Freelance Friday Interview with Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh

Hi friends! Today I bring you an inspiring interview with visual artist and my friend, Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh. I first met Dawline two years ago at a Creative Live taping of Lisa Congdon’s "Become a Working Artist” class. I am a huge fan of Dawline’s work especially her printmaking and portraiture. This lady is super prolific in many mediums but her sensitive brush and ink line work is immediate recognizable. If you live in the Bay Area, you may have seen her work at Oxtail Studios and Art Attack, SF. I love Dawline’s spirit, drive to work hard, and commitment to creating art daily. Oh, and she’s super smart and funny. Read on to learn more about what inspires Dawline, her ideas on authentic and consistent self promotion, and her feelings about sweatpants.

DG: HI DAWLINE. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR JOURNEY FROM A CONVENTIONAL WORK-A-DAY LIFE TO FOLLOWING YOUR FREELANCE AMBITIONS.

DO: I moved to the Bay Area almost 10 years ago from New York. I've spent most of my work life in management of some sort, with the past 6 years managing a large art supply store in the area. I would say overall, in the almost 20 years that I've spent working my aim has been to work in as many diverse environments as possible - everything from teaching art in a Ukrainian Catholic school in the East Village to a coordinating catering events in an Orthodox Kosher restaurant. I think its really important to get to know as many different people as possible, and there is no faster way to get to know people than working side by side with them. I very recently decided to focus on my art career full time because it was simply time. In the past 3 years I've been showing my work with a fair amount of regularity and there are projects in my head that I felt I needed to make real.

DG: SINCE LEAVING YOUR 9-5, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN GETTING YOUR ART CAREER UP AND RUNNING?

DO: My biggest challenge since leaving my 9-5 has been developing a daily work flow. At my previous day job my work day had an arc - come in, have a big gulp of coffee, check in with my assistant, make a plan for the day, read through email and other correspondence and so on. At home it's different. I think I blame sweatpants. In all seriousness, I have started to develop a routine but as there is no commute to signal beginning and end I have tended to work or think about work now all the time. I've had dreams about Instagram and woken up at 4 am to jot notes down in my phone.

DG: CAN YOU SHARE  SOME OF YOUR SUCCESSES WITH US?

DO: I was asked to lead a watercolor workshop at a conference in San Francisco soon after I left my 9-5 in October for people who were looking to transition out of their day jobs into work that was more in tune to their creative passions. It felt really great to use my very recent experience to help others explore their dormant creativity. My other success has honestly just been taking some time out to identify what I need from my life and finding my voice as an artist. It sounds like such a small thing but it's really valuable. When I was younger I would have said just having an art show was a success - last year I had a show a month. At least 3 of them where solos but I honestly don't remember because it was such a blur. Working 45 hours a week and putting in 5 hours a day in the studio was tough and made me reevaluate what success would might mean to me moving forward. I'm still trying  to sort it out.

DG: SUPER EXCITING THAT YOU WERE SO BUSY SHOWING YOUR WORK IN GALLERIES. AND I LOVE THAT YOU DEFINE AN ELEMENT OF SUCCESS AS TAKING TIME OUT FOR SELF CARE. IT'S SO IMPORTANT. 

DG: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT “WORKING FOR YOURSELF” AND WHY?

DO: My favorite part about working for myself is determining the tone and mission of my work. When you work for someone else you are always speaking in their voice, to a certain extent. It's the "company culture" that dictates how you answer the phone, deal with the public, interact with clients. Sometimes it aligns, sometimes it doesn't. I really value the ability to speak in my own voice.

DG: I LOVE THAT: "SPEAKING IN YOUR OWN VOICE." IT'S VERY EMPOWERING. AND WHAT INSPIRES YOU, AS A FREELANCER, TO SPEAK IN YOUR OWN VOICE?

DO: My mind is always on which is great and terrible - I'm inspired by everything. I've gotten to the age where I've learned to adapt to my own way of thinking and figure out ways of filtering and organizing my thoughts to bank for those rare "inspiration dry spells". I take walks around my neighborhood, always with a camera, and jot down notes in my phone. It's a great reference guide for me and it's better than a notebook for me because I don't have to try and read a hastily scribbled note (though sometimes I look through them and laugh... what exactly was I referring to when I wrote down the word "Nostrajamas"?!) 

Inspired by nature

DG: I KNOW WHAT IT WAS. YOU MEANT TO REMEMBER TO ILLUSTRATE NOSTRADAMUS WEARING HIS JAMMIES. 

DG: HOW DO YOU KEEP BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE WHEN EARNING A % OF INCOME FROM YOUR ART AND ALSO KEEPING SOME CREATIVE TIME FOR YOURSELF? 

DO: I'll be honest - I haven't quite gotten into the flow of making a decent income from my art - it's an everyday hustle between my web shop and teaching classes. Right my daily workflow is devoted to research, finding and building my audience, creating a body of work and administrative work like maintaining websites, social media and email.

DG: THANK YOU FOR YOUR CANDIDNESS. I KNOW THE EVERYDAY HUSTLE WELL.  IT'S SO IMPORTANT TO BALANCE "GOTTA PAY THE BILLS" MAKE SOME MONEY WORK WITH YOUR ONGOING PURSUITS OF DEVELOPING YOUR BUSINESS.

PART OF DEVELOPING YOUR ART BUSINESS IS HAVING A STUDIO PRACTICE. IN OTHER WORDS, "MAKING ART EVERY DAY." CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURS? 

DO: I used to have an outside studio, which I miss, but lately I've been working from home. I usually start the day with some warm up drawing, and then some more later in the evening. I would say I spend at least three hours a day on studio work now. Ideally it would be 5. 

DG: I LOVE SKETCHBOOKS. CAN YOU SHARE A PEEK INTO YOURS? 

DO: It's taken me a while to get into sketch booking. Until very recently I either painted on substrates like canvas, wood panel or paper with out planning or preliminary sketching, or made relief prints. Now I take my sketch book with me on the train or at other times when I feel there will be down time. It helps me organize my thoughts and be present with my environment. 

Commuter sketching

DG: WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB? DREAM CLIENT? DREAM GIG? 

DO: Eeek! I would love to do editorial illustration. I like making work that's graphic or narrative. I'd love to go back in time and create posters during the Art Nouveau period. Lately I've been fantasizing about illustrating a picture book for Chronicle Books. 

DG: YOU CAN DO IT! I CAN DEFINITELY SEE YOUR WORK TRANSLATING TO THIS GENRE. HOW WILL YOU GET THERE? ANY ADVICE FOR SELF PROMOTION? 

DO: Right now I spend a good deal of time devoted to marketing. I'm trying to launch my business and find an audience which takes a lot of work. I actually really enjoy it which is funny I'm actually a little shy. My advice is to be authentic and consistent but don't hit people over the head shouting "me me me" constantly. Find and take a genuine interest in things going on around you and in other people's work. The arts community is a small one that thrives on collaboration. On the other hand, don't let a fear of seeming pushy stop you from showing the world your work and what you are up to. There's a myth that someone will "discover" your art work and make you famous but I don't think that's realistic. You have to send out a beacon. 

DG: WHO OR WHAT HAS INFLUENCED YOUR WORK THE MOST?

DO: I think my work has been influenced by pop culture, mid century graphic design and advertising. I'm not afraid to admit that I love TV and I think it has to have in some way crept into the framing of my paintings. I also actually started out taking photographs (35mm and large format film) before I started painting with any serious regularity, which informs the way that I place objects in the picture plane and decides what I choose to focus on or filter out.

Block Printing

DG: DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE REINVENTING THEIR CAREER MID STREAM?

DO: Recently the old question "How do you eat an elephant?" popped into my head. Rather than thinking of tackling this huge thing the idea is to take it one bite at a time. I would never condone eating elephants, but you get the idea!

