10th Anniversary of jimpublic.com

collage of James Hough artwork with classic European paintings

I started this website ten years ago and posted my first blog on January 19, 2011, titled Come on in, the party’s just started! The post consisted solely of the above picture.

I was clearly full of pep and vigor about the accessible and affordable artwork I intended to sell to people who don’t have art budgets. Using airbrush and handmade stencils, I made fan art portraits of some of my favorite authors and gestural abstract paintings with stylized versions of oil paintbrush strokes. I also painted pieces I called Fuzz Dots, which were blurry, colorful dots airbrushed onto a white background in kind of a tweaked grid pattern.

2011 feels like it was a very long time ago. I continue to paint, but most of my energy has gone into becoming a better cartoonist, and I have self-published three books since 2013.

But looking back at that first batch of Jim Public artwork in 2011, I am so happy to discover that I still like the art. These works on paper have an optimistic lightness to them. Hoping that if I still like these pieces then maybe you will, too, I just built an online store where the remaining pieces from 2011 are available for you to browse and purchase.

My three books are available there, too, and I have more paintings and fan art coming soon, including illustration-style portraits of Lorde, M.I.A., Taylor Swift dunking on Katy Perry, Sleigh Bells, Dallas singer-songwriter Maya Piata, and more.

Check out my store and help me celebrate ten years of jimpublic.com! The online store is brand new, so if you run into any problems with it contact me so I can take care of it.

Visit the Shop

New Book – How to Lame Duck

How to Lame Duck, by James Hough, book cover

Buy the Book

I’m very happy to announce that my new book How to Lame Duck: a presidential comic strip collection is finished and ready to read!

I have been publishing my comic strip Trump After Trump every three days for five months now.

Comic no. 1 is set in the Oval Office on election night at 12:28 a.m., November 4, 2020, and comic no. 50 takes place on Inauguration Day outside the White House at 12:20 p.m., January 20, 2021.

These fifty comics represent the full story arc of a fictional, speculative Trump Lame Duck period, so I have collected them into a single volume for your convenience and enjoyment.

If you or someone you know likes jokes about:
  • elections,
  • social media,
  • executive orders,
  • military force,
  • face masks,
  • crass commerce,
  • yelling,
  • Bible stories,
  • nicknames,
  • abortion,
  • the Supreme Court,
  • Christianity,
  • stuffed animal friends,
  • ultrasounds,
  • or beards,
then this is the book for you.

How to Lame Duck is available as an ebook exclusively from the Kindle Store.

Buy for Kindle

And as always you can read all Trump After Trump comic strips for free on the Trump After Trump – The Lame Duck Comic Strip page. (For bonus content, you can click on each comic to read its accompanying microblog, which gives some context for each comic strip.)

I’d love to hear what you think about the book. Just leave a comment below or email me your thoughts at james@jimpublic.com.

Thanks!
James

Trump After Trump: the Comic Strip

Trump After Trump comic strip logo

I am announcing the launch of my comic strip Trump After Trump, which I plan to post regularly, though not daily since I only have time for one full-time job. I will be publishing the strips here on the blog, on YouTube and on Instagram.

Read Trump After Trump

Even though I don’t intend to undertake the intense work pace of daily publishing, I do plan on telling this story in the classic Monday-Sunday format, releasing strips in the familiar rhythm of six 4-panel, black-and-white comics then capping the week with a big, full-color “Sunday” strip.

The strip explores one of my favorite questions: can a person really change? I am moved by stories that show a selfish person becoming generous, or an abusive person becoming compassionate, or a close-minded person discovering the joy of learning.

A few weeks ago I asked myself, “What if President Trump were to lose the 2020 election, gracefully accept defeat, and decide in his 70s to become a better person?” Normally, when I wonder about something like this, I just space out for a few minutes; but, this time, out popped a fully-formed comic strip idea that started writing itself in my head! So, I followed the inspiration and here we are.

Trump After Trump comic strip face icon

My goals with Trump After Trump are to become a better visual storyteller, practice the crafts of writing and cartooning, and see what happens when this character tries to change. I’ve seen people in my life make extraordinary changes in their interests, habits, and worldviews when they reached retirement age. The cliché “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is not only untrue but kind of presumptuous. Old dogs may not need you to teach them at all; they can surprise you by learning the new tricks on their own. I don’t know where the Trump in this strip is going, but – to mix up our metaphors – let’s have fun watching him try to turn over a new leaf!

This strip has only come into being because of a virtual class on 4-panel comics that Amy Kurzweil gave a couple months ago, which my friend Sean Slattery suggested I attend with him. Thank you, Sean and Amy!

New Book – Kid, Grandpa, Donut

Kid, Grandpa, Donut book cover Webcomic Kindle

I’m very happy to announce that my new book Kid, Grandpa, Donut is finished and ready to read!

Here is the official description:

One pink donut with sprinkles. Two people who want to eat it.

