058. Level up!

Level 31 was one of those most eventful, difficult, worst and best levels of my life. I honestly can't believe how much has happened in 365 days, or how much I've grown. 

Here's to level 32 - hoping I can continue to do what I love and share experiences, inspire, and encourage others to follow their dreams!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

032. My History with Interior Design

I've been sharing a lot about my current artistic path and goals, but I figured I should share some of my past regarding my studies and work with Interior Design!

After my first degree (Bachelors of Fine Arts) in NY, I immediately moved to Colorado to pursue a degree in Interior Design. Looking back on this decision, it was heavily driven by the "fact" that one does not make a living as an artist. One makes a living with a proper career. So I "needed" something strong to fall back on. I decided that career needed to be creative, and I had an interest in design (mainly interiors - the spaces where people interact). 

I wanted to focus on sustainable design, so I chose the school whose Interior Design program was highly renowned for incorporating Sustainable design methods (in 2007 that was RMCAD in Colorado, but it has since changed drastically after being bought out be Full Sail).

So in 2007, we packed up and moved to Colorado. 3 years later, I graduated and immediately got a job. The rest is history, as they say.

Here are some of my school projects just to give you an idea.
At first, we were required to hand-render our designs with pencil and marker.

Kitchen Design, Prisma Colored Pencil 2008.

Adjacent Living Room, Prisma Markers and Colored Pencils, 2008.

Another conceptual kitchen design, Prisma Markers and Colored Pencils, 2008.

Office Design, Prisma markers and pencils, 2008.

Later in our studies, we were required to learn how to use Autodesk Revit Architecture for floor plans and 3D Rendering (not the best for 3D rendering, but it was still pretty powerful and it directly integrated into the floor plans so we could send the full package to an architect).

Entrance, Sushi Restaurant Concept called "Koi", 3D Rendering, 2009

Private Bar, Sushi Restaurant Concept called "Koi", 3D Rendering, 2009

Main Dining, Sushi Restaurant Concept called "Koi", 3D Rendering, 2009

Buddha Bar, Sushi Restaurant Concept called "Koi", 3D Rendering, 2009

Optional Reception Dining for Events, Sushi Restaurant Concept called "Koi", 3D Rendering, 2009

My favorite classes involved sustainable design concepts such as maximizing passive daylight and heating strategies by southern exposure (building orientation), ventilated roof and evaporation cooling for passive cooling, heat reclaim and water harvesting. I was NOT a fan of choosing fabrics and furniture and stuff to fill a space, rather I was drawn to the core design and function of a space, and incorporating our human Need for Nature into the built environment. Much of my studies were dedicated towards learning building codes, ADA (American Disability Act) design requirements, and classical design elements, but I also took at least one extra class each semester in another subject, like art history or figure drawing, in order to expand my mind. 

Here's a super embarrassing photo of me standing in front of my Senior Show project (which was sustainable concept remodel of the University of Southern Indiana)

Even though I'll be paying off student loans until I'm 50, I wouldn't change a thing. All of my experiences during this rigorous course of studies made me stronger, and led me to my current path. 

We can't regret our choices. We can only learn from them. I've always been a very hopeful person, and focus on the positive (even though I'm an anxious worrying mess too). I have so much hope and excitement about the future. My previous studies have provided me with a very strong foundation on which to stand, and shaped me into the person I am today.

Changing career paths shouldn't be something to fear, you should embrace it like the first sign of spring. Perhaps it's exactly what you need to get rid of the stale winter, and begin your artistic thaw.

030. Having a Life Plan and How to Ignore It

January is coming to an end, and it reminds me of my New Year's Resolutions. It's only (or already) been one month, so where am I at with my goals? Where are you at with yours?

At the beginning of the year, I set out on a quest to find balance within the emotional, daunting, confusing and often turbulent waters of being self-employed.

Sadly this required doing something I hate. Getting a full understanding of my money situation (what comes in vs. what goes out). I would like to point out that I'm an artist first, and a business person last. I'm trying to fix this balance but it will definitely take time.

I recently came across this concept of "Your Life in Weeks."
(more info here: http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/life-weeks.html)

To my horror, I realized I'm over 25% through with my life (if I'm lucky and live to be 90).

After taking a few deep breaths, I decided to look at it a different way (I do in fact have a morbid fascination with this topic). Here's me, in calendar form:

The green zone represents time I've lived, that I can never change or get back.

Rather than let the weight of this reality crush me or make me spiral into a panic and feel rushed to accomplish all my hopes and dreams TODAY... I stopped and looked at the facts.

Most of that green area was childhood, adolescence, schooling, and figuring out who I was as a person.

I'm now living the life I always dreamed of. I know who I am and what I want. And I'm only 31.

OK, whew. Got that out of the way. Now I can focus on making a PLAN!

I am the type of person who get's really excited by making detailed plans, and then forgets about them.
My goals are always in the back of my mind, but I rarely stick to a strict plan to achieve them.
I make things up as I go, live in the moment, and follow my instincts.
The pleasure I get from making the plan is akin to drinking a wonderful glass of wine. Feels good in the moment, but it never lasts.

