Ivy Dolamore is an artist, cryptid, and unschooler. The product of a curriculum-free homeschooling education, Ivy quit her job at GameStop to become a full-time artist, supported by commissions, Patreon, and an extensive social media following. Her creations span a variety of art styles and media, including prints, jewelry, and Diamond Art.
In this episode, I chat with Ivy about how she made the leap to being an artist; how her retail experience lends itself to her new craft; which social media channels she finds most valuable; the vulnerability of vlogging; how unschooling differs from homeschooling; how an unschooler finds teachers and fills gaps in her curriculum; and what her next big projects are.
Stream the audio edition of this interview below or from Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, Overcast, Pandora, Pocket Casts, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, RadioPublic, or the Internet Archive. Click past the jump for a transcript and links to resources mentioned in this episode.
- Ivy Dolamore
- The Casual Wild
- Warm Witch
- Facebook Creator Studio
- Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012
- Sony vlog camera ZV-1
- Kate Dolamore Art
- Flyff (Fly for Fun) MMORPG
- Diamond Art Club
Voiceover: Welcome to the Polygamer podcast, where gaming is for everyone. Join us as we expand the boundaries of the gaming community.
Ken Gagne: Hello, and welcome to the Polygamer podcast episode number 111 for Wednesday, March 17th, 2021. I’m your host, Ken Gagne. One of my favorite games of the past few years, as is true for many people I suspect, is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I saw a piece of art online that remind me not only of this game but also of all the things I loved as a kid just having a day off, sitting at home, playing Nintendo with my friends. This art showcased some characters that looked very similar to characters from Breath of the Wild playing a Zelda-like game. I lost track of this art for a while there.
Ken: I couldn’t remember where I saw it or where to get it until my friend Sabriel recently retweeted the artists and this tweet had not only that picture I’ve been looking for, but four other works of art that were so completely diverse, my mind was blown that they were all from the same artists. I’m very excited today to be speaking with that artists, Ivy Dolamore. Hello, Ivy.
Dolamore: Hello, thank you for having me.
Ivy: It’s awesome. I’m flattered and thank you for the lovely introduction.
Ken: My pleasure. Tell me, how long have you been working as an artist?
Ivy: Well, I’ve been doing art my whole life really, but deciding to take it as a career path has been a venture of the last two years, give or take.
Ken: What were you doing before then?
Ivy: I was just working retail jobs honestly which I was content to do for quite a while. I grew up thinking that I would not be an artist, even though I loved it. I didn’t really want to make it my career. I was working just basic retail jobs with the naive mindset that I could have a day job and have a good of living which just isn’t the case in our current economy. Being miserable there, eventually I got to the point where I was like, “No, I really need to do what I’m passionate about,” and that’s definitely illustration.
Ken: Retail can be very difficult work. I’ve been there myself, Waldenbooks, GameStop, Blockbuster-
Ivy: Me too. My first job was GameStop.
Ken: Oh, no, not another GameStop alumna. We’ve had so many on the show.
Ivy: That figures really.
Ken: So you’re selling those PowerUp Rewards cards and magazine subscriptions and preordering games?
Ivy: I was trying to and that’s part of the reason I no longer work there.
Ken: Quotas are the worst.
Ken: But it can be very rewarding to hang out with other people who enjoy games as much as you do and to see the satisfaction on somebody’s face when you get them that game they’ve been waiting for that. That can be fun.
Ivy: Yeah, I’ve made friends there that’d definitely been my longest term like work friends. I still talk to them all the time.
Ken: That’s awesome. You said that you didn’t want to make art your living. Was that you didn’t want to or that you didn’t think you could?
Ivy: I think it was that I really didn’t want to. The pressure of having to create things under the intention of selling them is a very different thing than just when it’s your hobby and you love it. Not that I don’t love doing it for a job too, but my mindset has definitely changed from that kind of early mindset where it’s like, “I can do whatever I want.” Now my drawing time is work time.
Ken: Does that make it less enjoyable?
Ivy: I think it just makes it different. There are times where I do miss the real creative outlet, but I think maybe that’s just part of growing up too for me. I don’t know. I’m very Capricornian. I don’t know if you believe in that, but I do because I feel very much like I’m this earth energy, very balanced in my career intentions. I don’t know.
Ken: Do you still find time to do art just for fun or is it all commercial now?
Ivy: It’s a little bit of both. Even the things that I do that are on my own time or hour usually come with the intention of like, “Can I post this on Instagram later or does this benefit me in some other way?” It’s always somehow tied to the public. I don’t really make stuff that doesn’t get shared because the algorithm favors so much this intense schedule of sharing that you need to produce what you can share or at least in my stage of my career.
Ken: Do you set yourself quotas? Certainly there are deadlines for commissions, but do you tell yourself, “I need to produce this much art on this frequent basis or else my numbers will plummet?”
Ivy: Yeah, in a way. Well, I just started Patreon this last year, late last year and that pretty much gets me on a schedule where I’m making a sticker sheet a month, an individual sticker design and a print every month like a full-size painted print and then I do that on top of commissions. Yes, that pretty much takes up all of my time.
Ken: We’ve talked on this podcast with Twitch streamers and how relentless the need is to produce content. I’ll be honest, it had occurred to me that that would apply just as equally to other artists and other media in the gaming industry as well.
Ivy: Yeah, definitely. Just like anything where you’re marketing your own brand and self to get views, you need to favor the algorithm.
Ken: Since you mentioned, “Marketing your brand,” how would you describe your brand?