If Kiddo can finish his chores before Grandpa does, he gets the whole thing! With the help of his kitty, he is determined to win, but how far is Kiddo willing to go for victory? And, really, are cats good partners?

James Hough, author and illustrator of Starving Artist (Jim Public:2013), brings another story of hard work, sacrifice and the pursuit of a delicious treat, with a child-grandparent relationship and lots of drawings of a cat being a cat!

The story was always meant to be light and fun, yet it took me about 18 months to finish! I’m hoping to improve my time on the next one. I wrote so many versions of this story, some much shorter and some much longer. At one point “Grandpa” was “Dad” and the twist was that he made ice cream in the garage (???). My hope is that this finished version is less random…

Ultimately, this story became what it is because of two main inspirations:

  1. Cats are cute and furry, yet they have infinite talent for getting in the way, and
  2. I love watching my kids’ relationships with their grandparents, particularly with my wife’s dad.

Take those influences from real life, and throw in some Scott Pilgrim, Mo Willems, Calvin & Hobbes and lots of color, and you get Kid, Grandpa, Donut. I hope you’ll read and let me know what you think!

Kid, Grandpa, Donut is available to read any time as a webcomic. You can also purchase from the Kindle store. It’s published digitally by Jim Public, 2019.

Webcomic Kindle

Happy reading! While you’re perusing, I’ll be seeing if there is a story to be told featuring our other kitty, Tiger Feather.

Donut and Tiger Feather on the bookshelf

Donut (left) and Tiger Feather

Prints Available at thefailurestore.com

Sean Slattery—one of my favorite friends and artists—has created an online portfolio/retail store, and I am so happy to be a featured artist on the website! It is called The Failure Store, and it has lots of Sean’s artwork along with his collaborations, including a tiny sample of works for sale by Ripper Jordan, which I was a part of with Sean and artist/friend David Ryan in Las Vegas. Here are the things by me that you can pick up there. Each one is a digital print, 11″ x 14″, signed and dated by me on the back. james_hough_miajames_hough_lorde140502-soccer-ball-web-ready-11x14james_hough_dan_and_phil Thanks for having me, Sean!

Jonathan Hough, Maker of Things


That’s a custom lighter by Jonathan Hough. It’s great to watch an artist develop. My favorite kind of artist is the one who—through experimentation, trial and error—seeks the best means to give shape to whatever space his head is in at that moment. And then when that head space shifts, so does the search for the way to give it tangible form. Jonathan Hough, my brother, @jh0u9h on Instagram, is one of these artists. I follow what he makes, and we talk about art, broadly and specifically. Often he is the kind of artist who wants to be responsible for every atom (ideally) that comprises a piece of artwork. Below, check out my small collection of Jonathan’s work. Two of them are paintings made from hand-ground minerals mixed with oil to create his own paints. The third is a hammered metal piece that is part bell and part oculus. They are compact pieces, like gems, representing countless hours of focused making. Jonathan Hough art Now, Jonathan has taken his passion for metals and minerals, and an arsenal of technique he has developed as a jewelry-maker, and has begun collaborating with artists to create custom-engraved lighters. This project is his first big foray into bringing his highly specialized skills to a wider audience. Check out some of his recent collaborations…