But in facing the truth, now I know some things. I know for the next 18 years I need to make monthly student loan payments (If I continue paying the minimum amount). I know that each spring I need to pay exorbitant amount of self-employment taxes. And I estimate I have about 48 years left to live.

Other that that, I'm FREE, right!? 
Well not quite. I also have to pay rent, utilities, buy food...
Ok so I'm stuck in the system.

We live in a money-driven society. We need money to live.

That is a depressing thought for someone who simply wants to create beautiful art, spread joy, and see the the wonders of nature.

So it comes down to choice.

I CHOOSE to be part of the system (the alternative is sell everything I own, be homeless, declare bankruptcy and start over).
I CHOOSE make art, try to spread joy and inspiration, and help people when I can.
I CHOOSE to focus on the positive. 

I'll keep my Life Calendar in the back of my mind as I go, but I will focus on those blank squares. There is so much potential..so much possibility in the unknown. 

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. - John Lennon

What's your plan?

028. Climbing the Mountain

Man, what a week. I was hit with several bits of news that have really thrown me off my game.

Last week it was confirmed that my Visa process (to remain in the UK) will cost nearly $2,000 by the end of it all. POW!
On Monday my boyfriend found out his company is downsizing his position at the end of February. POW!
Yesterday I found out I'll be owing nearly $4,000 in self-employment taxes for 2016. POW!

How do we stay on our path when it suddenly seems impassible, or worse yet - the path completely disappears?
There are actually so many unknowns right now that I honestly don't know where I'll be living in 6 months. How's that for a jolt of panic?

We all get knocked down from time to time, and have to build up our strength to rise again. Put in perspective within the world, our problems are often minute. But to us, they are seemingly daunting, or impossible to overcome. 

Perspective.

The most difficult times of my life have led to massive personal growth - though at the time I thought my life was ending. I thought that there's no way I'm going to get through this [insert trauma].
Yet we humans are resilient beings, and despite the most difficult task, it is in our nature to overcome and continue on.

There's a difference between living and thriving.

I thrive when I am not worried about money,* but rather how can I make the most awesome art and inspire others and spread joy? In turn those things lead to more awesome art, inspiration, and joy. Increased sales, and more comfortable financial "cushion." A wonderful cycle.
But throw in the worry of money and I am suddenly on my knees, staring up at the insurmountable summit, worried and distraught about everything. This is not conducive to making wonderful art, nor inspiring others, nor spreading joy.

*I am happy living "paycheck to paycheck" and that's been my way of life for as long as I can remember. I've never been rich. Having only one or two months of "oh shit" savings - as in my bills are covered if I don't make any money - is normal.

I've talked about this a little in previous posts, but the 9-5 job is not something I'm willing to do in order to live a more comfortable life (more money). 

I live frugally in order to live my dream. Traveling has been my biggest expense in the last two years, but I make sure I save up for that - not use any of my "oh shit" reserves.

In times like this when I'm suddenly hit with a huge dose of reality (that we live in a money-driven world), my only solace is knowing that for the last two years, and especially 2016, I was living the dream. I've tasted it. I will keep living it for as long as possible. 

In the meantime, I must tighten my belt, work even harder, and get creative. The internet has made it possible for artists to make a living without ever showing work in a gallery. Sure, I wish I could show my work in a gallery, and maybe some day I will. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
For now, it's onward and upward. Even if my path is foggy, I can see the peak, and I'll get there eventually.
I've learned that when I send good things out into the universe, good things return. Sometimes they are cloaked, and their true value isn't revealed right away. But hope is a powerful thing. 

024. Honest Writing

Today I'm taking a breather from offering any heavy content and I'm just going to write about something meaningful to me.

California, 2016

I wish that more artists would write honestly about their artistic journeys. There often seems to be a sense of guarding information in a lot of art communities. I understand the competitiveness in some scenarios. However I think that sharing information, being transparent about the struggles, and talking openly about a career doesn’t make it any less successful.

There is so much posturing in the art world (behave in a way that is intended to impress or mislead).

Perhaps in part, it comes from a desire to validate artistry as a career in a very commercial driven world. I get that. But there is so much we can learn from each other, so much value and growth to be found when we share our journeys. The REAL journeys.

As far back as I can remember, I've tried to live as modestly and honestly as possible. I think a lot of people can say the same, because it is generally a good way to live.

I've always been highly self-aware, and in being so, I scrutinize every minor thought and emotion that passes through me. If it doesn't carry me down a path of remaining humble, I reject it. In retrospect I can see how this has shaped my life and relationships. I tend to be very submissive, striving to help others find happiness. As an introvert, I've always preferred observation rather than interaction. This lifestyle is very conducive to introspection and reflection.

Even as I write this, I feel a sense of pretentiousness for talking about myself. It’s not a good feeling. But I have a purpose. I started this blog to force myself to write, and better express myself. Even if one person reading this blog feels inspired, I’ll feel successful.

Throughout my life, I’ve always sought out successful, inspiring, humble people who I could learn from. In 2008 I was lucky enough to meet a woman who has, over the years, become my life “mentor.” We met when I took her class in college (she was my teacher). After graduating, she became my boss. Over the years we developed a close bond and I can always turn to her for guidance. We live VERY different lives, but at our cores we are very similar. We are like family.

