My friend Erin’s book, How To Make It, was just published and I’m in/on it! Erin, who also owns Amelia in Oxford, Mississippi, interviewed 25 makers to discover how they make a living by making things.
My paternal grandparents on their wedding day
Since the election in November, I’ve been watching with horror as political events unfold here in the US. It’s been a frightening time; every night I go to bed worried about what new bad news I’ll wake up to in the morning.
And yet the past few months have been the most creative and professionally successful of my life. I’ve been quietly celebrating this, because it seems tone deaf to, for example, publicly talk about a good piece of press when legal US residents are refused entry back into the country.
My maternal grandparents.
My own family history is a story of the possibility of America. I am descended from slaves on one side of my family, and am first-generation American born on the other. My dad still remembers visiting his family in a segregated Houston during Jim Crow, and was one of a handful of African-Americans on his battleship when he served in the Navy. I have had opportunities that were denied to my father and paternal grandparents. I have enjoyed a peace that my Filipina mom, who had to flee into the jungle during WWII, and who came from the Philippines on a tourist visa in the early 70s, staying on when martial law was declared there, would not have experienced in her country of birth.
I know how hard-won all of the opportunities I’ve had in my life have been; people fought and sacrificed for this. It’s important for me to remind myself that celebrating my successes is a way for me to personally celebrate the good of this country and to honor those who’ve gone before. But with that quiet celebration must also come public demands that the opportunities I have had be available to all.
So, if you notice me being more politically active and vocal, it is because I love this country, and because I want the freedom – and opportunity – I have to be available to all.
I’m excited to introduce this week’s printmakers: Rosemary Dardick and Robin Belcher of Ink + Smog Editions. I first met Robin way back in 1998, when he was a freshman at the San Francisco high school where I worked. I always remember Robin as a tall, smiling, creative kid. Many years later, I started following Ink + Smog on Instagram, and only made the connection when Rosemary Dardick, the other half of Ink + Smog (and Robin’s wife), emailed me over a year ago!
Ink + Smog is an urban paper goods company, creating letterpress and linocut prints out of a studio in Los Angeles. I grew up not far from their LA studio, and recognize many of the LA scenes they illustrate from my youth (and many of their San Francisco scenes from the 20+ years I’ve lived here).
Rosemary and Robin have a lot of good advice about working with your significant other, and the importance of finding a good partner, so read on!
JH: When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium? What other media do you work in?
I+S: We’re both artists in our own right, Robin is a printmaker who also draws and paints and Rosemary’s work looks at ideas within architecture and urban planning through lace. We were both introduced to printmaking growing up. Robin got more serious during undergrad concentrating on complex linoleum block prints and pronto plate lithography. Rosemary ended up doing a lot of silkscreen on fabric as part of her undergraduate work as well.
We met at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2008 while Robin was studying Print Media and Rosemary was in the Fiber department. We moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and began working in our tiny apartment in Koreatown, using whatever supplies we had at hand.
How would you describe your work?
Both of our personal art practices draw on the built environment. We are both intensely interested in cities and urban spaces. It was a very natural progression for our collaboration to follow in the same vein.
Your work is so LA-centric. How did this come about?
Our urban paper goods are inspired by our love for cities and urban environments. We are fascinated by the layers of architecture and design that make up our daily urban life. We can’t help but be inspired by the buildings, signage and architectural details that surround us. We see our work as a love letter to the cities we love.
What’s the first thing you ever remember making?
Robin remembers drawing everywhere on everything. The first thing that he remembers making was his version of an X-Men comic featuring foxes. His mom still has it!
Rosemary remembers the sketchbooks that her parents would buy her at the start of every summer. She was allowed to do whatever she wanted with them, as long as she didn’t rip any pages out. She still has them and thinks they’re somewhere in the garage.
How do you manage being partners in both business and in life? What’s worked for you? Do you have specific, distinct roles in your business? Or do they overlap?
It’s a balancing act. It can be hard to draw a distinct line between the two parts of our lives especially since we mostly work from home while our daughter is young. That line gets blurred, but for the most part, we try to keep business and life separate. We’ve always carried the burden together. We have separate distinct roles and we overlap. We often switch back and forth when it comes to the many steps in design and production.
