Listen to the episode:
This episode is a bit of a departure for the Autonomous Creative; it’s a panel discussion I moderated with three dynamic young artists about navigating the difficult transition from school to the working world. Each of them is following a unique path, and it was so valuable to dig into the similarities and differences between their worlds.
Brendan Keen, Mariel Capanna, and Brittany Bennett all graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where I teach and lead the Illustration Department, and it was such a blast to get to know them on this panel!
About our guests
Brendan Keen is an artist and fabricator currently based in West Philadelphia. He was a transfer student at PAFA, where he majored in sculpture. He graduated with a BFA 2012, and was awarded the William Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel scholarship, which meant he stayed a fifth year at PAFA and received a certificate in 2013.
When he finished school, he joined the West Philadelphia-based arts collaborative studio and workshop, the Philadelphia Traction Company. Along with the other artists at Traction, he exhibited his sculpture and collaborative works in Philadelphia and San Francisco.
For the past eight years Brendan has worked full time as a self-employed Artist and fabricator, creating sculptural installations for public and private clients, including the Logan hotel, the W hotel, the Discovery Center, and private residences.
In between jobs, Brendan travels whenever possible, including across Western Europe and around Iceland via bicycle, and most recently across the U.S. in a DIY sprinter camper van.
Mariel Capanna is a fine artist specializing in fresco who graduated with a BFA from PAFA 2012, and she was awarded the William Emlen Cresson Memorial Travel scholarship, which means she spent an extra year at PAFA and was awarded a certificate in 2013.
She received her MFA from Yale School of Art in 2020. She attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2017.
She’s exhibited many places, including Adams and Ollman (Portland), Central Park (Los Angeles), Gross McCleaf Gallery (Philadelphia), and Good Weather (North Little Rock), COOP (Nashville) and at the Bowtie Project (Los Angeles).
And has been the recipient of numerous residencies and fellowships (in addition to the Cresson): the 2019 Robert Schoelkopf Memorial Traveling Fellowship Recipient, the 2018 Haverford College VCAM Philadelphia Artist-in-Residence, a 2016 Tacony LAB Artist-in-Residence, a 2014 Independence Foundation Visual Arts Fellow, the Guapamacátaro Arts & Ecology Residency and The Mountain School of Art in 2016.
Mariel currently serves as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Studio Art at Williams College, and a Fresco Instructor at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Her ongoing project Little Stone, Open Home, with Good Weather is a long-term and perpetually changing fresco in a single-car garage in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
Brittany Bennett is a medical illustrator who graduated from the joint PAFA/PENN program in 2014. At PAFA, Brittany focused on academic oil painting and graphite drawing. Her work from this time is the result of meticulous observation of textures in nature and a celebration of details.
After graduating, she completed a graduate program for Medical and Biological Illustration at Johns Hopkins.
She currently works at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where half her week is in Stream Studios servicing the hospital network at large, and the other half she runs RIVER: a medical illustration service just for the Radiology Department.
She is an artist with training in biology, anatomy, and visual communication who creates didactic illustrations and other visual aids. Brittany works with medical professionals at CHOP to produce patient education materials, figures for scientific literature, illustrated surgical training guides, 3D anatomical models, and more.
Click here to view the transcript!
Mariel Capanna: You know, I feel that at this moment, at least, I have the pragmatic kind of success right now. I still struggle with creative sense of success. I still find myself working in response to pressures rather than working in response to something like inspiration.
What does it really take to become successful as a writer or artist?
Jessica Abel: There are a lot of destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like. We’re told we shouldn’t care about worldly success or money. We’re told that if we’re good enough, everything would magically fall into place. That’s a lie and it keeps us struggling, baffled, and hungry for any shred of information that might shed light on how to keep making the work we love. That’s why I get any two artists or writers or any creatives really together in a room. And it’s a foregone conclusion that the conversation will turn to money and the nitty gritty reality of being a professional creative.
I’m cartoonist and creative business coach Jessica Abel.
In my own life the studio visit back channel conversations with other artists where we share our insights and hacks anxieties and red flags have been critical to any success I’ve achieved.
And now I’m bringing that conversation to you. This is the Autonomous Creative.
Jessica Abel: This episode is a bit of a departure for the Autonomous Creative. It’s a panel discussion I moderated with three dynamic young artists about navigating the difficult transition from school to the working world. Each of them is following a unique path and it was so valuable to dig into the similarities and differences between their worlds.
Brendan Keen, Mariel Capanna, and Brittany Bennett all graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where I teach and lead the illustration department. And it was such a blast to get to know them during this panel.
Tons of surprises to come, right after this.
Jessica Abel: This episode of the Autonomous creative is brought To you by the Creative Engine. I talk to working creative people all the time, both on the show and in our membership, the Autonomous Creative Collective, and one of the biggest challenges they struggle with is procrastination.
To most people, it feels like it’s just a permanent character flaw. Like they were born that way and doomed to suffer, but that’s just absolutely untrue.
Art is hard. Yes. And we will all feel resistance to using that much cognitive energy on anything, but procrastination typically stems from specific root causes that are totally fixable.
If your creative work is essential to you and who you are and your life yet, you still struggle with procrastination. And it just feels like this is crazy.
I want to invite you to check out the free creative engine masterclass. This class will help you overcome your resistance and put your priorities first before you’re derailed by everything else.
The creative engine is a complete, simple, straightforward, and powerful framework that will help you pinpoint where your creative process breaks down and highlight exactly how to fix it.
In it, you’ll master the four essential phases of the creative process you need to produce awesome work reliably. And you’re probably skipping at least one. Possibly two.
You’ll learn how to predict and avoid the pitfalls that derail you time and time again.
And you’ll overcome self-sabotage take back control and keep moving even when things get really challenging.
This class is totally free and you will get immediate, deep clarity into what makes your creative life tick.
So stop procrastinating and start finishing your most important creative projects by harnessing the power of your own creative email@example.com slash engine. That’s J E S S I C a a B E l.com/engine.
Now let’s start the show.
Jessica Abel: First of all, I introduce Brendan Keen. Brendan is an artist and fabricator currently based in West Philadelphia. a transfer student at PAFA where he majored in sculpture he graduated with a BFA in 2012 and was awarded William Emlen Crescent Memorial Travel Scholarship, which meant he stayed a fifth year at PAFA and received a certificate degree in 2013.
When he he joined the West Philly based Arts Collaborative Studio and Workshop, the Philadelphia Traction Company, along with other artists at Traction, he exhibited his sculpture and collaborative works in Philadelphia and San Francisco. For the past eight years, has worked full-time as a self-employed artist and fabricator creating sculptural installations for public and private clients, including the Logan Hotel, Hotel, the Discovery Center, private residences.
In between jobs, Brendan travels wherever possible, including across Western Europe and around Iceland via bicycle, and most recently across the US in a DIY sprinter camper van, which sounds amazing, sounds super fun. And I’m sure it’s highly– knowing fabricators– it’s probably very, very customized. Am I right? Lots of custom stuff in your camper van?
