Why The Tattoo?

I got a tattoo of a deer today.

Though I do think deer are lovely creatures, it’s not especially about deer in particular. Or at all, really.

I had the idea to sell my Art Outlines illustrations almost two full years ago, and with the support and encouragement of my fellow entrepreneurs, I even built a fully functional website, created a video, and got strangers from all over the web to sign up for the email list.

But then it came time to actually list something for sale. And what did I do?

I shied away from it. I let doubt creep in. I turned my back on the project, thinking it wasn’t good enough. I worked on other things.

Over a year later, deep into my 10-month travel adventure around the world writing The Eat Team, I was getting really itchy feet (and a shockingly tiny bank account). I have a massive drive (compulsion?) to create, and because you can’t take an entire print studio full of hundreds-year-old lead and machinery and boxes full of paper, I couldn’t work on Ye Olde Gangster.

So, even though I felt totally unprepared and scared and embarrassed, I just decided I’d put a few of the illustrations up for sale on Etsy. I was terrified, and I didn’t have a lot of hope, but I asked myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And the answer was.. nobody would buy my illustrations and I’d be in the exact same place I was now. Well, that’s not so scary I thought–either I’m in the same place I am now, or perhaps maybe just maybe someone will send me some money for something I enjoyed doing.

Nothing happened for a few months. So, my “worst case scenario” was true for a few months. But of course, I wasn’t really thinking about it much and hadn’t expected anything to happen anyways.

Then, out of the blue, on July 4th, 2012, a stranger from New Zealand sent me $2 for my drawing of a deer as I prepared an American Independence Day feast for my new Australian friends in Melbourne.

“WHAT?!?!?!?” I shouted, I danced, I shoved the email in front of my friends faces. It wasn’t the money that lit my fire.. obviously $2 isn’t gonna stretch very far.. it was the cold, hard, undeniable real truth that I had a viable product. A worthy idea.

It made my heart soar.

So, why the tattoo?

I guess there’s several facets to that answer.

- Commitment to the long haul. It’s always been my dream to support myself with my creativity, and this was a moment I’ll never forget. I know there is no quick fix, no secret to making my dreams come true–it’s hard work and trust and taking risks and getting up every single day and starting all over again. It’s blood sweat and tears and I’m in it, forever. This is a commitment to myself to never give up on my creativity, to never stop growing and learning and making.
- That if I can pull this off, anyone can.

- Reminder that what I do is good enough. For a long time, I was embarrassed that my style of drawing was so childish and simplistic. At some point I decided to embrace that and run with it. It’s amazing how much love and support you get when you say “fuck it” and embrace the differences that make you you.

- Reminder to keep it simple. My whole idea with Art Outlines is to make extremely simple, elegant drawings. To eliminate what’s not necessary, and do only what’s necessary. Focus. Minimalism. Contrast.

- Reminder that imperfection is perfection. That you’ll never feel ready, you’ll never feel finished, but to say YES anyways. To figure things out as I go. Something I learned on my big adventure was that nothing is ever perfect.. but if you can embrace those imperfections, it makes it perfect. That was one of the overarching themes Hannah and I encountered every single day on our crazy trip. If we tried to make things perfect, we wouldn’t have done a single thing. If I had known that I was going to get this deer tattooed on my body forever when I drew it, I would have spent hours trying to perfect it. I love that it has tiny flaws and things I’d probably have changed if I had known.

If you look real close, there’s a little dimple on my deer’s bum–that wasn’t part of the original drawing. That was a speck created by the xerox machine that my tattoo artist thought was part of the image. When we realized it was permanent, she asked if I wanted her to try and pick it out. I considered it, then remembered.. imperfection is perfection. I love that it’s just another layer. Humans are all imperfect, and instead of getting mad or embarrassed by “hiccups”, we can just run with it and love it anyways.

