The modern complaint: location, location, location.

February 20, 2007

You’ll have to pardon my following ‘rant…’ Lately this has been big on my mind and pertinent, even though it may not be totally advice.

Though in this day and age, it’s not necessary, relocating as an illustrator often seems to happen… Many friends/colleagues I know move to urban areas for work– specifically NYC, because there’s so many art directors’ offices, and so you can meet clients in person and all that greatness.  But what if you move somewhere else? Somewhere not known too well for being conducive to artists/illustrators/creative types? This is what I did….well, we’re coming up on the one-year mark in June.

As just a bit of personal history, I was born in a very small city called New London, Connecticut. Not too much fascinating to tell– the former whaling capital of New England, we had the first toothpaste factory and Eugene O’Neill lived there. My parents were both from New York; my mom from Queens and my dad from the Bronx– they moved to CT for work and family raising. Our location was okay, but as such I always felt like NYC was the place I was meant to head back to, like the motherland or something. My plans to do so with college were thwarted by complications from my dad’s diabetes and so I spent four years at the University of Connecticut, a place with even less going for it, but with more cows.  I considered moving someplace every year– Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia… notice what they all have in common? But money was a factor, as well as a few other major things, so I moved to Arizona a year after graduation, closing the distance on a long distance relationship, and here I am now, in a ‘city’ again, but a small one outside of Phoenix.

Now, each place is different, but let me tell you about where I am. From about May (perhaps sooner) to November the heat is ON (and the whole bit about ‘oh, it’s a dry heat’ really doesn’t make a difference when it’s 110 degrees out!), and so it does make things difficult to go out and do things. Things are laid out in strip malls mostly, which means you might miss something golden hidden away because it looks like everything else. This is a ‘new’ area, meaning that most buildings are fairly recently built, within the last fifty years ago. Heck, my house is about as old as I am. This means that there’s not a lot of character to the buildings. Residential areas and commercial areas don’t do a lot of mixing– so there are blocks of houses, but not much to go out and do around those houses. And while everything is a grid with streets here, the blocks are enormous, because Arizona has no shortage of space, and everything is stretched out, not up. So being a pedestrian is more or less a joke. Bear in mind also that I do not drive, at least not yet; which is even more a joke!

This doesn’t outright affect my illustration work– with the internet, I’m able to send artwork to anywhere; I can call clients or email; I never need to shake their hand even. While this is handy it’s also isolating; and when you’re not sure what to do with yourself it’s even more isolating.

I’ve spent close to a year here but haven’t really sought out my own kind of people; which is sad but also tricky.  You know, one thing they probably don’t tell you that you need as an illustrator is a support system. Maybe need is a strong word for it, but you need people to bounce ideas off of, to go out and do things with, to get inspired and reinvent your surroundings. Especially as an illustrator, I think you constantly need to reinvent yourself as well– keep yourself sharp, interested, focused, etcetera.  Take it from me, if you mostly keep to yourself, you’re gonna internalize a lot, and you’re gonna feel no way to find your bearings. So it’s important that whereever you go, you find people, and find places to interest you.

I’m still rather behind on the finding people. I must admit Phoenix doesn’t 100% have its shit together (pardon my language, but it’s true.) I’ve gone to a few of our monthly ‘First Friday’ artwalks, but it’s so hard with so much to do and so many other people around to just sit down and meet people. I feel like I’d have to sit in one place the whole time and stalk people, they mostly have their own agendas it seems. Searching on the internet is a bit more difficult than I’d expect–  I think I’ve found two illustrators in Phoenix, but have yet to visit (the lacking a car/place being so spread out sort of reason).  My newest little solution is a little coffeeshop opening up across the street that I’m planning to schedule a weekly visit to, for a few hours and just sketch personal ideas. I’m hoping in the process I’ll meet people who are interesting, and maybe get my name around here somewhere. I’m also hoping to pester the art galleries in the area to see if I can get my work in a show or something; there’s got to be some way to make conversation!

This weekend I tried something different and visited an enormous Asian Supermarket (fellow Phoenicians, Lee Lee’s is excellent!). I found all sorts of ingredients and was very interested to see so many people of different ethnicities all in the same place; it was interesting to see so many people intermingling and realize that there is more culture around here than I might ordinarily notice. (Plus, the food. There’s nothing quite so stimulating as so many brightly colored packages of food, of a bevy of raw fish and produce, etc)  I’m hoping to go do something new every weekend or so… in an attempt to keep things fresh.