Ivy: That’s a really good question. I think I’m still figuring it out because I feel new to really focusing on what my own content is. I was focusing a lot on fan art like you’d seen. I guess that’s what drew you into me and I think that was more of my comfort zone, but I’ve had some issues with … Conventions aren’t open right now which tends to be a better safer market. When you’re selling online, you’re a lot more vulnerable to big DMCAs and companies coming and taking down your stuff and then your income, it’s just gone.
Ken: When I’d been to various conventions, sure, there’s a lot of fan art there from Chrono Trigger, Legend of Zelda, Street Fighter, but it’s easy to sell that to an individual who’s walking past your booth. When you’re marking it to the internet, you don’t know who’s going to see it.
Ivy: Exactly. I’ve lost a lot of income because I’ll have a print that’s a popular design, and then, it will get taken down by the IP owner which is certainly in there right and I’m not going to fight that, but that’s why I’m shifting into having to discover what my real brand is. A very new thing. Only in the last six months or something have I really been producing prints that are just my original content. I’m not really sure if I have an answer for you yet.
Ken: No, you don’t have to. That’s something that you’ll develop over time, and in the meantime, it’s fun to just explore and find out what’s inside of you that wants to come out.
Ivy: Definitely. I have a lot of visions inside me that I like, but they’re all very varied. It’s funny because this is one of the things that you put on the prep PDF that I got, that was, “I would never guess your portfolio is the work of just one person. How do you describe your various styles?” This is one of the questions. I love having this big variation in the content that I make. I feel like that is part of my style and my brand that I have, so many different niches that I all want to put one of my fingers in.
Ken: What is it that would you would say results in such diverse art? Are you using different tools to create this art? Are you drawing on different inspirations or drawing in different genres?
Ivy: I think it’s mostly the process that it takes to get somewhere. I’ll have a certain thing that I want to focus on in each piece. In this one, I care about the colors or the pose or the perspective or whatever. Depending on what my priority is, that affects the method I take to get there and it comes out in all kinds of different ways where they look more comic-ey or like a painting just depending on what steps I’m taking. If I’m using line art or if I’m just going for a sketchy painting, it all really looks quite different in the end.
Ken: Do you have some favorite pieces that you’ve produced?
Ivy: Yeah, and they’re all really different, I think, but I really like this one. It’s Warm Witch and it’s like this witch is a window and the colors are really warm. It just really reminds me of autumns and puzzles. I love doing puzzles. I like art that looks like puzzle art.
Ken: I’m looking at Warm Witch now, how she’s just sitting back, drinking, reading a book. It looks very cozy.
Ivy: I like to create art that I want somebody to look at and go like, “I see myself in this,” or, “I want to be this person.”
Ken: Have you considered adding puzzles to your online shop?
Ivy: I have. They’re pretty expensive to produce. I bought one for myself for my birthday this year to just test out what it would be like. Because just to find a manufacturer, you have to test how the product is going to be, but it was $50 for one puzzle. I’m not quite ready to buy in bulk big enough to get that cost down that it would be effective.
Ken: The margin on that is not going to be very profitable.
Ivy: You got to sell a lot of puzzles.
Ken: Wow. What tools do you use for your art?
Ivy: I use just a classic old like Wacom. I think this is an Intuos Pro and Photoshop. I know a lot of people do like the drawing on the screen thing with their fancy Cintiq because now you can get a really cheap screen tablet through like XP-PEN, way cheaper than it used to be, but I don’t have one of those. I just have an old style where you’re looking at this screen and drawn down below. I like it because I feel like your posture is better.
Ken: Do you think you would switch to that fancier setup if you could?
Ivy: I don’t think I would. I actually really like this format. I don’t know why.
Ken: That’s cool. I like that. You mentioned you sell stickers and you were looking at puzzles. What are some of the more popular things that you sell on your online store?
Ivy: Well, definitely, fan art prints are a big seller, but so are buttons surprisingly. My biggest Etsy seller is my haiku pinback buttons, which I make inhouse. I have a button press. That’s cool. Surprisingly, those sell quite a bit. I thought they were going out of fashion but apparently people still like them.
Ken: That’s cool. When you say fan art, you mean art inspired by other media?
Ivy: Yeah, existing IPs essentially.
Ken: Got it. Because as you were discussing, you’ve been moving more and more into OCs or original characters in the last six months. I presume that’s becoming a larger part of your portfolio. Is it also becoming a larger part of your sales, if I may ask?
Ivy: Yeah, it’s getting there. I’m still experimenting on what people really want. For example, I bought some wooden pins this last year. I’ve made some earrings that are not even drawings or graphic design more. I would categorize them as that. Those have sold okay and the pinback buttons are not so much that are the original. I’m still figuring out what people actually want. I’ve also gotten some acrylic charms and I’ve barely sold any of them. I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out, but some things do work and usually they cover the failures. It all balances out.
Ken: When you get an order, do you immediately drop everything and rush to the post office or do you have like, “Order ship on Monday. That’s my shipping day”?
Ivy: I definitely have a shipping day or I would just go crazy. I usually do two runs a week. It just depends on how many orders I get. Once I get about 15 orders, that’s usually like, “Oh, I better pack some orders.”
Ken: I think that is very smart. I have an online store as well. Whenever I get an order, I tend to try and get it out within 24 hours rather than wait until they accumulate because-
Ivy: Oh, really?
Ken: Yeah, it’s not healthy, but the people at the post office know me very well by now.
Ivy: That’s sweet. Do you get … You don’t even have to answer this, but how many orders do you get a week to the point that … Sometimes I get like overwhelmed by the fact that a whole day will be taken up by packing and going. I don’t know. Maybe the once at a time is a better method.