David Cook / @bonethrower on Instagram


Reginald Pean / @frenchinald on Instagram


And, the artist himself, Jonathan Hough / @jh0u9h on Instagram



Find Jonathan on Instagram to see more of his work. @jh0u9h

A Not-So-Accidental Blog Tourist Hop Stops Here

Welcome to this final cul-de-sac of one side road of the great wandering tour of blogs by artists – writers, musicians, painters, photographers, and more! I was invited by Nancy Heard, a fellow North Texas illustrator, who in turn was invited by Bobbie Dacus, her good friend and another fellow artist. You may make your acquaintance with Nancy at her blog: http://nancyheard.blogspot.com/ And, now a little about Nancy: Nancy Photo - Bio Nancy Heard is a freelance illustrator/artist. She has illustrated children’s books, activity books, and coloring books. She has designed/illustrated wallpaper, scrapbook paper, party invitations, and has also produced illustrations for corporations. Some of Nancy’s clients include: NRN Design, Glad Tidings, Sonburn, Ideal Publishers, Dominee Press, Rainbow Press and more. Nancy illustrated “The Tiny Ant” for Edupress, which won the Teacher’s Choice Award. Nancy currently resides in Dallas, Texas. Now, for my part in the tour … 1. What am I currently working on? I am writing and illustrating a re-telling of a classic fairy tale, and I am enjoying the challenge of incorporating American muscle cars and skateboarding into a beloved princess tale. The final product will be a juvenile graphic novel. 2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? My illustrations begin as ideas, and if the ideas do not eventually speak with their own strong voice, I discard them. I do a lot of discarding. Then, those that have potential become pencil sketches, then ink drawings on paper, in the tradition of Bill Watterson, Mercer Mayer, and Will Eisner. Finally, I digitally paint the drawings, aiming for the most expressive, luminous, painterly, and lush final product. It is the combination of solid ideas, deft draftsmanship, and painterly color work that gives my illustrations a shot at standing out. 3. Why do I write/create what I do? A life of making is the life for me. I have always made things, as long as I can remember. If I do not have a project going, I get cranky. When I am working on something—a painting, a drawing, a story—I am trying to make the best thing I’ve ever made, with the goal of making something worthy of joining the work of artists who have made all the things that have so enriched my own life. 4. How does your writing/creating process work? My process is pretty messy, though I am always trying to refine it. Most of my work is accomplished by brute force, lots and lots of erasing and re-starts. I meet with my critique partner—the very funny and smart Bill Burton—and we bounce ideas off each other and laugh. And, I riff a lot with my kids, one 1st- and one 6th-grader. So, as I wrap up this leg of the tour, I would like to share a few sites of people whose work I admire and who also blog sometimes. Diandra Mae is a fellow Texas illustrator from Houston. I met her at the great 2012 conference of the San Antonio SCBWI Chapter, when she had just been honored as SCBWI’s featured illustrator that month. Her illustrations feature the three legs of idea, drawing, and color that I aspire for my own work to stand firmly on. Erwin Madrid is an artist whose work I follow for equal parts inspiration and humility. He is an illustrator and concept artist, and sometimes, when I look at his book jacket work and concept painting, I literally whimper.

Starving Artist, Jim Public Presents, Volume 1 by James Hough, press release

Starving Artist, Jim Public Presents, Volume 1, by James Hough, header image Starving Artist, Jim Public Presents, Volume 1, by James Hough, cover image FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE NEW ART-THEMED COMIC BOOK RELEASED IN DALLAS Jim Public, the enterprise of artist James Hough, publishes Starving Artist, a comic book about art, family, and hamburgers DALLAS, TX — Jim Public is proud to announce the publication of the new comic book Starving Artist: Jim Public Presents, Volume 1 by Dallas-based artist James Hough. The comic tells the story of Jim, an artist and family man whose aesthetic ambitions are vitally linked to his domestic and gastric aspirations. “Jim has a plan to sell a painting and use the cash to take his family out for burgers,” says Mr. Hough. “Starving Artist is a slice-of-life story that connects the artist’s career to the artist’s home and family. It is an Anti-Myth of the Artist.” The reader first sees Jim floating pajama-clad through his dreams of fame, fortune, and food before he is abruptly awakened by an early alarm clock. From there he makes his kids breakfast and kisses them good-bye, setting off to exhibit his painting on the downtown Dallas streets. The story is semi-autobiographical, much of it based on Hough’s experiences as the proprietor of his mobile gallery of contemporary art, Jim Public’s Truck. “The gallery continues its mission ‘to present artwork in unusual, spontaneous, and neighborly ways’ with the publication of Starving Artist,” says Hough. “The comic exists digitally and in the traditional paper format, and it costs the tiniest fraction of an original painting, for example. It is an extremely accessible piece of art, a bit spontaneous and very neighborly.” The comic also features Hough’s new painting Burger Night and a bonus educational chart entitled “All Art Is Abstract Art,” which includes the artist’s renderings of famous paintings from art history organized into a concise lesson on abstract art. Starving Artist: Jim Public Presents, Volume 1 by James Hough is available on paper at www.jimpublic.com/books and digitally at eBookstores everywhere.

Smashwords

Apple iBookstore

Amazon Kindle

Barnes & Noble Nook

Sony Reader Store

Kobo

SCBWI Picture Book Workshop in DFW, with Priscilla Burris

I’m passing along the details of this workshop—I’m looking forward to it, and it should be particularly helpful for aspiring illustrators. I learned so much from last year’s workshop with Dan Yaccarino.
Dear NC/NE Texas SCBWI illustrators, Do not miss the April 20 SCBWI picture book workshop, BLENDING WORDS WITH ILLUSTRATIONS. We are lucky to host Priscilla Burris, a successful Southern California-based illustrator/author who has published many books for kids. She is also the illustrator coordinator for SCBWI. As an added bonus, Priscilla will do portfolio critiques for the first eight who register and pay for the conference and a critique. There are still a few spots open, so send your registration form in by April 13 to reserve your spot. In this full-day workshop, Priscilla will share her views on the publishing industry and what it takes to create a successful picture book. Targeted to illustrators and author/illustrators, you’ll leave with a better understanding of how to blend words with illustrations. There will be lots of hands-on work, so bring a sketch pad, pens and pencils as well as your favorite picture book. WHEN: Saturday, April 20, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. WHERE: Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1330 S, Fielder Road, Arlington, TX 76013 WORKSHOP COST: Admission is $45 for members, $60 for non-members. PORTFOLIO CRITIQUE COST: Admission is $35 for members, $45 for non-members. Go to www.scbwi.org/Regional-Chapters.aspx?R=47&sec=News to download the registration form. Please plan to join Priscilla and other SCBWI members for a casual Dutch treat dinner Friday night in Dallas and/or Saturday following the conference in Arlington. Times and locations are on the chapter website). We look forward to seeing you. Watch the chapter website www.scbwi.org/Regional-Chapters.aspx?R=47 for the latest news and events.

