Lunch Money Paintings 2

Yesterday, I started posting Lunch Money Paintings to promote my move sale

I’m selling all my art at cost before putting my stuff in storage and beginning my year-long experiment in traveling and making art. This means I want to sell 200+ paintings in two weeks. The cheapest ones are Lunch Money Paintings. 

Lunch Money Paintings are so called because they’re the price of a nice lunch—22.6€ + shipping. They’re the 9″ x 12″ oils on watercolor paper works I made in Mexico City last month on the roof of the hostel where I volunteered (aka, sat by the liquor drawing people to induce drink-buying). I’m breaking them up into subgalleries to blog, since there are about 60 of them and that’s too many for people to really see them. 

Western View 

Yesterday’s post featured the East/Southeastern view from the hostel roof of Cathedral Metropolitana, the biggest cathedral in the Americas. Today’s features the Western view.

“Ciudad México Sunset,” oils on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper, 22.6€ + shipping on Etsy

Other than the slowly setting sun and haze of very many cars between very many mountains, the predominant feature of the Western sky in the heart of Mexico City’s federal district is the Torre Latinamericano. 

“Torre Latinamericano,” oils on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper, 22.6€ + shipping on Etsy.

At 44 stories high, the Tower is the world’s first skyscraper built on highly active seismic land. It withstood the 1985 earthquake. 

“Torre Latinamericano (2),” oils on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper, 22.6€ + shipping on Etsy.

On a bad air day, the top can disappear in the midday haze that bites newcomers’ throats. But at night it always seems to slice up into the sky, as if marking the city for God to come back to. 

“Torre Latinamericano (3),” oils on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper, 22.6€ + shipping on Etsy.

You can pay 80 pesos to go the top for a panoramic view of the city. 

“Torre Latinamericano (4),” oils on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper, 22.6€ + shipping on Etsy.

Or you can make friends with Dmitri who works on the 29th floor and get in for free. 

Below the tower, pigeons take flight before the evening thunderstorms that come on suddenly, early warning signs flashing quiet gray. 

“In Flight,” oils on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper, 22.6€ + shipping on Etsy.

The storms consume everything. Landmarks, horizon, metal grates over closed shops, police clustered on corners in the darkness. 

“Storms Over Ciudad México,” oils on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper, 22.6€ + shipping on Etsy.

They wash the city clean before the sun goes to bed in the Cathedral. They wash the air, too, that otherwise smells vaguely of the incompletely closed sewage system running underground. And they leave something extra there. The charge of the storm. 




Day 1 Moving Sale Results

In one day, I achieved about half of my impossible fundraising goal. 

By finding a math mistake. Unless I’m making a math mistake now. 


I made about 92.83€ by accident trading Bitcoin, and lost about 64.98€ on a sale for daily profit of 27.85€. 


The bad news is that no paintings sold. Recall that I’m trying to sell over 200 oil paintings in two weeks in order to lighten my storage load, pay off business launch debt, and seed the year-long art travel life experiment launching next month

But my mic stand sold! To lovely Boston musician and new friend Erica, of the awesome band Sebio.


Breaking out a small subset of paintings to showcase in one blog post I then promoted on social media correlated with a big increase in traffic. 

“Catedral Metropolitana (9),” oils on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper, $24.34 + shipping. 

Specifically, I had 137 page views today. This is pretty good for a website that’s only been up a week. It’s up from a previous peak of 76 on May 4—the day the website launched.

But the peak could’ve been at least also in part from the second Mail Chimp newsletter I sent out to my email list. And from talking with a nice person in real life who then promoted me in turn on her own Facebook. (Thanks, Erica!) 


So the moving sale launch today was a success. I got a little better organized. Made a little money. Drove traffic. And sold something. That’s a start. 


Lunch Money Paintings

This is the first of several posts featuring the oil paintings on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper I made with a palette knife on a hostel roof in Mexico City last month. I volunteered there while pre-testing the year-long life experiment I’m beginning next month.

These are lunch money paintings because I’m selling them for the price of a nice lunch. Since I plan to sell all my art in two weeks, they’re $34.34, including domestic shipping.