(She is actually the person who first sparked my interest in visiting Scotland! Her and her husband have visited Scotland annually for over 20 years, and she would often share images and stories of her travels with me. Now, I call it home.)

I also do what a lot of people do, and “follow” dozens of talented artists online, watching their work progress over the years, watching how they interact with others, watching and learning silently.

Cobblestones, Stirling, Scotland 2015

Cobblestones, Stirling, Scotland 2015

The internet has opened up a world of possibilities to artists and we have the ability to connect in new ways. You don’t have to know your mentor in real life. They don’t even have to know you exist. But finding someone who you look up to, who has life experience, who shares your principles, and whose vision you can get behind - that is priceless.

We can drift through life, going it alone, learning from our mistakes, and I still do that to an extent. However, it’s reassuring to know I can talk to my mentor about big life decisions and I won’t be judged or led astray. Often times she merely holds up a mirror with her words and I’m forced to realize I already know the right decision.

I know I’m a very emotional being, and my emotions often influence my decisions. I have a heightened sense of my instincts, and I always follow them. Sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it leads me down a very difficult path, on which I face many trials and character tests. Those the are times I grow the most.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I crave transparency, honesty and truth about the journey we call life. 

If you’re interested in reading honest truth from artists, here are some amazing resources I’ve found over the years:

If you have any resources you find especially inspiring, about the true artistic journey, please share in the comments below or message me! I would LOVE to see them!!

008. Weekly Twitch Story: From 0 to 12.5K+ Followers

The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not reflect any views or beliefs of Twitch, Twitch staff, or any Twitch affiliates.

Front page of Twitch, October, 2015.

Front page of Twitch, October, 2015.

Good morning! I decided that Sundays will be my Twitch Story days. Something interesting, funny, weird, maybe a cool event or success or failure, anything that I think might be of interest relating to my Twitch journey.
(In case anyone missed this post, Twitch is a gaming website where people can live-stream themselves gaming, or creative content. People can log on and chat with the streamer, live!)

Today I thought I'd start off by discussing how I went from a brand new baby streamer to where I am today. Who would have thought a gaming site would have led to me living my dream as an artist? I absolutely love the community that my stream has become. My viewers are my real friends, and they probably know me better than most people in my every day life. Over the last two years I've gone from a complete noob, to a thriving and fun community of over 12,500 followers (though I'm sure many of my friends will say I'm still a tech noob...thanks guys...). There are so many factors that contribute, but if I had to sum it up, I think I owe my success to the following:

1. Daily interaction in dozens of streams for 3 months before I ever started streaming. Not only observing what makes a stream enjoyable and fun, but building relationships with lots of streamers/viewers. Being genuinely interested in the community and what is being created or played.  Being a viewer first allows you to understand what makes a stream successful. Later on, your friends will host and raid you, and you repay them with the same support. It's such a supportive community which is one of the reason I love Twitch Creative so much!

2. Being myself. It's obvious when a streamer is pretending to be someone they're not. Trying to be overly nice or funny or cool is a huge turnoff. It might get someone short-term success, but it won't last. Viewers can see through the bullshit. The Creative community is so incredibly diverse. Being yourself, showing your true personality and creating what you love will draw genuine and like-minded people, and you will get more enjoyment out of it in the long run. 

3. Chat interaction and giving back. One of my favorite things about streaming is the interaction. I do my best to respond to every single line of chat (which can be difficult when trying to stay focused on a painting). I feel it's really important to make sure everyone feels welcome. I also love doing giveaways and rewarding loyalty. Every streamer has a different approach, but for over a year I've been doing subscriber-activated giveaways: every 10 subs or resubs I do a quick giveaway in chat (subs have higher chance of winning but subscription isn't required). For the cost of a stamp, I can send the winner a custom watercolor postcard  (which I love making) and show my appreciation in some small way. When I do milestone streams (like 1 year anniversary or 10,000 followers), I do a couple larger giveaways. If I could afford it, I would do a lot more giveaways because I love it!

4. Stream because I love it, not for the money. Now, obviously there are streamers who make a lot of money streaming. Some gaming streamers make over $100,000 a year. It's a legitimate business. Things are a little different for us Creative streamers, though it certainly is possible to make enough to pay the bills, as I am doing (but that includes art sales and commissions). When I first started streaming, the Creative section wasn't even an official thing. There was no chance of getting Partnered on Twitch as a Creative streamer- you had to be a big gaming streamer to do that. So from the very beginning I was of the mindset that this was just for fun, and honestly I'm so thankful for that. I feel like I have a very healthy relationship with and appreciation for my stream. I was never in it for the money because I had a day job for the first 6 months, which meant no pressure, and that led to more joy, and deeper relationships with my viewers. 

5. Consistency in "schedule." By this I mean creating a stream schedule and sticking to it. Not canceling or changing a lot of streams (which is difficult and you make sacrifices). For a long time I was streaming 4-5 days a week, for 8ish hours per day. I rarely changed or canceled streams (only sometimes for outside events, or anxiety attacks). Keeping a consistent schedule meant viewers could rely on my stream/chat as a place to spend time and enjoy themselves. I experienced a drastic shift in my stream when I was getting divorced and planning a trip to Europe in January 2016. I was actually traveling in Scotland when I reached 10,000 followers, just barely over a year into streaming! It was a strange time for my stream, because I was going through so much personal transition. It was bound to effect my community. People were understanding and supportive, but they have their own lives and priorities. I took 2 months off to travel and heal. During that time I lost more than half my subscribers and lots of followers, and when I eventually returned to streaming, my viewership was around 1/2 of what it was before. But I was happy. I was healing. I was feeling like myself. As I continued to stream full time again in March 2016, my subscribers returned (and increased), my viewership increased and surpassed my previous levels, and I was growing as an artist. I hadn't changed the way I stream. I was just back to a consistent schedule.

Now I'll go into details about my early days of streaming.

After watching several Twitch streams for a few months, I started to wonder what it would be like. So in January 2015, I gave it a try. I watched tutorials on YouTube and googled how to use the free streaming software, OBS, used Photoshop to make some simple overlays for my stream. For my first stream, I played Call of Duty - Advanced Warfare campaign. First time ever playing any of the CoD series (having been a Halo fanatic). During my first stream I only had a couple viewers, ranging from 0-5 throughout the entire thing. A few of them trolled me, but luckily I was already familiar with modding so I got rid of them quickly and focused on playing. I was lucky enough to meet a really nice viewer who returned to watch almost every day, and helped me through the game when I needed help, as well as playing together when I switched to Multiplayer (and 2 years later, he still stops by my stream which is so cool! Hamtime1 you are the best!). Over the next few weeks I continued to stream when I got home from work, for at least a few hours a night. I was hooked. After a few weeks, I finally got a capture card, and was able to stream Halo (my favorite game) through my xbox1. I had so much fun talking to viewers while playing, and connecting with other streamers who were excellent players that I looked up to. However, as many women gamers know, it's only a matter of time before you are confronted with misogynistic comments, or disgusting sexist remarks. Why? Because it's the internet. There's no getting around it. Boys feel it is their right to make horrible comments towards women. 

There were enough games, enough nights where a couple assholes completely ruined it for me. I was really frustrated because I knew it would never stop. That is just the nature of being a woman in a gaming community saturated with boys barely out of puberty. Despite the many wonderful people I had met, I was fed up. Luckily, it was around this time that I was becoming aware of a couple Streamers who were not just gaming on stream, but painting. Yes, PAINTING!

I decided to try out a painting stream myself. I was terrified. This meant putting my art on display, which is NOT something I was used to. I was only ever painting as a hobby in my free time (rarely), and occasionally sold something to a friend. So having something so intimate on public display was scary. What if I messed up? What if people were bored? 

Screen capture - the first time I was raided by Bob Ross with over 2,000 viewers. Note my facial expression...

Screen capture - the first time I was raided by Bob Ross with over 2,000 viewers. Note my facial expression...

Despite these fears, within the first few painting streams I was stunned by the connections I was making with viewers and I absolutely loved it. Sharing the creative process was something new (even in college I worked on my own and only showed the final results to a class or teacher). Viewers were engaged, asking questions, saying they were inspired to draw or paint. I was terrified of failure, but at the same time confronted with an incredible opportunity. I loved the sense of community we were developing together, and sharing the messy creative process was becoming less scary. My gaming streams dwindled, and my viewership shifted (I lost a lot at first then gained more later). After a couple months, my viewership hovered around 15-30 live viewers (which at first scared me so much that I would sometimes turn my camera off). Then some big Streamers started to host and raid me, and I would sometimes have thousands of viewers at once. As I got used to it I realized there's nothing to fear. "Get rid of the trolls as you need to and just have fun" I told myself. 

Other Creative streamers were creating art as well and we were all connected on such an intimate level. As the community grew, Twitch saw the value in Creative streaming and supported us by partnering a select few Creative streamers, starting a Bob Ross rerun marathon (which brought in thousands of new viewers who had never heard of Creative before), and officially launching the Creative section on Twitch. I had received my partnership a month before the launch which was amazing timing. My stream grew rapidly around this time. I was streaming constantly. It was my safe, happy place! 

My stream success has ebbed and flowed over time. Things that happen in our personal lives effect our ability to stream and the quality of the stream. There's not a recipe for success. However, my stream is never more successful than when I am happy. Keeping a balance in life is key to maintaining long-term happiness and success, no matter what your job is! It took me a long time to be OK with taking days off, or even weeks, to travel or take care of myself. When I feel obligated to stream, and I "force" it, my viewers can always tell. It's no good. Even today I see my viewer, follower, and subscriber counts drop when I take time off. Yet I know that it is the only way I can remain a balanced and happy version of myself, which in the end, is what matters. I have to maintain faith that the community will be there when I return. Don't be afraid to live your life!
Featured on Twitch Weekly show, October 2016.

Featured on Twitch Weekly show, October 2016.

I would not be where I am today, living my dream of being a full-time artist, traveling the world, if it wasn't for Twitch Creative. Watching streams, and then eventually starting my own, has led to so much personal growth, artistic growth, and self awareness. Some of my best friends are people I met through Twitch. I know there are a lot of people who share a similar gratitude for this incredible community. 

Every streamer does it for their own reasons, and has a different journey. We all share similar experiences along the way, so if anyone wants to chat about it, let me know!

I would just like to reiterate how important it is to make sure you are happy and healthy. Your stream will thank you.

If anyone has any specific questions, please leave a comment or send me a message!

001. Year of the Blog

Styled Photoshoot, 2014

Styled Photoshoot, 2014

Today begins the new year. That special day when we rise from the ashes of the previous year, spread our wings, and soar to new heights, carried by our hopes and dreams.

Either that, or we sleep until 3pm, regretting the previous night’s decision of “just one more bottle…”

For me personally, today is the beginning of a new project. The Blog.

This blog is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Ever since I became a full-time artist, I thought there must be a way for me to share my journey, explain how I got here, so that maybe just one person might find the hope and inspiration they’ve been looking for.

What better way to start then to launch this project on day one of 2017!

The goal: One new blog post every day of 2017

Posts may contain details of my personal artistic journey, travel photography and experiences, project developments, etc!

To start out, I’d like to tell you how I got to this point - a full time artist living my dream every day.

The Story

(This is an abridged version, if you’d like to discuss something more in depth, please contact me or leave a comment below)

To fully explain things, I’ll give you a brief overview of where I was in 2010.

I was living in Colorado, graduating with my second bachelor’s degree (first was Fine Arts where I majored in drawing and ceramics), this time in Interior Design with an Emphasis in Sustainability, and starting my new job as Campus Planner at the very college I was graduating from. I was living with my boyfriend, who was also my best friend of 7+ years.

I was well on my way to living a successful adult life just like everyone expected.

Although I had never taken a class in it, I was a huge photography fanatic. I had a Canon t2i with one lens: 50mm f/1.4 (my pride and joy).

It was my greatest hobby and passion at the time, and I found myself taking hundreds of photos per week of every subject matter, just for fun. You could hardly meet up with me without a threat of your portrait being captured. I was taking photos of friends and family, and since I was getting pretty good, I decided to start shooting weddings to see if I could earn some money to buy better equipment. My first wedding I received $200 (for 8+ hours and over 2000 digital images to the client). I was advertising for free on craigslist, and using a free website maker (Wix) for my portfolio. I thought I was pretty professional. I was volunteering to photograph graduations, reunions, anything just to build my experience and portfolio. 

I had taught myself how to use my camera in full manual mode, as well as external flashes and reflectors for lighting. This was not easy, but through passion for learning, and desire to get better, I was able to enter any situation and come out with properly exposed, well composed images.

That first wedding, I took this photograph of the bride’s grandmother, who was in silent prayer just before the wedding ceremony began.

Bride's Grandmother, 2011

Bride's Grandmother, 2011

This photograph alone got me three more weddings that year. Thus started my 6 year journey as a wedding photographer-on-the-side.

Tying the knot.

Tying the knot.

Fast forward to 2012. I marry my best friend, in the sunshine of the Rocky Mountains. It was a fairytale, a dream come true for me at the time, because that’s what you’re supposed to want, right? Even though we never wanted kids, getting married was both romantic and logical. We had never been a gushy or romantic couple, but we were always best friends, attached at the hip and we knew we'd be together forever anyway. He was the only one I talked to about any of my deeper feelings, but even then, I held so much back - which is something I didn’t even realize until recently.

We had bought a house together in 2011 and were happy as can be, going about our lives, making the most of the beautiful state we lived in - skiing, hiking, biking in the Colorado sun.

We both had full time jobs, and all was well in the world.

Or so it seemed.

I was suffering from severe social anxiety, before I even knew what anxiety was. It had been part of me for as long as I can remember. I thought maybe my fear of people had something to do with being a child of divorce and an alcoholic mother/step father. So I ignored it. However the pressure of my design job, coupled with my budding photography business, was slowly killing me because both were built entirely around interacting directly with people. I was so enamored by the design and art process that I kept going. My husband was a total social butterfly, something I always admired about him, and honestly I wouldn’t be where I am today without his encouragement and support.

But how can you discuss something that you don’t know is there? I didn’t even know how to tell my own husband what I was feeling. I handled it the best way I knew how - by just carrying on, day by day, suffering in silence, drinking far too much wine, and distracting myself with the notion that “this is just life. If you want to do what you love, it’s hard. It kicks your ass.”

We were living paycheck to paycheck, but making the most out of life. Doing what we wanted, when we wanted. We were both optimists and realists and we knew hard work would allow us to do the things we loved. He always told me, “follow your dreams. No matter what, we will make it work.”

Mountain Elopement, 2014

Mountain Elopement, 2014

2014 - During my busiest year, I shot 22 weddings, plus endless amounts of elopements, families and events. I learned many lessons the hard way, and also had countless successes. But it didn’t take long to get burned out. As an introvert with social anxiety, I was buckling under the pressure, before I even knew the term for it.

