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!