Your license is expired, please update on your Author Cats dashboard..
Get Gene's latest book for Free! Learn MoreGet my FREE Book

Have you heard, I’m a failed Illustrator?

Who is Donnie Daytona? Well, he’s Gene Head in disguise!

Before I was writing, I was drawing, and it did me little good. It was 2016, and I was working as a produce manager in a country town super market. I cut cabbage, wrapped capsicum, quality checked the strawberries. I was in charge of the ordering too, which was an undeserved stress on my meagre salary. There were few perks to the job. I didn’t even get discounted cigarettes. It was shift work. They docked my first few pays to account for my uniform and training. It was my third job that year and I would have done anything to get free of the daily grind and do something creative for a living. I had an unused Bachelor of Illustration degree sitting stagnant on the shelf and I thought: what’s stopping me from being a freelancer? I had a friend in the city send me some illustration board and pencils and I set to work in every spare hour on some poster ideas. I’d created a poster three years earlier and I thought it was a promising first go.

My first poster attempt

I thought I had a knack for poster art and wanted to produce a whole lot of them, to sell. The plan was simple: produce a pencil drawing; photograph it; add digital colour; send to print and sell a thousand of them online. After three drawings, I needed more equipment and my mate had trouble getting it to me. The town was 2,100 kilometres from where he was and there were no art stores within 300 clicks of its four exits. I was wasting away in the outback, like a mirage blowing in a sand storm; so far from any creative culture. I quit my manager’s position and all the glory that came with it and moved back to Melbourne. I picked up work as a furniture removalist and busted my back for two years, lifting couches up stairwells. Then I went into furniture repair and delivery in a cold warehouse in Oakley — and then became a package delivery driver; what ever the damn hell would get me though and pay my rent.

Furniture Removal

Package Delivery Driver & Furniture Repair

But I didn’t stop drawing. I worked hard on the art every afternoon; got several pieces done; printed off some posters (full colour).

Me in the studio
My Moonlight Drummer poster
My Drunk On Rapa-Nui poster

My Eggs & Pancakes poster

Sketch for my Scary Video Night poster
My It’s a Scary Video Night VHS poster

I put the word out that – I WILL DRAW FOR MONEY: YOUR BAND POSTER; YOUR BIRTHDAY CARD; YOUR GODDAMNED GRANDMA NEEDS A PORTRAIT? – CALL ME. The last thing I needed according to the pros, was a brand name. I sold out! And I didn’t give a shit either, FYI. When you’re desperate for cash and you’re coming home each day from jobs that leave you covered in bruises, blood, sawdust, dry glue and paint, and you have a back like a geriatric, you kinda give zero fucks what all the other creatives think of you. You just do what you need to do; right? Sell your soul. Make a buck with your talent; take an ad out on Facebook and draw stupid shit for peoples bedroom walls.

My Two-Way Mirror Boy poster
My Polynesian Aphrodisiac B-Grade Movie poster

What was my brand? I called myself DONNIE DAYTONA. Donnie was cool. He was a pro artist; had his shit together; lived in a bohemian studio warehouse somewhere like Los Angeles, warm, near the Californian beaches and created high quality work, available for a nominal fee. Donnie was the man! But behind his name was a guy with a massive addiction to cheap piss-water beer, rugged up in three layers of jumpers, shivering through Melbourne’s chilly, rainy weekends, trying to dream up exotic Tiki Art that’d be right at home in a cocktail lounge.

Posters on our walls

I printed more, a whole bunch, but never sold a thing. I lacked the marketing skills and the online knowhow. After a while Leonie and I were sick of the posters hogging wall space in our little apartment. She knew she was living with a failed artist, but she was supportive through it all.

Leonie with my Drunk On Rapa-Nui poster

My darling Leonie was even good enough to model for my JAIL BROKEN poster when I was short on cash and couldn’t afford a professional model. [Below].


Leonie posing as the model for my JAIL BROKEN poster

Meanwhile, we’d moved to North Richmond. Not the swanky part of Richmond, you can take my word for it. The newspapers said there were more drug overdoses in that suburb than all of Melbourne and a methadone clinic had just opened up around the corner from us. We’d find victims sleeping in our carport and had addicts breaking down the front entrance because there was a dealer in our building who was picky with whom he’d buzz in.

Actual photos I took of our front driveway

Cheap living. It’s all we could afford. We shared the building with that dealer. We shared it with families of 4 that were so poor they had to make do with one bedroom appartments the size of ours. “One day we’ll be on a beach, Leonie. We’ll sip beer in paradise.” I’d tell her. But it was hard to stay positive. Those days weren’t joyful. Those months were long, and hard. I continued to draw. I hoped my efforts wouldn’t be for naught.

Sketch for my Radioactive Enlargements poster
My Cowabunga Cherry Bomb poster
My Peeping Tom poster (Yes that’s me being electrocuted)
An advertisement from my website at the time

I scraped cash together and made an online store. On account of my lacking in Internet knowledge it got little to no traffic. We had the occasional visitor to the apartment. The posters were popular with them. But d’you think they’d buy a print? The art was a worthless commodity. You’ve gotta be damn good to sell artwork. One of the stars; the pros with 100K followers. I had some talent, yes, but I just didn’t make the cream. My stuff just wasn’t the high quality product  people would lay down money for.

So I tried for some basic illustration jobs. I thought I could do some little gigs. Chump change. I made up some fake ads. Some examples; some band posters and faux commercial work.

My fake drink ad for Milko Berry
My fake ad for Secoa shoelaces
My ad for a super cool Motor nn
Some more fake ads – beer labels and band poster

By August 2018 I’d failed to get work. I spat the mouth-guard and threw in the towel. Leonie and I moved to the beach; failed dream or not. Fuck it! Donnie never sold a print; but we were happy. We tossed our winter wardrobe in goodwill bins and took our Tiki mug collection and some books north on the highway. Within days, we pulled into Brisbane. Tropics-beach-palm trees, and no hypodermic needles on our doorstep.

My brief attempt at drawing visual artworks for sale
More visual art

I finally admitted my heart wasn’t in it. I left the visual art game, permanently. I bought all the books I’d wanted to read for years. I read voraciously. I began to write. It was the only thing I’ve done that felt right with no will power or determination. It just flowed. There’s no sad ending to writing. I don’t find it defeating. I can make anything; a painting with words, and I find it more of an emotional release than creating visual art. On New Years Eve I asked Leonie to marry me.

I never warmed to art racket. It’s too heartbreaking with no pay off. That is if you don’t enjoy it, and I truely hated drawing; always did. I guess I just did it because drawing was the only thing I thought I knew how to do. My school teachers earmarked me for failure. A slow learner with poor English skills they called me, but said I was a promising artist, so it just made sense to follow that path. Now, give me a word processor and a keyboard and I’ll show you a man with purpose.

I’m proud of my writing. I wasn’t proud of my drawings. I never held a solo exhibition. I never even made many artist friends. All the while through the that slog, I was journaling, writing, dreaming tales I wanted to tell. All I’ve done differently now is let it become my priority. The writing has always called at me. My only other obsession would be Leonie, and the way she looks in a shoulder-less dress with a flower in her hair.

Leonie with her engagement ring

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *