Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
It’s been two years since I wrote to announce the sudden death of my husband artist David Delamare.
Since then, I’ve remained mostly quiet.The trouble is that so much has happened and this community of patrons has so completely transformed my life that it’s been hard to know where to begin. But, surely, I must begin with thanking you. And I can’t thank you properly without explaining what you’ve done.
Let me begin by asserting that if you are reading this, you are a patron—even if this is our very first contact, even if this is the first time you've seen my name. You became a patron the moment you decided to spend your time here.
By my definition, a patron is anyone who supports another in the authentic unfolding of self.
Since writing this is for me a vulnerable act of self-expression, if you choose to give up your time to read it, you are supporting me. You are my patron. And if I manage to write something that affects you, I will become yours.
Patronage, in its truest form is always symbiotic. When we encourage another in their authenticity, we cannot help but affirm the importance of our own.
Though I have worked for more than two decades in the arts, I didn’t fully experience the power of patronage or begin thinking about it seriously until December 2013 when David and I launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to produce an illustrated volume of
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Since then, I’ve thought of little else.
David and I turned to crowdfunding in hopes of making a book that was a pure expression of our highest creative vision. Five years ago, patrons gave us that opportunity. But over the following years they gave me far more. They gave me a new worldview, a new trust in myself, and a new vocation.
Who I am today, what I believe, and what I will do with my life from this point forward was created largely by patrons, most of whom were strangers. And whatever I manage to accomplish in the future will be largely their legacy.
I’d like to explain how and why that happened because it illuminates an extraordinary power that we all possess and too seldom recognize or wield.
My story about patronage began five years ago on December 6th, 2013, the day that our Kickstarter campaign was funded. That month marked the end of a grueling seven-year period. Between 2006 and 2013, David and both of my parents were diagnosed with advanced, life-threatening cancers.
In that same period, my employee-friend Denise nearly died of a heart attack and her only child barely survived a horrific bicycle accident. We lost one of our dearest friends, Mark Bourne (to whom the first edition of our
Alice book was dedicated). Our main catalog client (who represented about half of our income) stopped carrying art, and the economy made art seem like an unaffordable luxury.
Meanwhile, just about the time he was diagnosed with cancer, and the recession was in full swing, David envisioned an exciting but financially risky project (the
Alice book.) Such a book doesn’t sound risky, but it was.
It takes years to build relationships with collectors who want an artist’s work and most collectors only purchase a particular style or subject matter. So if an artist suddenly shifts to a new genre, they not only disappoint collectors, they must find new ones. Making such transitions is so difficult that many working artists become permanently mired in a particular genre though they’d love to create something else.
David’s natural inspiration led him to switch between genres regularly (and later to switch back and forth between painting and music.) This made him very hard to market. When he began
Alice, he hadn’t produced a children’s book in many years, and we didn’t expect his collectors to purchase the resulting paintings.
To make matters even more difficult, David didn’t want to paint the Disney version of Wonderland that most people know. He wanted to paint what he saw when he read the original Lewis Carroll text, which meant trading zaniness and bright colors for a reflective, even somber atmosphere. And, to emphasize the sense of strangeness and alienation, he decided to cast everyone except Alice as animals.
We knew that most book publishers would discourage this direction and ask David to compromise his vision, so we didn’t want to contact them until we were finished. Thus, we had no hope of receiving an “advance” payment for the work. Also,
Alice would take years to complete. So I couldn’t be sure David would survive to finish it.
The idea suggested potential financial ruin. But I had a more significant concern. David had been given a 50% chance of surviving five years. And I knew that his happiness and fulfillment came from creating authentically. To ask him to stray from his exciting new vision would have been cruel and potentially dangerous. He needed something to live for and I couldn’t deny him what might be his last wish.
The consequences of the decision to work on the Alice book proved even worse than predicted. The decision drained our bank accounts and plunged us into debt. By December 2013, five years into the project, David had been pronounced cured of cancer, but we had no idea how we would survive financially. That year, though we both worked full time, our shared income after business expenses was less than thirty-one thousand dollars. For me, this was an improvement over the previous two years.