On my hostel rooftop perch, I couldn’t stop painting the Catedral Metropolitana.

Catedral Metropolitana (2)” is the big church in the heart of Mexico City’s Federal District.

Catedral Metropolitana (3)” is the biggest cathedral in the Americas.

Like many cathedrals in Mexico, the Spanish built “Catedral Metropolitana (5)” on top of a former Aztec holy site.

“Catedral Metropolitana (6)”

Outside the cathedral, trees and lights make a small square nightly home to a few residents. Otherwise, the streets are deserted at night except for police and passing taxis.

“Catedral Metropolitana (7)”

At night, the cathedral gains light while the sky loses it, like the light of the sky is going to bed in the church. In the morning, the light gets up in much the same way.

“Catedral Metropolitana 8”
“Catedral Metropolitana (9)”
“Behind the Cathedral”

Inside, there are many altars, rooms with pews oriented in different directions, places to pray with candles.

“Door of the Cathedral”

So instead of facing one front, it’s like the people inside are praying out in all directions, to the whole world.

“Man in Prayer”
“Light Inside”

Like a radio sending a signal out in every direction, or a lightbulb putting out light to a whole room.


Moving Sale

Welcome to Phase 2 of my year-long experiment in making art and traveling

In Phase 1, I learned from a lot of early mistakes in attempting to “launch” my “art business.” Most of them involved paying nice strangers to try to get things done faster and better. And things then not getting done. 

Then, I left Harvard and sang on the streets of Mexican City for a month.

The Mexico Study proved four things:

(1) Academia is not for me. A lot of people told me I was crazy—clipping my wings at best—but leaving Harvard felt so good. So right. 

(2) I can make art anywhere. With anything. I don’t need an apartment, a studio, or even canvas. (In Mexico City, I painted on watercolor paper on the hostel roof, obvi.) 

(3) Free advice from friends can be better than paid help from strangers. Especially when you have no idea what you’re doing other than learning from mistakes. I got fantastic information and help from nice folks in the hostel bar. Plus I got free room and board for sitting near the liquor talking to people.

(4) Always keep a Lifestraw in your go bagBecause you have to drink the water. 

Bigger-picture, the Mexico Study was a pre-test of my year-long experiment. It worked. Expenses slashed, art made, lots of learning. Game on. 

False Start

Last week, I announced the year-long life experiment in traveling and making art. I launched my new website and blog, plus an Etsy and Zazzle store to sell my art and art merchandise. So now I have art T-shirts like Keith Haring

That will make me roughly $1/shirt. And has made me exactly $1. (Thanks, Ms. Fairweather. Fifth grade was the best.) 

Any profit is good profit. But that’s not what I want. 

So I should say what I want. Set a clear goal, say what I’m doing to achieve it, and when it’s going to get done.

I’m also doing everything Noah Kagan suggested in Tim Ferriss’s latest podcast. More on this later as I see how it works. 


The Goal

By 05/31, I want to have all my paintings gone, plus commissions and other services selling, all my Phase 1 business launch debt paid off, and funds to store my stuff for a year.

But 05/31 is when my lease is up for real. So to be safe, since moving is hard, I want to try to get it done in two weeks instead of three. 

Look. All I’m trying to do is raise $42,200 in two weeks when most businesses don’t make profit in the first few years at all. 

It’s just a moving sale. How hard can it be? 

Moving Sale

My lease is up at the end of the month. At that point, I plan to put everything I own in storage to cut living expenses and enact the idea that the world is my home while learning more, faster, by traveling. 

I want to have sold all my art by then so I don’t have to pay to store it. That means selling hundreds of oil paintings I made since August. (I don’t have any older art because I gave it all away twice last year before the two cross-country moves my postdoc required. It was a gratitude exercise, it was great, but now I’m trying something different.)

In other words, nothing bad happens if I don’t raise the money. I store or otherwise dispose of the art and manage the Phase 1 debt. Maybe I do odd jobs traveling instead of running an online business that funds it. Maybe I do something completely different that hasn’t occurred to me or presented itself yet. 

But I expect to meet my goal, because the work has that value.


Here’s the value break-down. I worked backwards from my fundraising goal, and I’m selling everything below market value according to thirty-party sources. 

