Seth says: do the work you want to do

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My good friend Jon Johnson of Bearface Design organized a Monday movie series at The Princess themed around design. Last week, he arranged to show the biographical documentary “Seth’s Dominion”. The eponymous Seth (above) is an extremely talented and thoughtful cartoonist who just happens to live in Guelph. Seth joined the crowd at The Original Princess to offer a few comments before the movie, and field a Q&A afterward. He also hung around for a long time afterward to sign books and chat.

Before I go on: there is now a way you can financially support makebright. I set up an account on Patreon to accept small contributions starting at $1 (which is $1.31 Canadian) per non-trivial blog post like this one. Click right here to open a tab to the makebright Patreon page and watch my mildly amusing video. If you want to chip in to help me continue building community through independent storytelling, you’ll need to create an account there. It’s pretty easy. Thanks for being awesome. Now back to the story.

Seth made a comment that it’s important to do the work that you want to do. The work that is important to you regardless of how it is evaluated by the world. I do that. A lot. In fact, that’s all the stories you see featured here on makebright. Sometimes self-doubt tries to creep in, subverting my momentum, particularly when story traffic is low. But I’m stubbornly resolved to keep telling these independent stories. The very practical challenge for me is how to derive some revenue for these stories because makebright is my sole income. In the past I’ve considered (briefly) ads or paid posts or a paywall. All of that doesn’t fit. In my ideal world, some well-heeled person would give me a bag of money for the year and say: Go! Keep finding and shooting and telling those stories that you love.

As I left the theatre, an acquaintance Jeremy Ladan said to me “I love your work. I wish you had a Patreon account so I could give you a little money.” Patreon, for the uninitiated, is a mechanism to support somebody’s work with (typically) small recurring payments. So a creator might choose to accept set monthly contributions or a per-podcast/post/video amount from his supporters. The funny thing is I’ve had a Patreon account for six months; I just haven’t switched it on until today. I was concerned about signing on supporters and then not delivering the stories. The reality over the past six months is that I keep putting the stories out and I *love* doing these stories. In large part, it’s all I think about. As you’ve already read, that is all hooked up now. It’s an experiment. We’ll see how it goes. Soft launch. Thanks to Daryl, Lisa, and Calder for feedback on my Patreon campaign.

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One more thing, it looks like the anticipated next movie “Drew” in Jon’s Art, Design & Architecture series got rescheduled to Nov 2.

This encounter with Seth was one of those experiences that permanently changes you. You know about those, right? Beyond the appreciation of the discipline he must have to sustain his created persona, I was struck by how much vulnerability came through in the documentary and in Seth’s comments around the movie and his life. Seth asserted before the movie that most documentaries are more about the maker than the subject. Maybe that’s true. Here are a few things that stood out:

* Seth works alone in his basement on these cartoons that go out far and wide into the world. He eschews technology in favour of brush and paper. He seems, like many artists, content with his own company.

* He mentioned the most intimate detail in the movie of enjoying hearing his wife laughing upstairs while he worked, saying he liked not knowing what she was laughing about. I know this experience with my kids.

* From the movie you would gather Seth was very close with his mother. He offered the most touching and intimate story of how he regretted stopping kissing his mother as he grew up. That gutted me. It’s one of those small/big things.

* Seth described his view of the world, I’m paraphrasing, as “tending toward sadness”. Not despair, but sadness. How could you look at his work and think otherwise?

* In the Q&A, Seth said you should do the work you want to do. Do the work for yourself. He answered my question about client vs personal work, saying he really had no idea how any particular piece of work would be received. Some reactions to my work are equally puzzling. Things I work hard on and love are ignored, and things I think are more trivial are popular.

* Seth is a maker’s maker. In addition to his cartoons, he constructed an elaborate scale cardboard city named “Dominion”. He has created puppets and stamps and signage. He has in fact created his own interesting world around his house by the train tracks and peopled that world with interesting characters. This was inspiring.

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Seth’s persona period rings an echo of the characters that inhabit my brother’s paintings. Very familiar.

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I had so much to think of after the Q&A that I stumbled out…

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into the street, before realizing there were other shots required to tell this story.

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So back inside I went…

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to find a patient line of fans waiting…

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for Seth to sign…

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their books.

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I caught this photo (after a few tries in near-darkness) of Jon Johnson with reflections in his glasses of what he had made happen. This meeting up of people on a Monday.

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Jon met up with Seth at the café before the movie and got his book signed.

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Kristen Hahn, representing Words Worth Books, your awesome uptown book seller and community activator who co-presented the event.

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Then back down the stairs for me, lost in thought…

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and out into the night streets.

This is a great example of one of those things you go to, alone, and you have no idea how it’s going to be, but you go anyway because life is short and sometimes… a lot of the time… it surprises you.

On Princess Street, this is Waterloo.


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