Visiting Artist: Allison Renner, Jack of all Trades

There are so many people out there (me included) that are more than just dabbling in the arts, but really trying to make a go at it. Trying to figure out where we fit in the big scheme of things, how to make money and do what we’re good at, what we love. But it’s easy to forget that we’re not alone in the journey. Being an artist can be isolating, which is one reason why I wanted to start this series. Working and living in/with/around/for the arts can also seem glamorous or crazy or impossible. Sometimes it is all of those things, sometimes all at once, and sometimes not at all, not even a little. Sometimes it’s just work, and a lot of the time you’re fighting your own insecurities and uncertainties trying to get that work done.

I think you’ll really be able to connect with Allison Renner (who I mentioned a little over a month ago). She’s got her hand in multiple pots. And, like so many very talented people I know, is a jack of all trades – which may be the hardest artistic identity to wrangle.

It’s hard to define myself as an artist because I’m not sure I have a certain style. People have told me my fiction, even with stories dissimilar in subject matter and style, has a certain something that lets the reader know each story is mine – but I honestly have no clue what that is.

My photography: I don’t think it has anything cohesive about it that makes it “mine.” I’m not sure that’s a bad thing with photography though – I like seeing things my way and documenting it, then letting the viewer interpret it their own way. That’s my favorite thing about visual arts – making up my own story.

For my design work, I have a kind of silly style. Not necessarily whimsical and cutesy, but I like to think my personality comes across in a lot of what I produce. I try to tone it down when doing custom freelance work, because the customer knows what they want. That’s when I just let my personality come out in my interactions to make them feel like they can ask me anything and suggest different ideas and shoot me down if what I produce isn’t what they wanted. But I feel like my personal designs are all pretty fun and lighthearted – simple linework drawings, photographs, and text.

I think I feel more comfortable calling myself an artist since I have a graphic design background – I worked as an artist for four years. In terms of meeting someone now and calling myself an artist… I can’t do it. If I do, I immediately qualify it with “Well, I’m a graphic artist,” or “I’m freelancing,” or shrugging it off and explaining that I’m experimenting, trying to find my place. Despite hearing so many people say you need to do what makes you happy, I don’t think too many people actually believe you can make it happen, so I always feel like I need to explain why I’m trying to make it as an artist. I’m definitely still trying to feel comfortable with it and not justifying it just to make people think they understand me. I need to simply state that I’m an artist and leave it at that.

When I asked Allison where she felt she was heading as an artist, she said some things I find incredibly brave. Especially to say out loud.

Right now, I’m in the middle of traveling. I actually started my career as a freelance artist because the parent company closed my local branch. I was kind of pushed into it, though I had already been plotting it out. When I found out my company was closing, the thought of getting back into the (crappy) job market gave me anxiety attacks. I decided I’d take a vacation. I started plotting out where I wanted to go, and the list grew and grew. Then I realized… why am I trying to cram it in? The job market will more than likely still be bad when I stop traveling. I decided to take until the end of 2011 to travel since I had the savings for it – what else was I going to do with that money? Buy a house? I don’t even know where I want to live! I have life booked up for three months – out west, Florida, and the UK. I still have two months open, more savings, and a free round trip ticket. At this point, I want to figure out how I can keep traveling. I thought I’d get tired of it, but it’s an addicting lifestyle.

Traveling makes it fairly easy to be creative. I’ve taken TONS of pictures, mostly nature, though I wanted to focus on portraits. I’ve designed a few logos for various projects, and I’ve been writing a lot. Not fiction, but I’ve taken notes about things I’ve seen and know I want to write about later. Every night I sit down and write what I saw and thought throughout the day, and I’m getting a lot of material. There’s something freeing about being on the road and not being held accountable for anything in “real” life that really fuels my creative fire.

While I travel I work on a Macbook out of hotel rooms, airport terminals, or from friends’ couches. At home I have an iMac for all my major design work. I’m not sure I want to be one of those people who write in a coffee shop, but I also know that I need a set place to work. If I’m in my room, chances are I’ll get distracted and want to watch a DVD or read a book or nap. So when I’m “settled” I’ll probably work from a library or coffee shop.

