How See One survives in Brooklyn as a professional artist

See One painting a mural Image via Facebook
See One painting a mural Image via Facebook

Brooklyn is filled with artists, it’s one of the reasons we’re seen as the cool capital of the world, according to people who make up such titles. However, actually living in Brooklyn these days is rough for anyone who wants to make a career out of being creative. So how does anyone here actually do it?

That brings us to  See One, who since the age of 3 has been drawing pictures. Inspired by the comic books and cartoons he consumed as a kid, See One brings those inspirations to everything from digital comics, to canvases, to walls around Brooklyn. He’s been successful enough at it that he’s gotten commissioned by clients as big as Nike, and is bringing one of his original creations to the world of comic books this September. We talked with See One about his work, his life as a Brooklyn artist and how the hell he makes it here as one, where everything from apartments to bagels cost three times as much as they used to, without a trust fund.

1. What part of Brooklyn do currently you live in?

Bed-Stuy, do or die!

2. How long have you been living there?

6 years

3. Are you a native to Brooklyn? If not, where are you from and why did you come here?

Not a native Brooklynite, but I’m from Corona, Queens originally. I moved to BK about 8 years ago since many friends were out here and I was always hanging around the LES or BK, so it just made sense

4. What led you to want to make a career out of being an artist?

I’m passionate about creating things with my hands and have a great imagination. I really enjoyed it and wanted to share my talents instead of let them waste away.

5. How long have you been making art?

All my life, about 31 years now. I technically never stopped drawing since starting at age 3.

6. How much time during the week do you spend working on your art?

30-50 hours.

Jemal McClary Image via Facebook
See One Image via Facebook

7. Do you work on any projects on the side to make rent etc?

I’ve created items like t-shirts, prints, jewelry, pillows and leggings but producing such items gets to be very expensive. I get commissioned walls and projects as well but those usually pop up randomly. I also have a 10 year design background, working in graphic design, fashion design and most recently, UX design for mobile and web apps. I do all of these things on top of painting walls.

8. Does doing web design, apps and other non-art work take you away from the “30-50 hours” of work, or do you view it as a necessary sacrifice?

Nope, I’ve learned to work around the schedule. Most people leave work at 5 or 6, go home, eat and watch TV. If I’m working for a client, I go home, eat and get back to the artwork until midnight-ish because that’s whats truly important to me. A job is just a job when art is your career and first love.

9. Living in Brooklyn, where everything from rent to coffee is costing much more than it used to, how do you manage to live?

Magic. At least it seems that way. Being diverse in talent helps, but it all boils down to hustle and how much you have of it. An artist can be a one person business but it’s tough to sell a drawing or painting so getting creative with money flow helps.

10. When it comes to all the various ways on which you hustle, does it involve you just knowing the right people or do you just have to take anything that comes along, regardless of how much it pays?

People truly underestimate an artist’s or designer’s need to pay the bills like a normal human being so I don’t take low pay/over-work situations anymore. In the city it’s definitely about who you know and who knows you! I used to take whatever design work I could find when starting out but now I can pick and choose…carefully. I never take an art project that’s not worth my time because I put so much effort and energy into it, so it’s not worth it. Sometimes I get jobs through social media unexpectedly, other times I’m sending out proposals and responses on Craigslist like everyone else.

11. How much do you make per average when it comes to commission work?

Depends on the project. Drawings, walls and paintings are at different price points than design work, but all require different levels of knowledge and skill within the context of that project. The last time I painted walls for Nike it was around $5,000, but that’s Nike. Smaller companies may only have a few hundred to few thousand to spend so it’s tricky to navigate. Original paintings are between $1,000 and $7,000, but I’ve done design projects that could command similar rates depending on the scale.

12. What are you currently working on?

I’ve painted a small blue dragon named Miru on the streets for years, and the past four years I’ve been crafting a comic series starring Miru with my writer, Rick. Our comic series just got picked up by Action Lab Entertainment and next year the series will debut! This is huge for me as I’ve always wanted to be a comic artist since a kid and its extra dope because I’d be the first graffiti writer to produce a comic with his own character and get it published into mainstream media. Outside of that, I’m prepping for an art exhibit this September and booking my summer’s worth of walls and commissions right now. It’s gonna be busy.

13. Do you think you can keep going as an artist in NYC for the next 5 or 10 years?

I’d like to but its getting really too damn expensive. I love this city but year after year rents and cost of living keep rising, less jobs and crap pay for many creative projects will keep you brokelyn for sure! (See what I did there). Brooklyn rent is ridiculous and once I move out of my place I really am not sure where to go. Unfortunately, New York city spoils you, which makes it difficult to truly love another city the same way.

You can check out more or See One work at his Official Site, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

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