Ken: Well, similar to you, my products come in a variety of media. If they are ordering a hardcover book for example, I actually have a distributor elsewhere and I’ll forward that order to him and he mails it for me. If they’re ordering a physical CD, a compact disc, I have an online distributor where I upload the disc image and they burn it and mail it, but if they’re ordering pretty much anything else in the online store, then that’s something I have in stock and I just toss it in an envelope. It doesn’t have to be padded and I mail it off. The things that I actually mail are maybe only one or two orders a week.
Ivy: I feel like when it’s a smaller quantity like that, it’s easier to just get it over with something.
Ken: That’s true. If I was getting an order a day, then I would probably group them together like you do. I wish I was getting as many orders as you do.
Ivy: I wish for that for you.
Ken: Thank you. Someday. You also do commissions, right?
Ivy: Yeah, I do. I just closed them actually because I had this post go viral when I got four inquiries that I took all of. I’m overwhelmed right now, but yes, I do take commissions.
Ken: When you say you had a post go viral, you mean it was a tweet?
Ivy: Yeah, it was a tweet which is surprising to me because mostly when I’ve had bigger engagements that has not been on Twitter historically, but yeah, I had my last Patreon Print of the Month Design was very popular. It got 2 million impressions, I think they call it.
Ivy: That was crazy.
Ken: When you say a lot of your traffic doesn’t necessarily come from Twitter, where does it come from?
Ivy: It really is varied. I try to diversify because you just never know what’s going to pop off where. Instagram is the big one where I can have a post randomly blow up and TikTok does that too.
Ken: I’ve noticed that you have a voluminous social media presence as you mentioned, Patreon, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, Pinterest. I have done some work historically in social media and they usually say, “Pick one or two places to focus your output, and if you just squat on all the others and they’re empty, that’s going to look worse than not having a presence at all.” You do neither of these things. You are on all these services and they’re all very active. How do you find time to do all that?
Ivy: I think I could do better actually. It comes and goes in waves. I will try a certain website to focus on for a certain amount of time and see if it’s time yet in a way. Pinterest, for example, yeah, I did it for probably like three months, but right now, I’m not doing it. I might go back to it in a bit, but it just varies. It was like, “Oh, this isn’t getting the traction to justify the time, so I’m going to move on,” but I think that experimenting and trying to see like what can pick up some traction is good. It’s usually a steady climb to the top instead of a sudden burst. Consistency is key. I use a lot of scheduling services for whatever I need. Facebook Creator Studio is one that you can schedule your Instagram and Facebook posts. I just do that one day a week and then I don’t have to worry about it.
Ken: Are there any third-party tools you use like Hootsuite or CoSchedule or anything?
Ivy: I think that Creator Studio does pretty much that as far as Instagram and Facebook goes. Twitter, it’s my favorite one, so it’s easier for me to just be on it and talk bullshit over there because I just like to talk to people, and Twitter, it’s the most personable one in my opinion.
Ken: Me too. I find a lot of the other media are one too many and Twitter is that as well, but it has more opportunity for one-to-one interaction as well.
Ivy: Definitely. I feel like I’ve made friends more on Twitter. Instagram, it feels like I’m talking to my fans there, whereas Twitter feels more like I’m talking to my friends and coworkers, if that makes sense.
Ken: It does. Instagram feels to me like a Facebook fan page like if you were a celebrity. Celebrities, as we think of them, don’t have friends. They have fans.
Ken: You said it’s a matter of throwing stuff out there and see what works. What have you found works on social media?
Ivy: I think that I can predict better what post might blow up a little bit more clearly. It’s always a gamble. Sometimes things will up or succeed and I’m like, “What?” but I think just getting your bearings as far as what works is really advantageous, but it’s weird because I don’t really know what benefit it really does. I stand by just like, “I want to make good work and keep improving just the content and then people will eventually see or notice and all just work out.”
Ken: Content is king, but a lot of that content doubles as marketing as well because you can have great art that never finds an audience because people don’t know about it.
Ivy: That’s definitely true. I take time to try and learn the marketing side, but I’m just not sure if I consistently have any amazing tips that I can share. It’s all very just getting to know each platform because each one has its own quirks about what it’s good for. I’m sure that even varies between who you are and what you post there. Some of the advice I’ve gotten for Instagram, for example, I feel like, “No way. That would never work for me. I don’t know.”
Ken: What sort of advice do you think would not work for you?
Ivy: Well, people, for example, tell you to write these long content things in the descriptions of your pictures and stuff like that. They’re like, “Share your life or whatever.” I’m like, “I feel like nobody reads that on Instagram. I would rather put that on Twitter or YouTube or just talk about it on Twitch or whatever.” I don’t know, but clearly, somebody is reading it for these other people, so I don’t know.
Ken: I wonder about that myself. There’s another service where I uploaded some photos and I wrote captions for each one and then I realized the captions only show up in desktop view. If you’re flicking through it on your mobile device, the captions never show up. Of course, that’s where most of the traffic is nowadays, so why even bother.
Ivy: Exactly. I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me. I don’t understand. I’m trying to, but it’s hard.
Ken: Well, let’s take a look at the three video platforms you’re on, YouTube, Twitch and TikTok. How do you use each of those different from each other or are you just putting the same content on all of them?