Well, anyway, my point is that you need to find your place, wherever you move. Because a lonely isolated illustrator will feel like there’s nobody there to critique them, give them ideas that will lead to other ideas, talk to them about things they didn’t know anything about, cheer them on when they’re in a rough patch… and they might decide that it’s hopeless. Humans are social creatures; if we don’t interact we don’t thrive. You need to keep yourself sharp in a number of ways– stimulation keeps things interesting.  So whether that is to find people or things to keep you interested and raring to go, it’s important not to get stagnant and drawing the same things and doing the same things, because you need to keep a sense of interest and fun into the mix. And if you can’t find those things to keep you interested, perhaps you might have to move someplace else that does have what you want… I’m still on the fence about what the Phoenix metro area has to offer to me, but I’ll give it another try before I make my mind up!


14 Responses to “The modern complaint: location, location, location.”

  1. graphismo said

    well….Moving is never easy… I have lived in Boston and Chicago, but have recently (4 months) relocated to a small town just north of Austin, Texas. I think that creatives in general need to be stimulated and I think that “Big Cities” Chaos and culture fills that needs.

    Everyone that I know is surprised to find out that I moved to a small town in Texas. But the bottom is quality of life. I love New York, but if you ever notice, only people in sitcoms (like Friends) and TV shows have this great apartments in NYC. The cost of living is much higher…too high for me, even if it’s a lot closer to art directors and so forth… Even Boston, which I love has gotten incredibly expensive..

    So…I moved to a small town…a very quiet town… but close enough to Austin for when I need that injection of culture. But I have a house now with a nice yard…sometimes too quiet…but people are lovely and friendly.

    So…you have to work a little harder to find people that you can relate to…people here are older than I am used to… but making friends take time…

    There are organizations for Graphic Designers like the AIGA (I am sure that there’s one in Phoenix) that would have people similar to you…and the best part is that they are possible clients…

    In Texas people are married to their cars… thats’ why I chose to live off the main square, which at least I can go for a walk and have a cup of coffee. I know how to drive, but I don’t love it..

    I think that I am loosing my train of thought…

    Good Luck…and ranting is sometimes good!


  2. ariel said

    Interesting subject choice Meg. But an important one i gotta say.

    I too moved to a smaller community and have been here the last three years. I love the quieter live style, proximity to provincial parks, and generally less stress!

    But when it comes to art, you certainly need your support group. I will be moving back to a larger metropolis this year, but not for the excitement, but for the contact of lost art friends. At this smaller town, i’ve got alot of work done, but i can’t find people with similar interest(mining town) hence i tend to “internalize” as you called it. This isn’t good.

    Anyway, my point is that as an artist, i need contact of people. Both to help stimulate my creativity and as a social hand. Ideally though, i’d love to live in the country with ALL my artist friends.. then you’d never grow bored(*In a perfect world)


    *And speaking of urban sprawl..

    (In “my” ideal world, we’ll reduce the amount of cars on the road, and make cities “walk-able” for once. What’s wrong with city developers?!! Shame on you Phoenix)

  3. I’d strongly suggest getting work into galleries – it’s especially nice to focus on producing fine art as well as illustration. We live in Marfa and, even though it’s rather ‘hip’, it’s still quite remote which is why too I’m so grateful for communication and research I can do via the web!

  4. How strange that I find New London to have one of the more lively and supportive arts communities that I know of. I joke that it is the cultural capitol of Connecticut, but in many ways it is true. I have never been to Phoenix, and I have no desire to go there. I have been quite content for twelve years in Connecticut’s Whaling City, equidistant between Providence and New Haven and Boston and New York, and all of them accessible by train.

    I hope you find what you are looking for, but I think it was under your nose the whole time.

  5. Wignke said

    That was a fantastic post. I’ve been living in an area outside of Milwaukee, WI, and have been having similar issues. The problem is I’ve never been much for big cities. I used to live in Minneapolis and enjoyed the people but not the hustle and bustle of the actual city.

    Well thanks for writing these great articles. You have been a wealth of information.

  6. Eric said

    There’s a great illustrator I’ve used many times in the past that’s a stone’s throw from you. Super nice guy and very talented. Check out Maybe inbetween work, kids and hikes he can sit down with you for a cup of coffee and some conversation.

  7. meg said

    Thanks everyone for the comments:

    Whalehead King: I suppose I came off a little rude/blunt about my home-city (Mostly I was just trying to get to where I currently am.). I agree that it does have a lively arts community downtown, which was my favorite thing about it. But at the same time, New York was never accessible by train for me– at least according to the train schedules I read I had to commute to Old Saybrook to get there, and that always kind of bothered me, again because of the lack of car. New London does have a long way to go though; when I left it was just beginning to get interesting, and I really do hope when I go back that it keeps improving. (Though I hear they shut down the Dew Art Gallery… and they really need to start bringing larger musical acts down there again, because it was great when I was growing up). I moved because I had spent too much time in Connecticut and needed a change. I’m glad you love it there though.

    Wignke: I can understand what you mean– I’ve visited Milwaukee once and really liked it though– it felt not quite so hustling/bustling as other areas…. What about Madison? I haven’t been but some friends are from there and I hear it’s fairly nice.

