July 14, 2011
Picture 11

Bring your own ideas to life

Conventional marketing wisdom says find your niche and stick to it, but that idea makes me feel claustrophobic. I don’t want to be known for a specific medium, but rather for a way of looking at the world. So when I started becoming known as “that post-it note drawing guy,” I stopped doing them and switched over to ink and watercolour instead.

When I first started putting my drawings online in 2006, I didn’t want to be just another guy dumping sketches and random drawings onto the Internet. I wanted to make something that people would connect with, and something that suited the online medium.

I started drawing on square post-it notes, aiming to keep the work small and simple, because I found that the way art is consumed online is vastly different from the way that it is consumed in a gallery.

You’ll usually look at an illustration on a website for just a few seconds before moving on, where as in a gallery, people take the time to stop and inspect for much longer. So the sticky note drawings were meant to be consumed quickly, although hopefully viewers who take a little extra time to digest the work will find the extra layers of meaning that I find in them.

The ideas in my drawings are self-contained, making them easy to pass along through re-blogging, tweeting, and so on. I’ve been extremely fortunate that my work gets spread around by so many people, because I’ve never actively promoted myself. Every magazine commission, gallery show, and even my book, Serious Drawings, started with someone discovering my work online and contacting me. I’m still amazed at how it all happens and evolves and grows.

And although I’m happy to be able to work on my art full time now, I’m also grateful to have spent the first five years of my drawing career with a day job to support me.

It allowed me to not be swayed by money and to only work on those projects that I really wanted to do, since I already had a decent paycheck. Besides, with a wife and two young kids that I wanted to spend time with, I only had about an hour or two a day to draw, so that precious time had to really count for something that mattered to me.

There is just so much that I want to do with my art: Big outdoor pieces I want to try, books I want to make, art products I want to produce, stories I want to write, and so on. I’m bursting!

Still, figuring out how the hell to make money from your art is a huge challenge. I can’t believe how many artists I’ve met or heard about who, from an outside view, seem to be doing really well, but they don’t actually make a living with their art.

I just don’t want to believe that it can’t be done. I want to be able to make the things I want to make, from scratch, offer them up to the world, and sell them in some way or another. So far I’ve succeeded. Besides, I think I create much more value when I bring my own ideas to life rather than when I serve someone else’s goals.

Picture 11

Marc Johns’ drawings have been exhibited in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Athens, and elsewhere. A book of his artwork, Serious Drawings, was published by teNeues. His drawings have appeared in many other books, as well as publications such as Wired, Newsweek, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His work is blogged about by someone, somewhere, every day, and many of his fans have tattoos of his drawings. He lives with his wife, two sons, and his drawer full of pens in Victoria, BC, Canada. Marc also finds it strange to talk about himself in the third person.