1. Paintings. 

When I regularly showed and sold oil paintings between 2005 and 2008 in Virginia, my 16″ x 20″s  went for around $300 and my 30″ x 40″s for around $1200. My selling base rate was higher than my competitors—although in the regional art business, that meant I still took annual losses. So when the art market crashed in 2008, I mostly stopped exhibiting to focus on grad school.

Forty-nine dog years and one PhD later, I have that much more painting experience and the art market is making a come-back. 

But instead of raising prices above the previously established market value, I’m selling at less than half market value. Only for the next two weeks. 

This means I’m selling paintings at materials cost times two (for labor) to avoid paying art storage costs, clean house for my new experiment, and get more people reading my new blog. 

Pricing on that logic looks like this: 

a. 9″ x 12″ paintings: $2 paper + $10 paint + .17 cent envelope + $5 shipping (domestic) = $17.17 * labor = $34.34

b. 16″ x 20″ paintings: $10 canvas + $30 paint + $4 shipping box + $12 shipping (domestic) = $56 * 2 labor = $112

c. 22″ x 28″ painting (I only have one of these in stock): $30 canvas + $30 paint + $50 box and shipping guestimate = $110 * 2 labor = $240

d. 24″ x 36″ paintings: $40 canvas + $40 paint + $50 box and shipping guestimate = $130 * 2 labor = $260

e. 30″ x 40″ paintings: $50 canvas + $60 paint + $50 box and shipping guestimate = $160 * 2 labor = $320 

With my existing painting inventory, that means that if everything sells I should make about $27,000.

That’s misleading—part of the take is box and shipping costs. So I’m probably about $17,200 shy of my goal if “all” I do is sell 260+ paintings in two weeks.

Except now my Etsy store only has 233 paintings instead of 261, even though nothing has sold. Did I just lose two dozen paintings? No matter. The gap is basically the same whether I know my inventory and how to count, or not. 

That’s where commissions and story-telling come in. 

2. Commissions. 

My previous commission work normed from $700-$1500. People like custom work, and I like doing it. 

So let’s split the $17,200 difference between commissions and story-telling. That means my goal is to make $8,600 in painting commissions in the next two weeks. 

But my time for performing services in that window will be limited. I need about three hours a day to pack and mail paintings, three hours a day to pack and do other move prep, three hours a day to manage other business stuff, and nine hours for sleeping and other animal things.

That leaves only six hours/day for 14 days for portrait and story-telling work—84 hours. So I have to charge $103/half-hour commission to make my goal.

That’s way below market value for 9″ x 12″ oil paintings—much less custom work. 

Plus, my unwritten rule on commissions has always been that you only buy what you love. I only want people to be delighted with my art. If you aren’t, you don’t buy it, commission or no. So it’s risk-free for you to commission a painting. 

3. Story-telling. 

This is #1 on my list of what I’m worth and have to give others. Primarily, I’m a writer. I write all sorts of things. I’ve published opinion essays in The Guardian, academic work in journals in like Testing, Psychometrics, and Methodology in Applied Psychology: The Musical, and poetry in The Georgetown Review. (I may have made up part of one of those titles.) I’ve written children’s books, a play, a screenplay, a dissertation. 

But first, I’m a poet. You may wonder why I’m fundraising at all, since poets are well-known as being rich and famous. I’ll never tell. 

I’m offering four types of story-telling services to make the remaining $8,600 of my two-week goal. 

a. Website and online store design and building. Do you like my website? I made it myself. My Etsy and Zazzle stores, too. I could make something like this for you, next-day, for $600.

Market value of this service is more like $1200 and it usually takes three weeks. Then you usually get hooked in with hosting fees and stuff. 

I don’t want to host your site. I don’t want to maintain it. I want to teach you to do it. It’s not that hard. And we both have better things to do with that time and money. 


I’m only offering this service for two weeks, as part of my move sale/fundraiser for the next phase of my life experiment traveling and making art. 

b. Social media management. Setting up a social media presence from the ground up is daunting. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and whatever other thing is invented between the time I finish typing this sentence and the time you read it—which ones do you need? Business or personal, or both? I can get you set up to “be social” and manage the accounts yourself for $200. 