This financial information may come as a surprise to art collectors. And, in a culture that measures success in dollars, it’s embarrassing to admit. But I think it’s important for patrons to know how very hard it is for even a talented artist to make a living unless they’re willing to set their visions aside and produce the ideas of others.
An artist who works independently on their original ideas (as opposed to one who is commissioned by collectors or businesses) isn’t paid for a drawing or painting until it sells. And the process of marketing work requires both time and money. I have recently listed nearly $200,000 worth of original artwork on David’s website. All that represents unpaid labor. If today all of the art magically sold, I’d have no debt except my mortgage. But the process takes time. And everything may fall apart before that happens.
To be clear, I am not a victim of circumstances. We consciously chose to work in this way, and I would do it again. David’s art as we know it would not exist without that choice. I share these details not to evoke sympathy but to explain my state of mind in December 2013.
At that time, I was emotionally exhausted from the seemingly endless medical appointments, frightening research, anxious waits for test results, and the recent evaporation of our savings. Compounding the stress was the fact that I was hiding it from others. David had chosen to keep his cancer secret to protect his mother from worry and manage his own state of mind.
I had also become deeply cynical about the art business. Everything seemed calculated to reward mediocrity and discourage imagination. For two decades I’d resisted publishers and manufacturers who in pursuit of “mainstream markets” had urged us to compromise our aesthetic standards.
Instead of David’s sophisticated and subtle color palette, they pushed for bright color. Instead of wit, they wanted sentimentality. And, of course, they wanted to hide parts of the nude figures which inevitably disrupted compositions.
Often they’d say that while they preferred the work as it was, they had to cater to “the market.” At times the pressure to be bland and safe was (painfully) comical. One publisher, overly concerned with modesty, wanted David to paint pants on his anthropomorphic animal characters. Another proposed he turn the animal characters in his storybook into children to make them more “identifiable.”
We could have yielded to these demands and made a good living. But if David had spent his time churning out material for the marketplace, his inspiration and his best ideas would have been lost.
One imaginative concept leads to the next. You can’t simply put artistic ideas on hold in hopes of coming back. When you step off your creative path, momentum is lost and whatever would have followed from your next step fails to materialize. It’s a bit like time travel: alter even one small element and the consequences can be dramatic.
Thankfully, David didn’t mind being broke and he wasn’t distracted by the opinions of others. He’d met his “Devil at the crossroads” early and turned his back. His defining moment occurred during a period he sometimes referred to as his “Top Ramen Years.” At that time, he lived in a run-down apartment. A shared toilet and sink were located down a long hallway but to bathe he had to walk several blocks and use his mother’s shower.
One day, in hopes of improving his situation, he decided to consult an art agent. He arrived at the office and offered his portfolio with its witty, imaginative images. The agent rifled through these treasures and said, in essence, “this is all very nice but I want you to go home and draw something practical—a toothpaste tube and a refrigerator, for instance. Then I can find you some work.”
You’re reading this today because David didn’t cave in. He decided he’d rather struggle than lose his identity. And as long as he could paint the visions that arose within, he was fulfilled.
When I first met him, I was inspired by this commitment. But it also intimidated me. At the time, I was a writer for small publications but I lacked David’s fearlessness. So I felt like a pretender. And, though I loved writing, I gradually let it go and promoted David’s work instead.
As David’s agent, I spent much of my energy protecting him from influences that might pull him off course. I said “no” far more often than I said “yes”—to celebrity commissions and book deals, and to many manufacturers that would have put pressure on him to create more “marketable’ images. My work felt important, but it didn’t make me happy. Protecting David’s creativity meant feeling like a failure as a businessperson. And it reminded me that I had abandoned my own.
This scenario may sound familiar. The conflict between art and commerce is a cliché. But what we don’t tend to talk about is what this represents at a deeper level. For me, our business struggles confirmed a fear I’d harbored since childhood in the suburbs— that to be authentic would mean facing rejection and that acceptance and connection could only be found through conformity.