    Eric: Thanks! We actually live less than 10 miles away from each other. I’m going to drop him a line and say hello!

  8. Donna said

    Great post! I like your idea to have a schedule for sketching at the coffee shop. Please let us know how that goes. I’m wondering if people leave you alone because they see you are sketching and they don’t want to bother you, or if that draws them in and gives them a reason to talk to you. I’m not brave enough to sketch in public yet. heh

    Here are some things that have worked for me as far as meeting like-minded people in a new city:

    -Take a class at your local community college. (not having a car might make this impossible, but you’d be surprised how many other artists take classes, especially night classes, to brush up on existing skills, or to learn new ones. You’ll also have the opportunity to help other people….when they find out you have work experience and a degree the younger students will definitely appreciate talking with you. I don’t know how it is in Phoenix but here it’s cheaper to audit and then you don’t have the pressure of the grade if you don’t want it.)
    -Find a local art center in your town, look for drop-in life drawing sessions. Around here they’re usually $10 for the whole day, come and go as you please.
    -Volunteer for a non-profit. I did work for the local library foundation and ended up with some new clients. I didn’t necessarily meet other artsy types, but I met really nice people and made good business contacts.
    -Hit the Mac User’s Group meetings if you’re on a Mac. Also, if you’re near an Apple store they have one hour classes every week for all the iLife stuff, GarageBand, podcasting, etc.
    -If all else fails, start your own artists group. Make the official meeting place the coffee shop across the street. In my experience many, many people are looking for this type of involvement but just need someone to start organizing it. Maybe a post on CraigsList would attract some people. Tell them what time you’ll be at the coffee shop and see if anyone drops in. I’ve always wanted to organize a sketch-crawl too, but of course haven’t had time yet.

    Okay, sorry for the long post. Just throwing some ideas out there.

  9. Hi Meg,

    Here’s my 2 cents.

    I briefly visited Phoenix once and checked out a nice artfair in Scottsdale. I think there was an art museum as well. I’ve also visited Sedona a couple times, which isn’t too far from Phoenix. It had a quite a few art galleries. Go to the Airport Grille on top of the Mesa there. It had terrible atomosphere but fantastic, gormet food (unless it’s changed owners over the years).

    To beat the heat maybe you could research how the natvie American survived there in the cliff dwellings and maybe find some inspiration.

    I found Arizona to be very inspiring, a brilliant contrast to Michigan, with red desert, buttes and cactii. I also thought it was neat how homes were landscaped with rocks and cactii instead of trees, shrubs and grass.

    I’m an engineer full time, so to learn about the creative field in the Metro Detroit area, I did many of the things Donna mentioned: attended art classes and joined the Ann Arbor Ad Club for a couple years. I also advertised in a local trade journal about the Advertising business and did some pro-bono work for both them and the Ad club.

    Hope you can make the most of your situation!

  10. Brad said

    I think I have all you beat. I live in Southeastern KY in a small town called Somerset ( It’s a Dry county-meaning no alcohol sales-which means not many quality restraunts or local hangouts). We have a small Folk Art community yet it seems there could be an artist group wanting to sprout, but just needs to be watered. Becoming inspired hasnot been a challenge though. I keep intouch and in conversation with other artists via websites like this as well as circulate Lexington KY Advertising Agencies for work.

  11. wilson swain said

    Keep looking. I live in LA now and have a support system, artistically. But two years ago I spent a number of months seemingly stuck in a small town in Indiana with very little contact. Looking through the annuals and the trades, I found out one of my favorite illustrators lived only 45 minutes away (I really was in a small town, not Phoenix) and I contacted him. My timing was good because it was close to a larger scheduled meeting with a group of local professionals to discuss work. Chin up. I’m sure there’s a tennis pro or two in your neighborhood, able to lob the ball back.

  12. Astrid said

    Check this out guys, I’m actually trying to get a work visa to live in Kodiak, Alaska. A fishing town. Lol =) Right now I live in Switzerland, and commute to Zurich, where I sub-rent an office space for 2 days. I’m grateful for that, it’s good to get out and talk to other creatives! If it works out with Kodiak, it will be a big change… but I’d still like it. Just takes time to find your people I guess. Have patience, and good luck Meg!

  13. Nicole said

    Hi there – a friend who watches your blog linked me to this post, since I’m an illustrator who moved to Phoenix (Paradise Valley, specifically) about two months ago, and I can definitely empathize with the difficulty meeting people… virtually all the artists I’ve run into down here are very nice, but they’re thirty years older than I am. Well, anyway, if you’d be interested in hitting up one of the local life drawing sessions or something, drop me a line. Cheers!

  14. Thanks for sharing this information. Really is pack with new knowledge. Keep them coming.

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