My mental behind the scenes is probably the more fun place to be. I’m actually a really logical, grounded person. I don’t have crazy fantasies or anything – it’s all stuff that could realistically happen. I think that’s what helps me with writing. I can see one thing as I drive by and start questioning it and wondering about it and I just can’t let it go, so I twist it into a story. I think it’s the same with my photography – I just see something that moves me and I want to document it, for myself first and foremost, but I also really hope that any art I produce moves at least one other person in some way. Even if a story makes them realize something honest about human nature they don’t want to admit, or if a photograph simply makes them want to see a certain landmark… I just want to affect someone.

Visually, my mental behind the scenes is very colorful and silly and laid-back. My favorite thing about traveling is being able to plan out my days as I go, and change my mind at the last minute and not leave anyone hanging because they were depending on me. So right now my mind looks like a maze where every wall is a different color, and it’s bright and full of sunshine and amazing characters. There are different sights around every corner but there are no dead ends – it’s always possible to get back to where you were, even though it will be a different color the next time you’re there.

Allison not only has me cheering her on, she makes me want to join her in her journey! The idea that we CAN make our way back to where we started, instead of the classic “you can never go home again” is inspiring and comforting, it makes risk taking feasible. Her journey is a testament to not fearing change, but embracing the adventure of it, and using it for the creative advantage. Everyone has the ability to leap ahead and take a chance, you just need to find the courage.

Thank you for being our first visiting artist, Allison!

If you, or someone you know would like to be featured here, and undergo my rigorous questioning (it’s fun! no, really it is!), please email me at betterinrealife at gmail dot com.

7 thoughts on “Visiting Artist: Allison Renner, Jack of all Trades”

  1. Allison, way to go. I don’t know where is it that I read it but calling yourself an artist is where it all starts. It’s like some kind of lock finally opens and the rest comes (with hard work, of course).
    The job market also gives me anxiety attacks. Like, it makes me physically sick in the stomach just to think I have to write more letters and then wait, and wait for nothing. It is messing with my health, mental and otherwise.
    So I decided I am going to give myself a break and stop looking for a while.
    Anyway, thanks for this “…Despite hearing so many people say you need to do what makes you happy, I don’t think too many people actually believe you can make it happen” For some reason you gave me hope.

  2. What a great new series! Love this. Allison’s journey (both the physical and metaphoric one) is definitely inspiring. Makes me want to pack everything up and hit the road! There is definitely something about traveling/being out of the norm that inspires creativity….is that why so many of the “greats” are expatriates?

    Also, this:

    “In terms of meeting someone now and calling myself an artist… I can’t do it. If I do, I immediately qualify it with “Well, I’m a graphic artist,” or “I’m freelancing,” or shrugging it off and explaining that I’m experimenting, trying to find my place.”

    SO TRUE. Often times when I meet people and tell them I’m a copywriter, they ask if I do any “real” writing (which, side note, annoying in itself. The other stuff I write isn’t “real”?). I have a heck of a time choking out, “Oh, erm, well yeah, I guess, I mean, I kind of wrote a book…I mean, I DID write a book, but you know, it’s just…yeah. Not a big deal.” God, I want to kick myself just typing that! Why is it so hard for artists to own up to their accomplishments/goals?

    Herm. Clearly this post gave a lot of food for thought. Can’t wait to read more from this series 🙂

    1. YAY! Thanks Laura!

      And yes, I think for writers, esp it’s hard to say “artist”. When I went to get my MFA no one understood how writing was a “fine art” because I wasn’t painting. Sigh. People think everyone can make up a good story.

  3. loving this series already!! “it’s always possible to get back to where you were, even though it will be a different color the next time you’re there.” HOLY COW I love that line!

  4. yay for allison! i love that she talked about how hard it is to classify yourself when you’re still trying to find your place in creative work. brilliant.

  5. Thanks for featuring me, Lauren! It was a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to follow this series!

    Thanks so much to everyone for their comments, also. It’s so awesome to hear that you can relate.

  6. I love Allison’s blog, which is how I found your blog, so it all comes full circle. It is very inspiring to see how people live the ‘artist’s lifetstyle’ (whatever that means) where they find their creative energies and how they make a go-of-it. Especially because I’m trying to do the same in my life. I’ll be interested to read more of this series! 🙂

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