Below Sea Level

New Orleans, LA

Lately I’ve been mildly obsessed with the skyrocketing cost of college tuition. I attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) from 2000-2003. I transferred in from a respectable community college in the south suburbs of Chicago, and this may be part of where my shitty attitude about the cost of education began. Community college was about $3,000 a year, as opposed to $18,000. They had well maintained facilities and staff that had their shit together. SAIC hires back a lot of their graduates, so most of the staff is made up of artists, who, as you know, can be moody, unreliable, or distracted from the task for which they are being paid to do. In fact some dipshit in financial aid mailed some other family’s tax info to my family’s house—three years of tax documents, social security numbers etc. I’m still not sure why my folks didn’t open a few fraudulent credit cards and just pay my way through college that way.

Well ten years later and the cost of one year at SAIC has doubled to $36,000. If you compare tuition from 10 years ago, RISD, SCAD, Ringling and Pratt have all doubled, even Cooper Union (historically free if accepted as an undergrad) is considering charging tuition. So my advice to young aspiring artists, consider a smaller more reasonably priced liberal arts education elsewhere. These institutions are like meat grinders, they lure you in with cheap wine and cheese and then pull the rug out from under you once you get there. Keep in mind that for $36,000 a year you get nothing but an ID that gets you in the building—you still have art supplies, books, rent, utilities, and food costs to bear.

When I was graduating from SAIC I had to wrap up the last of my credits trying to use the work study program to get an internship. Many of the internships at the time were still paid, but they had little to no relationship with the printmaking (which was my focus) community in Chicago, and so I took it upon myself to call, walk, and knock on the door of these places. Thankfully I only had to knock on one. My (now) good friend Tony Fitzpatrick pitied me enough to hire me for a few days a week right out of college, polishing and prepping copper etching plates in the basement of his studio. In hindsight I feel like an asshole, having paid SAIC $2,500 bucks (three credit hours at the time) to find myself a job, something I was obviously capable of doing without them.


Flowers to Rest the Weary
2.5 x 3.5in
Mixed Media Collage on Tin Type

These institutions are like meat grinders, they lure you in with cheap wine and cheese and then pull the rug out from under you once you get there.


Their Captive Spoke of Pitch Devils and Prowling Cats
14.5 x 12in
Mixed Media Collage

Tony Fitzpatrick’s studio is where I learned how vastly different making a living as an artist is. Many people think it’s a luxurious and leisurely lifestlye, but it most certainly is not. It is a JOB: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. — whatever your preferred hours of operation may be. In Tony’s words “It’s a hustle kid, and you’ve gotta be on your game… if you work at it every day, you’re gonna stay sharp.” These are words to live by, and will become your new mantra if you so choose the life of an artist.

Recently an intern at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans where I work on and off as a preparator, told me that when he and his girlfriend graduate college they want to become artists. My co-worker (friend and mixed media artist, Natalie McLaurin) said to him, “Yea it’s a lot of fun, you’ll have a great time, but you’re also gonna be broke all the time.” This is very common and something they do not prepare you for in school. The smile on the kid’s face immediately disappeared. Please bear in mind, I am not trying to deter anyone from pursuing one’s dream, but sometimes a reality check is in order.


He Explored the Circulation of Blood and Dreams, Bones and Disease
3 x 4.5in
Mixed Media Collage on Cabinet Card

Like any job it can be a rat race at times, keeping up with collectors, staying focused in the studio, trying not to notice your ever-dwindling bank account. The growing expenses of framing and shipping, another plague to many young artists who work a day job only to see that money get eaten up by your current project.

So I moved to New Orleans in 2009 in search of this dream—that and a more easy-going lifestyle—to draw inspiration from an incredible city and culture that exists no place else in the U.S. The first night in my new house a fucking parade went by! I found myself an incredible dog, (interspecies life-mate) and for the first time since I was 14 years old I was blissfully unemployed.

I quickly got involved with a print shop, with the very talented Meg Turner, in the now defunct Louisiana Artworks space, a story too tragic to recount here. (That print shop now operates a more DIY style setup in the upper 9th ward of New Orleans under the moniker New Orleans Community Printshop. If you’re visiting NOLA I highly recommend dropping in on one of their open shop print nights.) It was the perfect space to connect with other artists and recent transplants and like-minded people. That big/small town aspect of the community here is something I wouldn’t trade for anything. Not that this is unique to New Orleans, but the help that artists can offer each other is immeasurable.

Many artists can be guarded and secretive over their studio practices, resources, etc. This is another life lesson from Tony Fitzpatrick that I studied closely, a little generosity goes a long way, and taking the time to reach out to a fellow artist and share a mailing list, help promote a show, or pass on a collector or two really helps to make everyone stronger.

That big/small town aspect of the community here is something I wouldn’t trade for anything. Not that this is unique to New Orleans, but the help that artists can offer each other is immeasurable.


Breaking Cover for the Meadow, 11 x 14in, Mixed Media Collage on Tin Target, 2013
A Whisper, A Handshake, A Drop of Blood, 12 x 15in, Mixed Media Collage on Antique Photograph, 2013

The move to NOLA enabled me to put making art on the front burner full time. This had its ups and downs at first: too much time can be easily wasted. I quickly realized it was good to get out and take the dog for a walk and be out in the world for a couple hours in the morning before really getting down to it back in my home/studio. If I didn’t I would find myself getting antsy and pacing around the apartment taking little “breaks” when I should have been at my desk. For those of you just finishing school or looking to hone your studio practice I highly recommend starting small—an hour a day and build up from there. Dedicate a room or workspace that you can leave and come back to, even if your place is small; if you don’t have a dedicated space you will be less likely to make work if you have to break it down and set it up each time. Even if it means just getting used to it, spending time in that space will really help. Eat in it, read in it, nap in it, you’ll find your rhythm.

There is a tiny condescending asshole in all of us, don’t be that guy.

It has taken me 10 years since I finished school to get to where I am today, and my small career is really only just beginning. Patience is key, as well as finding your audience. They are out there. It’s easier than ever to cultivate them, a good website, active blog, and uuggghh Facebook, are all tools to get your work out there. Art can be many things to those educated in its nuances, but it can be very intimidating to many others. You have to be willing to explain your practices and thoughts and not talk down to someone if they fail to understand. Unless you’ve invented a way for them to literally crawl inside your head and peak around, then be patient and inform them. I’ve seen many artists become frustrated and short with people, and let me tell you, they are not winning any prizes. In fact, if you have a circle of artist friends, one is bound to be that condescending asshole that the rest talk about behind their back. There is a tiny condescending asshole in all of us, don’t be that guy.

I’m pretty terrible at wrapping these kinds of things up, I really pine for less of a one-sided conversation (said the guy who talks to his dog in his studio). The last thing I’ll leave you with is to go out on a walk or a drive or ride and look; look for something that inspires you, either through form, sound, movement, decay, whathaveyou. It’s all there; you just have to figure out how to put it all together.


Three Remain, Three Lost, to Drowning Diphtheria and Ennui
5 x 8in
Mixed Media Collage on Cabinet Card


Fish of the Flood, Beware the Swift Current and the Rocky Shore
39 x 7in
Mixed Media Collage on Book Covers
39 x 7in