We’re all familiar with this fear—we suspect that if we are true to ourselves, speak our minds, or express our emotions that we will be misunderstood, judged, rejected, and ultimately alone. And it’s a trap. Because if we hold our tongues, hide our feelings, and play along in order to find the connection we crave, the connection doesn’t mean anything. Acceptance based upon contortion or compromise isn’t acceptance at all.
At the time that I designed and launched our Kickstarter campaign, I was cynical, depressed, and despairing. For me, the Alice book represented a last hope and I wasn’t optimistic. At a conscious level, I was trying to fund a book. At an unconscious level, I was seeking permission to be authentic.
So when our month-long campaign met its goal in just two-and-a-half days, I was flabbergasted. After years of being pressured to compromise, 826 patrons, mostly strangers, were telling us: “We trust you. Create exactly what you want.”
For me, the message was personal. It seemed to say, “Be yourselves.” “We want you as you are.”
Maybe I’m over-generalizing or projecting, but I think that deep down, that’s the message that many of us want to hear most desperately. We want to believe that if we were to reveal our most authentic, vulnerable selves and dare to chase our dreams that we would find acceptance and support.
Our Kickstarter patrons gave me my first belief in that possibility.
When patrons funded us, I felt euphoric and overwhelmed with gratitude. Then, almost immediately everything began to go wrong. We suffered one setback after another. I could list them, but it would take another page of text.
When the books finally arrived, more than a year behind schedule, they were filled with manufacturing flaws, and we lost months to inspection and negotiation with the printer. In the end, we shredded the entire run and began again.
Many of the problems we experienced were outside of our control, but many were a result of my gratitude. I was so inspired by this newfound support and the chance to create freely that I kept adding improvements that shattered our budget and schedule.
I tried not to worry about the financial consequences. I told myself that David was now well, we were young, and we’d have time to recover. Alice was just the first in a series of books we’d planned. We’d lose money on it but deliver such a beautiful product that our community would come back for later projects that would go more smoothly.
But I was terrified that, in the meantime, our delays would cause backers to lose faith and abandon us. Many of them had spent their birthday or holiday gift budgets on our books. And we were failing to deliver on time.
I didn’t know how to reassure backers, but my intuition told me to make myself completely vulnerable and transparent. I thought if I could somehow convey how much this all meant to us and how hard we were struggling to get things right, that maybe patrons would stand by us.
It was frightening to be so personal with strangers, and others warned me against it. But these were the people who had urged us to be entirely true to ourselves. And I think perhaps some part of me wanted to test the limits of this newfound support for authenticity. Was it limited to the book project? Or did it extend to us as individuals?
Each time I’d write something intimate, I’d cringe as I hit the “post update” button. Each time I’d expect someone to accuse me of “oversharing” or being “unprofessional.” But the result of my openness was not the rejection or criticism, I expected. The result was kindness, warmth, trust, and empathy. And something beautiful was happening for backers who chose emotional investment. They, like me, began to sense connection and meaning that transcended the book. Long before we delivered anything, several backers who had supported hundreds of campaigns said that ours was their favorite.
Despite our delays, no one urged us to cut corners, to lower our standards, or to approach things differently. No one attempted to advise or control us. And almost everyone stayed with us. Though the book would eventually arrive more than two years late, only five backers out of 826 requested refunds.
No one was unkind or unfair. I don’t know what quiet backers were thinking. But those who spoke were sending the message I’d secretly longed for all my life, the message we all wish for and too seldom hear: “Be true to yourself. Stick to your standards and values. Don’t compromise. Don’t cave in to fear. Trust yourself. We trust and believe in you.”
Having that kind of support is immensely empowering. I don’t know how this works for others, but when someone trusts and believes in me, I work harder to be worthy of that trust and belief. When they treat me as strong and capable, I become stronger.
During the project, I woke every day in a state of anxiety about our delays. Patrons reassured me, but I felt I was failing them. I had never felt more accountable to anyone, and I was willing to lose everything before letting them down.
I filled credit cards, took out a huge personal loan and worked long hours. I had never been more stressed or exhausted, even during the cancer years. But because I felt supported in pursuing a dream, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, and I experienced more fulfillment than I’d ever known.