Brendan Keen: Yeah. Yeah, it definitely took four times as long as it should to build, but I’m, yeah. I’m actually currently in Moab, uh, right now.
Jessica Abel: Are you? Awesome . That’s great.
Jessica Abel: All right. Secondly, I would like to introduce Mariel Capanna. Um, Marielle is a fine artist specializing in fresco who graduated with a BFA from PAFA in 2012, and she was also awarded the Cresson Travel Scholarship, which means she also spent an extra year at PAFA and was awarded the certificate in 2013.
She received her MFA from Yale School of Art in 2020. She attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2017, and she’s exhibited at many places, including Adams and Ollman in Portland, Central Park in Los Angeles. Gross McCleaf Gallery in Philadelphia, and Good Weather in North Little Rock, Arkansas. COOP or CO-OP? probably co-op, right?
Mariel Capanna: COOP. It’s a play on play on words It’s a, yeah.
Jessica Abel: and the Bow Tie Project in Los Angeles. She’s also been the recipient of numerous residencies and fellowships in to The Cresson. and I’m not gonna list them all right here, but they are impressive and I think that’s gonna be something that we definitely wanna talk about as far as your trajectory.
And Mariel currently serves as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Studio Art at Williams College, and a fresco instructor at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. her ongoing project, Little Stone, Open Home with Good Weather is a long term and perpetually changing fresco a single car garage in North Little Rock, Arkansas. I love that.
Jessica Abel: So our third guest tonight is Brittany Bennett. Brittany Bennett is a medical illustrator who graduated from the Joint PAFA-Penn Program in 2014. At PAFA, Brittany focused on academic oil painting drawing from this time is the result of meticulous observation of textures in nature and a celebration of details.
After PAFA, she completed a graduate program for medical and biological illustration at Johns Hopkins. She credits PAFA with strengthening her artistic skill and graduate school for strengthening communication and business practice. currently works at the Hospital of Philadelphia, CHOP, where half her week is in Stream Studios servicing the hospital network at large, and the other half she runs River, a medical illustration service just for the radiology department.
She’s an artist with training in biology, anatomy, and vis visual communication who creates didactic illustrations and other visual aids. Brittany works with medical professionals at CHOP to produce patient education materials, figures for scientific literature, surgical training guides, 3D anatomical models, and more.
Right, thank you all for being here, and uh, thanks for those impressive bios. It was fun to get like, dive into your websites and see all the stuff. So what I wanted to start with is, and I’m, and I’m kind of gonna ask each of these questions to the three of you, and we’ll just go around and then if there’s anything that you wanna ask about somebody else’s statements or add to it, please do.
How do you make a living these days?
Jessica Abel: So the first one I wanna get into just to get a of snapshot of today is how do you make a living now how does creative work fit into how you make a living? Uh, Brendan, do you wanna start?
Brendan Keen: well, I, I primarily make a living through working for interior designers, so they’ll bring me projects from private clients or, uh, commercial properties. Occasionally I’ll get something through Traction Company and, um, I’ll work on it either alone or with other people, other members through Traction Company, which has been super helpful.
And, uh, so I’ve met a few designers years and they’ve really just kept me employed, which is nice. Uh, so my, my work fluctuates enormously. Like I’ll work, you know, 16 hour days for five months, and then I’ll disappear for five months and, and, um, or I won’t have any work at all. So it’s, it’s very, so my lifestyle’s very dramatically up in the air and, and, uh, all over the place.
Jessica Abel: Do you like that?
Brendan Keen: Yeah, it is, it’s exhausting in, it’s in, in its own way cuz I, I don’t think it’s for everybody. Some people really like the, I know I’m getting a paycheck on this date, and I know what’s happening two weeks from now, um, which is really nice. So part of me is like, Oh, that sounds great. Like, I haven’t had that in near a decade now.
So, um, so I guess I’ve sort of gotten used to it and, and it’s just like, every time I get paid, it’s always a big event. It’s just like, Oh yeah, I don’t have to work for a minute. So it’s, it’s always this like, you know, very emotional rollercoaster for me. It’s like, I’ll get a big job, or especially like recently I’ve done big jobs that have been like, just, I won’t get paycheck for like six months or something like that.
And then it’s just like, I get paid and it’s just like, all right, I’m retiring right now. So it’s, I don’t know. I don’t know if I could do it forever. It’s, it’s, uh, it’s, that’s a tough question that I, I ask myself all the time.
Jessica Abel: Do you have systems around smoothing out the financial pictures so that like when you get a big pay day, you have ways of sort of parceling it out to yourself?
Brendan Keen: Not spending it on fun toys. Yeah. Uh, no, not really. I’ll like put some away and like, I’ve gotten pretty good. You know, like tools really eat up a lot of money for, for my, what I do. Like, it’s really easy for me to spend, you know, five grand on a new whatever and then it’s just like, Oh, well now others there’s my profit or whatever.
But, um, it takes a little self control to be like, Okay, I’m, I’m not gonna go out to eat every day for the next five months. Cause I dunno if I’m getting paid. But, uh, um, yeah.
Jessica Abel: I mean, as an author, I know what that’s like. You know, you get in advance, and then it could be a year or two before you get, you know, another chunk of money for that. So it’s like thinking about those kinds of ups and downs.
Brendan Keen: I, I think, like, you know, I’ve, I, I li I try to live simply and, you know, I don’t need fancy things. I spend most of my savings on traveling.
And, um, and like I have everything, you know, in my personal life more that I like, you know, I don’t, I don’t have a big house. I don’t have a mortgage. Um, right now I’m not paying rent. Such is great. Or, or any, any living expenses. Cuz I’m living outta my camper band right now, uh, in the middle of a desert at the moment. So I’m just spending money on gas and food and, you know, it’s very, very simple lifestyle at the moment. Um, which, which is nice.
Like I have, you know, I know a lot of my peers or my cousins, you know, they’re buying houses and having kids and, and, uh, so, uh, I think it’s conducive to my current lifestyle. I would say. Having kids in a mortgage would. You know, be a whole other level of stress added onto that.
Jessica Abel: right. Yeah. Sort of the next, the next thing that comes up, Like where you, how do you like, make the next transition? That’s, we’re going back to the last transition first, so. Marielle, how about you?
Mariel Capanna: um, at this point uh, I make a living primarily through the sale of oil paintings, through gallery sales. Um, I also have, uh, this post-doctoral fellowship, at Williams College, which is a salaried position that comes with studio, a subsidized apartment, and really, um, generous healthcare. Um, so yeah, that’s my situation.
Jessica Abel: Okay. And is that at like a limited, that’s a thing that you’re gonna do for a year or two years or something like that?
Mariel Capanna: a, it’s a two year fellowship.
Jessica Abel: Mm.
Mariel Capanna: yeah, and some possibility that I could be able to extend it in one way or another. Um, you know, if I were to choose to continue to live, In Williamstown or in the Berkshires, I be able to continue working for the college. Um, I’m not sure, but, but yeah, for now it’s, it’s a, two year contract.
Jessica Abel: Interesting. Okay, cool. Um, Brittany.