That I’m not the only one involved–the stranger in New Zealand and my amazing tattoo artist had huge parts in it. To remember that PEOPLE are what make the world go round, and we’re all family in some way. To trust others and not try to control everything. I went in thinking I’d get the deer facing me. Alice told me that would be upside down to the rest of the world. And so I worked with her instead of trying to control it, and accepted her expertise since I was a tattoo n00b, and rolled with it, even though it’s not what I first imagined. Give and take.

Life is imperfect, and if we want to LIVE we have to remember and accept and love anyways.

2012

Looking back on 2012, I can honestly say it was the most challenging year of my life so far. It’s also been the most incredible and growth-inducing because of it. I left my comfort zone a thousand times over, and made it through, with some unbelievable memories to boot. I pushed myself to the limit physically, mentally, and emotionally and I came out feeling more alive than ever.

So what exactly did I do?

Went camping for the first time: I spent the beginning of the year tying up loose ends and preparing for extended travel. I also snuck in some fun, and took my first camping trip ever (sad, I know, but better late than never). A few friends, some old and new, went to Death Valley–we hiked, cooked, played games, and shot the shit around the fire. I’d always been wary of camping for some reason, but after this first trip, I got HOOKED. Being outdoors all day, with no electronics, surrounded by upbeat, positive people, and the contrast of being so damn dirty for a couple days and then going home and showering.. oo what a feeling.

Traveled around the world: My longest adventure yet lasted almost the entire year, and so if for no other reason than sheer quantity (though there are definitely more reasons), this adventure was MASSIVE. I spent 8 months with one of my best friends traveling all around Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. I learned how to cook in the jungle, rode an elephant, swam in oceans and waterfalls, peed on a snake, sweated my ass off in Thai swamps, couchsurfed with Polish folks in Malaysia, met people every single day, walked across a jungle canopy, explored a letterpress print shop malaysia, ate a worm, ate frog, ate kangaroo, saw the mist roll across tea plantations, lived on a flower farm for 3 weeks, had close encounters with a Wallaby, saw Karen O perform live in the Sydney Opera House, lived in Melbourne for a month with a group of students, to name just a very very few of my favorite memories. I saw things I never thought I’d see, went places I never knew existed, and basically had my mind blown by the vastness and at the same time, the smallness of our planet.

Let go of YOG: After my year in Germany in 2011 working on my greeting card business,Ye Olde Gangster, it was really hard for me to say “see you later” to it as I left for my long travel journey. I spent a few months before I left stocking up on inventory and even getting a mentee-intern to ship the cards for me while I was away, but in the weeks leading up to my departure, a huge part of me wondered, “am I making the wrong choice traveling? I’m so close to getting somewhere juicy with my little company, and I’d really like to push it further. Am I making a mistake starting something new before I’ve “finished” Ye Olde Gangster?” But I had committed to the trip and so I followed through, I took a leap of faith and went with it. That’s not to say it was without difficulty or hiccups–in the first couple months of traveling I tried to work on it from afar. That only led to disappointment and frustration for both projects–Ye Olde Gangster and my travels. I wasn’t living “in the moment” on my trip and obviously you can’t get very far on a project that requires your presence when its thousands of miles away from you. With the help of my travel partner, I let go. I said, “see you later” to what felt like my baby, and let it do it’s own thing.

That opened up my days to adventure and new experiences, and it was also a great experiment to see if the business that I built to be “passive income” really worked “passively.” It was pretty incredible to see that it did in fact–I continued to make sales throughout the duration of the trip. While I slept, while I tanned on the beach, while I motorbiked across an island.. that was a truly satisfying feeling. To know that it could sustain itself. Waking up in the morning to an alert saying “you have received payment” is something that truly never gets old.

Sold my first Art Outline: I had the idea to sell my illustrations as vectors almost 2 years ago and even created the website for Art Outlines over a year ago. But I let doubt creep in, and before I could gain any real momentum on the project, I turned my attention elsewhere and let Art Outlines sit on the backburner. As I was unable to work on Ye Olde Gangster due to being so far from it, I decided to turn my attention to something I could work on during my down time on the road. I finally got the courage to list some of my illustrations for sale. I decided to stop stalling, stop waiting for the perfect moment, and just experiment a little. And then what happened? Absolutely nothing. At least for a while. But a couple months after I posted my first Art Outlines illustration for sale, something magical happened. On the 4th of July, American Independence day, a stranger across the world sent me $2 for my drawing of a deer. The money itself wasn’t what got me so damn excited. It was the fact that I had real live proof that I had a viable product. All I had to do was keep going.