I had my day job, and was making so much money as a wedding photographer, getting published in online and print publications, including the largest in the country, The Knot, where one of my gay weddings was featured (my favorite wedding that I shot). I had increased my photography fees to minimum $2,000 per wedding, and family sessions were at least $300. That kind of money was allowing me to make choices and do things I love like travel, but I started to realize it might be the wrong business for me. As much as I wanted to be a full-time artist (photographer), I had to be realistic. I was climbing up the ladder fast, but internally I was falling into the abyss. I transferred to a new job at an architecture firm, where the pressure kept building.

Then one day in late 2014, while watching the Sunday Morning show on CBS, I heard about a website called Twitch. My nerd ears perked up, and I ran to my computer to see what it was all about. How could this thing - this glorious website for the video-game-obsessed - exist without me ever hearing about it?? My whole life I had played video games, primarily the Halo series, and even traveled to tournaments over the years. It was one of my favorite pastimes, and something my husband and I spent a lot of time doing together. It was more than an obsession, it was a way of life.

So this website, Twitch, allows you to log on and watch someone playing your favorite video game. Thousands of streamers, playing LIVE right in front of you. What’s more, is that it allowed you to “chat” with the Streamer, in the moment, through a clever chat box next to the video player.

I was hooked.

This opened my eyes to a whole new world, a huge community full of like-minded people who shared many passions. Many of whom (not all) suffered the same social anxiety. It was on Twitch that I first heard the term “anxiety” being discussed, and how Streamers suffer from it too. They found solace in their online communities, and through the deep relationships that form between community members there.

It wasn’t too long before I was dipping my toes in the Streamer waters, playing games, and gaining a small but loyal following. My viewers and I would have hours of fun chatting, while I kicked butt, or got my butt kicked by other players, all in front of a live “audience.” It became my daily oasis.

As you can guess, having a hobby like that consumes a lot of free time. My husband was all for it, and sometimes he even played with me during streams. But we were spending less and less time together, as my relationships with community members grew, and I was meeting so many individuals who were in the same boat as me. When I look back at this, I regret how often I ignored my husband, but more so how I didn’t realize just how quickly we were growing apart. (This is very difficult to write) I latched onto this new world with every fiber of my being. It awoke something inside me: hope.

At this time, I was taking steps to reduce my photography schedule for 2015, because I was purely overwhelmed with my social anxiety. At my design job, I was making it day by day, but there were many days when I got high or called in sick because I couldn’t bring myself to be around anyone.

I had been drinking my nights away, but the more I streamed on Twitch, the less I drank, and the more I realized there is so much more out there to discover. Soon after I joined Twitch, I found another gaming streamer who was painting - yes, PAINTING - live on her channel! I was blown away, sitting there staring at my screen, watching this incredible artist create a beautiful oil painting, talking to her viewers about video games, art, life in general.

This was revolutionary for me.

Halo "Elite" Character. Acrylic on canvas, 2015.

Halo "Elite" Character. Acrylic on canvas, 2015.

As an artist, I had always been dabbling in various mediums, and one of those was acrylic painting. I decided to give it a try, and to do my first Creative stream. This meant I had two cameras, one for people to see my face while talking to them, and one for people to watch me paint. In the early days of Creative streaming, I was painting a lot of video game characters, because that was why we were all on Twitch! Or so I thought. What I realize now is that it’s not about what the Streamer is doing. It’s about the connection between the Streamer and viewers, between the people in chat, and the sense of a close-knit community, unlike I’ve ever experienced in my every-day-life.

In April of 2015, I was making enough money through my photography business, my Twitch channel (through donations from viewers), art sales, and art commissions to consider quitting my day job. I had already decided to stop photographing weddings and families (pretty much anything involving people) by the end of 2015, and I had saved enough to last me more than 6 months in the worst case scenario (not making ANY money).

I was growing increasingly passionate about painting. Painting was freedom. Painting helped me get all my intense inner visions out into the world, to express myself in a way I never knew possible. The more I painted, the more I increased my skill, the easier it was to use my artistic voice to express myself. It was addicting. I found total solace in the feeling of creation, and it superseded my anxiety. (Fun fact: I’ve created over 300 paintings since I started Streaming two years ago).

At times, being live in front of the Twitch “audience” was overwhelming, and created a different type of anxiety, but I could still always remind myself that these are like-minded people who find joy in watching the creative process, who share a passion for video games and art, and who might be just as anxious as I am.

So, with the full support and encouragement of my husband, to the confusion and fear of some of my family, I made the choice to quit my day job in May 2015.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because it meant losing the security of a paycheck (I did not rely on my husband), and any success or failure after that point was directly related to my own dedication. As a freelance artist, you rely on your skills to draw interest in your work. I had been successfully running my photography business for almost 6 years, but could I achieve this success doing what I loved, on my own?

Creating artwork is not enough. You need a way to get that art out into the world, and a platform for sales. When you first begin your freelance artistic career, visibility is everything. Since I already had been streaming for several months, I had a strong viewership/community. Streaming helped my art be seen by hundreds of people every week, and since I was streaming around 40 hours per week, painting the entire time, I was making a LOT of art. This, in time, led to lots of sales. 

The people that watched my streams happened to like my art. Enough to buy some of it. Every time my Etsy app beeped at me, I almost screamed with excitement! People actually buying my work!?