Ivy: They’re definitely different. Twitch is the one that I feel like I’ve been doing that kind of content for the longest because I’ve been doing, I think it was livestream.com back in the day and there was Piktoart too, I was never on that one though, but I’ve been doing live streams since I was probably 13. Doing my silly anime art. I was really into it. I don’t know. That’s just a casual place. Usually just my friends come and some of, well, friends to be, people that are really interested in just how I talk or who I really am, so I like that, but definitely, the audience is much smaller because it’s such a casual setting. I’m not exactly a comedian, entertainer to the max. I got my skills, but I’m not a top Twitch streamer for sure.
Ivy: Then YouTube, I’m really trying to learn and I’ve made quite a few videos now, but I feel like it’s way more time consuming than any of the other ones. Let me put it that way. I really have to go out in my way to plan a video for YouTube. It feels the most permanent. It feels the most somehow important, whereas TikTok, you can really throw anything at it and it’s just gone in a flash. It doesn’t matter.
Ken: Are these live streams of you creating art? Are you vlogging? Are you just pimping your product? What do you got going on?
Ivy: Mostly, I’m doing live art, but sometimes I’ll try and switch it up and do something else like I packed orders on stream. I recently got a miniature house model room thing. I don’t know what you call it. It’s like a mini room that you build. I was doing that on stream, but most of it is just art, yeah, me drawing.
Ken: On YouTube, you recently started vlogging which you described as you being very vulnerable. Can you talk a bit about that?
Ivy: Yeah, definitely. Part of it is that you are in a space with a bunch of other people that have been doing it for way longer than you with a whole lot more money and experience. You want to get to that level of polish, but the reality is that you’re just not going to be there right out of the gate. Does that mean that you stop creating it? No. You should just make whatever you’re at, whatever level you’re at, but sometimes seeing that really polished product next to your inexperienced wobbly colt legs of a vlog is hard to see. Like I said, I still want to make stuff that isn’t perfect, that is ugly that I know will become polished if I work at it. I don’t want to stop doing it because it’s a deterrent or anything, but really seeing yourself on camera, the quirks of your voice and speech patterns and really like facing that is cringe at times.
Ken: But the same taste you have that allows you to know what’s good and what’s not is exactly what allows you to be a great artist. There are people who put terrible art up there and they don’t know it’s terrible.
Ivy: That’s true, but I think that every media is very unique. I’m a good Illustrator, but do I think of myself as a great graphic designer, for example? Not particularly. A lot of the things I look at, I’m like, “Is this anything? Is this good?” and I feel the same way about what I record and how I edit content. I don’t know, I’m learning. It’s just like the social media thing, “Do I think that this post will blow up? Yeah, maybe,” but then it flops or whatever and you slowly learn like, “Ah, this is the ticket.”
Ken: You don’t know unless you try.
Ken: I had some YouTube successes about a decade ago when the market was much smaller and then other people came in with equal or more talent, equal or more budgets. Their standards were higher because they could afford to meet them and my standards became so high that I couldn’t meet them, so I just stopped making videos because I’m like, “Well, if I can’t be that great, what’s the point?” I wish I hadn’t done that to myself because I was having fun.
Ivy: I think that’s the big downside of being creative. Anything in this world that’s very monetarily based, it’s like, “Oh, if this isn’t going to be worth anything, what’s the point?” but you can stop yourself from actually getting to a good spot by just bailing too early. Plus, I feel like, I don’t know, I’m sure you feel the same way that some of the content you consume is not even the polished nice stuff. It’s just the early beginnings and you love it. You just love the person that’s making it or it’s funny or there’s some kind of charm.
Ken: It’s true. It’s like when starting a podcast, the advice I often read and then share is, “People will come back if your audio quality isn’t great in your first episode, so you can start with a cheap mic and then upgrade later. They won’t come back if your first episode’s content isn’t good though.”
Ken: As long as you are doing your best and you’re making something that you think is of value, it doesn’t matter what your budget is. If people like you and what you have to say, you’ll figure out how to make it better.
Ivy: Definitely. Even if the content isn’t good at first, it gives you time to work at making it better.
Ken: Right, because we all need to practice. At the same time though, the fact that I’m not making YouTube videos anymore allows me to do the things I was doing, not for commercial consumption. You were talking about how a lot of your art is for consumption. By not putting it online, I have a little bit more flexibility now in what I do.
Ivy: That’s true as well. It’s good to give yourself the space to create for your own person which is probably why I’m making stuff for YouTube is vulnerable for me because I make it with the intention to be put out, but it’s probably something that I could keep to myself and I wouldn’t be embarrassed about it. Putting it out there is the part that’s vulnerable, right?
Ken: Yeah, I think a lot of people nowadays don’t see the value in doing something unless they share it. If you’re going to go on a vacation, you better post some photos to Insta or Twitter to prove that you were there. Otherwise, what’s the point of having gone there?
Ivy: I’m definitely guilty of that.
Ken: I don’t think you’re alone in that respect. I think it’s pretty natural nowadays. For better or for worse, it is what it is.
Ken: On the subject of video, you were recently very excited on Twitter when you had a new camera delivered. What are you using that for in your work?
Ivy: Right, that is my vlogging camera and it’s definitely the most expensive camera I’ve ever bought. That whole thing was probably like $850. That was a big drop for me. It’s like, “Dang, my phone doesn’t even cost that much,” but yeah, it’s really cool. It’s what most vloggers use nowadays, but I like that it’s so compact. I don’t know, it’s a Sony ZV-1. It’s cool.
Ken: Nice. What does it do that your phone doesn’t?