Something else was happening. I was writing again, and patrons were telling me that they valued the writing. Without knowing it, they were giving me back my voice.
In September 2016, after working eight years on the book, we were finally nearing the finish line. We’d found a new printer, and we had just approved the final printed pages. But on the very morning the book began binding, I woke to discover that David had suddenly and inexplicably died.
It was the moment I’d feared for so long during his cancer scare, and I’d always imagined it would destroy me. For 22 years he'd been the center of my world. Yet, within hours, before the coroner had even left the house, I felt a deep and growing peace.
My time with patrons had taught me what mattered—being true to oneself and forging authentic connections. David had lived an entirely authentic life and his last days had been spent producing a book that would be treasured for generations. I was surrounded by love and support. Finally, and this was entirely new, I believed in myself.
I had no idea what to expect or how things would unfold. I didn’t know what grief would feel like. I didn’t know how I’d dig myself out of our massive debt. I didn’t know if I could save my house. But I knew that I would find a way to make the situation meaningful and transformative. And I knew that my intuition would guide me through the crisis.
In the past two years, I’ve experienced much uncertainty and anxiety. But beneath it all, I’ve had a faith that things will work out or, more accurately, that they already have. External struggles, however hard, can never undermine the fulfillment and joy of living an authentic life in the context of love.
When David died, I knew the community would be supportive, and they were. Friends, family, and patrons were at the ready with every type of needed assistance. They offered dinners, loans, company, places to stay, practical advice, volunteer assistance, gifts, donations, and their personal stories of loss.
But their greatest gift was invisible. Their collective voices of encouragement had somehow become internalized. The old voices I’d carried all my life—the ones filled with doubt, fear, and criticism—had been replaced by new ones. And these new patron voices— which said “You can do this. You’re enough. You are strong.”—had gradually become indistinguishable from my own.
Patrons built a book. But it’s not an exaggeration to say that they also built a person.
How did this happen? How is it that a group composed mostly of strangers were able to accomplish what good parents, teachers, and a degree in psychology could not? How did this community give me a belief in myself and a trust in authentic expression?
At first glance, patron-to-creator relationships might seem insignificant compared to relationships between friends, lovers, and family members. But ironically, the formality and distance of the patron relationship gives it a unique kind of power.
There is no greater gift than love. But love is tricky. In an ideal world, it would be unconditional and involve a kind of stepping back. It would support another in being utterly true to themselves. It would support their dreams even when those dreams seem strange, impractical, risky or uncomfortable. It would, in short, support another in their authentic unfolding.
My favorite poet, Ranier Maria Rilke once wrote that the best measure of a marriage partner was “whether one wishes to stand guard at another person’s solitude and whether one is inclined to position this same person at the gates of one’s own depth…”
I think this is an excellent ideal for any meaningful relationship. When we stand guard at another person’s solitude we allow them to make their own choices, discoveries, and mistakes. And we let them do it on their own natural timeline.
This “guarding of solitude” which one might also call a “supportive stepping back” is the very essence of patronage. Our Kickstarter backers urged us to proceed authentically and patiently supported us all along the way, even when it was inconvenient. Then, when David died, they repeated this formula.
Each person reached out, sincerely offered condolences and help, then gently stepped back and allowed me to find my own way.
If advice was given, there was no pressure to take it. If company was offered, I was free to decline. Everyone made me feel as though they'd be there for me if I needed them. But nothing was imposed.
I will never be able to thank everyone enough for that gift. Because in lovingly stepping back, those individuals gave me the freedom and courage to find my own way.
I was free to be stoical, but just as free to fall apart. I knew if one day I woke up and couldn’t leave bed that I’d be fine. Someone would feed and clothe me, and do my laundry. Someone would get me to counseling. Someone would hold me and let me sob. I never had a moment’s doubt about that.
This offering and stepping back was a huge and powerful act of love that required strength and wisdom especially from those who were closest.
It’s hard to allow someone we love to find their own path. But it’s the only way to truly love. It’s also the only way to show respect and trust which, when given, are transformative.