Brittany Bennett: And then for me, I’m a full time salaried employee at the Hospital of Philadelphia CHOP um, and that came about because my two bosses, the one in radiology and the one in um, E N T, Ear, Nose and Throat, both sort of and also artists, and felt that medical illustration is a really important thing and started this position, um, and started a kind of studio medical illustration practice within chop.
But to me and my, my colleague Eo Trueblood, illustrator, do have to, um, kind of do our own scouting within CHOP research teams, nursing teams, might benefit from our work bring, bring in their, um, business to our studio within chop. It’s kind of an interesting dynamic.
Jessica Abel: you’re still kind of finding clients, but they’re, it’s within this inner circle of people who are, they then they would like attribute a portion of their budget, presumably to your
Fascinating. so interesting. and they, so this is something that was, it didn’t exist before.
Brittany Bennett: I guess we were founded nine years ago when, when Eo, um, came to Dr. Brian Dunham in e n t and asked, um, basically for a job or a position. The funny thing is Eo myself and Dr. Dunham all studied at Johns Hopkins. so we all kind of had this little network starting out, Eo went to Dr. Dunham, uh, and asked start like for a job, essentially, he not only said yeah, but, um, Dr. Dunham got really excited about starting a studio practice at CHOP illustration and then the kind of, um, practice in radiology where I am part-time was like a branch off of
Jessica Abel: really interesting. Great.
What does your working day look like?
Jessica Abel: okay, so don’t we with you for a second, Brittany, And my second question is, can you tell us a little bit about what your working day like?
Brittany Bennett: Oh geez. It’s like emails for the first hour. And project management. Since I’m usually juggling, uh, like three ENT, you know, general hospital projects, and then like three radiology projects at the same time. Meetings and project managing for that. And then I try to have at least, at least three to five good hours of the day, the actual production time, I, um, I have a Cintiq at my desk, which is like a really large drawing tablet, that you draw directly on, digitally. Um, and I to have. You know, partition this time as your emails, but there’s, gotta be a good chunk of the day where I’m doing production work.
Jessica Abel: for sure. Otherwise, emails would go nowhere, right?
Brittany Bennett: Mm-hmm. , but I am like, project management is a big, is a larger part of, um, my medical registration job than I thought it would be originally. but I like that, I like client communication, and making sure everything’s going smoothly. Um, yeah.
Jessica Abel: Is that the case for you? Also, Brendan, with your commissions,
Brendan Keen: Uh, in what way?
Jessica Abel: mean project management, you know, client management. Going back and forth and you know, does it, does it surprise, did it surprise you how much that’s a part of what you do, or is it a big part of what you do? I.
Brendan Keen: um, yeah. It, it is, it, it definitely ebbs and flows. Like it really depends on the client that I have at any moment. Like some private clients generally, Usually private clients are, are, are way more chill. And they’re just like, you know, they get it. It’s just like stuff doesn’t happen in two seconds, after you get, get paid, you know, or whatever.
But like, I’ve had a few commercial clients and they’re just, it, it, it’s, it’s exhausting trying to navigate. You know, it’s like the too many cooks in a kitchen to a tea, like when you have 800 people, like having opinions and it’s just like, well, who do I listen to? And and like 50 people have to approve anything before anything gets done.
So it’s just like the slowest thing ever, sometimes. You know, And it’s like dealing with people on site like union and architects and Sometimes just like, well, you know what? You figure it out. I’ll come back when you’re, you know, have your stuff together.
Jessica Abel: Yeah.
Brendan Keen: But
Jessica Abel: Well, physical installation is a whole other level. Right? That’s that’s a whole thing that.
Brendan Keen: yeah. Yeah, like, uh, insurance, insurance sucks generally. Um, and it depends. You go to private residents, you can just have general liability and depending on what you’re doing, it’s like nice and easy and simple. Like, I was in a, in a hotel and it was just like, or I was in a, a high rise in Manhattan and they required like this outrageous list of insurance that I had to get specifically for this job that ran nine months.
And, um, you know, like I was paying $5,000 just in insurance for this one job. And, um, all that stuff, it’s no fun, you know. But it’s just like, it’s generally over in the beginning, it’s like you spend a day or, you know, whatever, ironing out those insurance things or like logistical things and then, and then, and then generally you don’t have to worry about it unless something really bad happens, but, uh, which I, I never had to deal with, but just, you know, pay the bill
Jessica Abel: Right. Um, Brittany, how long do your projects typically take?
Brittany Bennett: Mm of the fastest turnaround would be about two weeks. Something gets a little straightforward and then a longer project could be about six months, maybe in nine months.
Jessica Abel: So like a multi-image thing or just a really big complex image?
Brittany Bennett: we do, um, videos that involve 2D illustrations, um, voiceover work, script writing, um, as well as maybe 3D animated components. So those, that would be a larger project.
Jessica Abel: Mm-hmm. . Great. Mariel, how does your work life look these days?
Mariel Capanna: Well, it’s, it’s changed recently. So last semester was first semester in my position at, at Williams College as the post-doctoral fellow. And this fellowship is specifically a, craft and material based fellowship. So, um, I applied with, and was accepted with a focus on fresco painting. So I’m teaching, uh, one fresco course per semester, which is really light course load, like a very friendly course load.
But nonetheless, during my first semester here, um, you know, as friendly as that course load was just teaching fresco to anyone, let alone in college context. It was just, it was a ton of work to, build out the shop, to source of the materials. Um, To figure out, you know, I mean, just building the syllabus, it just, it ended up being a ton of work and then lots of one-on-one time with students.
So though I had this studio that was given to me as part of the fellowship, I neglected it entirely for an, for one whole semester. And toward the beginning of the semester, I kept telling myself like, Okay, once I find my footing, I’m gonna start going to my studio every day. And that kept not happening.
And so at a certain point I realized that, just feeling guilty or feeling like my energy should be split in two different places, it just, that wasn’t gonna be good for me and it wasn’t gonna be good for my students. So I just decided, this is my semester where I how to teach and I focus on teaching and I just, I, I didn’t even walk to my studio once.
Um, and I’m glad that I did that because, you know, especially when I’m trying something new, I benefit from giving my full attention to one thing. And I know this from having spent so many years running around like a headless chicken, trying to do too many things at once. So, um, this has been a new thing for me, is just letting myself do one thing at a time whenever humanly possible.
this semester I’ve now found my footing and I’ve figured out how to teach this class, so it’s a lot easier for me to show up once a week and do what I need to do. And then the rest of my time is spent in my studio. I, uh, have a couple of. Very big deadlines right now. So for the past couple of months, I’ve been in my studio from probably 8:00 AM till 6:30 PM most days, uh, with, know, healthy lunch break in the middle.
Um, and then over the past few days, those hours have been a little bit longer just out of necessity.
Jessica Abel: And those are for shows.
Mariel Capanna: Yeah. In this case it’s for, it’s for shows of oil paintings. Yeah. Um, I’m showing one group of paintings at the Liste Art Fair in Switzerland in June, and then I have a show at Adams and Ollman in Portland, Oregon in July.
Jessica Abel: Okay, great. I mean, do you have other kinds of deadlines that. Or is it usually like there’s a show or of course a class. I mean, you have to prep your class, but are there other things like that for you?