Bump in Oak Cliff

I took the truck gallery down to Oak Cliff last Saturday and enjoyed a beautiful day. Some friends showed up mid-afternoon and we decided to drive the exhibition of my large canvas Bump around the Bishop Arts District, in search of food, drink, and, eventually, pie. Up until Saturday I had not driven while displaying artwork, but the coziness of the Oak Cliff community and the security of having a friend in the bed of the truck keeping an eye on things were enough to get the gallery past that milestone. Currently I am designing a new wall that will be easier to assemble and strike and that will also give me options for displaying artwork while driving. Always, Jim Public’s Truck is about fun and accessibility. So the mission continues… Jim Public's Truck, Bump, Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX, November 3, 2012 Jim Public's Truck, back room, Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX, November 3, 2012 Jim Public's Truck, Emporium Pies, Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX, November 3, 2012

Jim Public’s Truck presents Bump at Fort Worth’s Fall ArtsGoggle

Jim Public's Truck, Bump, poster, October 2, 2012 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JIM PUBLIC’S TRUCK PRESENTS BUMP The art gallery drives its largest canvas to Fort Worth’s ArtsGoggle 2012 Opening reception: Saturday, October 13, 4–10pm, parked on Daggett Ave at Bryan St in Fort Worth, TX FORT WORTH, TX – Jim Public’s Truck, Dallas’s Chevrolet-mounted gallery of contemporary art, is proud to announce the exhibition of Bump, a large, non-objective painting by the artist/gallerist. The canvas comes out of Public’s ongoing practice of building up layers of acrylic paint and then sanding the dry paint back down again, repeated until the result looks good. This additive and subtractive process has opened up broad expressive territory for the artist. “What I’m doing in the studio isn’t that different from what I’m doing the rest of the time: constantly adding and discarding ideas, adjusting my perceptions of things, trying to achieve a point of view that roughly corresponds to the actual world,” says Public. “The back and forth between using brush and sandpaper gets these paintings to a place where they start to embody my experience of life as endlessly complex, amorphous, intricate, and baffling.” He adds, “I make messy, non-objective art because it is the best way I’ve found to talk about what it feels like to be a person. I think that makes me like a 12th generation abstract expressionist. Existential dread included.” The painting’s title recalls a moment of panic for the artist and his family when the unfinished, 6’ x 8’ wood-backed canvas fell onto his then 3-year-old son. “When I leaned the painting against my closed garage and walked across the alley to see it from a distance and a gust of wind pushed the panel upright and then forward, bearing down on my son who was on his hands and knees coloring the driveway with chalk, I was too far away to intervene. I just watched it knock his head onto the pavement. Fortunately, my son’s encounter with the painting left him only with a huge, temporary goose-egg, and he recovered as kids almost always do. But my initial feelings of fear, powerlessness and failed responsibility are still with me.” Please join the artist at a reception on Saturday, October 13, from 4–10pm, at Jim Public’s Truck, parked at Daggett Ave and Bryan St in Fort Worth, TX. Jim Public’s Truck is a contemporary art gallery committed to presenting artwork in unusual, spontaneous, and neighborly ways.

Jim Public’s Truck did participate in the DADA Fall Gallery Walk on September 22

It was a beautiful time, the first evening of autumn, I think. The gallery was parked near plenty of car traffic and very little foot traffic, so, as lots of motorists gave Jim Public’s Truck a quick drive by and, I hope, registered that the gallery exists, I was able to have long and casual chats with those few people who walked all the way down to Payne Street. We gallerists prefer a bustling exhibition, but I savored the evening’s serenity. Jim Public's Truck, A Dry Heat, DADA Fall Gallery Walk, Dallas, TX, September 22, 2012

Jim Public’s Truck will participate in the DADA Fall Gallery Walk on September 22

Jim Public's Truck, Dallas Design District, A Dry Heat Jim Public’s Truck has been invited to participate in tomorrow’s Dallas Art Dealers Association Gallery Walk. I will be parked at 960 Dragon Street from 2 till 8 pm on Saturday, September 22, with A Dry Heat, the ongoing exhibition of paintings made by evaporation in the Mojave desert. I’m looking forward to a beautiful day and I hope to see you there.