At times it’s almost impossible to resist the impulse to swoop in, to rescue and fix things, to advise, and shield loved ones from suffering before they have the opportunity to make valuable mistakes and grow.
Loving with wisdom often means jumping in if things become dire, but holding back until then. And even when we succeed at that incredibly difficult task, we often unconsciously convey judgment, doubt, or fear.
Parents want to support the child who dreams of a financially risky career or longs to move to another country. But they can’t help but worry, and their unspoken loving concern can feel like judgment or lack of support.
We want to support our spouses in their most cherished dreams, however impractical. But we also hope to pay the mortgage.
Words of support from a loved one often ring false when tinged with fear. And they may be undervalued. We may hear them and think, “they’re only saying that because they love me.”
Patronage, because of its distance, sidesteps many of these problems and grants something that, at its best, feels very much like unconditional love.
A patron can support another person’s authentic self and vision without consciously or unconsciously placing any demands on them. They can offer complete encouragement without doubt or hesitation. A patron can urge another to take a bold practical or emotional risk with little or no risk to themselves. (Unlike my parents, patrons don’t wonder whether I’ll show up at their door and ask to move in.)
But patronage isn’t something that should be reserved for professional artists. We all need patronage. Perhaps we need it more than ever.
It’s always been hard to live with authenticity and vulnerability and to act boldly in pursuit of one’s dreams.
But now, all day long, we’re bombarded with advertising messages that say we’re somehow lacking. And social media compounds the problem. The pressure to conform is greater than ever because our every expression is measured by external standards.
We quickly learn which kinds of comments get “likes” or are worthy of “shares.” Meanwhile, when writing something honest, we may find ourselves publicly attacked. So, unless we’re comfortable with conflict, we soon censor ourselves and whatever we might have given becomes lost.
There’s no getting around these pressures. But we can resist them by actively encouraging others to be authentic and thanking them when they risk vulnerability. I know this can change lives because it’s changed mine.
I’m still frightened to write like this—to admit to you and myself that I need your encouragement and help. But I do write because you’ve given me the rare invitation to be open and vulnerable and I'm so grateful for that.
Today, I am in more debt than I would have thought possible and every month I wonder if I’ll make my mortgage. It seems I’ve fallen behind on everything else, too. Grief has been time-consuming not because of sorrow but because of transformation.
I couldn’t look at the beauty of David’s authentic life or experience the encouragement of patrons without feeling challenged to be more true to myself.
Grief shattered my inner life in the best possible way. I found myself questioning and redefining everything—my values, tastes, habits, philosophies, and relationships.
Today my external situation is precarious, but internally, I’m on more solid ground than I’ve ever been. And I feel connected to others in a way that I’ve never felt. I would not trade this feeling for all the financial security in the world. It is by far the greatest gift I have ever received, and I received it from you.
So, as we enter this holiday season, I want to say “thank you” and “keep giving.” I’m grateful for any support you can offer in any form. But what I want most of all is for you to know the immensity of your power for good.
I want our shared story to serve as a reminder that the greatest and most transformative gift we can give another is our faith in them as a unique, authentic individual. And we can give that gift to anyone—not just to those who are close.
Please keep finding ways to support authenticity, even if it’s just hitting the “like” button. When you see someone being vulnerable or sharing their creations, know that they are likely more frightened than they appear and that your words of encouragement might be the thing that keeps them going. If someone inspires you with their courage, take the time to articulate how they’re inspiring you.
Some of the backers who contributed the most to our project gave little or no money, but they volunteered or left supportive comments, or told their friends. True patronage isn’t about funds. It’s about love. You can be a powerful patron without spending a dime.
Finally, and most importantly, please choose to be a patron to yourself. Take those kinds words you offer so freely to others and turn them inward. If you can only support one person, make it yourself.
We each have something entirely unique to offer the world. Please give yours and know that whenever you do, you inspire others to do the same.
I will never be able to thank you adequately for what you’ve done to transform my life. But I’m going to keep writing about it and keep working to be more open.
If this message interests you, please share it with as many people as you can and please consider supporting my upcoming book project on the power of patronage.
Until then, keep doing what you’re doing. You are making a difference.
With love and gratitude,