I also began posting on Instagram every day, with #hashtags and everything. I started to use Twitter a LOT, mainly to share my Stream schedule, and the artwork that I completed during those streams. If you're like me and find the thought of Facebook nauseating, great news: YOU DON'T NEED IT. Would my success be higher if I used FB? Maybe. But my personal happiness would take a blow. All of these outlets led to more and more exposure, and through word of mouth I was getting more sales and commission requests.

Without a constant desire to learn and experiment and create, I would not have progressed at the rate I have, nor would I be as successful. I’m not tooting my own horn either. I know I have SO much to learn and so much room to grow as an artist.

When I streamed, I felt like (and still do feel like) I was with my best friends. There’s something so wonderful about sharing artistic energy - even with strangers. People can ask questions about the process, or simply just chat about their day. It is an incredible time to be an artist. We open our studio up to the world, and in turn gain deep friendships.

****Let me just reiterate: it is so incredibly important to have a financial “cushion” before you make the leap into self-employed artist. Unless you live with your parents for free, are independently wealthy, or have a spouse who can pay for everything, you need to be realistic and set yourself up for success. A cushion will allow you to focus on getting your business going, without the pressure of HAVING to make money. That is so important for your happiness as an artist. I did this on my own, without relying on anyone, including my husband. He would not have allowed us to be homeless, but I was too darn stubborn and proud to let my business cause us hardship.****

By September 2015, Twitch decided to “partner” with me, meaning I had a subscriber button on my Stream page that people could press and pay me money in exchange for the exclusive use of special emotes (emoji) in my chat, ad-free viewing, as well as other perks. This meant my streaming - which had technically become my “day job” - had a direct link to an undetermined amount of income (based on subscribers). In addition, my sales were high, my custom commission requests were high, and I was still financially stable thanks to my remaining photography jobs.

(Front page of Twitch, 2015)

(Front page of Twitch, 2015)

In October 2015, Twitch launched the official Creative section - meaning there was a dedicated category on the website for streamers like me to broadcast! This gave so much validity to what we (there were hundreds of us by then) were doing. Everything from painters to woodworkers, glassblowers, musicians, professional concept artists, and more! Even the multimillion(billion?) dollar creative company, Adobe, had a presence on Twitch Creative (and I’m honored to be a part of it now). It was an incredibly diverse and supportive artistic community that was growing by the day.

By living and breathing my art and being on Twitch, I was discovering so much about myself at such a fast pace. It was around that time I came out to my family as bisexual (luckily, they accepted me fully). I was questioning my propensity for polyamory. I was meeting so many incredible individuals. Finding love and sorrow along the way. Gaining friends and losing friends. The tides of internet relationships ebb and flow much like the ocean. People join Twitch for many reasons, and use it for however long it is helpful and useful in their lives. As a Creative Streamer, I put myself out there - both physically on the screen, and emotionally - and this draws in some people, and pushes others away. I was discovering patterns in how people use Twitch, and I was forced to accept it. People get close, and then they disappear. They have their own lives. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was and still am, enthralled with Creative Streaming. I’ve realized how powerful a tool something like Twitch can be in healing and self discovery.

By putting yourself out there fully, you start to learn about yourself. Whether it’s self-discovery, or others holding up a mirror to your flaws. You start to see what is out there beyond your door.
Painting at Stonehaven, Scotland. February 2016.

Painting at Stonehaven, Scotland. February 2016.

My wanderlust was bubbling. I booked a Europe trip for January 2016 to Scotland, from where I planned on backpacking to Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. I had no return ticket, just a dream of traveling and to meet with some people I knew through Twitch. Even though I knew it would hurt the growth of my Stream to be offline for a while, I had to do it for myself.

The big twist? At that time, I was getting a divorce.

Was I running? A casualty of Twitch-obsessed introvert finding herself?

I don’t know. What I do know is that within the last two years, I had discovered an entire new person inside myself. My ex-husband only ever wanted me to be happy, and so he let me go. There's a lot more to it, but I'll leave it there. We are still great friends and I will always have a special love for him.

I am learning that my anxiety cannot be controlled, but my surroundings can. I find ways to place myself in safe settings, so I can thrive. I am learning that not everyone I meet can be trusted, nor will they stay close. I am learning to believe in myself - that through hard work I can maintain financial stability that allows me to live my dream of being a full time artist. I am learning that one of my greatest passions is to inspire others, and I want to as often as possible.

Right now, streaming on Twitch Creative is the perfect way to do that. It is a hugely successful, thriving artistic community, one in which people like me, introverted, socially anxious but passionate can do what they love for a living.

When I returned from my two months in Europe, I moved into my own apartment (my friend’s basement), and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was now completely financially independent, and heartbroken. I’ve always kept my personal (love) life separate from Twitch, so only my closest friends knew of my turmoil. Even though it was an amicable divorce, it is still very hard to go from living with your best friend for 12 years to being on your own. However, there was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

My tunnel, which I believed was to die alone, albeit as a happy artist, would soon transform into an open road. One which would take me across the globe again.