DG: AND LAST, BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT IS YOUR SECRET SUPERPOWER?

DO: I'm a dog whisperer. I can also guess babies ages.

Thanks to dear Dawline for sharing her story. You can learn more about here:

https://www.facebook.com/disfordilettante

 http://www.dawlinejaneart.com

 https://www.instagram.com/disfordilettante/

Twitter @dawlinejane_art

And check out her Waterfront Sketch Workshop this weekend with Verlocal:

https://www.facebook.com/verlocal/

MAKERS GONNA MAKE! My sisterpalooza mini “crafti-cation”

I have always loved to make things. When we were children, my sister and I would get an idea and just go for it with any materials we had around the house. A large stack of printed inventory cardboard from my dad’s work kept us busy for years as we transformed it into such things as:

  • Paper dolls
  • Christmas tree ornaments
  • A pair of open toed high heeled shoes!

Sometimes our ideas worked. Sometimes they didn’t. But the process was always fun and we never felt bad about our craft “fails.” Children embrace creativity so much easier than adults because they are not afraid to experiment, and there is no judging. They have not yet been exposed to the cruel jive of this world: (“We’ve always done it THIS way.” “That will never work!” “Did you use an approved vendor?”) Ha-Ha. Can you relate?

This week, when my sister, Dionne, came to visit, we were busy from sun up to sun down making stuff and recapturing our creative spirits. We had a blast!

Here are some of the things we created:

  • Pom-Poms Headbands and earrings (inspired by The Richmond Art Center’s Skeletonfest workshop where we helped children make hundreds of fluffy pom-poms just for the fun of it)
  • Duct tape wallets, earrings and ID cases
  • Coloring sheets
  • Cheap and cheerful party decor
  • Spidery deviled eggs
  • Halloween costumes

We called my downstairs studio the CRAFTHOLE and documented our pursuits on social media. Our week included three diy costume changes too!

  • Dia de los muertos faces
  • Corsets and sequins for Rocky Horror Picture show
  • Freakshow outfits* (Tomorrow I will post a tutorial on how i made my parasitic twin costume.)

It was all so much fun and therapeutic!  Making art is such a wonderful release that I try to do it every day. Here are a few of my favorite quotes about creating art as therapy. I find truth in all of these:

“It’s time to make art, my soul is hungry.” - Anonymous

“If your heart is broken, make art from the pieces.” - Shane Koyczan

“Art was made to overcome chaos.” -Don Jones

I would love for you to share any of your favorite quotes along the same theme. Leave them in the comments section! 

Have a great week everybody! Go forth and make!

8 Solid gold nuggets of advice I have received as an artist

I’ve been actively pursuing an illustration career for two years after a 15 year stint in corporate America. How am I doing? I’ve never been so busy or felt so creative in my entire life! In fact, I'm managing so many different creative projects at the moment, that I forgot to eat lunch yesterday.  What? That’s huge. I have never forgotten to eat in my life. As I reflect on the past two years, it occurs to me that there are some shiny golden nuggets of advice that have consistently helped me in my new career. I practice them all the time, and they have all led to great things for me. Maybe they will help you too?

Here are my 8 solid gold nuggets of advice I have received as an artist:

1. Create/Sell Your Joy: I have loved drawing all my life. One of my first memories of how art saved me happened when I was 5 years old. I won 100 dollars in a drawing contest sponsored by Zales Jewelers, my Dad's employer in the 70's. I’ll never forget it. We were so poor at the time, my parents started crying with joy when they read the award letter that I received in the mail. Wow. We really needed that money. I guess Zales didn't pay all that well. Ha-Ha. Here is the award winning masterpiece. The judges must not have been very discriminating as I drew my dad with only three fingers on his left hand. But, check out those groovy duds.

In high school, my advanced art history and studio classes created an escape for me in the midst of a tumultuous home life.  In college, I got my BFA in illustration and then, naturally, promptly took a job in retail upon graduation.  To my credit, I did spontaneously move to San Fransico, the most creative town I’d ever been. And eventually, through "on the job" training, I carved out a career for myself in the visual merchandising/marketing world. 

Old Navy Chevy

Old Navy Showroom

While I had a creative role at Old Navy for a very long time, as often happens, I faced major burn out in my final year there. Retail moves at the speed of light, and if you "can't hurry up and be creatively brilliant," it's going to be a struggle! Before leaving my design gig at GAP, Inc. in 2013, one of my last ditch efforts to recapture the excitement that brought me to marketing in the first place was to start sketching every day. Instead of working on the computer, I drew by hand.  At home, I sketched my greatest joy, my precious English Bulldog Cookie.

To my surprise,  I ignited a spark that I knew I needed to hold on to and fuel. I attribute this nugget, "Create your joy" to one of my favorite ladies on the illustration/educators circuit, renown artist and agent Lilla Rogers. One of the questions Lilla addresses in her book, I Just like to Make Things, is: "Why should you create your joy?" The answer is "Because people WILL BUY IT." I believe that. Last year I started a side business drawing and embroidering custom pet portraits that has been quite popular and just the most fun, rewarding and meditative art practice in my repertoire. Because DOGS = JOY. At least for me they do.

2. Create Art Everyday: Creating my joy is how I began the practice of creating art everyday. Drawing just makes me so damn happy. Sometimes at night, color combinations swirl in my head and keep me up thinking about all the great stuff I want to draw. Sometimes I can hardly wait for the morning so I can put that pen to paper. I haven't had a passion like that in a long time. And, maybe it's because I always have art on the brain, but I noticed a funny thing happening: I began to hear this mantra everywhere from successful artists and coaches alike. Sometimes in the form of "Put your art first" or, "Make time for your art",or "Create a daily studio practice that you love."  It's so powerful to make that studio time work for you. It will also make you a more well rounded and skilled artist. Clearly my studio practice involves wine.

3. Use Cheap Paper: This simple piece of advice that I use every day, again, comes from Lilla Rogers. She encourages us to just be crazy and free and uninhibited and messy. Use up that paper. Because ideas will flow and things will happen. It’s true. If you are a perfectionist like me, you want to get everything perfect with no mistakes. That first page in your new sketch book is precious and will set the precedent for all musings to come. BAH!! I say tear it out and scribble on it!

Here is a snapshot of my first ever sketches from my Lilla Rogers 2014 MATS BOOTCAMP class. I used bond paper and nice markers. I cut out the mistakes and glued the "good" sketches to a board. 

I'm surprised I didn't frame this for display! Here are the sketches I did outside yesterday with some old brushes, some scrap paper, and cheap watercolors.

They are now in a pile on my studio table. I will scan them and use them in my new series of abstract patterns. I like both sets of doodles the same, but I definitely had more fun with the loose brush technique. I recently created my best work from loose sketches like these.

Here is the very first pattern I created from those super stylized precious drawings from 2014.

I know more now.

4. Talk, Talk, Talk: Well, this one is a doozy. It’s very hard for artists to talk about our own work. For me, I don't want to inundate people with my world or seem boastful. But, I think there is a right way to "spread the word," and this is tied to the concept of creating/selling your joy. Simply share your excitement! Lisa Congdon talks about this in many of her classes and her essential guidebook for artists, Art, Inc. It's good advice that I think about almost everyday. And it works. When I started creating art again after two decades, I was so jazzed about what I was doing that I began sharing photos of my work with friends and family on social media. I wasn't trying  “sell” anything or direct people to my portfolio because I didn't have one yet!  I just posted things like, ‘HEY GUYS, LOOK WHAT I DID TODAY! I’M SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS (diorama, collage, painting, bulldog shaped cupcake).” 

Excitement and joy is contagious. I’m interested in what makes artists tick, or inspired! Why wouldn't people feel the same way about me? PS. Thank you to all my friends and family who have supported me and my work over the past two years. I’m glad you all love dogs as much as I do.

