I…am not an author at all. I’m pretty confident with my written word, but I’m a visual artist by trade and by nature. I create pretty pictures, and I pursued a career that lets me do that on skin.

That’s right, I’m a tattoo artist. I happen to be a tattoo artist who loves systems, is good at math, tears apart and builds computers, creates graphics and web sites, and has a deep affection for philosophy.

I’ve also been a starving artist on occasion.

But I have burning need to leave something behind. I want to help creative pros achieve their wildest dreams by being creative. I was never held back as a child when it came to my creativity. My mother was instrumental in fostering my love for art, whether she ever had the chance to realize it or not.

I was born to a poor family in rural Kentucky and spent the first years of my life on a farm. My father worked on the road as a trucker and construction worker, depending on the season. But Mom stayed at home to tend crops and watch the animals – myself included.

I spent most of my time outside getting chased by chickens, geese, and billy goats. Or getting kicked in the ribs by a horse when I was 4. (I never walked behind a horse unannounced again.)

I spent winters digging in snowbanks and eating vanilla cream snow cones with Mom. This was when we had snowbanks in Kentucky large enough to tunnel through and scoop into cones.

If anyone tries to deny global warming, I’ll pull out some Polaroids of the snow we got in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Fuck you, greenhouse gasses.

Learning was expected.

While most of my early childhood was spent outside when there was daylight; when the sun went down it was time to learn. My mother was very proud to have taught me how to read and write at an elementary level when I was four years old.

And she loved art, so we spent time around local artists any time we got the chance. If the weather was bad, we’d wake up and eat a bowl of cereal together, then start writing, drawing, or painting together. We even took field trips to studio artists’ homes or visited the local folk art museum.

She always encouraged my curiosity and creativity, and I’m forever grateful for her influence. She told everyone she met that I’d be a millionaire one day. But I’m a tattoo artist, right? It’s a running joke that you don’t become a tattoo artist without some sort of fucked-up past, and so it seems to be the case for me.

My mom was murdered when I was six and a half years old.

The rosy, rural beginnings suddenly became very dark. My grandparents took me and did their best to raise me the same way Mom would have, but I was damaged. I couldn’t fall asleep unless someone else was in the room with me. And I ran to sleep next to my grandmother every night because I suffered from nightmares and night terrors until I was 9 years old.

But I had art as an outlet.

I always had art, and my grandmother encouraged me to pursue it as much as my mother would have. I got art supplies for every birthday and Christmas. Everyone always knew I’d be an artist. My therapist even used art to help me deal with my night terrors, but I can’t say it worked.

My childhood was unstable until high school. I barely saw my dad and my grandparents couldn’t understand what I was going through. They tried, but it was an impossible situation. I kept studying art and doing well in school, though.

Through high school, things started to change. Unstable would be an understatement – I rebelled, let my grades slip, looked for chemical solutions to my overwhelming emotions. And yet, I still had art. I took every art class available to me, graduated high school as the “Most Artistic” of my graduating class, along with a very dear friend of mine.

But art didn’t seem like a good career choice when I got to college. I pursued a degree in graphic and web design, thinking it would be a good way to make a living from art.

I was very, very wrong.

Art and design may share similar skills, but they aren’t quite the same. Some rules are quite different, others are very much the same. Understanding the difference would have been a huge benefit before I spent an insane amount of money on an education that didn’t apply to what I wanted to do.

After years of fumbling through one career path and another, then another…I pursued art as a career, and I’ve never been happier than I am as a tattoo artist. The point I’m trying to make here is…I’m an artist, not an author. I’ve always been an artist, and I always will be.

I also believe in helping others achieve their fullest potential. I’m a coach, and I love coaching other creative professionals to build their careers in a sustainable, rewarding way.

And I believe in continual personal development. If you aren’t trying to be a better YOU every day, then you’re doing it wrong. My motto has become “Create Yourself,” in honor of this quote that has stuck with me more than almost any other piece of advice I’d ever received:

“[The] self is not something one finds; it is something one creates.”
—Thomas Szasz, The Second Sin

You can become something amazing…

…with enough love, dedication, and hard work. That means you’re going to have to sacrifice.

I’ve struggled to make these sacrifices, myself. I’ve been a starving artist on several occasions. Being unstable while trying to earn a living with your creativity is a scary place to be. Especially if you have a family to support and big dreams to chase.

You don’t deserve lies, though – a creative career is a hard choice to make. I don’t want to paint a rosy picture that everyone can pursue a career in the arts and be successful. There are far more failed authors, draftsmen, painters, dancers, and musicians than there are successes.

If you want security, be a banker. If you want the freedom to create, even if you know you might fail, be an artist. You might help those around you in the process.

Create yourself.

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