There’s a new kid in town, and he’s making waves for any artist that strives to make a living off of original thought, and they are called--I’m going to coin it-- the ‘Walmartists’. Yes, that mega shopping dump of cheap crap and endless signs with that sadistic smiley face rolling prices back to really odd numbers. “We’re rolling this home catheter kit back to $5.86!” Combine this with artists who are the equivalent to Chinese lead based paint covered toys and you have yourself the makings of a new label. Walmartist. If you’ve been to a comic book convention lately you know the ones I speak of. They sit at their booth with a smile on their face ‘rolling back’ prices and originality to a new low. They have these huge walls of prints behind them, some even have a really cool art style, but the one thing they don’t have is the rights to sell and mass produce prints of these characters. They have absolutely no art on the table that would tell you what they are capable of if they had to create something on their own. I know you were thinking that Spiderman had 45 creators because there are at least that many people selling prints of him, but there isn’t.
The sad thing is, though, is that they want to be known as full time, self employed artists, but lack the originality to do so without ripping people off. They will cry ‘fan art’, ‘I need to feed my family’, or ‘it’s what people are buying’, but what they are really crying out is that “I have no original bones in my body, nor a willingness to put the time in that it takes to create something that is my own. Instead, I will mass produce prints of other people's characters and sell them with total disregard.” Walmartists are the subject of many a post on social media, and many a discussion amongst industry professionals, and the reasoning and thoughts on these parasites of the art world are just as varied. Some say they are able to produce prints of these characters because they worked on the book and that gives them the right, but I just can’t help thinking that that is just another excuse to avoid putting in the effort to create something amazing on their own. Is it really that hard to follow what pulls you to be an artist in the first place? That feeling of taking a different path in life, of doing something everyone says is impossible, of supporting a family or living on your own terms because you found out how to accomplish what most artists haven't. It’s just sad seeing these artists sitting there selling other people’s creations, trying to make a living that was supposed to be made off of original thought, style and being the weirdest one in the room.
Now I’ve done a few prints early on in my career of some characters what weren’t mine, and honestly, when I was sitting behind my booth selling them, even though 99% of my stuff was original, it was those 2 prints I was selling, of characters that weren’t mine, that made me feel like a fraud, and made me feel like I wasn’t playing in the big leagues. The minute I stopped selling those prints, and committed myself to original art, a few things happened. First, it really made me have to think about what to paint. Not just what to paint, but sent me way the hell out into space searching for what was going to make my artwork that much more than it was. It was an incredible learning experience, having to come up with techniques and research to bring my art to where it is today. Two, it set me apart from those artists and really pushed my art into the spotlight when I did group shows. There may be some clever takes on Batman and the like, but nothing compares to a piece of art that really pulls something from the viewer, and makes them say “This is fucking cool!”. To see a piece of art that has nothing commercially recognizable yet is amazing in it’s message and composition is a rare treat. It really says that the artist is willing to take the chance to put out there what he feels is important art, or at the very least, says something about his sense of humor. It lays the foundation for their legacy. There will be no remembrance of the Walmartist other than a catchy coined term, and a lot of shitty prints.
Over my career I’ve seen so many artists fall into the trap of painting what they think will sell, instead of attempting to create their own original thought. Just because you live at the beach doesn’t mean you’ll only sell beach paintings. In fact it’s a downright insult to the people there to assume they only live at the beach to fill themselves with only beach related things. Some just like the location, but inside their houses they actually fill it with thought provoking, intelligent art. After all it’s pretty creepy to see ocean scenes inside a house, only to open the door and see the actual ocean there. It is definitely a scary thought to wake up every morning, look at a blank canvas, think about pleasing billions of potential customers, and then painting the most off the wall shit you can come up with. Building a career on original thought is incredibly tough, but in the long run, after a few years of doing it, you can start to look at the artists around you and know that you now have something that they don’t. A legacy. No one is going to look at the Walmartists and remember who they are. Hell, we don’t know who they are from minute one being as they are offering nothing in the way of original product. All we see is their desperation to maintain a foothold in the art world by riding the coattails of pop culture and selling you their bullshit under the guise of ‘feeding a family’. I understand that families need to eat. I have one of my own, but I’ve been able to feed them with original thought. For me the thought of having to look my children in the eye as a fraud like the Walmartists, would kill me inside. Knowing that my children would grow up to find out that daddy had been ripping off other artists and creators in order to make a living, because daddy couldn’t come up with something original, would be the end. If you are not thinking ahead and building your legacy, if you are not taking this seriously, then please get the fuck out of the business.
Stuck in a rut? Finding inspiration for original ideas can be a bear at times. I remember many times, trying to live paint at a club without first thinking of something to paint, hoping the idea would pop into my head when I got there, and then nothing. Poof! The painting was a disaster, and I just blamed it on the whiskey. Now days I have more ideas than I know what to do with, and it is because of a few things. One of the techniques I use is based off of what Hunter Thompson said about retyping famous novels so that he could feel what it was like to write a great novel. I adapted that to art, and if I’m ever in a rut, I used to ask myself “If I was hired to illustrate one of my favorite books, what would I paint?” Worked like a charm. I just picked a book that I knew I’d have a blast working on and then I went to work. From there the ideas just came spinning off what I was working on for the fictitious book job. While live painting I’ve had the audience choose what I was going to paint, yell out items to combine into a painting, actually LET them paint it for me when I was feeling particularly weird, repainted one of my comic book pages in full color, poured booze on the page and tried to find faces in the shapes, lit pieces on fires, or just left the canvas blank, called it modern and tried to sell it for millions. From all of these things, though, my mind eventually wandered into the territory that spawned some of my best work to date. Now I don’t know what will get the grey matter between your ears bubbling, but staring at a blank canvas is usually not the way. You’re painting from life, so go look at it, smell it, freak it the fuck out, tie it up, turn it on, bake it up, run from it, and sooner or later, you’ll have something to paint about and something legit to say. Sitting around at a 6 ft. Booth at a comic book convention selling other people’s ideas is not going to take you anywhere. It’ll only leave you further behind guys and gals like me, like so many of the artists I started showing with years ago who are showing the same art at the same places in the same town. Walmartists.