Ivy: Well, one of the things that’s really good is that I live in the basement of my parents’ house, very trendy. I only have one window in here. It’s underneath the deck. What I’m basically saying is that my workspace has horrible lighting. This camera has a bigger, I think it’s like the aperture lens. I don’t really know cameras, I’m sorry, but basically it takes in more light through the lens which is really helpful for me because my room is very dark. I’m trying to combat that in the best way possible.
Ken: You’re using this camera for your Twitch and your TikTok and your YouTube?
Ivy: Yeah, pretty much. YouTube mainly.
Ken: Got it. I wasn’t sure if you were the sort of artist who goes around outside photographing things and then using that as inspiration for your illustrations later.
Ivy: I’m not really, but I think it’s cool that people share the world around them. My sister is actually also an illustrator. She’s Kate Dolamore. She does all these Audubon watercolor illustrations. She’s also really into photographing the birds and stuff like that. I think it’s just so cute because people love her Instagram, not only for the art, but also her photography of the birds that she later paints.
Ken: That’s really cool. Birds are pretty neat. You got to admit.
Ivy: Yeah, I like them. I can sometimes be overwhelmed by having two family members just talking about birds for a solid week, but it’s cool.
Ken: Two family members, you and your sister?
Ivy: My mom and my sister.
Ken: Oh, she’s a birdie as well?
Ivy: Well, it’s like she’ll given to Kate’s bird obsession. At least, they can talk about it. I don’t know enough about birds to really partake. I think they’re cute and pretty, but they’ll be like, “Oh, that call is of Western North Carolina chickadee,” and I’m like, “Okay, I’m glad for you.”
Ken: I hope they listen to this podcast.
Ivy: Now I can never tell them where to listen to it.
Ken: Fantastic. Let’s talk actually a little bit about your family and also your education which is one of the things you described on your website as being a lifelong unschoolers which was a word I think I’d heard in passing but was not very familiar with. I did some research before this podcast and learned how it’s a subset of homeschooling, but beyond that, I’ll let you put it in your own words. What is unschooling?
Ivy: It’s basically without curriculum really. You’re not really assigned much that you have to learn in a day. You don’t have tests. You don’t have classes. You really get to be a self-led learner and choose what to do with your day entirely which was probably a crazy concept to some people, but yeah, I definitely think that’s been a hugely shaping part of my whole family. I’m one of three sisters and we’ve all been unschooled for the good majority of our life and it’s a pretty cool thing.
Ken: When you say the majority, does that mean you started off in traditional schooling and they were like, “Nope, this isn’t working. You’re out”?
Ivy: That happened with my older sisters. I’m the true baby, so that is what happened. In the past, my two sisters were in public school and the eldest one is just a genius a little bit. This is what I’ve heard at least. She was way ahead from everybody else and they just didn’t know what to do with her essentially. She was miserable because she was so bored and not, I don’t know, just engaged with the curriculum. My mom took it upon herself and she has a teaching degree, so she pulled them out and homeschooled them. I think eventually that became unschooling. I’m not really sure at what point the true unschooling really happened, but it’s cool. It was also in a time in the early ’90s where that wasn’t legal or it was risky to be a homeschooler in Florida at that time because there really wasn’t the groundwork government-wise to quick really facilitate that.
Ken: But it seems to have worked for your older sisters, so when you came along, they’re like, “Let’s just get it right on the first try and let’s start with unschooling here.”
Ivy: Exactly, yeah. I’ve never been to a public school. I went to a Sudbury weekend school for a little bit and Sudbury is a very similar concept to unschooling. There are classes offered, but they’re always optional. You still get to focus on self-led learning, but yeah, besides that, I’ve pretty much been free to do whatever I wanted which is mostly art and video games as a kid.
Ken: Does that mean there were no limits, you could just play as many video games as you wanted?
Ivy: There were definitely hours set that you had to get off of the computer or the PlayStation or whatever it was. You couldn’t just stare at the screen the whole day. I think there’s a point where mom was like, “Okay, go read a book,” or something or, “Play outside.” We live in Central Florida on, I’m not really sure how many acres we had, maybe three or four roughly. We definitely had land to go and play in the woods and just be outdoors children as well. That was a big advantage of where we lived.
Ken: Those hours spent playing video games, was that part of your education or was it a distraction from your education?
Ivy: I definitely think it was part of it. I was playing … Fly For Fun was one of my first obsessions. I don’t know if anybody knows what that game is. It was like a chibi-style MMO. It was a free MMO. I was obsessed with it, but I was probably 14 or something when I started playing private servers and I was actually getting paid to do icon work and promotional artwork for private servers. Not terrible money for being 15.
Ivy: I would definitely consider that like a good step in education. I’m not going to say that all of those hours were wonderfully packed with nutritional value, but they were fun and that was important. Clearly, I think I turned out okay. I’m not sweating it.
Ken: No, so far so good, I would say.
Ken: When I was talking to some friends to say that I was going to be interviewing somebody who’s been unschooled, their main question was, “How do you learn what the rest of us learned as basic things in grade school that we would not maybe have naturally encountered like the multiplications table?”
Ken: Now, if you’re playing a video game, you may learn like, “Oh, when I do this damage, they lose this many hit points, but what’s nine times 12?” How do you incorporate that into an unschooling education?
Ivy: Right, I think I did have math sheets that I was supposed to do some time in a day. There was some level of you got to do something, but really, it was very limited. I probably pretty much stopped at learning multiplication and division, so I’ve never touched algebra or what’s the other one?