Mariel Capanna: Other kinds of deadlines? Well, I mean, I’ve taken on a couple of odd projects here and there. year I developed a, and created a fresco in long hallway and a private home in California. So that had its own deadline. That was maybe a, a bit closer to maybe what Brendan is describing a lot of his projects.
Um, but yeah, I mean, show deadlines are always in the pants for me to do a lot of painting very quickly. Um, to date that has worked. Um, something happens, new things happen. usually. by the end of it all, happy enough with the work I produce. But I am trying to imagine and maybe create for myself, um, you know, a, a studio world where making things regularly without the pressure of a deadline.
Um, and the only times when I’ve experienced that have been in the context of residencies, you know, these nice little experiences where somehow you manage to flee all of the pressures of the world
Jessica Abel: Yeah. Little, little windows of will escape. something. Right.
Mariel Capanna: Yeah. Yeah.
Working on a commission
Jessica Abel: Brendan, you’ve already told us that your time fluctuates enormously, but in a moment when you actually are, uh, working on a commission, um, what does your, it that look like for you?
Brendan Keen: Um, uh, the last one I had, uh, I had two big jobs running at the same time. I had one in written house and one in Manhattan. And, um, I had, I had not full time, but I had like five people working for me. And I, I would, I had to, a lot of my time was ordering materials and figuring out what everybody was gonna do, you know, and, um, and when they were gonna do it, and how long they were actually going to take to do those things.
Um, and everything is just the best guess. And, you know, figuring out how long some of these things, um, are gonna take. Cause everything I build, everything’s a one off. Like, I don’t make like 500 of, you know, one thing. And, um, so it’s, it’s always just best guess. And, and I get, there’s, there’s a lot of like, just having the materials on hand when I need them.
Um, which can really slow you down, like depending on what it is. Like you gotta wait three weeks, you gotta wait, whatever. Or you can have some things delivered next day, which is awesome. But for tho for those jobs, it was a, it was a lot of project management, which at first I, for, for that I was like the most intense version of project management or people management that I probably will ever experience.
Um, and, uh, you know, I managed, you know, I would wake up in the middle of the night and be like, Oh my God, I forgot to do something. Or I don’t know, tomorrow, how about we all just take a vacation? You know, it’s just like I, uh, I, yeah, I guess, I guess that,
Jessica Abel: a lot of, I mean, there’s obviously a design phase, which is more you, in your head, your studio, like working things out, maybe going back and forth with the client. But when you’re in implementation phase, when you’re
Brendan Keen: it’s
Jessica Abel: a of right? I mean, it’s sort of being a contractor.
Brendan Keen: Yeah. In, in many ways. Yeah. I, I wear, I wear many hats. So like, in, in the beginning, it’s true, there’s like these definite phases of like all the red tape stuff in the beginning where it’s, you know, figuring out how much they wanna pay for something. And, um, and drawings, like sometimes the drawing case takes forever.
And, uh, I have a friend that I work with and he does really nice, uh, computer renderings for me, and we’ll like, work out some of like, you know, how does this fit to this? How does that bolt to that? And oh, will this kill somebody, you know, you know, or, uh, and so that, that phase and then, and then once that’s over and then I get like the thumbs up from the client, I can, I can just, you know, start spending all my money that they give me to, to make it happen.
And then that phase usually is the longest phase. And then generally there’s the install phase after that. Um, and then, and then the praying that they don’t call me later phase about anything that’s wrong. I guess it’s after that. But, um, uh, I, I, uh, . Yeah, so I guess it’s a little different from for each phase, but you know, the in phase is always very stressful.
Jessica Abel: But no, I mean I think that it’s clear from everybody here. There’s like just there’s, there are many more parts of your job than maybe you expected when you were in school.
Back to school
Jessica Abel: So we’re gonna go back to school now. I’m gonna ask you about the very beginning of this journey, I really wanna ask you about happened when you first graduated.
Mariel post PAFA
Jessica Abel: I’m start with Mariel this time just to just to change it. Um, when you first graduated, how did you navigate those first few years? Like what, what were the first steps that you took from student to professional? What were the fears you had about it? Just talk to me a little bit about what that was like for you.
Mariel Capanna: Okay, me think back. So, um, like Brendan, I had a Cresson Travel scholarship. and that summer of travel that I had between my, uh, BFA year and my certificate year was enormously important to me for a number of reasons. but most importantly, I just discovered um, that being alone and traveling alone and making decisions alone really good me and my creative practice. And so after graduating from PAFA I applied a, what was a, actually a very small grant. In retrospect, it felt big at the time, but my proposal was, I mean, I definitely went in the red— so I applied for called the Pit Ridge Fund, and, and proposed that I was gonna travel across and around the country in 30,000 miles of curly cues, um, collecting all of this of landscape imagery that was related to the paintings I was making at the time.
I was given this grant. sure that I spent three times more money than what I was actually granted, but I did end up spending an entire year alone in car looking and, while I was on that trip. I stumbled into some series of ideas that me to the, and I don’t even remember what was it? I, I don’t know. But there something that made me think, I need to learn how to paint fresco’s. I think, I think it was in part just, I thinking so much about, about place and about the relationship between imagery and place, and I liked the idea of learning how to make a kind of painting that stayed put and was really part of, its just a, a fixed architectural of its physical environment.
And so, um, after this year of travel, I was nominated for an Independence Foundation Arts Fellowship, which is a Philadelphia based fellowship. And proposed that I should travel to Florence to study Fresco painting with a conservator. And so I did that. Um, I’m realizing that my story can potentially be way too long, so I’m gonna figure out how to cut it a little shorter.
But after learning how to make fresco’s, I moved to Los Angeles following a relationship, actually a relationship with a, for another PAFA a student. Um, and I worked night a waitress and as a line cook at several different restaurants. So I worked nearly every night in order to pay the bills.
And by day, I volunteered for an artist who I admired very much. And when I first landed in Los Angeles, I just, I emailed so many people saying, I’m interested in the work you do. How can I help? You don’t need to pay me. I have a job as a waitress. I just wanna be involved. I ended up working with this artist, Rafa Ezparza who then invited me to make a fresco his wall.
And so I might just say et cetera at this point rather than continuing to spell it out. But, um, what I found is that after PAFA I had an enormous amount of and curiosity and I went with that momentum and really let one thing lead to another, which ended up leading to another. Um, and it’s because of fresco.
I sure. That I got into Skowhegan in first place and now work there every summer as a fresco associate. So was just like one odd little idea that ended up really givng me some momentum.
Jessica Abel: And being able to, being willing to commit to that idea without having any I any notion of where it would go. I mean, you didn’t say like, I’m gonna learn fresco so that I can teach at Skowhegan. You know, like just have to follow that, you know, sort of mission. To something. Were you, was it scary when you were in those first few years?
