D’Lanie Blaze is Co-Owner of Jailhouse Graphics, a multi-media design company in Los Angeles, California. She spends her free time playing guitar and trying to teach Zoey to accompany on harmonica, but it’s proving to be futile… Zoey insists the squeezebox is more her style. Zoey has a different painted dog dish for every day of the week, and is happy to see that her owner now has an actual career that keeps all of them full.
Karmic Equity–In Search of Inspiration and Full Dog Bowls
By D'Lanie Blaze
I met this woman once whose passing statement changed my life. Her name was E.J. and I was training to take over her desk job in an office I knew I wouldn’t stay for long. When I was supposed to be working, and at every other time of the day, I would doodle on the desk pad, the note pads; it wasn’t long before the entire surrounding area was covered. She smiled at me one day over lunch and said, “You’re such an artist!” I could feel my face get red in the face of such an almost maternal-like compliment as memories of previous jobs I’d lost or quit flicked across my mind, several of which my “doodling” had come up just prior to termination.
I tried to change the subject, but she took a swig of her soda and steered me back, giving me the piece of wisdom that I find I still draw upon (pun intended) to this day. She said, “We are each given a gift with which to inspire change and positively effect others… and therefore the world. It is time you acknowledge that by believing in what you are, for that is truly why you are here. You are an artist!”
In the days that followed after her departure to retirement, I languished at that little desk, wedged into a back room with no window and fluorescent lights. I drew a lot of caricatures of myself with cobwebs from the lamp to my nose, or passed out behind the desk with lots of little bubbles over my head containing palm trees and my guitar. I wrote hate mail to the sadist that had invented pantyhose… although I still haven’t taken the time to figure out whom to send it to. Lucky for me, the boss was a really nice man and didn’t get upset when he realized his phone messages were anagrams. When, as I had predicted, the day came to run from the job like my hair was on fire, he was really understanding and laughed, telling me he’d known from the start that it wasn’t really my “thing”.
And so I ran home to take refuge in creativity and set up my paint shop in my garage and drive way. I spent time painting furniture, canvasses, and flowerpots. For a while I painted almost nothing but dog dishes. At night I’d design menus for restaurants in my neighborhood, and handmade greeting cards for friends and family. E.J.’s words kept floating to the surface of my mind while I continued on in a creatively blissed-out condition of financial denial. I was probably high on oxygen getting to my brain after taking off the pantyhose! I think I must have painted a hundred dog bowls before I realized with dawning horror that selling them, and lugging them all around Los Angeles, was proving to be a real drag. My dog Zoey ended up staring at all the leftover hand painted one-of-a-kind dog dishes, wondering why they were all empty. There’s nothing quite like the realization that overcomes you when it comes by the way your dog is looking at you; we were broke, and Zoey was looking for a better deal.
Someone saw the menus I’d designed for neighborhood cafés and suggested I think about graphic design school. I was open to anything that would keep me from having to wedge my body into another pair of pantyhose or other “professional” attire. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Why not? I’d get to stay creative, right?” And off to school I went, convinced that no one could ever fire me for my doodling addiction again.
The cool thing I discovered in graphic design school was that I really do love it. I eventually have come to find my niche in designing creative web sites, and started a business with my most fabulous friend. But there’s something about taking what you love and turning it into your livelihood that causes a shift, and for me it wasn’t necessarily a positive one at first. I didn’t realize until I started getting my first clients that my time and desire to create art for art’s sake had evaporated, and the caliber of clients I was getting was leaving me anything but creatively fulfilled.
While I loved the challenge of focusing on design solutions for others, I was creatively suffering in my own soul. I was tired of dealing with clients who felt that the meaning of good design lie in the world of Clip-Art. I was frustrated at trying to educate them against the horrors of bad design and try to gain their trust. If one more person made me pollute beautiful white space, I thought I might scream. Add the time spent with clueless clients, the hunt for more clients, the accounting time, and the computer maintenance time, and I became a walking time bomb! The land of Creative Bliss had morphed into the Valley of Creative Constipation. My frustration kept me from getting more clients, and even Zoey was getting bored by the entire situation. On my days off, the last thing I wanted to do was go anywhere near bright paints, colored pencils, or my computer. In fact, I longed for visual sensory deprivation so desperately that I redid my entire house in taupe.
It happened one day while I sat contemplating my living room wall in it’s perfect taupe-ness (all paintings having been removed at that point in an effort to save a small shred of sanity). It hit me like a freight train… all this time and effort I’d spent on trying to figure out how to get paid doing something I love had turned it into something I was hating, largely because I was expecting every client to bring me a potential for a masterpiece. I was wallowing in the frustration of it. Not only was I driving myself crazy, I was driving prospective clients away! I realized suddenly, as E.J.’s words floated to the surface of my mind again, that the answer is in… giving. Why not take my love for creating for creating’s sake, apply what I’d learned in design school, and find a project that motivated me, inspired me, and really helped someone else? While that sounds great, my cynical mind retorted, let’s not forget the empty dog-bowl issue; Zoey’s ready to go on strike! But in the end it came down to this: I had nothing to lose. With my current attitude, I couldn’t get a client in the first place, even if I did agree to use eight different fonts on the same brochure!! Even THOSE kinds of clients weren’t biting. (Oh… the agony).