Ivy: Yeah, I don’t even know what it is. I’m sorry. Of course, if you went to school, you probably did, but most people that learned that probably don’t use it on a day-to-day basis. It’s like, I don’t know, I don’t feel like I’m lacking in anything as long as I know multiplication. That’s important. Honestly though, you do learn that kind of stuff naturally through like playing Yahtzee for example. We played so much Yahtzee as a kid. It was actually a great math practice. I’m never going to forget what six times four is anymore. I don’t know. There’s some level of, I guess, standardized learning, but it didn’t have the same structure as what you would call like a typical school curriculum. It was really those books that you just got from Staples that were like English and math.
Ivy: I did those up until, I don’t even know, maybe fourth grade roughly, but most things I just learned on the internet. For example, my English, pretty much just learned from writing and putting stuff in effectively what’s Grammarly now and it tells you what’s supposed to be right and then you’re like, “Oh, I’ll remember that for next time.”
Ken: I have the same experience with a grammar checker where the longer I used it, the less I needed it because, for better for worse, it shaped my reading.
Ivy: Exactly. I think as those needs come up, you just naturally will be inclined to research the gaps that you feel. I still feel this way where it’s like, “Oh, I don’t really know as much about history or whatever as I wish I did. Well, now I’m an adult and I wasn’t forced to learn all this bullshit curriculum.” A lot of history, for example, it’s not even a great teaching if you go to like a regular school. I would almost rather be able to source out my own education on some of these things. I don’t know.
Ken: No, you’re right. A lot of the history taught in this country is very centric on this country and the people that you would consider the victors, which are the white men and the most recent presidential administration, they try to reinforce that by eliminating any other perspective. Unfortunately, that did not pass, but if you’re not in the public school system in the first place, you’re not going to be subjected to these various, “What does this administration want me to learn?” It can be all about what you want to learn.
Ivy: Definitely, you get a very different perspective, I think, when you’re allowed to just seek out your own information in a way. I feel bad for schools in a lot of ways. Even if, for example, there isn’t set laws to set back the teaching of history or whatever, I know there’s issues with just getting up-to-date books and stuff like that with things that should be in there now or were purposefully left out or whatever. They just can’t get an updated version or there isn’t an updated version or whatever. It’s just not set up in the best way anyway, so it seems like all of us are a little bit disadvantaged no matter where you go.
Ken: But you did mention on your website that being unschooled does not mean you are without teachers. You’ve had a variety of teachers throughout your life and I assume you’re referring not just to sourcing information and choosing what books to read. Have there been people in your life as well teachers?
Ivy: Definitely. I think everybody that I meet is a teacher in some way seriously. I think that most people feel that way though, even if they’re not conscious of it. Every mom of my friend or whatever that gave me some little nugget of life experience, sometimes that just word of mouth advice or even history too of families and your local area or whatever, that ends up being way more relevant to my actual life than anything you can read in a book.
Ken: When it comes to your art style, where have you looked for inspiration?
Ivy: Well, I first started by getting those tracing papers and I would just trace over Pokemon cards. I was really into that for a while and I was super into anime. Some of my first animes were Super GALS, Ranma 1/2, Fushigi Yugi, Sailor Moon, of course. Like I said, I have these older sisters, so they would go to conventions in the ’90s and bring home all these old VHS that I would watch. Definitely, a good portion of ’90s, ’80s anime was my first love essentially. From there, video games of course are a big influence. Just all the kind of art that you see in the world in some way inspires me, I think, but even like fashion and stuff too.
Ivy: Like I said, I really like to make stuff that people look at and go like, “Oh, my God, I wish that were me,” because I get that feeling a lot when I’m like looking at everything in the world. I’m like, “Wow, this is so cool. I wish I was there. I wish I was wearing that. I wish I looked like that,” whatever. I think that’s the kind of stuff that I’m like, “Oh, this is so cool.” I want to just have a hand in making this kind of stuff. That’s a big inspiration. It’s like all over the board, I guess, is what I’m saying.
Ken: But what about people in your life? Are there other artists who … Not just you watch their YouTube videos or you see their art online, but have you had the opportunity to sit with somebody and learn from them?
Ivy: Yeah, like I said, my older sister, the middle sister, she’s an illustrator. When I was growing up, she did work that is similar to what I’m doing now which is funny because she moved on to her birds, of course, but back in the early days, it was a lot more of these anime fairy girls and stuff like that. She was definitely early on a big influence on me creating stuff and being given a pencil and paper and being like, “Here, entertain yourself for a while by drawing.” That was definitely big. Then even my mom, she’s also a painter now. While she was raising the kids and everything, she didn’t really focus on it, but now it’s interesting because she has a studio space down in the River Arts District here in Asheville.
Ivy: I’ve gotten to meet a lot of these local art scenes, sort of the older generation as well, which I think is good to have … The internet is more young really, I feel like, right? Then having the local group of men and women that are probably mainly 50 to 70 is also interesting that they have their own art market and everything and have been living off it. I think that’s so inspiring.
Ken: I think it’s wonderful when that education transcends the generations. I don’t just mean in a classroom where you have an older teacher, but you’re learning what has worked for previous generations at the same time that you’re sharing your work amongst your own peers as well. There’s this great synergy of not just academic classroom experience but real world experience as well.
Ivy: I feel like when you are really feeling at an equal level to those people, that’s also a unique feeling. I don’t really think of that older generation as my teachers, more than I am a teacher to them, if that makes sense. It just seems like they’re my friends. I appreciate that balance of respect to where I feel like I’m at an equal footing to them.
Ken: They’re not there in a mentoring capacity per se because it’s not all about them bequeathing knowledge to you. It’s about an exchange of ideas.