Jim Public’s Truck presents A Dry Heat

Jim Public's Truck presents A Dry Heat, banner, September 2012 August 29, 2012 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JIM PUBLIC’S TRUCK PRESENTS A DRY HEAT The portable gallery exhibits new paintings rendered by evaporation Opening reception: Saturday, September 8, 3–8pm, parked somewhere on Dragon Street, Dallas, TX, quite possibly on the 1001 block between Payne and Howell DALLAS, TX – Jim Public’s Truck, Dallas’s portable gallery of contemporary art, is proud to present an exhibition of new work by the eponymous artist, Jim Public. His new series, A Dry Heat, comprises nine paintings that Public began in 2010 when he lived in Las Vegas. The artist built a watertight vitrine with nine slots in which he suspended plexiglass panels and poured acrylic washes, submerging each panel in a different color of watery paint. Over the following two years the dry, Mojave air evaporated the moisture from the vitrine, leaving behind nine completed paintings, each a record in pigment of the inexorable natural processes that rendered it. “These paintings come out of my effort to make pictures and objects without exerting a lot of control along the way,” says Public. “I am skeptical of exercising too much power during the art-making process like some kind of aesthetic tyrant. The world is bigger and lovelier when you relax.” The paintings of A Dry Heat embody a collaboration between the artist and the arid climate of southern Nevada, and, two years having elapsed during their making, they also represent a time capsule for the artist. “When I first took out the paintings to look at them I saw the phrases and designs that I had made in the substrates before adding the paint washes. I remember thinking in 2010 that these marks would be like artifacts from the past, but I did not consider that the artist doing the excavating in 2012 would be a changed person, one who might no longer love these phrases and designs. In other words, for me, looking closely at these paintings is kind of like looking at an old yearbook: we can change how we feel about the past, but we cannot change the past itself.” The nine paintings—direct products of physical law acting over time—will debut at a reception for the artist on Dragon Street in the Dallas Design District on Saturday, September 8, 3–8pm. Jim Public’s Truck is a contemporary art gallery committed to presenting artwork in unusual, spontaneous, and neighborly ways.

Jim Public’s Truck, my mobile gallery, is in gear

Thank you to everyone who stopped to look, ask questions, and say encouraging things during the gallery’s first event this past Saturday. The debut of Jim Public’s Truck was a lot of fun for me, a great experience. I am proud of the gallery and excited to experiment with its possibilities. I love when art is serious yet informal, straightforward but not simple, fun without being obsequious. These are the qualities I’m after when I make stuff and do stuff. I look forward to the next event! Jim Public's Truck, Dallas Design District, July 28, 2012, sign Jim Public's Truck, Dallas Design District, July 28, 2012, ready for first event Jim Public's Truck, Dallas Design District, July 28, 2012, installed Jim Public's Truck, Dallas Design District, July 28, 2012, talking to some art fans Jim Public's Truck, Dallas Design District, July 28, 2012, from behind

Announcing Jim Public’s Truck

Jim Public's Truck July 23, 2012 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE NEW MOBILE ART GALLERY DEBUTS IN DALLAS Jim Public’s Truck will present exhibitions from the bed of a pickup truck Opening reception: Saturday, July 28, 5–9pm, somewhere on Dragon St. DALLAS, TX – A new contemporary art venue, Jim Public’s Truck, will open on Dragon Street at 5pm on Saturday, July 28, in conjunction with Design District Gallery Day. The exhibition space consists of a white, modular 8’ x 7’ wall and a blue 2001 Chevy Silverado. The proprietor is Dallas-based artist James Hough, who works under the name Jim Public, and who has designed the gallery to fit comfortably within a parking space, making the operation both compact and flexible. “Any place where I can legally park can now be the site of an art exhibition,” says Mr. Public. “Like most galleries and museums, Jim Public’s Truck follows the convention of using white walls and pedestals for displaying fine art, it just does so on the back of a motor vehicle. I am not reinventing the wheel, just putting a gallery on it.” Building a truck-mounted, artist-run gallery space is part of Public’s broader effort to conduct a grassroots art career, one in which he can cultivate a closer relationship with his audience. “I admire how comedians and musicians can tour and gig if they’re willing to put in the work. They create an experience and build an audience all while practicing their craft. And there are bands like the Flaming Lips who strive to connect with their fans in unpredictable and intimate ways, like creating music using fans’ car stereos or cell phones, taking their art out of the studio and off the stage. They are writing their own rulebook—sometimes tearing out the pages—as they go. This is what an artist does, and this is what I am doing with my gallery.” Jim Public’s Truck will debut with the exhibition Jormungand Releases His Tail, featuring Public’s painting by the same name. Public’s recent work is rooted in the pictorial tradition of second-generation abstract expressionists such as Joan Mitchell whose paintings straddle the border between gesture and chaos. Using abrasives to cut through built-up layers of acrylic, Public adds and removes paint over weeks and sometimes months until the painting reaches a point of what he calls, quoting Richard Diebenkorn, “rightness.” Jim Public’s Truck is a contemporary art gallery committed to presenting artwork in unusual, spontaneous, and neighborly ways.

