I am in love with the world.
You know I think this is the only post I have ever posted that doesnt have an image?
My new website:
Ande Cook Studio / Better Living Through Creativity
Tell me what you think. Gloves off. No sugar coating. Or if it be favorable, thats good too. It was hard to select from all the things Ive done what to showcase -and it is still probably too much. I plan to return to the project of trying to get those christmas ornaments either licensed or sold - so i need to work on the Christmas pages some more. The good news is that now with this design, it will be very easy to change it, update it and mess around with it to my hearts delight. Im hoping that it will help me get some paying gigs that are interesting and right for me, and that allow me to continue on this path of a richer fuller life that is sane and chilled down and spiritually gratifying.