Monday, March 7, 2011

So what do you think?

It felt very strange to post those Solar Brothers drawings on this blog. For about a year and a half, this blog has really just been about the Moby-Dick illustration project and there didn’t seem to be any room for any other kind of art or writing. Even though the whale illustrations are complete, there is still much to cover since the book will be coming out in October or November, I will be selling almost all of the art starting some time this summer, and hopefully there will be a few gallery shows. So there are reasons to keep the blog going. But I’ve been wrestling with a few issues, and I’d like to write about them here so I can ask for your help. There are three.

Question #1
I’ve been considering just making this blog the home for all of my future creative endeavors. Even though the URL contains the words “Every Page Of Moby-Dick” I’ve seen blogs with stranger names, so that doesn’t seem like a real barrier. I know I will continue to make art and illustrate stories, and it seems a bit schizophrenic to begin a new blog every time I begin a new project. So what do you think? Is there room on this blog for me to continue to share my art and my new projects, or do you think I should simply start another blog for that? I am very curious about your thoughts.

Question #2
The issue of what to tackle next has been hanging rather heavily over me. I had hoped that it wouldn’t become a serious issue, but despite my best efforts it seems to be getting to that point. There are several reasons why. First, as some of you know, I commute 90 minutes one way to work, so I spend at least 3 hours in my car every day. It really is very hard, and the only thing that makes it bearable is that my wife and I are fortunate enough to work the same schedule in the same city, so we carpool and we keep one another sane on the long long drives through the boring southwestern Ohio countryside. Because of that commute, and the normal demands of daily living such as spending time with friends, reading, exercising, doing laundry, and so on, time is an absolutely precious commodity to me. While I have no regrets about the Moby-Dick project, it did completely take over and devour my entire life for over a year. It was hard, it was lonely, and it was incredibly bleak and depressing at times. A big part of that was the pace I set for myself, since from the very beginning I had committed to making one illustration per day. I don’t think I will work at that breakneck pace again for the foreseeable future. But because whatever I decide to do next will undoubtedly take up a sizeable portion of my extremely limited free time, I have to make that choice wisely.

And here is why making a wise choice seems so challenging right now. I had mentioned a few projects I was interested in, such as illustrating other books that were important to me like Lindsay’s A Voyage To Arcturus or Ohle’s Motorman or Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros or even Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. I shared that list, and a few other ideas, with a few trusted people who have a good grasp of the book and art market right now and they kindly but firmly indicated that most of the books I was interested in were very obscure and it was highly unlikely that any publisher would be willing to put out a book of the art. Even Heart Of Darkness was labeled as a bit too familiar, and I can really see the sense in that. The publishing industry is a tough place right now. The emphasis is really on digital books, not print books, and there really is so much amazing art and creativity available for free on hundreds of blogs and web sites that it's hard for a publisher to justify shelling out thousands of dollars to print a book when interested viewers can find something free online.

And that’s where I have to make some difficult decisions. I had never set out to be an artist, or a published artist, or an illustrator. I did this all for personal reasons and for a love of making images. Knowing there will be a book of the Moby-Dick art has been a wonderful thing, and no matter what happens after this I will always have that. But I have to decide, do I continue to simply follow my heart and do what I want regardless of how commercial or marketable the results might be? Or do I look at it another way and see this Moby-Dick book as a pathway to greater opportunities which I am very fortunate to have? Either choice involves the sacrifice of time – time I could be spending with my wife or with friends or out in the world. And more than anything in this past year, I missed my wife tremendously. It is fiendishly hard to figure this out, you see. The one thing I do have going for me right now, strangely, is time. For once, I don't have to have a decision made by some kind of deadline but eventually I'll have to figure something out.

Question #3
Finally, my editor at Tin House books has asked me what my plans might be regarding showing this art in galleries. I have no real experience with this, although I would love to show the art far and wide to whoever might be willing to hang it. Does anyone out there have any advice on this, or does anyone know any galleries that might be willing to host me? See, I don’t know if you’re just supposed to visit a gallery with a bundle of art in hand and ask for a show, or if I should be emailing gallery owners across the country or if there is an application process or what. I had always believed that a BFA or an MFA were more or less necessary for any gallery show, but that doesn’t seem to be as much a rule as I had begun.

More people than I ever dreamed now visit this blog and while not all of them comment or email me, many do. That has really been a good thing for me. Kind of transformative, really, in helping me feel a bit more connected with people than I was. So if you are reading this and you have any advice, I’d be grateful. You can leave it in the comments or email me at mattkish87 [at] gmail.

As always, you have my thanks.


  1. #1. Go for it. Starting a new blog would inevitably lose you readership, & you are right to say that it isn't a real barrier.

    #2 OMG OMG OMG if you did Eddison’s "The Worm Ouroboros" I would FREAK OUT. That would be AMAZING.

    #3 I dunno, but if you have a show at NYC I'll try to stop by!

  2. This is your space - by all means use it as you see fit!!

    As for being an artist, I don't think one chooses to be an artist. I think art chooses you.

  3. hi matt - thanks for sharing your projects and your thoughts. as for advice - you did not need any with moby dick (because, as buck says, the project was yours entirely), so you should not need it now - if you make pro-con-lists, your heart is probably not in it.
    #1 keep the blog. but get the rights for blogs with your name in it too - you and your artwork acquire a name, you want to have the right to your name. If I were to google you, I want to find etc. and I want to find YOU there, and not some impostor trying to cash in on your fame. You can always redirect from there (just as you can redirect people from this blog to anoher, it has successfully been done before.) In any case, keep this blog up, even if only as an archive.