Like, were you nervous about you’re gonna get to whatever the next stage was? Were you, did, did that feel…
Mariel Capanna: you know, it’s funny because I’m so not nervous, now. I’m, I look back and think, Oh, what a wonderful time. That was the, you know, 10 years after from PAFA. Um, in reality, I had many tearful days and nights of feeling very concerned about am I doing? Did I choose the right path? Will I ever make a living? Will I be a waitress forever? Which would be actually fine, but that isn’t how it turned out. Um, uh, yeah, it, it was scary. Um, and it was, yeah, I felt, I felt stressed and I felt financially quite stressed. And luckily there was always something, whether it was like an app apprenticeship or a small grant or a, there was always something to kind of keep me going right when was thinking of, you know, hopping off that path.
Brittany post PAFA
Jessica Abel: Thank you. Um, Brittany, why don’t you us a little bit about those transition years?
Brittany Bennett: So when I was at PAFA, um, early on I knew I wanted to, try to become a medical illustrator. And I think I looking at like, job listings and looking at what the different, um, qualifications and, uh, skills that different employers wanted, like for things that were my dream job. And I tried to like, think of those as check boxes and try to acquire all of those skills and be able to do all those things.
And so I was, and maybe I still am this way, very methodical. And calculated about, um, building my career, I guess. And, um, I applied for graduate school at Johns Hopkins at, at the end of my time at PAFA and I, this was my dream program. Like I thought this was everything I was working for. Everything I was making at PAFA almost was like for this portfolio, for entrance.
And I didn’t get in, um, that, that first time I applied I was so heartbroken and I felt so defeated, but I was like, gonna try one more time. if that doesn’t work out, I’ll maybe think about joining some kind of like painting commune or something. , maybe like a tattoo artist. Maybe it’s not for me, I, I was committed for that next year to focus on reapplying um, very, very fortunately, um, I was awarded the Anne Bryan Memorial Scholarship and Venture Fund to help fund that year that I spent, um, doing things to reapply. this was basically, I had study and take the GRE for entrance. Um, I. Because, uh, , I moved in with my grandpa, who was the best ever save money. I took any kind of job job that, um, came at me and through my website. Um, some people did find me. I did some work for like a, a medical device company. Um, having like very little experience in actual medical illustration.
Um, and kind of large project for, um, Dr. Damon Centola at the University of Pennsylvania. Um, and that, that was a, my first big, uh, project where I was working with kind of a big time client from my perspective then. And just figuring it out as I went . Um, I also, because I had the funding, I was able to seek out more projects that would, were fulfilling and that would help
um, my chances in reapplying. So I reached out to my biology professor at Penn. I really liked he or he was the, um, comparative anatomy professor. Um, and this is where we dissected like stingrays and snakes and fish and stuff, and kind of looked at all their anatomy. Um, I said, you know, in your lab the handouts actually have some really bad illustrations.
They’re like, from Google, they’re not even correct most of the time. Like the lab instructor kept, you know, like, Well, it’s not really like this, but just pretend I would love to spend this summer, um, coming in and making some new diagrams for you. Because there weren’t things like scientific illustration internships, there weren’t like out there that I could find.
So I’m like, I’m just gonna make this one, um, for myself and I did that, which was cool, really fulfilling and fun. Um, so those get used in like the lab handouts now. Um, I was going to like local figure drawing sessions just to keep that, you know, muscle, warmed up also trying to learn some new skills.
Like I didn’t know 3D at all. I a free program called Sculptris and kind of taught myself some digital sculpting and, um, brushed up on digital painting, which I didn’t do a whole lot of at PAFA it was a time for like development, um, and stuff until I, I did get into grad school, uh, the next time I applied because they wanted to see, um, more storytelling in my work. said it was very observation heavy, which coming from PAFA, of course , but they wanted us to see that I could tell stories and explain things with the work. having infographics and these, um, illustrations for the, um, the anatomy lab really helped.
Um, and then after grad school, it kind of just really fortunately, um, Stream Studios at, AT CHOP was hiring and I had already kind of formed a relationship with, um, Eo Trueblood and Brian Dunham. Um, and I kind of just landed there.
Jessica Abel: they were also from your school. That’s why you already had a relationship with them.
Brittany Bennett: I actually reached out to them in 2013 when I think I was a second year, um, because that was, Eo Trueblood’s first year, at is now String Studios, but at CHOP. And I I think I Googled like Philadelphia medical Illustrator and somehow found him and kind of cold called. It was like, Your job sounds so cool. Can I, like, can we chat? I would love, I was just so excited. he and Dr. Dunham were kind and invited me to studio show me how their day was there. And I was like, That’s it. This is my dream job. Um, and I just kind of kept in touch since then.
Jessica Abel: Amazing, I love that. And it’s, it has a lot in common with Mariel’s story in terms of just reaching out to people and saying like, I love what you do. How can I know more? Can we do something? And, and being brave about that is super, super important, obviously.
Brittany Bennett: I think everyone has in that position, so most people are very happy to help someone.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. I mean, if they possibly can, right? they have room for that, that I think I, I do think that people are willing to conversation, for sure.
Jessica Abel: Brendan, what were your first few years out of PAFA? Like, how did you make the transition to getting these kind of big time clients and meeting?
I mean, you said you have a, you work with a lot of interior designers. How did that come about?
Brendan Keen: Uh, it was, it was slow in the beginning. Um, just like anything. But, uh, uh, I, I think I gave a big shout out to John Greig because he, he really helped me out, you know, and like having the support network that is Traction company. It was really big. And, uh, you know, being able to build, build stuff for people requires a lot of stuff and space and, and things that cost a lot of money if you had to buy it all by yourself.
And landing at Traction Company, you know, they, we just pulled everything together and it was really cool, you know, and like other people were there struggling the same way you were. And it was, we could all struggle together. So, um, it definitely made it, you know, doable or felt doable, you know, like, it, it didn’t feel like I was just drifting into the ether of the world in, in the sense, but,
Jessica Abel: So what is Traction Company, like, how does it function? Is it a collaborative, like an artist collaborative, or is it a
Brendan Keen: Yeah, yeah. yeah. It’s a, yeah, it’s a, it’s a collection of, Yeah, I think, I think it still is almost entirely of PAFA students. It might be one. And, um, and yeah, so like it’s, it’s functioned as different, you know, entities or, you know, like it’s sometimes like, you know, a few years ago, like we all worked on one project for the community or like, you know, sometimes there’s nothing really happening.
Everyone just has their own studio there and everybody’s doing their own thing. Um, so it sort of like, you know, fills the bill for whatever is sort of happening and, and whoever’s a member at the time. Sort of like, I have a big project, but I need like eight people that can do this and like, is anybody else interested?
And, um, so it made, it made taking on larger projects, way less intimidating, you know, like, you know, if you have the space and, and like people that, that are willing to help, you know, And like people, Oh, I can hire my friends. Right, right there. Um, you know, definitely makes things less stressful, I think and, um, I, I, it was really, it’s still really hard for me to sort of manage my stress and it still is, you know, just like a constant rollercoaster that is my decision making apparently. Well, only thing I really wish I did more when I was starting out, or I could still do is, is reach out to people and, uh, make more of those sort of connections in like a cold calls sort of way. And, and, uh, I think that’s, that’s like a really awesome thing to, to, to do.
