Updated: May 19, 2018
I was one of those Gen X folks who viewed the tools of social media with the same contempt your grandfather would view the remote control with a million buttons on it for the TV. I even balked at the cell phone, only getting my first blackberry - a hand-me-down from my wife - only eight years ago. Yes, I was a stubborn one, but I finally relented after realising that pay phones were very soon only going to be found in museums. After graduating to an iPhone three years later, I was opened up to the world of the app and all it had to offer, but it was something that still puzzled me. Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Confusion hit me to say the least, as I didn’t feel I had much use for this new terrain. It was important to get with the program as this was the future of communication, but raising my young son was a full-time effort as a stay-at-home dad, and with a baby on the way, I just couldn’t get still enough in my head to keep up.
In 2015, when my world got still enough for me to start a new project, I started an Instagram account. My goal wasn’t posting selfies, daily doings, or even tips on how to change diapers, but to reconnect with my artistic side which had been put on the shelf by choice for a number of years. And creatively, it was the best decision I had made in a very long time. I started connecting with a number of artists whose work I had admired from afar, literally, as some of them were as far away as Thailand, Spain, the Netherlands, and even New York City. It felt great to see that people were responding to my work and it just drove me to create and connect even more. And in turn, my work got better and was different than anything I had done before. And more importantly, I was making more discoveries as to what my work could become.
In June of 2015, about three months after I started my illustration Instagram account, a new company launched on the platform named Worker Bee Supply Co., who partnered with local artists to create inspirational art prints. Their account was so well done, with nicely photographed posts of beautiful artwork and their creators. On their website (www.workerbeesupply.com) were brief feature videos on the artist shot in their workspaces which shared their story and creative process. Their business model was different than anything I had seen online to that point, so I instantly became a fan.
Some weeks later, I noticed the company had been following my account and seemed to have a fondness for my work, which was still in developing in terms of style and subject matter, for at the time my work consisted of abstract black marker drawings that were finished digitally in three to four colours. But judging from the styles of art used to craft their prints, it seemed unrealistic that my artwork could become the basis for a Worker Bee design. And this bothered me a great deal because it seemed like a great way to present my art to a new audience, so it became a preoccupation of mine to see what could be done to make it happen.
Then, in April of 2016, I decided to make a trip to Pixel and Bristle, a weekend long pop-up artist market that was held at the Drake Hotel in Toronto, Ontario, as I had seen a print I very much wanted from artist Robert John Paterson (www.robertjohnpaterson.com) who was a vendor at the market on his Instagram post. While there, I managed to meet Robert, along with Eugene and Becca who own Worker Bee and were selling prints there as well. They were very friendly and engaging, and Eugene had been following my work for almost a year to that point. And as much as I was reluctant bring up the subject, I expressed my eagerness to work with them, but mentioned concerns about how my abstract style of art would work in a more contextual format that would speak to their customers.
Some months later after commenting on an Instagram Story post of theirs, I received a message from Eugen with an inquiry of collaborating on a print. I admit, I was nervous to commit, as I was still in the process of discovering my voice as an artist with my new found style, but I knew from experience that I would find a way to make it work, so I said yes. And with that process of letting go of my ideals in terms of being fully comfortable to proceed with something new and unknown, some amazing things would start to happen.
The process of designing the print started out very slowly, as I had to make a decision as to what direction I wanted to take, having been given the freedom to do so. Each one of Worker Bee’s prints is based around a famous quote, and “Nothing Will Work Unless You Do” by poet Maya Angelou was the one given to me to work on. Translating “hard work” in visuals without using cliche took time to figure out, but settling on nature as the subject matter and showing living things in nature at work seemed the right path to follow.
The print, screen printed by hand at Kid Icarus Gift and Screen Print Shop was released in February of 2017 and was well received by Worker Bee’s audience, and to our surprise was chosen to be showcased in the “Canadian by Nature” exhibit at the 2018 Interior Design Show in Toronto. And it all started with the decision to just trust what I knew I was capable of even though I was leaving my comfort zone. Since working with Worker Bee Supply, other creative opportunities have come my way, like my work for Collective Arts Brewery which I will touch on in a future post, along with a few media opportunities that have enabled me to put my story out there for others who hopefully may be inspired by it.
A key point to remember is that there is no overnight solution to making positive, lasting connections with people based on mutual admiration who you may collaborate with in the future. It's a process that can take months, maybe even years to develop that trust. And a great way to start is by making it a priority connect with those who "get" what you do and understand your creative voice. As former Brooklyn, New York based (now in Texas) graphic designer James Victore would say: "Find YOUR audience!". It's a quote that rings so true and is one I've never forgotten. So, for me, the lesson here is that if you have the opportunity to work on challenging projects with great people as you start a new artistic journey, saying yes may help you reach your goals a little bit faster and to a much better destination than you may have anticipated.
Cecil Warner | Toy Hands Create