There’s not an established market value of social media management services because the field is so new that nobody knows how to do it. This is why big companies keep making big social media mistakes. And little people keep making little ones and getting fired

Get started on the right foot with consistent brand across platforms that establishes the right tone. It’s much easier to continue on that path than to stumble across it yourself, like I did. 

c. Marketing. The ghost of Bill Hicks is blowing smoke at me right now. But I guess you could say I’ve done PR. For nice people when I like what they’re doing. (Pause for coughing fit.) Chill, Bill. I love you. 

All businesses are art businesses. Talking with people about their art—what they make and give the world of their passion and labor to make people’s lives better—is fun. Marketing at its best is just about appreciating that omnipresence of art in commerce, and communicating that appreciation to others. 

The median market value of a bad press release ranges from $750-$7500. 

Most of the press releases you can buy are bad because they don’t involve any market research. That’s dumb. We live in an era when you can run a survey experiment in half an hour on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to assess what your market really values or how they respond to different press release options. Why would you not take advantage of that amazing opportunity to talk to your market and pre-test your materials? 

To be fair, I don’t. But that’s because I’m busy running a bigger experiment with my life right now. I’m testing new things by trying them, and I’m trying them too fast to pre-test. 

Anyway. I can design and run your market research and PR experiments, and write accordingly better, more evidence-based press releases than market leading services. I’ll do it for $300 per survey experiment or press release. 

But only for the next two weeks. 

d. Editing and submissions advice. I’ve done freelance editing work for academics, creative writers, and lawyers. I’ve published in dozens of venues including literary and academic journals. Editing is easier. So if you’re stuck, let me help you. 

My normal editing service is $100/hour. That’s about market value

I’ll drop it to $30/hour for the next two weeks. Because I can do editing work anytime as filler in the race to the goal. And submissions advice is just fun. Plus I love helping other writers. Plus I want to build a client base in services I can perform while traveling. 


Maybe—just maybe—I’m spreading myself too thin for a change.

Because I definitely need to keep the blog updated with results of this experiment. Plus break out the paintings in featured blog posts by subgallery, to tell people about them. There are just too many on the Etsy store for them to otherwise be accessible. And when I chart out the sub galleries in blog post-sized chunks, that’s two weeks’ worth of blog posts right there. But if I don’t promote the services every day, I’m not going to get the business. Duh. 

So I’m probably setting myself up for failure. But, perhaps perversely, I feel like I have to go for exactly what I want to have any chance of getting it—even if it’s not really reasonable, so I can’t possibly do it right.

It’s all a big experiment. And the most important thing I’ve learned so far about experimenting is to do lots of it and keep trying new stuff. Because the learning is in the mistakes more than anything else. As long as you’re really showing up to the mistakes. And you have to keep trying new stuff to keep making new mistakes. 



Oils on 16″ x 20″ stretched canvas. One in a series, “Dysmorphia of Dreams,” available on Etsy.

The series is about recognition, or lack thereof.  Paul Dunbar speaks to the positive potential of that recognition—

“By the Stream”

Paul Dunbar

By the stream I dream in calm delight, and watch as in a glass,
How the clouds like crowds of snowy-hued and white-robed maidens pass,
And the water into ripples breaks and sparkles as it spreads,
Like a host of armored knights with silver helmets on their heads.
And I deem the stream an emblem fit of human life may go,
For I find a mind may sparkle much and yet but shallows show,
And a soul may glow with myriad lights and wondrous mysteries,
When it only lies a dormant thing and mirrors what it sees.



Portrait of the Artist as a Young Barfly

People are beautiful. Art is a compulsion. These two facts combine when I go to bars. That looks like this. 

This tends to result in friends. Most people want to be seen. Really seen. Recognized.

And when you look at someone like you’re going to draw or paint them—if you’re doing it with the art of their face in your heart—you’re seeing them. Art is about recognition in the heart. 

Perhaps for this reason, compulsive bar drawing also often results in commissions. 

Like the commission that came out of seeing Paco. Paco was sad when we first met. He got sadder when he realized he’d set a beer down on one of my wet oil paintings tucked in the back corner of the hostel rooftop bar. But I could see that Paco was basically a strong and happy person. The person you see here looking up at his dad, remembering the day when he was a little kid when his dad taught him math on horseback. The photo he’s holding are his dad’s hands during his last rites. The image also appears on a tattoo on his chest.

And in his new painting. 

If art is about seeing people, then travel is about meeting them where they are. That’s why the two work so well together. Because when we’re not inured to details and locked into routine, we’re more present. More alive. More seeing. 

And I don’t know what else life could be about. Although I’m bound to learn. 


Painting the World: My Year-Long Experiment

This is my new favorite rooftop perch, by Catedral Metropolitana and Palacio Nacional in Ciudad México. 

Catedral Metropolitana and Palacio Nacional, Ciudad de México.
Catedral Metropolitana and Palacio Nacional, Ciudad de México.

I couldn’t stop painting it last month. When I quit my job at Harvard to make art and wound up in Mexico City (CDMX). 

CDMX was magic for rethinking what it means to be an artist. The people are so friendly, I played songs in the streets that no one had heard me perform before because I´d been too shy to make noise outside my shower.

Other than throwing you into new circumstances where you meet nice people, three things about travel make art-making easier.

1. Less stuff means more creativity. Making art while traveling is an exercise in learning and relearning that anyone can make art anywhere. The human spirit finds a way. 

Hostel friend enjoys rooftop art.
Hostel friend enjoys rooftop art.

2. Less urgent makes more time for important. The Internet abroad is so spotty that I can write my books instead of staying on top of email. 

3. Less spending of money enables more spending of time on art. Although it’s counter-intuitive, living abroad is much cheaper than living in the U.S., done right. 

Overall then, travel makes it more instead of less possible to better become myself as an artist. So I´m not coming back. 

Painting the World: The Experiment 

This year, I´m running a new experiment. I’m traveling the world making art. 

I’ll still be Boston-based. 

But, like, on friends’ couches. (Batts eyelashes at Boston friends.) 

I´ll get to know the places I go, living cheaply or free in hostels, with host families, or at other places a bit outside the cities I visit. Use some of the gorgeous languages I studied years ago but never really used—French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Russian—and learn others I know tiny bits of but never really got to know—Creole, Swahili, and Urdu. Soak in the beautiful people and places that make up our home—the world. 


Blogging the Experiment

The main thing this blog will chronicle is the paintings that I make along the way. The stuff I´ll also be working on that I won´t talk about as much is my writing, music, and comedy. I’m a writer first, but the book projects that mean the most to me will take some time to do right. 

The Goal 

Is to better become my artist self while better being part of the world. That means four main things right about now. 

1. Painting. 

Sell the art I make while traveling the world. Build enough of an audience doing this that I get a solo New York gallery show within 12 months. 

2. Writing. 

Shape up my book drafts and partials into finished products. Begin self-publishing books on my website within 12 months, and keep writing. 

3. Music. 

Perform my music regularly on the streets and in venues all over the world as I work up an album. 

4. Comedy. 

Get back to performing stand-up, too. Within 12 months, go to at least one comedy festival and be making practice videos until I have a correspondent video that’s good enough to submit to The Daily Show


Yeah, I know. 

It’s ok though. I’ve pulled this before. It’s kind-of my thing. 

When I was Skyping my Ph.D. dissertation defense last year while driving cross-country to start my new job as a National Science Foundation post-doctoral researcher in the fourth-ranked Psych department globally, despite having never taken a psychology class—my co-chair said: “We kept telling you you were trying to write ten dissertations. Well. You won.” 

That wasn’t when I jumped up and down screaming. That part came after they passed me. (I had my doubts.) 

My ten-dissertation dissertation was crazy enough to work. The project had to be ambitious enough that I couldn’t get bored or disillusioned and walk away from it. It had to be something no one else could do. It had to be something I had to get right. 

Becoming my artist self in the world is also crazy enough to work. I can’t get bored with it, no one else can do it, and I have to get it right. 

Rules of the Road 

1. Own myself. 

This means prioritizing my art. Working for myself. And showing up to my life as an artist in the beautiful, wide world. 

