Where should a nature lover and illustrator move to?
January 20, 2013 3:55 AM   Subscribe

I am in the process of moving from my abusive family's house/city to another city with the wages I have saved over the past few years, but I have been unable to choose a city. It would ideally be affordable, and have a supportive environment for artists/illustrators with natural beauty and publishing opportunities. Do any cities come to mind? Any help would be very much appreciated!

I am in the process of moving towards independence. I feel this is the right decision, but I am so confused about which city to move to and can't decide.

I went to art school and have a BFA and hope to be a scientific illustrator, ideally of marine life, and so a city with a lot of marine nature would be a plus. To give more of an idea about where I'd like to live, ideally this city would:

-Have a supportive artistic community with job, networking and publishing opportunities for illustrators with continual growth such as important exhibitions/museums/institutions

-Have a robust enough economy, such that I can find a service job or other job to pay all of my bills (which should be minimal as I'm responsible) very soon after moving there, without using too much of my savings to tide me over until I find a job

-Have natural beauty, and nice outlets to appreciate nature, such as zoos, parks, beaches or lakes

-Have whale-watching opportunities and marine life

-Have decent public transportation, as I do not have a car and would rather not buy one

To give more of an idea of my financial background, the jobs I have had post-graduation have all been entry-level in non-related fields, such as office administration. I am fine with having whatever job pays the bills, as long as I am able to come home and focus on making my art. So, it is important to me that the city I move to is affordable so that I won't run out of my money, as I do not consider moving back home an option.

I was thinking of Seattle, for its natural beauty (which would be a resource for my artwork) and its institutions, but I was wondering if I should move to a city on the East Coast such as Philly or Boston for its proximity to New York and publishers, as NY would be too expensive for me. I just don't know if I would be shooting myself in the foot by being away from the East Coast. I'm hesitant about Boston because of its higher rent, but it does have proximity to NYC and Cape Cod (for whale-watching). But Seattle has its natural beauty, which is a huge stress reliever for me. And then I was thinking San Francisco would be wonderful for its art community -and- natural beauty, but I fear it may be too expensive for me, so I wonder if Oakland would be better. So, I've been going in circles and can't choose. I'm leaning towards Seattle, Philly or Boston.

I hope this hasn't been too confusing. I thought to come to the Green to see what advice anyone may have, especially if they are artists or locals from those cities, but any advice is helpful. Thank you so much, it goes a long way!
posted by timespacewheredoifit to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe Baltimore? Their aquarium is excellent, and there is an awful lot of marine life tourism and local interest in Chesapeake Bay which would create a market for your art, plus the cost of living is very low, public transit is decent, etc. Annapolis has that tourism, too, and art galleries full of cool marine art, but the cost of living there is much higher, and as a smaller city it's missing a lot of the things you really want.

Chesapeake Bay doesn't really have whale watching, though. If the marine life you're most interested in is mammals, you're probably better off in the colder water farther north, like you say, near Cape Cod.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:41 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Santa Fe! It's beautiful and full of art. And the minimum wage is $10/hour.
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:22 AM on January 20, 2013

I can't say much about my hometown's publishing-related outlets, but Saint Paul, Minnesota has the Twin Cities' artistic community (Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker, The Minnesota Orchestra, The Guthrie, the Ordway Theater, First Avenue, and other smaller venues too numerous to name) which is robust and active.

In terms of natural beauty we have woods, parks, trails, and lakes in huge numbers. There are opportunities to see wildlife (Deer, fox, wild turkeys, raptors, waterfowl, and turtles) right in the city, with wilder areas and campgrounds a short drive away. Seriously: I live in the heart of the city and I can walk out of my front door and stroll down a nearby trail to an isolated wood in like 20 minutes' walk. No whales, but Herons and Egrets.

Public transportation is excellent here. Right now I could catch a bus from two blocks away to any destination in the Twin Cities proper, the Mall of America, or both downtowns. Next year the light rail system will get you from Saint Paul to Minneapolis and other areas by train.

Economically the Twin Cities are doing better than the national average w/r/t unemployment.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 5:32 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ithaca, NY fits your criteria except for marine life - it has outstanding natural beauty and wildlife in lakes, rivers, and woods, but no ocean. It has a robust artistic community, is relatively affordable, and has two universities. Take a look at Cornell's lab of ornithology - it might present opportunities for you as a scientific illustrator.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:07 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you considered smaller cities? Boston area and the SF Bay Area both are pretty expensive, and some neighborhoods are artist friendly while others aren't.

But both Portland, ME and Providence, RI have thriving arts scenes and are gorgeous. Though, to be fair, I am not sure about their public transit and economies, so that's worth a closer look.

