Cafe Promised Land: The Long Daily Search for a Self-Employed Workplace

My current nest at Top Pot Doughnuts

The perfect workplace may not exist, but I still need my basic needs met as a self-employed laptop nomad. I am taking a break from my regularly scheduled work day to bring you this (albeit snobby, frivolous, and indulgent) gripe about the struggles of an office-less freelancer.

Let me begin with the caveat that I LOVE being a freelancer. I love being able to work from home. I love making my own hours. I love not needing to prove that I’m a hard worker by sitting at a desk in a sea of cubicles for the entire day.


Sometimes I can’t work from home. There’s something about my living room during the day that does not inspire motivation. It seems mostly to be a day-time malady. At night I can work for hours on end at my desk. Maybe it’s the 8-year-old ballerina who lives above us. No, she’s always there running around, even at night. Maybe it’s the lighting. In any event, some days, it’s just not happening, and I want a little life around me as I try to pour a glass of insta-creative. Here is a list of common issues one faces when “working out.” I believe I checked off all of these during the course of my day:

1. …and they wandered the wilderness for forty years.  One would think that in a city that has more coffee houses than all other cities combined, it would be an easy task strolling into a caffeine shack and finding a table. No. It is not. Because apparently everyone else in Seattle is also a freelancer or student. Today I almost had the mind to walk up to people and poll them about what they do. Also, it seems everyone got up at 0:00AM to claim their Promised Land. It was probably easier finding a place to sit at Ellis Island.

2. Outlet Hell: Say you do find a table. Often times than not, the contractors who designed the coffee house you’re sitting in didn’t really think about the necessity of OUTLETS. My MacBook Pro actually lasts a few hours unplugged, but not an entire work day. Even if there are outlets, you might be sitting next to “that guy” who has his laptop, cell phone, iPod, and nostril hair trimmer all plugged into the power strip that’s meant to be shared by the entire back corner of the cafe. This leads me to my next grievance…

3. Cafe Real Estate Moguls: I am not referring to those developers who skimped on the outlets; I am talking about those individuals that sit at a table meant for six and begin building an empire of unusable seating. She sits in one chair, with her feet up on another, her purse and coat on a third, her open gym bag full of sweaty Lulu Lemon fabric flopped onto the forth. She’s got her laptop open, but she’s spent the last 15 minutes on her iPhone while a crinkled copy of US Weekly lies next to a two-hour-old cappuccino and a half-eaten 8 grain roll. Ooo! Another segue!

4. Lifestyles of the Loud and Obnoxious: OK, I know I’m not sitting in a library, but it’s also not Saturday night at the club. There’s no need to talk over the each other like there’s a live band. Then there are people on their cell phones shouting personal information into them. They are phones. If you speak normally, people will hear you on the other side. I’m not sure which scenario is worse really, having an entire conversation that I don’t want to hear about shoved in my ears, or just HALF of an entire conversation that I don’t want to hear about shoved in my ears. “OH MY GOD NO WAY!?…REALLY?…UHUH…OMG I WAS TOTALLY CONSTIPATED TOO!!!”

5. Your Mind Now Belongs to DJ Barista: I used to be a barista. It’s hard work. You’re on your feet all day, covered in smelly milk, dealing with stupid customers who treat you like you’re a vending machine. You deserve to be able to play your own music in the cafe. That being said, I believe there is a courteous volume to bear in mind. Maybe I don’t want to go head-banging at an 80s punk show, or take a meditative journey down the Ganges, or sigh while listening to a sad, sad, sad lady sing her lament for the dying trees. It’s not that I don’t respect other people’s music (because people’s musical preference is sacred), but that really affects my attention span. If I put on my headphones, I shouldn’t be able to hear the cafe music combine with mine.

6. Why-Fi. As in “WHY bother having internet available if it SUCKS!?!?” Some places have great instant connectivity, while others make you sign up through some bootleg 3rd party internet portal that is slower than the evolution of mankind. In the amount of time it takes some connections to load a page, I could have walked to Office Depot, stolen a new modem, and served 2 years in a state penitentiary that has BETTER SERVICE!