And, and, uh, I got lucky a couple times. You know, I met one designer and gave me enough work for, you know, years and, um, and, uh, so it’s just like you never know who you’re gonna meet and it’s just like all this one random guy who went to someone else actually at PAFA and then they couldn’t do the job.
And, and then he recommended me and then, so I ended up, you know, just making that one connection through another student at PAFA and, um, and then, and then, yeah, and like that, you know, one designer just basically kept food on the table for a long time. Um, but like in the beginning, It was, it was me, Steven Daley and Jake Looney.
We were all travel scholarship winners, ripping up carpets for a whole summer in like this terribly hot building in, in North Philly. And, uh, it, it was, it didn’t look very good, , but, um, yeah, but you know, it’s what, I guess it’s worth it in the end, right?
Jessica Abel: Yeah, for sure. So, but so you still, for you, it’s like because . You’re in this collective, then you have, you get referrals from other people. You get to work on their jobs for money, they introduce you to people, and that’s how this whole thing of got rolling for you. Yeah.
Brendan Keen: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, yeah, largely it was a lot of it was Traction Company. Like if, if I didn’t have that spot to land, like I, you know, I have no idea where I, where I would’ve ended up. But, um, yeah, you know, it’s just like, cuz everybody there hears about a job and maybe it’s not their cup of tea or down their, you know, skill set and it just sort of finds its way for whoever it, whoever wants it or needs it.
And, um, you know, a lot of time you just sort of say yes, you know more, probably more than you should, but, um, you say yes stuff that, that comes up and, and you try to do it and you figure out how to do it along the way and, and, um, you know, some of them don’t go anywhere, but some of them are cool and you’re proud to….
Jessica Abel: Yeah .
I know you’re deeply committed to your creative work and yet when it comes time to make the thing, it’s like you short circuit.
Your inner critic comes roaring out and shuts you down.
You find your attention dragged off by some other shiny new object.
You can’t stop feeling guilty and that you should be focusing on paid work. Your clients, your children, friends, boss, parents constantly demand your attention.
Here’s the thing. There is nothing wrong with you. There’s just a breakdown somewhere in your creative engine and you can repair it.
I want to invite you to join me for the free creative engine masterclass, where you’ll learn which tactics will backfire when you’re trying to get traction on self-generated creative projects and what to do instead.
The four essential phases of the creative process you must implement to produce awesome work reliably. And you’re probably skipping at least one.
The good news hidden in your long history of valley and efforts to make your creative life work.
How to diagnose what’s off track and keep moving on your work. Even when things get really challenging.
And the secret to how to predict and avoid the pitfalls that derail you time and time again.
This class is totally free and you will get immediate, deep clarity into what makes your creative life tick and the specific next step to take to harness the power of your own creative engine. So stop procrastinating and start finishing your most important creative projects when you join the creative engine firstname.lastname@example.org slash engine that’s J E S S I C a a B E l.com/engine.
Okay. Back to the show.
What does success look like?
Jessica Abel: Um, what does success, uh, look like to you at this point, and is it different from when you just graduating?
Brendan Keen: success, I dunno.
Jessica Abel: It’s a problematic word, I know, but I mean, what does sort of, um,
what does, it mean?
Success for Brendan
Brendan Keen: I guess it’s a good question. Like, I, I have, I have weird stresses from my overachieving family that sort of, make that hard for me to define. I don’t know, part of me rebels against them in some way of just like doing my own thing. But, um, I suppose being free to make my own decisions about what to do day to day.
And, um, I’ve, uh, never really thrived in a nine to five environment of, you know, just following the clock, uh, to a tee forever. And, uh, so I guess that’s, uh, a big part of how I live my life um, but, um, yeah, I guess, yeah, and being able to travel.
I know I love traveling and,
Jessica Abel: I mean, that represents freedom, right? It represents your having total control over your schedule and your physical location and all that other stuff, right? That you, you are making all the decisions.
Brendan Keen: Yeah. Yeah.
Success for Mariel
Jessica Abel: Cool. Mariel, what, what’s, what do you think about this question? What does success look like to you and is it
Mariel Capanna: Mm.
Jessica Abel: thought it would be?
Mariel Capanna: Um, so I think there’s, there’s a, of practical side of this question for me. Um, you know, pragmatically success means, uh, having and maintaining financial stability and. Um, professional conditions and life conditions under which I can get a full night’s sleep and eat well, and exercise and maintain with the people who matter most to me.
Um, and in studio success or I, I think I feel success when I, um, feel that I am following the path of my own interests. I mean, maybe it’s also a kind of feeling of freedom that the thing that driving my work and practice is, um, is me. It’s coming from me and it’s not an external pressure.
Like, what do people expect of me? Or what does this gallery want from me? Or, um, and. You know, I feel that at this moment, at least I have the first ha, you know, I have the pragmatic kind of success right now, I still struggle with, you know, the, creative sense of success. I still find myself, um, working in response to pressures rather than working in response to something like inspiration.
Jessica Abel: I love that. Thank you, Brittany. Your turn.
Success for Brittany
Brittany Bennett: Yeah, . Thankfully I had some time to think about that one. That’s such a hard question. I think, um, when maybe when I first, when I was like finishing PAFA I would’ve thought, um, peer recognition, some of these like big scholarships, big awards that, um, you know, very important. At PAFA, thought, you know, notoriety like that was success.
But, personally that was really toxic for me, , and I like to get away from that. And now I kind of feel like, um, success is like for me, being able to do something that I wasn’t able to do a year ago that I had set kind of my sights on, you know, a year ago. And once it, it’s, yeah, in some ways an, what do they call it, Like an ever moving goal post
Jessica Abel: Mm-hmm.
Brittany Bennett: you just keep making new goals for yourself. But I, I think success is like achieving some of those goals and interests. Like Mariel said, um, less outward, less external and a lot more internal now. Um, and another one, like the smaller successes, the daily successes are projects go smoothly. That I get a lot of sense of, of, of and success like, client communication was good. It went through the proper amount of revisions, and that was smooth. The client is happy, you know, my, my bosses were impressed by it. to me, successful. And then, you know, moving forward, I don’t like to stay stagnant.
I like to grow. So moving forward, complex projects, and they never go smooth the first time. like, but as you keep doing them, do get to go a little smoother. And that’s what I, that’s what I feel successful.
Jessica Abel: Do you let yourself celebrate when you feel successful?
Brittany Bennett: Uh, that’s one of, that’s one thing I really struggle with is like realizing at the time that it was successful. Usually it’s like when I look back, you know, or when I have something later to compare it to, it’s like, no, I actually did do pretty good then.
Jessica Abel: Right. the problem with moving goal posts, right? That like, by the time you’ve finished a thing, you’re like, Yeah, but what about that thing?
And yeah, not being able to just say like, Hey, look what I did. This is awesome.
Brittany Bennett: Mm-hmm.
Jessica Abel: it’s hard. It’s really hard. Um, right. Well, we’re gonna wrap up in just a few minutes.
What do you wish you had known while you were still in art school?
