QUESTION: 00:03 Artist: Eric Friedensohn; New York, New York, USA
QUESTION: 00:04 How do you answer, “What do you do?”
Eric Friedensohn: 00:03 I am an artist and graphic designer and I let them kind of respond to me if they have more questions and then if they’re curious, I’d go into the fact that I make a lot of physical art and hand painted murals and installations for mission driven companies around the world.
QUESTION: 00:23 What do you think about the title ‘artist’?
Eric Friedensohn: 00:23 I think there’s this weight that comes with calling yourself an artist and it’s difficult to want to say that. However, we’re all creative in some way and I do make a lot of things that bleed into the art world even though there’s no hard line between design and art. So I’m pretty comfortable now.
QUESTION: 00:42 What do you think of labels?
Eric Friedensohn: 00:42 We put too much weight on these labels. Really. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t even use these labels, but the way that we make sense of professions and people in the world is with these labels. So, it’s all just one big creative experiment and creative flow for me, whatever I’m making. I would prefer not to have to call myself one thing, but I’m fine calling myself an artist. I remember what it was like to feel really awkward doing that though.
QUESTION: 01:08 What was one of the most painful moments in your life?
Eric Friedensohn: 01:10 It was 2014 I was living in Manhattan, my first apartment in Manhattan. I was sharing it with a girlfriend that I was dating at the time and I was freelancing. I felt like I was really living the dream, even though I was getting a lot of my clients from craigslist and wherever I could find them, but I felt like I was living the dream. I remember one day I was painting a sign for my friend’s tattoo shop and all of a sudden I just smelled a fire. I didn’t know where I was coming from. Nothing was on fire in my apartment. But I look out the window and eventually I saw that the whole backyard, was going up in flames. And I was on the second story, you can imagine all the garbage and recycling that was piled up back there going up in flames. And I just remember going straight into panic mode. The windows blew out. I ended up burning my hands trying to close the windows and I just made a run for it straight out the front door because I saw an exit. I didn’t have time to grab anything, couldn’t even put on my shoes or grab my wallet. If you know me, you know I wear a hat every single day. I wasn’t even wearing a hat.
Ann Rea: 02:10 Oh my gosh! You were naked. Essentially you were naked!
Eric Friedensohn: 02:10 I felt naked. Yes. Eventually the fire department came, put out the fire from the source first and while they were putting out the fire from the source, everything in my apartment was burning one thing to the next thing. I just had this image in my head of everything and I left my cat in there too. I couldn’t find her when I was running out. So that was one of the scariest parts. And the fire firemen said that everything would be fine, that it would just be some smoke damage, but that wasn’t true. Luckily the building didn’t collapse. I was able to go back in and kind of dig through the remains and find things. One of the things I found was my scanner that I had been using for my sketchbooks and inside the scanner, even though it was melted shut, I was able to pry it open and find a sketch that I was working on earlier that week. It was a sketch that said optimist and it really brought me back to when I was drawing that piece and it brought me out of this moment of despair. I could’ve just looked at it and said, oh, this is not what I need to see right now. This is trash. But I tried to see it as a sign from my past self or something and hold on to that nugget of optimism to get me through that hard time. And I remember that I am an optimistic person and that there is going to be a silver lining to this. I had renters insurance, so we got a few thousand dollars out of it that we had to split up to replace some basic needs, but it wasn’t enough to get back on our feet. So my brother ended up making this fundraising campaign for us, which got funded in a couple of days by some really amazing people that cared enough to donate some money. So I ended up turning that optimist drawing into a postcard that I mailed out to everybody. It was a nice letter pressed piece that I wanted people to keep for awhile, not just throw in the trash. That started the optimist project and basically I was just using this one design, putting it on postcards and then patches and then tee shirts and then one thing to the next. Then hats. And people really liked the story and people really resonated with the message. So I just kept trying to use this tragedy as something that could be a life defining moment and a mindset that I wanted to be surrounded by. Like people with this mindset.
QUESTION: 04:33 What was that moment like?
Eric Friedensohn: 04:33 It’s still like the stickiest story that I have and obviously it makes a lot of sense when I button it up and tie a nice bow around it like this, but in in the moment it was so chaotic. Finding a new apartment and not knowing where to even sleep that night. And looking for my cat, which we eventually found, which was like probably the best silver lining of all of this, she had jumped out the window and found her way into a neighbor’s apartment and then we found her a couple of days later.
QUESTION: 05:01 What lesson did you learn?