7. Mind Over Bladder. You’ve finally found your spot. The laptop is plugged in. The coffee (in my case tea) is to your liking. The noise level is tolerable. Your new foe? Your bladder. It’s screaming at you like an impatient newborn at feeding time. What the hell are you supposed to do now? Leave all your stuff on the table with a “FREE!” sign, or pack up your stuff and lose your coveted space? I usually politely ask the person next to me to keep an eye out on my stuff. Is this the smartest course of action? Meh. I guess I’m hoping that they will sympathise with me. We office-less freelancers have to look out for each other.

Sigh. That feels better. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go up to the counter, get a donut, and go back to work 😀

Illustration Station, Mikesville

Through the Years: My Evolution as an Artist–in Pictures!

Hello! I know I still owe you the rest of my 2012 US Tour, but I thought this would be a fun little post. Plus, I haven’t talked about art in a while. I’ll keep the set up brief. When I was in NY, I unearthed some old artwork I had stashed away under beds and inside sheds. Please excuse some of the image quality, as I had to take some shots with my little “travel camera” and no lighting.

I made this when I was 4. Since I totally failed at pee-wee basketball and would draw on everything in sight, my Mom thought it might be a good idea to enroll me in art lessons. Well played, Mom.

I was always into castles (and apparently bakeries). I made this with my sweet set of Design Spectracolor pencils, which we all know were the Rolls Royce of colored pencils. This is dated ’92, a very productive year for me.

Another theme in my work (and life) is ice cream and other sweets. I especially enjoy the sparklers and checkered orange creamsicle scoop. I think this was from 4th grade.

“Meow!” More colored pencil madness. I remember getting cross-eyed trying to draw fur.

Of course I was really into Disney. I copied this out of a coloring book.

By 6th grade, I learned how to make animation cels. I had enrolled in classes at Art & Design Studio of Rockland. I learned a lot of skills there from ink to pastel to paint. I took classes there until I graduated high school, and even worked as a part-time assistant for teachers in the younger classes.

In middle school, I ditched Disney and totally immersed myself in comic books, specifically X-Men. I related to their brand of outcasts with special mutant powers. My mutant power was drawing, although I was in dire need of an anatomy lesson.

In high school, my eye for photo-realism was sharpening, but a lot of what I made was just “pretty.” I hadn’t really tapped into the idea of art as expression. That changed when I took Mrs. Nicholls’ Art Appreciation class. It changed the way I looked at art. It wasn’t just about making something look good anymore, there was meaning and purpose behind everything. Mind = blown.

I started getting a little bit more conceptual with my work. This piece was for an independent study, where I was researching my ethnic heritage (my mother is Irish and my father is Filippino) and trying to find a link between two seemingly disparate cultures. This piece combined some of the myths and legends of the two island nations. I should really see a doctor about that ear leakage.

In college, we all took the same foundation freshman year in the art school. I declared my major as illustration for sophomore year, which was two whole semesters of photographing an entire composition with ektachrome, projecting it onto illustration board, tracing, and applying whatever medium we were working in at the time. It was soul-crushing, though I’m sure I got some useful crap out of it, like composition and medium technique (but I still hated tracing). This is a portrait of my little sister (not so little anymore) and her best friend “Puppy.”

Junior year we were allowed to try different styles. I was very excited to put photo-realism away for a while and just have fun with characters and color.

Then 911 happened. That’s all I’ll say about this piece.

During Spring semester of 2002, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. It changed my life. Not only was I surrounded by the most sumptuous art of the Renaissance, but I felt totally liberated as a person and an artist. I really started pushing the envelope on an artistic level. Things literally got messy, which I never allowed myself to do before. It was wonderful.

Senior year, we probably heard a million times that we needed to focus on a specific style for our portfolio, but I just wasn’t there yet. I was still busy experimenting, and I do not regret it at all. I was still trying to find myself; how could I choose a voice that I didn’t know I had? This is Paulie Platypus, in acrylic and pastel.