What are you currently working on, and why?
We’re currently working on the new designs that we’ll be releasing this year. One of the projects that we’re particularly excited about is a line of greeting cards focusing on typography.
Do you have a dream project (or two)?
We’ve always kicked around the idea of a children’s book or two. We’re also talking about introducing a new line of city prints and we would love to be able to set up an artist residency program at some point as well.
We’re in the middle of a big studio reorganization at the moment. We have some new equipment to try and integrate and we’re looking forward to a more streamlined work space for the new year.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Find a good partner, someone who will drive you crazy but keep you grounded and push you. Make plans, write down goals, put your head down and do the work. But don’t forget to reach out, accountability partners are important. Look to other people running businesses that you admire.
What else do you want readers to know about you or your work?
We work in a combination of letterpress and linocuts which are drawn and carved by hand out of battleship linoleum and then printed on our Heidelberg Windmill letterpress.
How can people find you?
I was chatting with a friend last night, and we were reflecting on the eight years since we were both laid off, one week before Christmas 2008, when the company we were working for abruptly shut down and laid off all of its US-based employees.
“Remember when we lost our health insurance, and couldn’t get COBRA because our group plan no longer existed?” I asked her.
“Yes, and my child and I went uninsured for a year. Fun times.”
A few weeks after the layoff, another former coworker and I met for coffee. It was the height of the Great Recession, and he suggested that I look for freelance HR work (I had been running HR for our previous employer).
“I can’t take on freelance work,” I responded. “I need to focus my energy on finding a full-time job with benefits.”
He sighed and said, “Imagine how many more people would become entrepreneurs and freelancers in this country if health insurance weren’t tied to work.”
After that layoff in 2008, I spent months applying for private health insurance plans. However, because of minor, pre-existing conditions (mild asthma and migraines), I was repeatedly rejected. I finally managed to get a plan that covered major medical, but which charged me an extra 50% on top of my already-high premium because of my pre-existing conditions. Yet this plan declined to cover medication or treatment for those conditions. For eighteen months, I went without the medication which had kept my asthma under control for years because I could not afford to pay for it, on top of paying for my already-high insurance premiums.
I did find a full-time job in 2010, but left it after just five months when another friend asked me to consult for his business. By this time, I had figured out that I wanted to be a working artist. Consulting part-time while developing my art career felt like the right move. But, once again, I was faced with the task of looking for private health insurance.
I was lucky, in a way. Enough health insurance carriers rejected me outright that I qualified for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (or PCIP). PCIP was a plan implemented in the earliest phases of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare; the two are different titles for the same thing) roll out, and it covered people who, like me, could not get private health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. The premium was reasonable, and it covered my asthma medication. I had that plan for years, until California’s exchange, Covered California, went live in the final phase of the Affordable Care Act roll out. I’ve happily – and proudly – been covered under Obamacare for six years.
I don’t deny that Obamacare is expensive (I don’t qualify for credits), but I would argue that is the nature of health insurance overall in this country, rather than of Affordable Care Act plans specifically. I’ve worked in HR for over ten years, and was the HR Director of a startup insurance brokerage for a time, so I have had more exposure to the costs of health insurance plans than most people.
A friend asked me why I even bothered to have insurance. She suggested I just save my money, and use that in case of an emergency. I responded that one unexpected illness or accident could not only wipe out my savings, it could send me into bankruptcy (don’t believe me? Read this); health insurance is as important a part of my financial plan as generating income and creating an emergency savings fund.
I often say that my career as an artist is due in part to the Affordable Care Act, and the way that it’s made health insurance available to everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions. Having access to health insurance has allowed me to strike out on my own, make a living doing work I love, support other businesses, pay my taxes. If that is not the American Dream, then I don’t know what is.
So, with this transition to a new president who has threatened to repeal the Affordable Care Act without understanding the positive impact it has had on millions of people’s lives, I vow to fight to keep my health insurance, so that I can keep creating – and keep creating a living.