A very good friend that I wasn’t in touch with all that often was starting a business that was very close to her heart in a small Oklahoma town. Her sister had died, and the six remaining sisters had decided to open a store called, “Sister’s Heaven” where they could sell handmade items and celebrate the creativity that had always been a part of their family. They couldn’t afford professional design; everything was on a shoestring. I decided to abandon the thought of needing to get paid, and design their identity. Once I made the conscious decision and it stopped being about “work”, the creative dam broke and I was overwhelmed with inspiring ideas. I began to see in my mind what they needed; the vibe of the store was right up my alley artistically. I got out the sketchpad and went to work.
Once I let go and followed my intuition, the flow was natural and easy. The sisters loved the design so much they cried. They flew me out to Oklahoma to participate in the grand opening event, and we spent the weekend painting a mural of the sunflowers their sister loved so much on the side of the building. Their business came in droves. I ended up with a great piece for my portfolio that showed off my abilities. Prospective clients began to trust me a lot more, and I attracted more creative clientele. Zoey’s dog bowl began overflowing… with the good stuff… not that low budget chow. Since then we’ve discovered a shared addiction for sushi, but that’s another story.
The impact was a chain reaction of positive things that effected several aspects of not only my life, but for the sisters of Sister’s Heaven, for the people who visited, for the clients I ended up working for later, and yes… of course… for Zoey, who right now is fat and happily asleep at my feet.
Another case in point was a logo I did for a musical acquaintance several years ago when I just got out of design school. I haven’t seen nor heard from this person since… until a few months ago, when he called with an offer to design the identity, web site, and packaging for his emerging music business and offered us the job straight off.
In the years that have followed since my adventure with Sister’s Heaven, my business (Jailhouse Graphics) that I own with my friend and partner in crime, Leisa Ciaverelli, has come a long way. We continue to learn a lot, and are finding new ways to keep the balance. We live and work by the philosophy that we want to always love what we do for a living. If we’ll only do it for money, then it stops being something we love. So we’ve adopted what we’ve come to call the “Karmic Equity Principle” into our work ethic, and here’s how it works.
We’ve discovered that if we keep one creatively inspired “karmic” job going at all times (which is defined by the level of inspiration it gives the designer and the level of true assistance it gives the client), we have a fantastic way to decompress for the last hour of the day; we work on something fun without the constraints of budgets or deadlines. We find someone doing something fantastic who really can’t afford professional design, and offer them our services on an “as time permits’ basis in order to help their business grow, which in turn has a positive effect on the world around us, Usually, when the time is right, the opportunity presents itself and we know it. Having one of these projects going also virtually guarantees that on numerous occasions throughout the week, we’ll speak with someone positive and enthusiastic. Removal of the dollar sign takes away the panic, and lets us tap back into the realm of the joy of creating, and the joy of giving. However, there are specific guidelines we try to follow, and certain criteria that make for a good “Karmic Equity” job, because the goal is to stay inspired and in a good place, which benefits everyone.
1. You Know It When You Feel It.
I get that tingly creative itch that can’t be satisfied until I pull out the sketchpad. Your ideas are immediately embraced and trusted by the client. You are well suited to the project, meaning that their needs are right up your alley of what you’re really good at, and what you can provide them with really will benefit them. In virtually every “karmic equity” job we’ve undertaken, the flow is unmistakably almost magical… it’s like the “big green light from the universe.” Many songwriters say that the best songs are written in a matter of minutes, and rely on them getting out of their own way long enough to tap into the river of abundant creativity and let it flow through them. Often the regular constraints of a design project can interfere with this process, so it’s a great feeling sometimes to just let all that go and get into the joy of creating. I still believe the best projects are the ones that come from the heart.
2. As Time Permits
The recipient of your generosity needs to be willing to accept an “as time permits” disclaimer. This will allow you to work on the job when you’re inspired to, and when you’re slammed with deadlines that keep the dog bowl full, they will not be calling you wondering where you’re at on their project. Being able to devote your time when you feel inspired actually serves to keep you feeling inspired. If you work better on a deadline, create one… just don’t tell the client what it is. Before beginning one of these projects, be sure they have a good understanding of the value of your time; not so much what your hourly rate is but that this stuff takes time and you do have other things going on.
Fun for Free
Ask yourself if you feel good about this job to enjoy doing it for nothing but the fun of doing it. The purpose is not only to experience the joy for having given; it’s to experience the joy of being in the moment… the joy of creating. The process should succeed in inspiring and challenging you in creative ways. Remember it’s not about penance or dues; it’s about really having fun while you’re doing it.
I believe whole heartedly that being willing to give parts of our lives away provides us with the flow and movement necessary to keep clients coming and our businesses possible and profitable, both financially and cosmically. In contributing to a greater balance, and in continuing to find reasons to love what you do for a living, an energy of growth and inspiration is tapped into where the rewards are outstanding. If you’re lost in the Valley of Creative Constipation, try utilizing the “Karmic Equity Principle”; we all know someone who needs a logo or a brochure, who would greatly benefit from our acquired skill and gifts. By investing a little karmic equity into our businesses, we can sty inspired and continue to positively effect the people, and the world around us… loving not only the world we’re a part of, but what we do while we’re in it. It is, after all, truly why we are here.
About the Author D’Lanie Blaze is Co-Owner of Jailhouse Graphics, a multi-media design company in Los Angeles, California. She spends her free time playing guitar and trying to teach Zoey to accompany on harmonica, but it’s proving to be futile… Zoey insists the squeezebox is more her style. Zoey has a different painted dog dish for every day of the week, and is happy to see that her owner now has an actual career that keeps all of them full.