Paintings on exhibit and available in Las Vegas

If you’re in the Las Vegas area you have an opportunity to see some of my painting studies on exhibit at Jerry Misko’s ATM Pop Up Gallery @ Creative Space. Tonight is First Friday, so the gallery is open from 6 to 9pm. The exhibition also features artwork by Sean Slattery, Jerry Misko, Jessica Starkey, JW Caldwell, Matthew Couper, and others. Jerry’s idea for ATM is that the artwork is strong and affordable. My pieces are between $30 and $140. Do check it out. ATM Pop Up Gallery @ Creative Space, Las Vegas, NV

Group Exhibition Event in Dallas

406 South Haskell Avenue Dallas, TX 75226 Sunday, March 11, 2012 6pm to 12am My friend James Whitmire invited me to participate in this one-night art and music event in downtown Dallas. I will be showing prints of some of the drawings I’ve made of my neighbors standing in front of their homes, as well as one intensively sanded abstract painting. I hope to see you there! American Dream by the Occupy Dallas Culture Committee

My buddy sent me a scan of the pastel sketch I made of him last October in Celina, TX

Jim Public, pastel portrait of Kerry Bill, Celina, TX, October 15, 2011

This drawing is an example of the scores of pastel portrait sketches I made in Celina, TX, during their centennial celebration on October 15, 2011. My idea was to use the Radiohead payment schedule–pay what you want–which worked okay until the swarms of unsupervised kids caught on and started paying me in pennies. Nevertheless, those kids seemed to love the experience, I got a lot of practice at drawing quickly from life, and I made enough money to buy the tank of gas that got my family back home.

BUMP in Celina

Jim Public BUMP at City Hall, Celina, TX 111017

Saturday, October 15, 2011 was my inaugural DIY one-day solo art exhibition, and it was a Texas-sized mixed bag. I’ve had two good nights of sleep since then, and I’m still trying to fit all the strange little pieces of the day into a coherent impression; but, the pieces aren’t coming together. I’ve been an artist, and a person who likes to act on strange impulses, long enough to know that the actual occurrence of an event will always defy my expectations for it. Possessing this grain of wisdom is powerless to stop us from dreaming about what may happen in the future, but it does offer a softer cushion to land on when impending reality once again bucks our hopes.

As the poster for the event stated, the BUMP event comprised three main attractions:

  1. The first public showing of the new titular painting, Bump,
  2. a selection of new drawings absurdly priced at $10 and $20,
  3. the opportunity to have your portrait sketched and pay whatever you want.
Jim Public BUMP setup, Celina, TX 111017

First, the painting looked great, and I’m not just saying this as an upbeat self-promoter. It’s a really good painting. It feels like the best large painting I’ve made; I’ve been living with it for a few months since I finished it, and I’m still excited about it. I wouldn’t have gone to the bizarre trouble of mounting all 5,984 square inches of it to a homemade billboard scaffold and driving it, strapped across the bed of my pickup, 40 miles, 2 of which were unfortunately and unexpectedly unpaved, to a small Dallas suburb populated by small-town Texans who were as genuinely friendly to my family as they were apparently unaccustomed to seeing large abstract paintings perched in front of their city hall.

Jim Public making the scaffold for Bump 111017Jim Public ready to hit the road to Celina, TX 111017Jim Public driving to Celina, TX, in the dirt 111017

Here’s an example of their hospitality. When my son’s hearing aid batteries both ran out of power, not only did a local store owner have someone deliver the needed replacements to his shop immediately, insisting that my wife not make the trip herself, he also told her she needn’t pay for them. In the end she was able to prevail on him to accept payment, and we marveled at how much trouble he took to help us with our own problem.

Now, going into this situation I didn’t expect people to gather around the painting and spend time with it as if it were in a gallery. In fact, the painting’s reception was about what I did expect: lots of kids said, “Oooh!” while their parents hurried them along, a few kids came up to touch it and ask me what it was supposed to be and how I did it, and a handful of exceptional adults gave it a generous amount of museum-worthy attention. Not that I was much aware of this as the day went on, but more about that in a moment.

Next, I’ve been working on 5″ x 7″ and 8″ x 10″ drawings as part of my escalating war on not-selling-art. I debuted them up in Celina, on an art-fair-style table and wall combo, with the thought that I would certainly sell fewer than I’d like, but it would be good to test these $10 and $20 artworks on the unwitting public. I sold zero. As we were packing up for the night I thought, “Of course none of them sold. Did I really think anyone would buy one?” But in the frenzy and focus leading up to that morning, it really had seemed likely that I would score a few bones for some of these lovely little abstract works on paper. They were admired and looked over throughout the day, particularly by tween-aged girls, and my daughter did her best to promote them, darling entrepreneuse that she is!

And I’m not displeased with the experience: I’m proud of the effort, and I learn best from failure, which, judging by my professional record thus far, may well mean that I’m close to a tipping point–the moment at which the knowledge I’ve gained as a consequence of continuous failure shifts my fortunes toward a brighter, more successful future. If each failure makes you a little wiser, surely you eventually reach a level of wisdom that makes further failure less likely, right?