5. Network /help others: I've heard this advice from so many artists, and coaches. It's hard to credit it to any one person. I used to hate networking. But it's not that awful or hard! You don't even have to leave your couch now with the internet. I began joining virtual art groups everywhere! Linked in, Facebook, and Instagram. What I learned is that there is a lot of crossover in the community.  Not only did I learn about new opportunities like classes, and competitions, but I made new like-minded friends. My brave move of "joining the party" opened up several doors of opportunity for me. Here is an example: Because I had been a fan of the blog at PatternObserver.com (of which I learned from a fellow designer in the Make it In Design summer school class user group on Facebook), I subscribed to their newsletters. When there was a call for entries on new designers, I contacted them. And then, when I was featured in Pattern Observer, an old college friend of mine who also subscribes to their blog recognized my name and we began talking again over email.

social

Guess what? He’s contracted me to design a series of typographic t-shirt designs for the very cool company he works for. Super thankful to the universe for that one, and also proud of myself for putting myself out there.

Conversely, I recently received an email through my website from a very nice young woman who wanted advice on how to get into editorial illustration. I really thought about her question a lot, and I hope my email response helped her. Kindness is not hard. And it always comes back around. 

6.  Never stop learning. Continue to evolve your talents: I credit this nugget to Lisa Congdon, a fabulous artist, educator, speaker and fellow dog lover. She’s a real nice lady too.  In her classes she talks about how there is always more to learn, and how we are always developing as artist. Even the most experienced artists continue to take classes to evolve their talents! Lisa has inspired me to take classes whenever I can. In all sorts of mediums. Two of the most memorable classes I took this year had nothing to do with drawing: a pom-pom making class that my friend and I attended as a fun afternoon social gathering, and a FREE watercolor class taught by the famous John Muir Laws…..I don't think I have made pom-poms since I was in 3rd grade, and I surely haven't watercolored for decades!  Both were a lot of fun and I enjoyed my self so much, that…guess, what? Through the beauty of "spreading the word" on Facebook, a  design teacher friend from the Gap days suggested that I try my hand at teaching at the Richmond Art Center. Huh. Never thought of that. This October I will be teaching a pom-pom making workshop at Richmond Art Center for our community's annual Day of the Dead celebration: Skeletonfest. B00-yah!

My name is spelled wrong, but still! I'm so excited for this event. This winter, I will be teaching some studio classes at the Center as well! Who knew!?!

7. Buy this book: The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines

This one is so easy. I credit this piece to multiple people as well, but it's my sister who convinced me to bite the bullet and purchase this book as an investment in myself. You must own this if you are a working artist. Because artists must diversify their skills in order to make an income, this is the bible for us. Since 2013, I have earned a (small) income doing everything from story boards, to logo design, to licensing, apparel design and production work. I now know how to write comprehensive contracts, and price my work for what it is worth. The handbook recently saved me from setting a really bad precedent in a tempting offer from a well known media entity. PURE GOLD I tell you!!!!

8. You are ready now: Why wait until you are skinnier, richer, more experienced, (insert adjective here).  Eff that. Do it now . If nothing else, you will get practice and, as I alluded to before, practice makes perfect. This summer, following this tidbit of advice from many people (including life coaches, artists and the POTUS),  I decided to reach out to agents. I was nervous — I wasn't quite sure I had my style down, and I had no published work. But, what I did have was a decent portfolio and a white knuckle fear of remaining in the research phase forever. In the end, after receiving numerous rejection letters, I met the right agent at the right time and now have representation and a big boost to my confidence.

I will persevere!  SIDE NOTE: rejection never gets easier.

So there you have it. Take it if you need it. None of these nuggets have brought me a fat wallet or fame. Only hard labor will do that and I am still very much working overtime. But, I feel richer for having remembered these bits and I wanted to share the wealth with you. Have a great weekend, you guys!