2. Invest wisely. 

It takes investing—which means risk—to launch a business. And I am an almost pathologically risk-averse person. 

Yet, in one month of making art my job, I have already taken on five-figure debt attempting to launch my “art business.”

I have never done anything like this in my life.

But you have to take risks to get pay-offs. That’s how investment works. And I’m worth investing in. 

3. Slow down to speed up. 

It´s easy to get caught up in lists and steps. But when you have less, you need less. You can see how minimal the requirements of a good life are. How important people are. How easy it can be to just show up and play.

That’s what people who make art their career have discovered, in a realm where you can’t plan to reach your peak creative power or make the right collaborative connections or have a really powerful dream. But if you make space in your life for the important over urgent, and keep showing up there—magical things can happen. 

4. Trust. 

People are basically good and want good things. 

When you exude goodness and invite other people to do the same, they generally do. When you care about them and their dreams, they tell you amazing stories. And when you go for your dreams and tell them, they generally want to help you. But you have to be open to what they want, how they experience life, and what they and only they have to teach you. 

That’s trust. Not knowing what the outcome will be, but showing up to play anyway. It correlates with better health and economic outcomes for people, communities, and entire nations. It’s a good way to live. 

This year is a celebration of that trust. 

And if I fall on my face, it doesn’t disprove human goodness. It proves fake deadlines are dumb. 

5. Follow only good rules

In other words: Break all the rules that need to be broken. 

I don’t mean like paying taxes and stopping at red lights. Which, incidentally, they don’t do a lot of in Mexico City. Apparently in colloquial Mexican Spanish, “red light” means “look both ways before speeding through the deserted intersection at night as police look the other way cos they’re not stopping there either.” 

No. I mean the unwritten rules. The Can’t, Have To, Don’t sets. Such as: 
– Don’t quit your day job. 
– Artists can’t make a living. 
– You can’t just walk away from Harvard.
– You can’t say that (e.g., I talk to God and He talks to me; torture created a new wave of terrorists and we have to own our shit to fix that; we don’t actually have sufficient evidence to address really basic factual questions about guns and public safety even though this is a pressing health and security issue that affects all Americans). 
– You have to have a place to live or you are homeless—and being homeless is very, very bad!!! 
– Your dreams are stupid, and you should shut up and report to working for someone else’s. 
– You have to have a plan! 
– You have to read all the emails! 
– You have to type all the notes and tick off all the urgent list items! 
– You have to… [insert many things here]
– Don’t drink the water.

Ok, so that last one turns out to have been good advice. Oops. 

Unwritten rules are complicated! 

Life is pretty simple. 

One rule: Love people, do good, keep going. 


Support My Experiment

You can support my experiment in a few ways. 

1. Buy my art. 


I produced over 200 oil paintings in about six months. In my studio apartment. Then another 50+ in Mexico City. Now I’m staring at the stack of blank canvas I bought before taking off for Mexico, wondering—can I illustrate the children’s books I wrote there using pen & ink or watercolors? I like to work in stages—drawings, watercolors, oils. But I should probably return this stack of blank canvas. Because making more oil paintings when I haven’t even been trying to sell them doesn’t make sense. 

I am so not returning the canvas.

2. Send me clients. 

For art sales, painting commissions, or my side business that I also enjoy tremendously—editing, tutoring, and grant proposaling

3. Send me food.

Gluten-free, dairy-free protein bars because I am legit a starving artist now. Also because Larabars are tasty and travel well. Crickets are also tasty. Maybe I shouldn’t say that while I’m trying to convince people to pay me for having good taste. Whatever. It’s all on the table here, people. 

4. Tell your friends. 

Maybe you just think what I’m trying is kinda cool and want to tell someone else about it. Social networks are magic. That would be cool. Do that please. 

Or Not

Alternately, you can submit a formal complaint about the nerve—the nerve!—to wildethinks at gmail dot com. By submitting your complaint to that email, you acknowledge that all such complaints may be used in a book, screenplay, painting, song, stand-up routine, or other creative vehicle for purposes including but not limited to mocking you mercilessly, mocking me mercilessly, and having fun making people happy.