The Eat Team: My long trip was about more than travel. My partner Hannah and I also endeavored a project along the way called The Eat Team. We interviewed artists, chefs, entrepreneurs, and creative people everywhere we went. We sought to meet people who really walked the talk, who went after their dreams instead of just thinking about them. The Eat Team got us out on the streets, and involved in the communities of the places we went in a richer way than either of us could have ever imagined. It gave us a reason to meet people we admired and wanted to share with others.

Faced one of my biggest fears: being flat broke. I have a long history of being a massive worrier. One of my biggest worries has always been running out of money, even when I had no reason to be worried. I have a history of saving for savings sake, and although that was good in a way because it allowed me to do what I did this year, it also set me up for a lot of stress. I knew going in to this trip that I would be exhausting my monetary supplies. But “they” say that you’ve gotta face your fears to overcome them and I guess I did just that. A funny thing happened as my account crept closer and closer to zero: I became realistic with my choices. It forced me to get super specific and realistic with what I could and could not afford. It forced me to hammer out my budget. I also learned one of my biggest lessons–don’t try and handle a problem before it becomes a problem. There is absolutely no point in worrying about “what could happen” because you’ll never actually know what will happen unless you reach it. And I found that when I hit rock bottom monetarily, absolutely nothing bad happened. I was still a worthy person, I still had a home, I still had shelter, I still had food in my belly. And when it came time to take action and make more money, that’s exactly what I did. There is absolutely no reason to worry, if you know you can rely on yourself, and that there are always enough opportunities given to make shit happen, you will make shit happen. Two friends who had been in similar situations told me the exact same thing separately: it comes down to unjustified faith in yourself. Unjustified faith in the universe doesn’t hurt either. You don’t have to worry if you know you’ll be there for yourself.

Got closer to Oprah: I met four people who know Oprah. This gets its own category because Oprah is a mega badass and it’s one of my dreams to meet her and work together one day.

Said goodbye to my best friend: After 17 years together, I had gotten so used to leaving for long periods of time to travel or live in another place and coming home to find her still curled up on the couch, that I guess I thought Sweetie would never kick the bucket. I thought, she’s so damn old, she’s passed the point of dying. If it was going to happen, it already would have. But one winter’s day in Australia as I was skyping my parents, they had a funny look on their faces. They told me she wasn’t doing well. “What do you mean?” They told me she hadn’t moved much at all for a week, that she grew weaker and thinner by the day. I was angry they hadn’t called to tell me. They put her on the camera and with tears in my eyes, I called my kitty’s name. My parents said it was the first time all week she moved. I cried and said goodbye to a friend who’d been with me through thick and thin. I was grateful to get to “see” her one last time, and just let the sadness wash over me. It was one of the purest and strongest feelings I’ve ever felt. I was happy and grateful for the times we shared together, and just so sad I wouldn’t see my friend again.

Got an mentern: I hired my first employee, to ship my Ye Olde Gangster cards while I was away in return for mentorship on her own projects. It was pretty terrifying to hand over my entire business to someone else, but I took a risk and tried the experiment and it was definitely worth it. I think we both learned a lot about working relationships. Just like any other relationship, it takes a lot of communication for both parties to get what they want and for the team to run efficiently.

Came Home, reconnected: Returning home was just as good as leaving was. It was also pretty heavy. I went through a pretty rough transition period as I digested what I had just experienced. I broke down and then broke through. I picked myself back up, surrounded by friends and family and familiarity. I rediscovered myself and came through the other side feeling revitalized and strong.

Found a way of eating: I had been looking forward to trying the Paleo diet for quite some time, and I finally got to devote some real time to it upon returning to America. After many months on the road having a pretty wild diet (aka eat anything and everything because I’m traveling), I was feeling more than ready for some consistently healthy food. Hannah and I did a Paleo experiment together, inspired by Joel Runyon’s 6 pack experiment. We were strict about it for 3 weeks, and combined it with short but high intensity workouts 6x a week, and even in that short period of time, it was apparent in body and mind how beneficial the effects were. Almost 3 months later and I’m hooked for the foreseeable future. I feel like I found the style of eating that really nourishes me, and that I enjoy. It’s hard to call it a diet when I get to smother everything in bacon fat and avocado.

Moved to Portland: After 8 months of constant travel, I was really looking forward to setting down some roots and routines. I’ve only been here for a few weeks so far and I’m still in the midst of setting myself up, but it’s been apparent since day 1 how incredible this place is. I came here without a place to live, without many friends, and without a job. And though all of that did scare me, I remembered how I felt inspired when I made the decision to live here, and so I didn’t allow doubt or worry to take over. I put my forward-facing-blinders on and charged ahead, doing everything in my power to get what I want (a beautiful place to live, a supportive group of friends, an additional source of income) and let things happen. I repeated the mantra “unjustified faith in yourself, in the universe” over and over, and told myself “UR DOIN IT RITE!” and somehow all the pieces of the puzzle have been falling into place. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful and am damn excited to see what the future brings here in my new home.

Met the most amazing people: It all boils down to this. People are the real juice of it, the real heart of any story. I met so many damn inspiring people it makes me well up a little just thinking about it. There are way too many names to name so I’m not even going to start.

What did I learn in 2012? I guess I’m going to have to write a whole book to answer that one, and it’s probably not a coincidence that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. I learned about “going with the flow”, letting go of one thing in order to fully experience another, not asking “why” (the answer is only ever “because”), and the secret is.. there is no secret. Life is pretty damn simple, you just have to really do and experience things. You can’t just talk about them.

I learned that living a good life “on paper” is as good as having a piece of paper. It is meaningless. Life happens in us, in other people, in other living beings. That contact, connection, experience, that’s what matters. And numbers and papers are big piles of nothing. I learned to give less attention to paper, and more attention to reality.

But the biggest thing I learned was how to be with other people. Traveling with my buddy Hannah, I shared my whole life, every waking moment with another person. I learned how to be myself around others, and how to really stick together. To see something through from start to finish, no matter what. I learned that you have to constantly communicate with one another, to say what you’re thinking and feeling, because nobody can read your mind and nobody else knows what you want but you. It’s nobody else’s responsibility to take care of your needs, and if you’re not speaking up for yourself, they won’t get met. I learned to take responsibility for myself at all times, and how to embrace the “two heads are better than one” idea. I learned what it meant to work out issues as they arose, and know that we’d get through things together. That a discussion never had to be an argument. That an issue never had to be a problem. I learned how to give and receive in a free way, where both parties enjoyed and benefitted from both aspects. I learned about honesty, at all times, and practiced it with increasing directness, only to find that I felt better and other parties appreciated it too. I learned a lot about accepting my feelings, no matter what, and taking it a step further and sharing them with my friend. I learned that life doesn’t fit in a box, that people don’t fit in boxes, and that the beauty of it all is sitting with discomfort. Accepting and embracing that silence. And doing it with other people is just as great as doing it alone.

I think in essence, I learned how to love more.

Passive Income Update

My best-selling set.

In May, I wrote about my goal to ”create a new stream of passive income by September 30, 2012, that generates at least $50 per month on average and endures for a minimum of 10 years in a way that delivers strong value for many others around the world.”

Since the “deadline” date has passed, I thought I’d share an update on how I did.

The plan was to monetize Art Outlines by selling my illustrations as downloadable vectors for other designers to use.