Jim Public, sketch portrait early in the day 111017

Finally, I wanted to do something that the locals might relate to, something fun that I could offer as a way to connect with people who were not in downtown Celina that day for the contemporary art. So I made a sign that said, “Portrait sketches, pay what you want.” Just as one’s own name is the most beautiful word in the world, one’s own face is the most popular subject matter for a piece of artwork. I don’t mean this cynically: as art has marched away from the concerns of the average citizen for the last 150 years, the portrait remains a way for the contemporary artist to make a human connection to someone who doesn’t follow contemporary art.

Jim Public, sketch portrait 111017Jim Public, sketch portrait of five girls 111017

And I chose to have the sitters pay what they want as a gesture of goodwill. I had been concerned that the Celinans would see me as an interloper from the city, so the “pay what you want” policy was my way of saying, “Hey, I value your time and my time, so let’s meet in the middle and enjoy the celebration together.” At first I was making around $5 a drawing, which came out to a rate of $60/hr. because I made these things fast: the word “sketch” was very intentional. Had I kept up the quick pace, the steady supply of sitters, and the $5/drawing rate, I would have done well for the day. But things took a turn in the late afternoon when the gangs of unsupervised, poor kids emerged.

Jim Public, sketch portrait later in the day 111017

Okay. So I drew 30-40 people that day; I lost count because I was so busy drawing and was progressively flustered as the day went on. This is why I only found out later from my wife that people had shown interest in the large painting and the smaller drawings; I got too involved in this sketching business. At first, when kids came up with their moms and grandmas and said, “It says I can pay whatever I want so I can pay a penny!” the matriarchs intervened and told the youngsters, “But that wouldn’t be very nice,” and then the kids would hand me a Lincoln. Maybe one of you economists out there could tell me if there’s a principle that puts downward pressure on voluntary prices over time, because there was a definite breaking point around 3 hours into the event when a combination of too many kids saying, “I can only pay a penny!?” and too few supervising adults resulted in a devastating crash of the Jim Public sketch portrait market. When I accepted 8 cents from a very excited and fairly dirty kid, even before I started the portrait, it was all over. The sign said “pay what you want” and I honored it; and, the rest of the day, until it got too dark for me to see my work, was bonkers.

Can we talk about social class for one second? On the map, there’s Dallas, Garland, Celina; one name for one place. But in reality, there are numerous Dalles (I just decided this is the plural of Dallas), Garlands, and Celinas. On this Saturday, for example, middle- and upper-class Celina took turns speaking on the centennial stage, invoking the proud past and future of the city. They were well-spoken, kind, and, again, very welcoming to my family. Lower-class Celina, on the other hand, was not up on stage, nor were they seated in front of the stage to listen to the speeches. From what I could tell, they were not on the square at all, except for their kids, who snowballed around me as word spread that you only need a penny for a portrait. Some of these kids’ parents were truly absent and others didn’t speak English, so they were simply not available to suggest that their kids pay the artist a little more. Maybe I was naive, but when I made the “pay what you want” sign, I really didn’t see this coming.

So, this class divide was the dynamic that I was experiencing that day, and it’s probably familiar to any American. The issue of social class is complex, and I’m not alone in sympathizing with poor kids. This is the context that led to my feeling okay about virtually giving away these portraits. Have I mentioned they were good drawings? I would have taken pictures, but I was too busy. I may not be able to monetize my skills very well, but I have a facility for portraiture, and there were only a few that I did that I wished I could have re-done.

As I saw the divide between the Celina elites and the scruffy kids who seemed to be just getting by, and as I saw how effing happy these kids were as they waited, sometimes for more than an hour, for their chance to have a real artist draw them, telling the sitter as they waited, “Junior, it looks just like you!” I felt good. And even though, for me, it probably would have been better for my pride had I just done it all for free rather than endure being handed pennies and nickels in return for my time and skill, for the kids it was probably best that they got to pay what they could afford for their portraits rather than have it handed to them like, you know, a handout. And we all know how little kids, regardless of class, can be when it comes to money: they read my sign and thought, “Oh man! I can afford that!” not, “Maybe the artist is hoping for a little more than the absolute minimum.” But, the sign said what it said, and I accepted each kid’s payment with a smile and a “Thank you.”

I made $71.16. $30 was for one drawing of 5 girls, and $15 was for a drawing each of two siblings. Of the remaining transactions, fewer than five were for around $5, and the remaining dozens were a dollar or way less. The kids had so much fun with it, and I feel good about that, but the situation did start to get the better of me. Eventually I felt abused, and the coming of nightfall was the perfect excuse to pull the plug. I could have moved into the light and kept going, but the inertia of shrinking prices and growing crowds of poor kids made me say, “All dop,” which is a family idiom meaning, “I’m all done.”