    #2: if your heart is not in your work it will be very very difficult to sacrifice the little time you have for a project you do not believe in. You don't need to publish it (other than online), so don't aim at publishing it.
    Besides, there is no guaranteed success -- look at all the boxoffice-failures the film industry produces. Make the art you want to make - if it is good, people will like it. If there is only a very small potential target group - The Google will show them to your door, whereever they are.

    #3: galleries in my experience look at the art first, and the artist's degree last. a degree is no guarantee for quality, and there is a loooooong tradition of anti-academic success in art. If a gallery wants to show your art - go for it!

  4. The biggest issue for you seems to be time. I don't know what your living situation is, that your home is all you can afford, it's a place you grew up in, it's just too fantastic to ever give up, but you spend 15 hours a week in a car (that's if you only work 5 days a week, you may have to work more, depending on what your boss thinks he can get out of you in this economy).

    So driving is a part time job for you.

    You've developed a following and have the traction to actually take your art further. But it takes time. So you have to figure out where to get time from. The driving sounds like the biggest time suck (you may be spending it with your wife, but it clearly isn't the sort of time that makes up for what you spend doing your art, so there's not much return for spending three hours in the car).

    As for the blog itself, it will be harder for people to find your art if your blog is named and already "branded" as a Moby Dick site. If you really want to expand this and branch out, bite the bullet NOW and start a new site that incorporates this work and is open to more projects. Because you'll probably go insane after the 10,000th email message or comment asking "What does a site about Moby Dick have to do with Heart of Darkness?" Plus, going forward you want people to seek out you, not the project your working on. If people are into you, the specific project won't matter. They'll follow you.

    As for the "business" advice, ignore it. Do what calls to you. You can't "play the markets" with this. Who cares if there's too much Heart of Darkness out there right now? By the time you reread the book, gather materials, plan out how to accomplish it, the entire market for Heart for Darkness may have gone fallow. Or, a big Hollywood studio may announce a Heart of Darkness movie next month with a 100 million dollar budget and everyone will be dying to read, see, absorb Heart of Darkness. You don't know. Your agent doesn't know. The exec who's sitting on the script might not even know yet (or could be sitting on the news for another month or two so as to get the big star he wants on board). Do what appeals to you, that you will stick with. Don't try to write what will "sell" unless someone is giving you cold, hard cash up front.

  5. 1. What about creating another blog, but linking it to this one? Many people have "families" of blogs, each on a different topic, or a different aspect of the same topic. I think you would not lose much of your current readership, and you would gain new readers who have a specific interest in your new project.

    2. One option might be to do more controllable projects, such as picking a theme (such as "madness" or "searching" or "whales") and exploring it throughout the different books you love. That way you could choose how many or how few works you did for each theme, and it would make sense to do one a week, or two a week, or whatever schedule keeps your life in balance.

    Or you could do other types of numbered groups. I'm doing a series on different series - seasons, colors, directions. There are tons of those.

    3. Can't help you here. I'm not an MFA artist either, and I've only pursued single pieces in themed shows in galleries, which I found through my drawing teacher who's on a gallery board.

  6. Forgot to add: whatever you choose, you can always change your mind. We'll all be here for you!

  7. Hi Matt!

    I wish I had found your blog sooner. I'm usually not very interested in art, but it's been amazing seeing your drawings over the past few months. What a fantastic project.

    I tend to agree with the others regarding web site vs. blog. would be much better in terms of marketing yourself.

    As for the much harder question of what next, I would say that doing another "drawing for every page of X" runs the risk of pigeonhole yourself as "the artist that does a drawing for every page of Y". If that's what you want, great! I think it's a unique identity. But if not, it could be useful to think about what other projects interest you as well.

    If you do decide to do another drawing/page project, my first impression on Arcturus was "huh?". I didn't particularly enjoy Moby Dick as a novel, but it was easy enough to identify with. That was definitely part of the reason why I kept following your blog, and why I'd buy the book when it comes out!

    No doubt, you should pick a book that has significance to you, otherwise follow through will be difficult. But something like Heart of Darkness feels much stronger as a project with future commercial viability.

    Why not take a few weeks to brainstorm other possible choices?
    Come up with a list of fifty books you really like, and narrow it down from there?

    Best of luck in whatever you choose!

  8. Aargh, difficult questions.
    I can only answer as if it were me.
    So, I'd start a new blog, linking to this one. This one is One Drawing for Every Page of Moby-Dick, and it does what it says on the tin. Your followers will quite happily click the 'Follow' button of a new blog, and it's not exactly taxing.
    Only work on something you love, and feel really fired about. Else how will you justify the time and energy.
    Not much use to you here in the UK, but I am quite sure Thomas Tosh in Thornhill would put on a selection - but it means posting them.

    And don't rush the decision making. Chill and enjoy The Coming of the Book.

  9. dont know where my input wander off to - but i'm of the opinion that a new blog is in order to separate from this project; the idea of linking it to this seems perfect. and having your name involved too.
    and, more generally, make quiet space and listen to what your intuition tells you, after all the input is sifted through, it will be your decision in the end.

  10. i know absolutely nothing about the art world but i would really really love to see this work exhibited. my guess is you will want to contact some galleries (some networking may be useful - you probably have readers in a bunch of cities who know the scene a bit). there are probably a lot of spaces out there that would love to show your stuff, though they may not be the more established, commercial galleries (co-ops, art collectives, houses, campus spaces. new bedford, ma has a whaling museum and the melville house is in pittsfield, ma). i doubt any gallery would publicly admit to only hosting people with degrees, though i bet it happens. a popular blog that has gained some attention/readership may substitute.


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