Jessica Abel: I guess the, the last question I wanted to ask you, and we had a couple questions from, of one of our attendees, but, um, the last question I wanted to ask generally is, um, since this is, uh, an event that’s around younger artists coming to various fields, what do you wish you had known when you were enrolled at PAFA about, you know, in terms of being ready for…
I’ll Um, so the thing that’s coming to mind when I was graduating from graduate school, I got really lovely email from a critic who was actually the, the trickiest and most challenging of my critics, um, Rob Storr and his email, the, the most important nugget that I got from this email was he said, Don’t force the flower. Um, you know, the idea being can’t force a flower to bloom it, it will just happen. Just trust that it’s gonna happen some point. Um, and I think a lot of the, you know, I’d say nearly every faculty member who I worked with at PAFA will probably have a memory of me weeping in studio. Just, it, just happened all the time.
I was just so, I was so worried. I was putting so much pressure on myself. I don’t, I just, um, and I think a lot of it was, uh, trying to force the flower. and something that I have realized is, you know, while you can’t force the flower, I can do, what is in my power is to. Create and foster the conditions for something to grow.
Um, this is true in studio and it’s true in my life, that setting up the conditions for something to happen is step one. And then the other thing is just being attentive and and being there and available to notice something good that’s happening. And in order to notice when something good is happening, I, it does take a certain amount of calm.
know, I wish I had done more often at PAFA was slow down, more sleep. Take my time. Meditate or just breathe deeply more often. Um, take long walks, , . Uh, just there many wonderful things happening at that school that I did enjoy and I got so much out of my time there, but I am sure that have gotten so much more if I had just
Jessica Abel: love your focus on building sustainability into your life as a necessary component of having artistic that is productive and is satisfying and gets you where you wanna be. It’s just gets missed so often. I just love to hear you articulate that. Yeah.
Brendan, how about you?
Jessica Abel: think
Brendan Keen: in the beginning I, I, I placed too much emphasis on making money through my, my creative work through stuff that I wanted to make and it some sort of validation from it. And I think that sort of tainted the whole experience a little bit. And, and it’s, it’s been really hard for me to have like the, the, the like conversation with myself that, um, making, making work for yourself is independently important rather than just making stuff to for other people.
Um, and I think that’s okay. You know, it’s like you, you can still be rewarding if you just make your stuff for yourself and if somebody wants it, cool, whatever. But it, it doesn’t matter. And I think, you know, I think there’s like this pedestal of like being able to support yourself with your work. It it like, it like puts this.
This stress for me anyway, it puts this like weird stress on, on what it is you’re doing and it, it like, it, it sort of, it like, I don’t know, it takes something out of it when, when it shouldn’t. And for some people they can rock, rock out and they can just pump stuff out and sell it and, and, and, um, you know, more power to ’em.
But I, I’ve always really struggled with that sort of like, making stuff to make money or making stuff to, for other people, um, whether it’s my work or whether it’s their design and I’m making it for them. Um, but I, I, I think like I, you know, I’ve known some people and they, they do their own thing to make money or, you know, they, they do other stuff to make money and then they make their own stuff and they sort of like split their, their sort of creative or their, their time in, in a way where it feeds two different parts of the equation.
And, um, I, I think, I think I would’ve been a little happier if I. Had that honest conversation about each side of that equation. You know, like being able to pay bills and stuff like that, but still like, be creative. Uh, at the same time. Cause like, you know, it, like, it’s been a while since I’ve made something for myself, you know, or not for somebody else, you know, some fancy person that wants some stupid thing in mouth and it’s just like, uh, I I, and it’s easy to say, you know, it’s easy to go down that rabbit hole of like, I’ll, I’ll, I can do that, I can do that, you know, it’s cool.
Pay me your money, whatever. I’ll do it. But it’s just like, um, you know, before you know it, it’s just your, your own ability to cri critically and creatively about what it is that you originally wanted to do or, or, or what originally drove you in the first place to like, you know, do whatever. Do that thing that your, your, your weird artwork. know, and, and it just like, it’s so easy for that to just like, get all muddled up with, with the outside world. And for me it was really hard because like I, I would make something, I’d put my all into it and if I sold it, you know, you know, it was, it was just so draining and, um, like I wasn’t getting any of that, that like, I wasn’t getting the energy back.
And, um, and that’s something I still struggle with. Um, just sort of time management between other people’s wants versus, you know, stuff that I should make for myself, you know, regardless of if I need to pay the bills or not Um, and, uh, you know, whe whether it’s just a few minutes and, and just like, you know, doing a little thing, it doesn’t always have to be a giant thing that you have to, you know, outdo yourself also, like outdoing yourself all the time.
It is a little exhausting and not always necessary . Um, but yeah,
I think that
Jessica Abel: A trend here. Relax,
Brittany Bennett: Yeah.
Jessica Abel: Right? A little bit of like, go easy on yourself. It’s okay. And, yeah. Yeah. No, I love that. Uh, preserving a little slice of your practice, even if you wanna be working with clients, even if you’re focused on making money for, know, for any reason, whether it’s very legit, you know, have to pay your rent or not sure you’re preserving a piece of your creative practice for yourself.
Brendan Keen: Yeah, totally.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. Brittany, how about you?
Brittany Bennett: Okay. One thing that, um, what Brendan was saying, um, reminded me of, was learning to say no.
Brendan Keen: Oh Hell
Brittany Bennett: not say no to anything at PAFA cuz I was in this mindset of like, everything’s an opportunity I need to like, rack up opportunities, things that I did on my resume, to get internships, to get to grad school, to get to the career that I want, da da, da.
Um, but that leads to serious burnout. Um, I say like, you know, learn to say no, but really teach yourself. Teach yourself. Like I had to, um, boss had to explain to me through a book that he read called The Power of a Positive No. he explained this to me, it like, it clicked. It was, um, I. I as an illustrator and someone who’s client, you know, likes client relationships, I always wanna say, Yes, yes, I can do that for you.
Sure. That, no, I can, I can have it in that amount of time, no problem. Um, but me, I had to, um, able to, to say no. But also a little bit of yes, to satisfy my desire to, to say, Yes, I can do something for you. So a positive no is like, no, I can’t, uh, I can’t have that for you in this amount time, but let’s, look at what you need and see if there’s something that can do that’s just a smaller scale know, something like that.
You have to reframe it or I may not be able to help, but I know a colleague and I can put you in touch with them. So being able to helpful say No is the way that I’ve learned how to say no. bit easier. practically, be, Um, this is maybe hard. Uh, I’m not like naturally organized at all, I appear so, because I need to create, like systems, structure to make this, uh, work.
So I say like, write down the workflows that work for you in your studio practice, the ones that don’t like, keep good records, keep good photos of things, progress photos works in progress, qualities, uh, photos like that.
Um, the, the last one is that sometimes done is better than perfect
Jessica Abel: Mm,
Brittany Bennett: That is the truth.
Jessica Abel: heard that one . Yeah. That’s great. That’s all a lot, a lot of talk about boundaries, you know, creating healthy boundaries and how that helps you and other people potentially. Uh, yeah, I love that.