Ivy: I think that I approach pretty much every relationship I have with that like, “I’ll teach you and you could teach me.” Just by being near each other, it’s going to naturally happen.
Ken: What would you say you have to teach other artists?
Ivy: I think that I am very passionate about my focus, if that makes sense. Like I mentioned earlier, I feel very Capricornian, so I think that this grounding business energy is sometimes helpful to those around me where I’m very good at being motivated about what I’m working on and having a set schedule and all that kind of stuff. I think that just that energy of art, but it’s work is a real, what’s the word, like advantage to me. I think that just having that focus and calm energy is good.
Ken: I like that and I imagine from a technical perspective, maybe this is a bias of mine, the older artists that you’re collaborating with may not be as familiar with TikTok or Patreon and maybe that’s something you can teach them.
Ivy: They definitely have questions about social media that I do try and bequeath if possible. I’ve actually made some websites for some people. Just all the older generation that don’t understand the technological side of things, not that they don’t all, some of them are perfectly good at it, but quite a few of them are, “What’s TikTok?” I do sometimes say like, “Hey, I got 2 million engagements or impressions on Twitter,” and they’re like, “What? How did you do that? Can you teach me how to do it?” I guess I tried to do some of that, though I think it’s a really different world because their whole market is such in a physical space that I’m still trying to learn. I guess, it is this synergy where we both are coming from very different ends of how we approach things.
Ken: But as you noted, the physical space is rather constrained by this pandemic.
Ivy: It definitely is. That’s such a huge bummer. Actually last year, before I moved home, I was working in this art residency, Spruce Art Residency, in Indiana, Pennsylvania. That was such an enlightening experience to me because we had a lot of people coming in from New York that were pretty established artists, but so many of them really worked in physical space. They were super excited about just how they were going to arrange the room or how they were going to fill a whole environment with their hand essentially. That was so different to me to be around compared to how I feel like I exist very much in a virtual space. I haven’t thought about how to translate it into reality for very long. That was such an amazing thing to see people really transform a room and a space with their art.
Ken: Is that something you’ve now done with your basement?
Ivy: I’m working on it.
Ken: It can make a difference when you put up things that remind you of what you’ve accomplished or what you want to accomplish and to see those reminders every day.
Ivy: Definitely. I have a lot of art from other people around my space. My mom is one of them. I have a … God, who is this? Frederick Gore, he is an impressionist painter, have this lovely pink flower painting right by my desk. That kind of stuff is pretty inspiring.
Ken: You mentioned in one of your emails about the career progression of an unschooler. Does that form of education lend itself more to the self-employment that you’re currently pursuing or does somebody who is unschooled end up being competitive with a more traditionally schooled individual? How does that work?
Ivy: I was thinking about this question actually because I was just trying to evaluate how the career paths of my whole homeschool group have gone along because in Central Florida, there was this whole homeschool group of probably seven main kids or something like that. One of them is also a famous Twitch guy now. His name is Plup. He’s like a Smash Brothers famous tournament guy, I guess. I just think that’s interesting that quite a few of the people from that core group really ended up doing internet-based stuff as their whole career, but I think, yeah, it does lend itself to cultivating your own path forward and not thinking of things in maybe such a traditional way. You just naturally are a little bit outside of the box because you’ve never really been in it. How you view the path forward might be pretty different from somebody that’s used to the system, I don’t know.
Ken: It certainly allows you to think outside the box when you haven’t already been living there your whole life.
Ivy: Definitely. I think I struggled a lot with going to work in retail and all that stuff, and partly, I do think that is in a way a disadvantage of unschooling because I was very mentally unprepared for how horrible it is out there. That was a weird moment in my history just because I feel like I went from a blissful ignorance to a shock when I ended up being really in the real world, but the adaptability to step out of that again and find my own way and my own path and creating my days like I used to is very freeing. I’m glad that I have had all of those years where I just got to do whatever I wanted. Usually, I was pretty motivated about how I was going to spend my day.
Ken: You also mentioned just recently and also at the top of the show your retail experience. On your website, you plugged that as one of your strengths. How does it come into play in what you do now?
Ivy: Customer service is a big part of being a freelancer, I think, because just interacting with people and knowing how to do that in a very professional way is essential. Not that you have to have had worked retail to have that skill, but I partially put that there because I think it’s humbling. A lot of people have been there and they can relate to the experience and how hard it is, really. It’s way harder than what I do now just honestly. I put that there for relatability so that people know really where I came from and just the specifics of what that means, in a way.
Ken: I agree. I would hope that you are more inclined to be polite and empathetic to people in retail if you’ve been in their shoes, whether it was a video game store or a movie theater or clothing or fast food. It’s not an easy lot. Especially as you mentioned, it’s not exactly financially rewarding either.
Ivy: Definitely. I didn’t hate it though, not all of it. I was working at Publix. That was my last retail job. I feel like Publix is really known for having employees that are really family oriented to the company. I really do think that’s true. There was a lot of just camaraderie in that store which was weird, but that was cool, I don’t know. It’s a rough job to do in general and I think it does make me much better at approaching anybody. For example, I have a lot of commissioners that have never commissioned anybody before. It can be pretty nerve racking. You can tell that they’re nervous about … They feel like they’re bothering you just by asking for a commission and being that presence that says like, “Oh, no, don’t worry about it. I’ve done this a million times. We got this. I can lead you through all of it. It’s no problem.”
Ivy: Just having done that a bunch in a retail setting where you have to deal with a whole wide range of people that are reacting to you in lots of negative ways sometimes or they’re nervous or whatever and you have to be the force that calms them down and makes it a pleasant experience, that’s all super essential when you’re the sole presence of your business.