Eric Friedensohn: 05:01 I learned that it was all replaceable stuff. And then from that moment I got to really redesign my life how I wanted it to look in the physical sense. Like, do I really need to replace all this stuff and what are the things that if I knew… imagine if I was sleeping in that day, if I had slept in… The fire happened around 10:00 AM and I’m not a morning person really. So imagine if I slept in that day and I woke up to my whole apartment on fire, I might not have made it out. I might’ve died.
QUESTION: 05:30 What did you gain from that tragedy?
Eric Friedensohn: 05:30 All of those things crossed my mind and it made me really be grateful for the things that I still had, like my health and my family and my friends. It really changed my life for the better. Imagine if I hadn’t, if I had slept in, but even more if I hadn’t made that project and I just kind of crawled into a pit of self criticism. I could have gone in so many different directions, but I’m so glad that I found this reminder that I had created for myself and turned it into something positive.
QUESTION: 06:01 How do you choose optimism?
Eric Friedensohn: 06:03 Being optimistic is not the same thing as being happy all the time, so that’s one thing I have to say. It’s normal to feel these emotions when things go wrong. Obviously when I broke my leg, I was not happy, but I knew that I was an optimist. It’s part of my identity. It’s a defining characteristic for me. It’s okay to be pissed off and feel really hurt or whatever. Those are normal human emotions, but also knowing that you’re going to be fine. You’re going to make it out of this thing and having hope that this isn’t going to define the rest of your life or even the next season. You get to choose how you want to respond and it’s okay to have a period of sulking because I think that’s normal. I try to keep that period as short as I can, like to less than a week, like even just one day if I can. Everyone has an off day, but then when you wake up the next day, you get to choose how you want to approach that. If you want to just be pissed off and complain all the time or you want to say, you know what, I broke my leg but I can still use my hands.
QUESTION: 07:05 What was your challenge when you first became an artist?
Eric Friedensohn: 07:05 That I knew my design work and my art wasn’t on par with the ambition that I had. I wanted to work for these big companies. I wanted to be a boss in the design world, but I hadn’t gotten the experience. I had a portfolio that was like a college portfolio where you have a few logos and then a website and a packaging project and none of it made sense because it’s all on experimentation process in college. At least my program was because it was relatively broad. So that was the biggest challenge was choosing a niche and getting really good at it.
QUESTION: 07:41 What was your other challenge?
Eric Friedensohn: 07:43 But I got one project that was $5,000 and that was a lot of money for me back then. The thing about that, it sounds like a lot of money for a recent college graduate, right? But it wasn’t just one design, it was a whole brand identity. It was their menu boards for their new restaurant, it was all these things and the project ended up lasting like five months.
QUESTION: 08:07 What do artists need to know?
Eric Friedensohn: 08:07 It’s about artistic fulfillment because I think that there’s a lot of artists out there that identify as, I’m a purist, I do what I want because it makes me feel good. Well, sometimes doing too much of what makes you feel good in the short-term, will make you feel bad in the long-term when you can’t pay the bills. So you have to find your own balance there of course. I think a lot of artists just need to wake up and realize what’s more important, your artistic fulfillment or your survival and you should be first covering yourself financially before you start pleasing yourself.
QUESTION: 08:49 Why does money matter?
Eric Friedensohn: 08:49 Because it’s what the money allows you to do, if I want to take two weeks and go to Germany and do an artist residency and not get paid for that, I’m in a position where I could do that because I’m financially comfortable. I wouldn’t be able to have that freedom if I didn’t put my priorities where they were supposed to be.
QUESTION: 09:10 What else do artists need to know?
Eric Friedensohn: 09:12 I didn’t make this up, I got this from the creative pep talk podcast, which is a great podcast, and he said that creativity is like a slingshot. What happens when you pull the rock with the slingshot back? You have tension, right? You have struggle, and that’s what makes for the explosive launch of the rock when you let go. But if you don’t pull back and you don’t have the struggle, what happens to the rock? It just falls flat, right? So that tension is necessary at some point. I don’t think there’s this world where you don’t have to struggle and everything’s going to be fine. You can’t play your way to success. You’ve got to learn stuff that you weren’t good at, and then eventually you can delegate that stuff, but there’s a lot of things that you’ve got to go through, even if there’s no strong tragedy in your life. There’s gonna be some struggle, but that doesn’t have to last forever, and you don’t have to approach it every day as this is going to be a grind, right? It’s all in service to a greater thing.
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