Will I try something like this portrait sketching thing in the future? I think so, but I will probably re-phrase the sign. If I had more sources of personal income, I’d keep it as is, but I actually need to make money sometimes, so I might have it say, “Portrait sketches, pay what you think it’s worth,” or just add to the original sign, “(Children must be accompanied by adult).” I lean toward the former, because I don’t like adding caveats to an offer that is supposed to be generous. Maybe I’ll just have a hat that says, “Tips,” and that will be that.

Thanks to all of you who wished me well on Facebook. Thanks to Kerry and Carrie for making the drive and posing for their portraits when things were slow at first. Thanks to my son and daughter for their love and assistance, and most of all, thank you to my wife not only for the heavy lifting (literally), which she probably didn’t foresee when she decided to marry an artist, but for keeping up with our kids and the inquisitive visitors during this long, amazing day.

Next on my list, planning the neighborhood party that goes down on October 30th, which should be a fun, concrete result of the Camelot neighbor-meeting campaign. I don’t really know what to expect there either, but at least it’s just in our front yard.

Poster Post

Jim Public Bump posters at UT Dallas art studios 111012

I spent yesterday evening getting acquainted with the campuses of some of the larger universities in the Dallas area. I can tell you that between 5pm and 9pm, the art departments of SMU, UT Dallas, Collin College (Plano Campus), and UNT are all a-bustle. The smells of linseed oil, burning steel, wet clay were strong; the clothes were well-worn; the hair was unkempt and long; all of this was just as I remember it from 10 and 15 years ago. Art students are timeless creatures.

The occasion for this campus-roaming was the dissemination of my Bump posters, a project that is as necessary as it is scary. Walking first onto the lovely and new UT Dallas grounds in Richardson, I felt like a middle-aged intruder, slinking around happy young people with a FedEx Office bag crinkling loudly in my duffel. I knew it was only a matter of minutes before someone figured out that my posters and I didn’t belong there. I rehearsed my nonchalant responses to the impending, “HEY! What do you think you’re doing here?!”

But, despite their problems, colleges really are pretty great. They’re all about the sharing of ideas. They are public spaces replete with public posting areas, and I soon realized that not only were my rolls of tape unnecessary, but each of the several dozen notice boards across five campuses were well stocked with push-pins, just waiting for someone to post his promotional printed matter. No one raised an eyebrow to my interloping. So, my new motto holds:

Life’s too short to let fear get in the way of what you want to do.

As I venture into the public and try different pseudo-guerrilla tactics to connect with people, I keep bumping against my reluctance to step out of line in any way. I’ve never been much of a rule breaker, and even though I fancy myself avant-garde in some ways, I’m not even much of a norm breaker. But, as I clear away the old habit of over-concerning myself with what others might think of what I’m doing and instead meditate on what it is that I want to do with my life’s work, I find that rules and norms stand in the way of most of the things I want to try. And as I head out to do those things, I nod my head to the rules, the norms, the habits, the judgments of others, and keep walking. So far, they haven’t tried to stop me.

Jim Public Bump poster in the UT Dallas commons 111012

I’m proud of my posters. Time and again I would pin one up, take 10 of 20 paces back, look on the wall, and see that mine was the most legible and possibly the most attractive of the bunch. I’m going to be planning more events like Bump if for no other reason than to have an excuse to make rock posters and hoof them around the metroplex, trying to make a connection here and there to people who may be into the idea of a grassroots art career.

BUMP, October 15, 1:30 to 11pm, Celina, Texas

Jim Public, BUMP, October 15, 1:30 to 11pm, Celina, TX

I’m so excited to announce my first DIY art exhibition BUMP, which will take place this weekend on the porch of City Hall in Celina, TX, a small suburb not yet gobbled up by the DFW juggernaut, about 10 miles north of Frisco.

Using a crack combination of scrap wood, black spray paint, paving stones, a little fabric, some work lamps, and things I’m still cobbling together in the Agora, I’m piecing together my own version of an art fair booth. In it, I will be debuting a large painting, Bump, sketching portraits of passers-by for whatever price you want to pay, showing a bunch of small drawings I’ve been working on these past few weeks along with some work from the past year, and generally hanging out, chatting, and enjoying what should be a charming autumn afternoon.

I was invited up to Celina for their Downtown Square Centennial Celebration, which this one-day exhibition is a part of. There will be live music, old cars, food and drink, the newly remodeled park grounds on the Square, and a good amount of company to be enjoyed on this day. Even if I weren’t participating, this is just the kind of event the Public family would have been looking for this weekend; it should be a lot like the State Fair we just attended except cleaner, quieter, less expensive, better smelling, and inspiring a generally better feeling toward one’s fellow man. Thank you Christiane Jones and Carolyn Harvey for having me up to Celina; I’m really looking forward to it.

I hope to see you and/or your local friends this Saturday!