Working as an Autistic Artist

My table at St. Patrick’s Day Music Walk in Bootlegger’s Alley. 

I’m not sure if it may have crossed your mind, but I wondered if it did. What does working as an Autistic artist look like? My experience at Bootlegger’s Alley on Friday evening – during the St. Patrick’s Day chaos downtown – inspired me to write about it. Every time I go anywhere, I will always have my “survival kit” with me. Its contents vary, but here are some main items that never waver: earplugs, a “fidget”, a tactile object, peppermints, money for emergency food and/or caffeine, my water bottle, and a task.

During the night, there were multiple bands playing. These things tend to irritate some folks, but for me, it was literal pain in my head. In addition, an inability to focus, and slower processing for when someone was speaking to me. Such slower processing, that a normal task of making change of a $10 bill for a $3 item took a full minute of staring and recounting multiple times. The customer seemed mildly annoyed, but was still kind. In a massive overload of sound like that night, I would also have to ask others to repeat themselves, sometimes more than twice.For the time between dealing with customers, earplugs and a task-distraction were absolutely required.

Since the Pop-up Gallery is an outdoor event in a narrow alley, most customers and passersby don’t realize that their cigarette smoke can make a large impact on the artists in that small space. Some of the artists that set up in the alley have asthma, and can get extremely sick. I don’t have asthma, however, what happened when I was surrounded by five smokers and unable to remove myself from the situation, to start, was a burning in my nose. For me, personally, it is a combination of inhaling smoke but it’s also the smell. The burning would move from my nose, to my eyes and sinuses, to my throat, and lastly, my skin on my face would burn. It was difficult. My solution? I used my scarf to cover my nose and face, as well as making sure I was able to fidget. It’s no cure by any means for the affects of the cigarette smoke, but it did help. In the morning was a painful round of coughing, as if my lungs were trying to vacate my body.

That night of Bootlegger’s was the most successful night of sales I had ever experienced. That being said, I had to interact with many different and new people who would stop and look at my table, or bump into it. Thankfully, I have had so many wonderful and experienced artists who have come up with sample scripts for me to use for when my social anxiety decides to get the best of me. One of my favorite script lines being, “Hi! If you have any questions about my art, feel free to ask!” It allows the customer to know that I’m not ignoring them or being rude, and it allows me to feel as if I don’t have to constantly entertain with conversation. Another thing I enjoy doing is making more art while I’m in the alley. Viewers seem to enjoy watching the process of something being created before their eyes, and I can divulge in my info-dumping of how I make something, what materials I use, any history of the process, and how they can go about making their own if they’re interested. (I’m very open to explaining how I create, because I don’t feel that what I do should be kept secret, but always be respectful of an artist who doesn’t want to share their tricks of the trade).

This is solely an example of one experience, explaining things in minor detail. These situations can be different every time, and there can be much more than meets the eye. In a situation like this was, I could have been on the verge of a short-circuit (what I call my meltdowns) or going hermit-mode (semi non-verbal shutdown). There were a couple times that night I was close to one of those two, but because I have learned how to properly and healthily cope, no one was the wiser. This doesn’t mean that a meltdown or shutdown is a failed attempt to cope – sometimes the world is simply too much, and I simply start over or give myself a break.

Anyhow, this is what I felt would be of interest to some readers, and possibly useful for others like me. It’s not easy being an artist and being Autistic, or being an artist with anxiety, or depression, etc. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by a community that understands and is kind enough to help when things get difficult. Much love to them all!






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