For an independent study, I wrote a children’s book, The Adventures of Pina and Zed. It starred my host mother and her dog and took the viewer through the city of Florence on a wild goose chase (well, actually “dog chase”, but you get the idea). I made several finished pieces (acrylic under-paintings with oil finish), mocked up the dummy and actually shopped it around to publishers. A few little places were interested (Harper Collins and Houghton Mifflin) but the project never went anywhere. When I got my first rejection letter, my professor said to frame it.


I also played around with ink and digital coloring. I had done some of this in high school when I was still into comic books, but was taking it a bit further.

I took some painting electives, where I copied a lot of masters. This was very helpful in learning more about painting. This is a copy of The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Vermeer, acrylic underpainting with oil glaze.

This is one of my favorite pieces from college. It’s called “Zipper, I’m home.” The idea of a ghost girl kinda freaked some people out, but I think she’s precious. I did a similar approach with paint as I did with the Vermeer piece, but something wasn’t translating. It was hard not having something to copy (obviously) and I didn’t want it to be photo-realistic. I was more inspired by some pieces I had seen in the Society of Illustrator’s Annual that were neither realism nor cartoon. My professor at the time said that the painting never lived up to the original comp drawing. That haunted me for years, until I started going back to drawing as my primary medium.

I won’t say much about my post-college work. You can see some of it in the archives of my website. I will share that not long out of college, I started drawing a bunch of little characters in my sketch book frequently. I was very frustrated with painting and didn’t do it much, but kept drawing a certain little elephant…

Years later, Elly would become my little hero, combining everything I’ve learned along the way. Looking forward to continuing my journey with him!

Props and thank yous to some of my teachers:

Tonya Mulligan, Laura Nicholls, Mark Mitchell, Charlene Margiotta, Carmel Nicoletti, Murray Tinkleman, John Thompson, Yvonne Buchanan, Roger DeMuth


2012 US Tour: Maryland (otherwise entitled “A Trip Down Memory Train”)

After a few days of recovering with my family, I went to visit my friend Lara, who I have been pen pals with for (holy crap) 19 years. Wow. I am old now. We accomplished much on this short visit.

19 years and our friendship still got it goin on

I took the train down to Baltimore. There was plenty of time to think about how much Lara and I have been through together, even though we’ve only been physically in the same place a handful of times. We met at a summer camp in Pennsylvania when we were kids. We found a match of whit in each other, a blossoming sense of pre-teen sarcasm that the other kids didn’t get (cuz they were a bunch of…geniuses). We quickly became inseparable for one week of camp.

After camp, I returned to New York, and Lara soon sent her very first letter. I sent one back, and the volley has continued to this day (with a bit of an upgrade to email and phone calls–remember long-distance calling? FOR THE BIRDS!). We wrote about the pit of dispair that is middle school, the turbulent waters of high school, the great awakenings of college, and the excitement and challenges of living as grown ups in the real world. For 19 years, we have been each other’s distant place of refuge when the worlds that we stand in become too much. We can write a letter or make a phone call, and the other will be there to read and listen. It has also been a true honor to watch each other grow into the writers that we are today. I owe much of my confidence in my own writing to Lara’s encouragement.

mint-chocolate realness

After a three hour tour of mid-Atlantic states, the train pulled into Baltimore, and Lara was waiting with a warm hug. When we got to her house, there were Andes mint-chocolate cupcakes waiting for me! Lara’s cat Toby, who is perhaps more cynical than the two of us combined was even somewhat happy to see me after a while, and allowed me several minutes of petting.

Though most of the visit consisted of us talking, gossipping, and reminiscing, we did manage to fit in a few other worthwhile activities. We watched The Muppet Movie, which was awesome. We met Lara’s friend Bethany for some seriously fantastic Indian food in a strip mall. Bethany told us all about her upcoming trip to Disney World, where she planned and entire vacation around restaurant reservations and a “cupcake crawl” (a girl after my own heart). After dinner we went to Bethany’s house and payed with her three ferrets, also thoroughly amusing.

Sisterhood of the Travelling Cupcake

After 48 hours of trying to out-wit each other, Lara drove me to the airport for the next leg of my adventure. I’m looking forward to the next time she (and hopefully Bethany!) will come visit in Seattle so that I can show off my favorite cupcake places.