While I had been traveling Europe, I met my current boyfriend, on a train the day I left Scotland. It was such a random and seemingly innocent moment, but since I had given him my business card, we exchanged info and it eventually blossomed into something more. Did you know it’s possible to be heartbroken, and in love at the same time? So much has transpired since we met almost a year ago. At first I was stubbornly against being “with” anyone. I wanted to explore my sexuality and be totally independent. Sadly we cannot fight our hearts and come out alive. Eventually I gave in (though I still maintain that I am a STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN and he agrees). We live together in a magical little town in the highlands of Scotland, and have an amazingly easy, uncontrollably magnetic love for each other. I wish I could tell every little girl to wait until you’re 30 to think about marriage. Before then, you are figuring out who you are. The scary thing about love is you never know when or where it will appear. It can be the hardest thing to accept, but when you find a perfect match, you do anything in your power to make it work. That includes packing everything you own into a storage unit and moving across the ocean.

My wolfy <3

My wolfy <3

Through all of this self discovery, I’ve learned that I can be financially independent, travel, do what I love for a living, and be truly happy on my own (if I want to be).

So here we are, 2017… I can’t imagine the things you have in store. I only hope I have the clarity to see that which cannot be seen.

Please comment with any questions. For the next few blog post, I’ll share some of my travel photography and stories behind them!

.01 Prologue

Intro

This isn't a tale of a heroic uprising, or a tale of legendary love conquering all odds. It's definitely not a tale of a world-renowned prodigy or a mystic healer of old.

This isn't even a tale, I suppose.
More of a modest (hopefully) telling of my own self-discovery, shared in the hopes that maybe even one person is inspired to follow their heart and pursue their dreams.

One of my projects of 2017 is to write this blog, and post at least 1 entry every day. Anything from Travel notes, photography, art journaling, and personal stories. My hope is that anyone reading finds inspiration to follow their passions and achieve their dream, whatever it is!

 

A couple of things first:

1. I'm not a professional writer. In fact, it has taken me over an hour to write this dang intro. 
I'm an artist, observer, and dreamer. I'm sure half of what I write will be cliche or break some kind of writing rules. I may even regret telling some of it. But I'm going to try!

2. I am agnostic, but consider myself spiritual. I read people's energies, and I speak openly from my heart. These things influence how I communicate, so occasionally my writing might seem a little bit like a hippy who is higher than a kite got a hold of a laptop. Honestly, I just want to express things how I experience them, and I usually don't filter everything to sound "professional."

I've realized that my greatest joy is being immersed in nature, and painting the beautiful world we live in - both real and imagined. It's an interesting mix though. To be lost in the wilderness, hiking through miles of forest, coming upon a 40 foot waterfall, watching the sun filtering through the surrounding trees, highlighting the cool blue water below as it flows past. Then to go home and paint the scene in front of hundreds of people on my Twitch channel, answering questions, sharing stories, technique, and inspiration. It's like a social feast-or-famine lifestyle (and I usually prefer famine).

Even though I've never shown a single piece of art in a gallery, I've discovered that there are ways for people like me - introverted, socially anxious but extremely passionate - to share my vision, be part of a community, and make a living through my art. 

I know I live in an incredible time. The technology that is available to artists today, to share our process and experiences with others, is at a new level. I can share the painting process, live, through a website, on which someone who lives thousands of miles away can log in and ask questions and witness the creative process.
This website I'm speaking of Twitch Creative. But we'll get to that in a later post.

So, I hope there's something you take away from my story. I will continue to share it as best as I can! Along the way, if anyone out there has any questions, please don't hesitate to comment or message me. I would like to be transparent and as helpful as possible!

.002 The Lore

There's always a lore, or history, in every story. How else are you, the reader, meant to invest in the characters or plot? What makes you care?

When I think about my own history, I tend to break it up into chapters to easily keep things straight. I think many of us do this, even if we all don't label it as "chapters."

Although it may shift as time goes on, these are generally how I see my chapters.

Chapter 1: Ages 1-15, from which I remember almost nothing, but I'm sure many important and wonderful things happened. I have vague memories of playing sports, drawing, and playing outside. I grew up between Colorado, Massachusetts, and Syracuse, New York. 

Chapter 2: Ages 15-18, high school in America. You've seen Saved by the Bell, 90210, and all the movies depicting high school in the 90's? Yea.. it's not that far off. 

Chapter 3: College, or more specifically, Art School. Followed by my second degree in Interior Design.

Chapter 4: Real jobs and Marriage

Chapter 5: Twitch, Self Employment, and Self Discovery

Chapter 6: Divorce

Chapter 7: Self-sufficiency (now)

And that leads us here. A 31 year old artist currently traveling the world.

I won't be going into all of my personal details but I will share what I feel are the important pieces I've made sense of, and I what I think may inspire others. I will try to explain how I made this dream come true.
As I write this, I am sitting in my studio in Scotland. My second trip to Europe within the same year, only this time it's long-term. 

If it's one thing I know, it's that the important moments are happening right now, and with time and experience, we gain the wisdom to understand them.

Tomorrow, I'll begin the new year with a post explaining how I got here, to be a full-time artist, living her dream.

If anyone reading this wants to discuss a certain topic or has any questions, please leave a comment or message me!