Brendan Keen: I would second the, uh, the documenting your work at the end is really hard cause the last thing you wanna do is look at it anymore and you really like, a lot of my stuff is all other people’s places. And now it’s like house and it’s just like, yeah, just keep good records of your stuff. Um, you’ll be happy you did.
Jessica Abel: Definitely love it. Okay, well we’re gonna wrap up here in just a minute. Um, I have a couple of questions from Sean, which we’ve kind of covered, but I, I wanna just ask them again
Work flow during the pandemic
Jessica Abel: . So for Brendan, you mentioned your type of work and how the flow is not necessarily consistent. Have you noticed any impacts or had any, had to make any adjustments since the pandemic?
Brendan Keen: Um, my, I, my, I had a big job in Manhattan that was delayed because of Covid. Um, I don’t remember how long it was delayed, but like, everything shut down. I mean, nobody was, you know, doing anything like in the beginning, but
Jessica Abel: Supply chain must be huge for you, right?
Brendan Keen: the what?
Jessica Abel: The supply chain issues that are hitting everybody must be a huge problem for you.
Brendan Keen: Yeah. Yeah. In the, in the beginning. It, it was, it, it was like, I definitely took a little bit of hit on, especially on some of the material increases that, that were happening, like, I could have just been a pain in the ass and just like up, charged everything that to my clients and just been like, Look, I’m getting slammed with, you know, charges That didn’t exist when I quoted this.
But like, I was so eager just to get started that I, I was just like, Well, I’ll eat, I’ll eat the, the material cost difference just so we can just get the ship rolling. And, um, but um, yeah, I mean everything was just slower really. And like in the beginning, like when I would go on site and there was like 10 contractors running around doing 50 different things, um, it was annoying.
You know, there was a, there was a, uh, a boss man who was just, you know, yelling at everybody the whole time. And um, you know, everybody had to just sign in and constantly check their temperature and masks and, you know, but that, that didn’t last very long. Aside from that, and like, I mean, I know material prices now are, are certainly, uh, a little ridiculous and a lot of different ways, but, um, Yeah, so like that, like speaking of burnout was mentioned earlier.
Like I, that job burned me out hard. And um, I, uh, I’ve been on the road for 10 months because I, I so burned out now. It’s just like I’m, I’m, I’ve went to 30 national parks almost, and, uh, so I’m, I’m like super stoked that I haven’t been working for 10 months,
Jessica Abel: Are you
Brendan Keen: Um,
Jessica Abel: ready to go back or no?
Brendan Keen: I mean, I, to do everything that I’ve learned how to do in the last 10 years.
Um, but I mean, we’ll see, like, I, I, you know, like I do, some people email me about some jobs and it’s just like, no, I don’t wanna do that . Um, but like, yeah, there, you know, it’s just like learned to say no. Like, there’s some things that are just like, I could do that, but I’m not the best person for the job.
You know, you should call this person. That’s not me. Um, And, uh, I, I, yeah, so, well, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I’m in, like, at the moment, I’m in this weird ether of, uh, you know, retirement that I don’t wanna come out of. But, uh, ,
Jessica Abel: If we had
Brendan Keen: that’s,
Jessica Abel: would get, I would get everybody’s story of like, what’s next? Like where are we, where are we going here? But you guys are off the hook cuz I don’t have any, any time for that.
Britney’s transition to CHOP
Jessica Abel: And I think other question for Britney we kind of covered, which was about, um, the transition from John from John’s Hopkins to CHOP.
And it sounds like it was pretty direct, right? You just basically got a job outta school. Is that true for, um, other people you went to school with? Were jobs a-plenty?
Brittany Bennett: Um, this was 2019, right before the pandemic, and fortunately yeah, it was a really good year for hiring recent graduates. so before we finished out the year, um, the school year, everyone in my class had a job and we all interviewed, we did portfolio reviews, we had and visits, and we had to do all that.
But it was a good year for that. it was, yeah, and I took a. I think a two week break. I went to a conference for our association of Medical illustrators with my new bosses, and then it was right into work, but it did take some time to figure out how like the organization of CHOP worked. Um, I took some time shadowing different teams just to get a lay of and see, um, clinical teams, research teams in action, um, and shadowing like my boss on some of his client to see how he ran things.
So it was a little bit of transition.
Jessica Abel: Great. Thank you. Um, thanks everybody so much for being here and sharing all of this. I wish we could keep talking for another hour cuz it’s so interesting and you guys are amazing. So thanks, thanks so much for sharing everything with us.
Mariel Capanna: Thank you. Thanks for having us. nice to reflect.
Jessica’s closing remarks
Jessica Abel: so much there in terms of the behind the scenes and what it feels like. And, and, and the biggest thing that I got from all three of you, which I love, is keep moving forward. Like one step in, one foot in front of the other and trust that it’s gonna land somewhere. You know, that you’re gonna, if you just keep moving forward and, and being open to the opportunities that show up that.
That’s, it’s the moving forward part that’s that a lot of people don’t get, right. That you sort of get stuck and don’t do the thing, don’t continue doing the thing without knowing where the end point is. Like people insist on kind of trying to know that end point. And that’s the thing you can’t know, and especially as an artist, I’m sure you know, t you aside where this is like actually your dream job that you already knew for the most part, artists, they don’t know where they’re gonna end up, right?
They don’t know what it’s gonna look like 10 years down the line. and when it works out and it, there’s a little bit of survivor bias there, obviously, like when, you know, the people we talk to are the ones who make it. But, um, that, like, there’s a, everything I’ve heard on and I’ve interviewed all these different artists on my podcast is all about just making a thing cuz you’re curious about it, making relationships, continuing to follow down those, those paths.
And so. . I, I loved hearing the differences between how all three of you have done that. All right. Thanks everybody, and uh, I think we’ll call in a night. Thank
Mariel Capanna: Thanks
Brittany Bennett: Thank you for having us.
Jessica Abel: Bye Bye.
Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.
Our show is produced by Matt Madden, our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden, and I’m your host, Jessica Abel.
You can find all our takeaways as well as any links and extras we mentioned today plus transcripts, in the show notes. Find everything you need at acpod.show.
If you enjoyed this episode, I hope you’ll subscribe. And it would help us immensely if you would take a second and pop over to apple podcasts and leave us a rating and review. It just takes a few seconds, but it’s actually a huge help to us and to our guests to get this podcast suggested to new listeners.
We appreciate your help so much. And we’ll see you next time on the Autonomous Creative.
Help us out by sharing this show with your friends!
Share this episode:
Don't just wait to get discovered
You've quietly invested years in the work that's most important to you.
Now find out how to get it into the hands of fans and paying customers—without selling out or setting yourself up for failure— with this free, on-demand masterclass.
If your best creative work is languishing unseen, you'll love finding out:
- How building an audience can stop feeling excruciating and start feeling aligned, awesome, and even (dare we say it?) fun
- Why you don't need to splash your whole life all over the internet to build an amazing fanbase
- How to control your own message and impact
- The one thing you need to do to make an impact on the world with your work
- AND MORE!
PLUS: Walk away with a brand new social media bio that will turn heads and make fans!