Tuesday, 7 August 2018

We Need To Talk About Byng Inc.

Hey folks, and welcome back to the Byng blogsphere.

It's been a while.

4 months in fact.

I can tell you this with confidence because the only thing I seem to design these days happens to be calendars, although you'd never know it from the sporadic nature of my posts throughout any given year. I can see a 'time to get a watch' type joke in there somewhere, to sit merrily alongside the other kinds of fun I'm lovingly poking at myself at the moment, in pursuit of recovering from my act of, seemingly, going creatively missing.

Let's investigate.

The place where my calendars and other such artefacts call home online is my shop domain Byng Inc, which has not been seen on instagram since the end of #MarchMeetTheMaker, and has only surfaced on twitter to post this.

Whilst realistically I know that no-one will have lost sleep about this, it's a relief to break what personally felt like a deafening silence, because I all too often feel like a static little island in a sea of makers who are producing regular tides of content; waves of images and products for their customers to surf upon happily. Whilst social media and creative making are far from synonymous and I am not a lifestyle blogger, full-time illustrator or designer-maker, my dormant channels have been acting as a broader indicator for me that I'm not spending any time actually making, well, anything at all. Blogging is primarily a way I journal and reflect on my practice, and social media is one of the ways I enjoy communicating my work, so the unplanned and sustained void highlights that this process has come to a semi-awkward halt — something than can feel difficult to recover from.

Over the last few months I have mostly been planning and executing Brum Zine Fest alongside my full-time role at Impact Hub Birmingham, in which I have been developing things like this and this. It's been a very exciting and hectic time, and in fact that's a good way to describe the last 3 years, through which I have taken on lots of different types of work, gained lots of new skills and some sort of almost confidence(?) I know — I'm surprised too.

Whilst I'm a lucky duck to be involved in this rich, challenging work, the downside of my energy and creative juices manifesting in so many other ways is that I'm gagging to get back to some of the stuff that makes me feel most like myself — sitting at my desk drawing, figuring stuff out, and personally exploring something of my own direction, experiences or voice. For too long now ideas of this kind have built traction in my thoughts, and then floated away with refutations of what's the point? or, even more pressingly, where in god's name is the flippin' time?  relegated to the substitute bench of my frazzled pysche as other, larger scale projects play the field.

But, the good news is I actually see this as a really good time to look at answering those questions.

What is the point? And where in god's name is the flippin' time?

This post is a moment where I'm choosing to express my conviction to keep going as a maker, to find ways to connect with drawing again  with taking lines for a walk around my thoughts and values  amongst other roles I've taken on to work towards things I believe in, and in order to make a living.

When it comes to making my own work and selling it in some fashion, truth be told thus far I've found myself a bit lost. Whilst everyone I've met along this journey of attempted making and selling has been super nice, I’ve sold badly at plenty of good markets, sitting behind tables in church halls, art galleries, pubs, praying someone will take mercy on my creative soul, which I have arranged for their viewing pleasure on the surface in front of me. 

I've felt akin to an anxious, sleep-deprived Potato Jesus of a maker hanging out with well-presented individuals and collectives, most of whom appear to have very nicely styled, clean, pretty homes to match their wares, worlds apart from my own treasured but messy creative cave from which I make attempts to connect with people and say something, rather than well thought out product ideas that I then market and reach people in order to actually sell them. The time I could be spending updating my online store or utilising facebook ads to increase the reach of posts is spent reading The Economy Is Spinning or thinking about the role of libraries in our communities. Whether I like it or not my practice is wrapped up with money, because it costs money to make things to share with people, and it costs money to sell them, online and at markets, often to make a loss.

On top of not doing this stuff well, I don't think it's even what I want. Whilst I learn loads from how well makers portray their businesses and make their stuff look amazing — which I know takes an awful lot of work — it still doesn't change the fact that fundamentally none of it seems to match where I'm from and what my work is about. I want to run a mile at the language around marketing and sales, with people becoming customers, and creative objects turning quickly into products, as seen through the reductionist lens of their economic value.

The more research I do into art and money; creativity and commerce including running projects such as Creative Entrepreneurs Club I realise, despite wanting (and needing) to make money as a creative worker whose output has value, I may be trying to operate in the wrong way and comparing myself to entirely different methodologies and ways of being in the world. As someone who doesn't feel bound by one particular school of thought or approach, it can be hard to know how to be, and also to not beat yourself up for not just being better at this stuff, getting on with it, having some form of actual fun with your work, making money and not existentially worrying about whether part of the fabric of who you are is being sold off before your eyes. In the words of my main man Stewart Lee: "Russell Howard's not involved in an ongoing interrogation of the divided self is he?"

Whilst I've always made zines and been interested in DIY making, it's still taken me a little while, and creating a zine festival myself, to realise that my creations might just sit a little more comfortably in spaces that do create sites for paying artists for their work, but without being commercial by design or tied up with as many accepted norms of production or aesthetics. Zine culture is of course much broader than selling things, and doesn't lead or treasure this as it's aim, with ideas of trade, swapping zines and free distribution in action too along with a global community connectivity, and when zines are sold, prices are very accessible. With work often tackling difficult or just personal themes that people can connect with, there tends to be a real deep care and compassion fostered towards makers too, and we want to invest in them and encourage them, ultimately, I think, to be themselves.

Taking all of this into consideration, I'm about to run a prototype to explore how my work might operate in order for it to live a more purposeful, profitable and nourishing existence than languishing in an unused bigcartel store.

Where is the time to make?
The time is now! as I'm currently embarking upon a week-long riso residency at Rabbits Road Press over in Newham, East London, using the time to develop a personal zine project. I saw this opportunity come up, booked a week off work, and am now diving into the challenge ahead. I will report back soon and, if it goes well, the idea would be to potentially take one such week out each quarter next year to do the same, meaning I would produce 4 personal creative outcomes a year, all of which could be subscribed to / purchased before I actually make them. This potential way of distributing / selling work has been inspired by zine community models where makers subscribed to one another much in the way that we do to blogs now, but with physical outcomes sent by post.

What is the point in making?
I've already started to remember that time for myself and my illustration practice helps my brain process its torrents of thinking, allows me to express myself, and connects me with others, all of which gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing, improves my relationships and my wider work, and may even do some good for the recipients or audiences too and get me more of the sort of work that I want to do. With all of this in mind, I will be tabling at my first zine fair — the inaugural Swindon Zine Fest on Saturday 18th August where I will be displaying and selling the spoils of this week's residency, as well as working to reinstate my channels and share something of this process in a way that galvanises my efforts, encourages other people, and ultimately is enjoyable too!

Even acknowledging that there isn't one right way to do any of this stuff feels empowering at this point, and I'm in a curious and hopeful mentality towards exploring and trying out some different modes of operating as a maker. Here's to posting when our lives and mental health allows, to making with all of our flawed humanity and not being slaves to content, and to all the weirdo Potato Jesus creatives who might go missing for a while, but whose creativity the world undoubtably needs, perhaps even most of all.

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