Making It Personal

I drank whiskey and beer at Tim Gough’s house the other night. Tim is an incredibly talented guy. His art and illustration work has a loose and free quality that translates well to print. He does editorial illustration and makes his bones designing at Philadelphia Magazine, but keeps his ideas fresh by churning out superb art prints, zines and other creative bits. Best dude.


He said something to me in conversation that really struck a chord and has been on my mind ever since. I can’t quote him specifically (note: whiskey), but in effect he said that maybe we focus hard on making good illustrations, when sometimes we shouldn’t. Sometimes we just need to make a thing for it’s own sake. I couldn’t agree more, and the sentiment cuts close to the heart of something I’ve wrestled with over the past few years.

Being in business is often a shitty way to stay inspired and grow as an artist. When there is no room for failure, there is even less room for creative growth. Many of us make art prints, zines, and other self-directed creative projects to keep our ideas fresh and try out new material. But so many of us are doing it wrong by turning creative growth into cheap crap to sell. Just go to Etsy and search “typography” and you’ll see what I mean. It’s tempting to make things that will sell, after all that’s what a good number of us do at our day gigs. It’s lazy and you can probably do much better.

So, here’s the plan

Make a thing, for it’s own sake. Make a big ugly mess like you’ve never made before. Make it personal. See what happens. Not as a thing to sell, or to gain followers on Twitter. Not as a clever uplifting phrase rendered in dazzling typographic form. Not as an infographic showing every Star Wars character in their relationship to their celestial origin (okay I might want to see that). All that shit is boring and trite—it’s not you.

For example

Last year when my son was born, I made a series of paper collage dinosaurs to decorate his room. I’d never done paper craft like this and it was a neat little creative exercise. They turned out pretty cool, and a bunch of people suggested that I make a series of the extinct buddies to sell. I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I loved dinosaurs when I was a little guy—still do. Preparing Ethan’s room brought back so many fun memories of childhood, and I wanted to pass that on to my son. That’s why I made them. End of story.


Here are some folks who I think are doing it right. Look at Tim’s fabulous art prints or Greg Pizzoli’s zine Klip Klop #1. See Zach Hobbs‘ brain-melting collage work. Ask Aaron Draplin just about anything. I’m sure I could find more, but it’s late. Just do it like the Blues Explosion:

Fuck Shit Up. Do It Punk. Take a stand. Fuck the man. Fuck the rules. Make it Fucked Up.