Good luck! Moving to a new place is stressful but can be profoundly awesome.
posted by rosa at 6:09 AM on January 20, 2013

San Diego and the port cities of Long Beach and San Pedro have whale watching, as does most of the California coast, but the economy isn't good, and there are lots of people with art degrees. On the other hand, there's plenty of service work that doesn't pay fabulously well, but there are jobs. Galveston and other places in Texas don't have the same type of aquatic life, but the economy is better.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:16 AM on January 20, 2013

I think your Seattle idea is a good one. Oakland is cheaper than San Francisco, but not dramatically so unless you want to live in a scary neighborhood.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:25 AM on January 20, 2013

What about Eureka or Arcata, CA? Inexpensive housing, abundant natural beauty (marine life and redwoods), laid back lifestyle, numerous other artists, and reasonably close to the Bay area and the galleries in Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa counties.
posted by carmicha at 9:17 AM on January 20, 2013

Arcata is a 5 hour drive from SF and there are no jobs there. To be near publishing opportunities I'd suggest LA. You'll have roommates but there are universities galore, several aquariums, excellent whale watching and lots of service jobs. There is decent public transport on the west side only but you can still find cheap rooms in Venice occasionally.
posted by fshgrl at 1:03 PM on January 20, 2013

Thanks for the responses, everyone! I appreciate all of the suggestions, as there were cities I hadn't thought of, like Ithaca, that have opportunities for scientific illustration with Cornell's bird lab. I also hadn't thought of LA as I scratched it off because of the freeway culture, but perhaps there's a way to make it work without a car. I am leaning towards the Seattle area, but I'll have to think it over and look at all the options. Thanks again!
posted by timespacewheredoifit at 6:52 PM on January 20, 2013

don't forget san diego. i don't know about the publishing angle but certainly they are known for the scripps institution of oceanography

have you met with anyone at your art school's career center? i think they might really be able to advise you. also, have you thought about getting a job at a museum or marine research organization--either as an in-house illustrator or even an office job/tour guide/etc? i think that might be a lot more interesting for you than an admin job in an unrelated field. this would also give you contacts. i don't know how hard it is to freelance in the way you are planning but i'd be quite strategic about it if that is what you are going to do. it might be good to talk to some established scientific illustrators, if you haven't already, to find out how they made it--i.e. do informational interviews.
posted by wildflower at 7:36 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Come to Canada and live in Vancouver or Victoria! I'm not sure about job opportunities for scientific illustrations, but they are a definite plus on all of your criteria. Seriously, I was just visiting Race Rocks this weekend and saw about a million seals/sea lions and bald eagles.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 9:30 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in Seattle and every now and then I take a look at the Sound and mountains (from my office window or on my walk to work and it hits me again "wow. I can't believe I live here." The views are really striking. I think Fremont is the area many artists live at.

I don't know specifically about illustrators/marine publishing, but I there are definitely some famous authors from Seattle.

If you are sensitive to lack of sun you might want to reconsider as the winter can get fairly gray. However, I did live on the East coast (NY and DC) and the weather here is a lot more mild, so summer is pretty great and the winter temperature not so bad. East coast gets hot, humid and sticky in the summer, sometimes extremely cold in the winter with incredible, but unreliable weather around april and october.

Seattle feels a little more laid back, and certainly drivers here are nicer. DC felt more business-y. More people dressed in suits etc. NY is too varied to say, you'll probably be able to find whichever people you look for there. I think downtown can get pretty expensive, but you can live a subway ride away there... Might still be annoying to commute though.

Seattle also feels like a bit more like a small city than NYC or San Francisco. A lot of places close fairly early. Also, a lot of people in Seattle have dogs.

Good luck!
posted by uncreative at 11:43 PM on January 20, 2013

Western MA (Northampton/Pioneer Valley) does not have whale watches, but they are only 2 hours away. We do have everything else you are looking for, and indeed there are plenty of artists in the area who focus on our lovely naturescapes, which rival those found anywhere.
posted by Camofrog at 10:04 AM on January 21, 2013

I lived in Ithaca for a long time. My mother is a natural science illustrator/painter. She was a member of the rather active local chapter of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators. She met lots of great friends that way. Highly recommended as a place for an artist to live.
posted by Cygnet at 2:26 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in Seattle, and I love it, but if you're planning to live in the city proper, rather than in a fairly outlying suburb, it's pretty expensive these days, and low-level admin stuff is going to be hard to live comfortably on. (Trust me, I'm looking myself.) It would be possible, and, as I said, I love this city and do not want to live anywhere else. But I think you should definitely visit if you're seriously considering moving here. When I first came here, it felt like home. That's what you ought to be going for. Annnnd Vitamin D supplements.
posted by Because at 1:33 AM on January 22, 2013

What about New Orleans? It's a cheap city with tons of service industry jobs and a thriving arts scene (not so much for galleries, but definitely for what you want). There's also a world class aquarium and a disproportionate number of nature/science-oriented museums for the overall size. It's compact enough that you could easily get a roommate and a bike and be fine.

There are no aquatic mammals, per se, but marine life is integral to the culture and economy of the Gulf Coast. I don't know what the career path for marine illustrators is like, in general, but if there was a quirky career for you that you never knew existed, it might very well exist in New Orleans. For example I know someone there who is a marine librarian, which I had no idea existed till I met her randomly in a nail salon.

The only thing is that there are no major publishers based in New Orleans -- but plenty of people live on the Gulf Coast and make their living studying, writing, and making art based on aquatic ecology. So why can't you? You may not need to live in New York or Los Angeles to find a job you love.
posted by Sara C. at 7:58 PM on January 22, 2013

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