Thursday, September 2, 2010

What's White and Blue But Gray All Over?

As far as I know, illustration doesn’t fit very well into either the blue-collar or white-collar job models.  In fact, I’m sure there’s some snazzy name that someone came up with for creative jobs that I’m unaware of.  I’ll bet they call them “tie-dye-collar jobs” or “collarless-jobs”.  Both sound like something someone would come up with and pride themselves on.

Anyway, having grown up in a predominantly blue-collar town, I have always identified more with blue-collar workers.  Most notably, my Father grew up on a farm then became a high-voltage electrician at a steel mill where he worked for 35 years.  My Father was very typical of my neighbors who were mostly steel workers, plumbers, builders, auto-repairmen and the like.  Sure, my town had its share of folks who wore ties and sat in cubicles, but it sure seemed like the vast majority of those around me had one variety or another of dirt under their fingernails.

There were double and triple shifts.  There were unions and strikes.  There was always talk of “the working man.”  These are things I grew up around and understand, and among many other things I have my work ethic to thank for it.

When I was in 8th grade, my parents had me try out for a scholarship at a private school a half hour away from my house.  Somehow, despite steep competition, I managed to earn my way into The Pennington School, and it was there that I would spend my next four years.  Pennington was where I was truly exposed to the white-collar world.  My friends’ parents were all doctors or lawyers or businessmen.  At first it was a weird and very different world from the one I was used to, but I was never treated as an outsider and made some very good friends there.  Despite all this, I never completely felt like I fit in.

Oddly, illustration has much in common with the white-collar world.  I am, for all intents and purposes, a businessman.  My business has one employee who has his own office/studio.  This employee sits at a desk/easel in an office/studio and oversees the manufacturing of custom goods for the business’ various clients.  Very white-collar.

On the flipside, I am the employee.  I do not wear a suit and tie.  I wear a t-shirt when it’s hot and a sweatshirt when it’s cold.  I am responsible for actually manufacturing the custom goods my company sells, which means I literally get my hands dirty.  I am in the trenches (by myself), working with potentially volatile chemicals until all hours of the night, doing double and triple shifts to get the job done.  In many respects, very blue-collar.

So which am I?  White collar?  Blue collar?  Light blue?  Rhinestone?  The actual classification that suits this blend of blue and white-collar apparently is gray-collar, which is sadly very drab.  Gray collar?  Really?  I guess it's accurately rides the fence, but still!  So gray-collar it is (though my upbringing causes me to lean toward a cooler, darker shade of gray).

I have been in my field for almost 10 years now, and to this day I don’t have air conditioning.  On 95 degree days with high humidity, hunched over a painting under the hot lights, the smell of oil in the air, muscles aching, sweat dripping, focus drifting, it is hard not to feel like a blue-collar worker on a factory floor, looking forward to a cold one at the end of the day.


  1. Maybe you should write a column too. :-) good stuff


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