Ken: That’s absolutely true. Having worked in retail myself, I can see where you’re coming from. We’ve covered so much in the last hour, your art, your unschooling, your career aspirations. Actually, on that note, where do you think you’re headed next? What’s your next big project?
Ivy: Oh, man, I think it’s exciting times right now because I can feel that I’m getting to the point where something really good is going to happen, but I don’t even want to say what it is because I don’t know yet. I just can feel that something cool is going to come. I don’t want to lock myself into anything. Maybe I’ll be, I don’t know, working on some really cool big project or my prints will just keep being beautiful and amazing and people will be in awe and want to give me all of their money for them. I don’t know. I have a Diamond Art painting coming out sometime this year hopefully and maybe that won’t even … It might just be one, but it might be more. I’m just keeping my options open and staying diverse.
Ken: Could you clarify what Diamond Art is?
Ivy: Yeah, definitely. It’s similar to cross stitching in a way conceptually, but essentially, it’s a paint by number with little tiny beads. You get a big sheet of sticky paper and it has a design printed on it with all of these little symbols that tell you what color goes where. Then you put these little diamonds on it and you make the picture by putting stuff on there.
Ken: Wow, that sounds like it would be very time intensive.
Ivy: I think it is. I’ve never done one before, but if mine comes out, well, of course, I have to try it.
Ken: But that’s a physical art unlike something you do on your tablet which would make it harder to reproduce, right?
Ivy: Yeah. I’m working with a company Diamond Art Club and I just reached out to them and was like, “Hey, you want some of my designs?” and surprisingly enough to me, I guess maybe I shouldn’t say it’s surprising, but they were like, “Yeah,” and I was like, “Okay, cool.” Now we’re working on those and they should be out in the next couple months.
Ken: Oh, I’m sorry. I originally misunderstood. I thought you were putting the little diamonds onto the sheet, but you’re designing the sheet.
Ivy: Right. It’s actually a kit that you buy and then you put together.
Ken: Oh, wow, that’s fascinating that you would get that opportunity.
Ivy: Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s like the puzzle thing in a way. It’s like in that vein.
Ken: If I may ask, did you just reach out to them and say, “Hey, I want to do this,” or what was that connection like?
Ivy: Yeah, literally, exactly. I watch a YouTuber, Baylee Jae a lot. I really love her stuff. She’s a big inspiration as far as just keeping a cool vlog that’s casual going, but she has a couple of Diamond Art paintings. I was like, “Huh,” so I just was poking around their website and they have an inquiries email for anybody interested in licensing. I was just like, “Hey, here’s my portfolio.” They were like, “Cool. We’ll take it.” Exciting stuff.
Ken: You never know what might happen just from you asking. The way I got started as a newspaper columnist years ago was I just went to a local paper and I said, “Hey, you just printed a review of a Nintendo 64 game two months after it came out. You should be printing reviews within a week of it coming out. Let me do it.” They’re like, “Oh, okay.”
Ivy: That’s awesome.
Ken: This was, of course, back when newspapers were a thing.
Ivy: Well, I missed the newspapers sometimes. I like the little comics. I used to make my dad read them to me all the time.
Ken: You can still get them online, but it’s not the same as folding it out at the breakfast table.
Ivy: This is true.
Ken: I do hope that everybody, as you said, will just shower you with money. If they want to do that, where can they go online?
Ivy: ivyalive.com is my hub for literally everything. You can find my Patreon there, my TikToks, my shop, whatever, however you want to shower me with love. It’s all there.
Ken: I got one question. I noticed you have what appears to be both a store on your website and an Etsy store. Are they the same thing or is this just two storefronts?
Ivy: Well, Etsy has its own advertising. I keep my shop up on Etsy because it does bring customers in on its own, but I don’t really advertise it anymore because pretty much everything I have made cheaper available on my personal site as an incentive to buy from there. Etsy has an upcharge because, well, Etsy itself has an upcharge. Whenever you sell something there, they take a cut, but I keep it up because it does bring its own clientele in. I don’t know, it seems worth it.
Ken: You have had a better experience selling stuff on Wix, is it?
Ivy: Yeah. I’ve made more sales over on Etsy because, like I said, they advertise on their own, but really when you make those sales, it’s a sale to the brand of Etsy and not your own brand which is what ideally you really want to build, right? You want to get a newsletter going of people that are going to consistently buy from you instead of just that one stop and shop. If you want to ideally make a living later on, that’s what you need to do. I’m trying to branch out more into having my own hosted Wix site, but it does have its own investment to run that shop. It’s a couple $100 a year. For somebody that’s just starting their shop, that’s like too much right? You don’t even know if you’re going to make a sale usually when you’re first starting. I started off on Etsy and then when that got consistent enough that I was like, “I think I can manage my own site and that will be better for my brand.” I just added that too.
Ken: The trick I’m learning here as a consumer is that when I find an Etsy store I wish to patronize, it’s worth taking a moment to google and finding out if that vendor has their own store.
Ivy: That is absolutely true.
Ken: Well, that’s good to know. Thank you so much. Well, I look forward to seeing more of your art on ivyalive.com and I hope all our listeners do as well. They can find links to all your stuff on the podcast website at polygamer.net. Ivy Dolamore, thank you so much for your time.
Ivy: Thank you so much for having me. It’s really fun.
Voiceover: This has been Polygamer, a Gamebits production. Find more episodes, read our blog, or send feedback at polygamer.net.