My plan was to group sets of drawings together into full-sets, each of which would be one page in the upcoming Art Outlines book.  For example, I created a full set of banners, vegetables, stars, christmas illustrations, and so on.  I drew a page per week and listed each page on my etsy shop for $12.95. And then…

…I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And then, on July 4th, American Independence Day, something magical happened. I made my first sale. A stranger sent me $2 for my drawing of a deer while I slept.  Fucking magical.

So was it a success?

I’m pretty damn stoked (and surprised) to be able to say yes, both monetarily and otherwise.  After the initial $2, I ended up meeting my monetary goal of $50 passive income per month after September 30th.

I didn’t exceed it by much, but something interesting happened: I ended up starting a new form of active income as a by-product.

By listing my pre-made Art Outlines illustrations on etsy, people started getting in touch about creating custom illustrations in the same style.  I was getting fresh eyes on my work and exposure via the etsy platform from people searching for quirky illustrations.

As well as making a fair bit more money than the passive stream, I also really enjoyed actively creating illustrations for customers with a set brief.  It’s a fun puzzle for me to solve when a client tells me what elements they would like to include, and then I get to figure out a way to make it happen, using my judgment and creativity to fill in gaps.

I liked having the balance of creating pages at will for the book based on my own wants, and creating something more structred for my active clients.

I really loved making custom illustrations for new clients.

Here’s my Art Outlines monetary earnings breakdown since I started my goal:

JUNE: 30.00 active

JULY: 14.95 passive + 175.00 active

AUGUST: 38.85 passive + 90.00 active

SEPTEMBER: 37.95 passive

OCTOBER: 64.75 passive + 180.00 active

Passive Total: 169.45

Active Total: 475.00

Total Total (passive + active): 644.45

Reflections

I’m really, really excited about my progress on this so far.  Art Outlines is pretty much my ideal form of supporting myself: I can work from anywhere, any time; I get paid to use my creativity and make art I want to make anyways, I’m providing value for others while providing value for myself, and it’s completely passive because I created an automatic download page which customers are emailed after purchase for my completely digital product.

I guess all there is left to do is.. keep going.  Based on the fact that people are actually ordering and paying for what I’m making is a clear indicator that I’m heading in the right direction.  All I need to do is persist if I want to increase the volume of orders.

A couple folks commented on my initial goal blogpost that a goal of $50/month was too easy.  I thought about changing it to a higher goal, but decided to stick with my initial instinct.  I didn’t want to set the bar higher because I was (and still am) in the midst of constant travel.  During the entire time I’ve been working towards this goal, Art Outlines has been a side project.  I couldn’t give it my full attention, as my full attention has been dedicated to my main goal of traveling and working on The Eat Team.  I reckon if Art Outlines was my main focus, I could have upped the ante a bit.  I’m proud that I was able to meet my goal while exploring and journeying through Australia, New Zealand, and the west coast of the U.S.

I’m looking forward to seeing this project through to completion and earning enough money through passive income to fully sustain my life monetarily.  I’m still creating one new set per week, so the finished Art Outlines book should be finished in the next year.

One of the biggest parts of creating passive income streams according to Steve Pavlina is mastering the mindset and really thinking about what you’ll do with your time once you fully sustain yourself with passive income.  I think I’ve also been successfully acting upon my answer to that: I’ve been traveling, cooking for friends and family, creating, dancing, and making the most of what I earn.  I’m looking forward to fulfilling the remainder of that list in the months and years to come.  I’m in it for the long haul and won’t quit till I get there.

I Made $2, Hell Yes

Sold!

I mentioned in the previous post that I am working on building a passive income stream with Art Outlines, my vector illustrations website.

This week I made my first passive sale!  Two dollars might not ordinarily make me jump up and down like a hyperactive 7-year-old, but this time was special.  It wasn’t about the money (I guess $2 isn’t gonna get me far, especially traveling in Australia).  No, it was proof that I have a viable product, that I’m heading in the right direction, and that if I keep going, I could very well reach my goal.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve also had three requests from “strangers” for custom illustrations in the Art Outlines style, which leaves me feeling even more excited about carrying on.

And is it just a coincidence that my first sale came on Independence Day?

Woohoo!