For me, January 1st 2021 was a night like any other—stamped with fatigue and the existential question, “How am I going to get through this year?” It was at that time that I found the perfect Threadless t-shirt for a buddy of mine. Not just a friend, my Plaguewalker, who braved the pandemic when I feared to tread due to my history of respiratory illness. Alex was the only person I let in my bubble. He brought me my meds, but more importantly, he kept me sane when I felt disconnected from the outside world.
The t-shirt I found at Threadless shouted, “This is so Alex,” and of course, I had to order it. When I opened the confirmation email, the words “Want to Sell Your Art?” pulled me in. My health is on shaky ground these days, but I thought, why not? So I started my own Threadless Artist Shop, The Photo Alchemy Internet Emporium, and began my journey as a Threadless artist.
So here we are. My name is CoRy. I’m a published author, podcaster, genre improvisor, actor, tech-wiz, and film permit delivery person…or at least I was. 2020 was a rough year. I lost everything: my home, my job, my proprioception. Without turning this into a med school lecture, losing my proprioception means that my body does not know where it is in the space I occupy. I feel every moment of this unbalance. A 3D motion ride from hell. I hasten to mention that with eight doctors, four COVID-19 tests, two EMT visits, one hospitalization, and a whole myriad of life-changing decisions, I’m still in the “what next” phase. I’m an open book, and to say health hasn’t always been my strong suit is a gross understatement.
Setbacks be damned, I’m a Photo Alchemist. My hope is that if someone living with chronic illness reads this, a spoonie or Zebra (two identifiers in the world of the bedridden and the homebound), they too can find inspiration to voyage out into their own creative journey. It is possible. Even the most tired can have fun in the realm of digital artistry.
The Concept of Photo Alchemy, My Style of Visual Art
As a Photo Alchemist, I experiment with static mediums. When people were texting in the 2000s, I was editing photos with my phone. When I say editing, I mean taking a photo of a cake with a knife sticking out and transforming it into a cinematic snapshot. A dystopian wasteland overseen by a corrupt robot overlord with a penguin. Yep, a penguin. Bizarre with a touch of whimsy. For my Photo Alchemy creations, I exclusively use free phone apps (my go-tos are PicsArt and Pixlr).
Before my health decided to go on strike, I would live-stream my projects every Monday afternoon on the _outpost_13 Twitch channel. People were able to watch me experiment in real time as they threw in their own suggestions and photos. It was so much fun, and I miss it. More than I can express.
Reclaiming My Creative Outlet
Launching Photo Alchemy on Threadless brought me back something I lost, with Swanny as the unofficial mascot. My apologies, Swanny is my Swan Butler, an original character you’ll see throughout my shop. When I was hospitalized in July of 2020, my friend and design cohort, Leanna, said I needed to get a butler to take care of me as I recovered. I struggled with the idea of bringing another person into my bubble, and to that she replied, “Oh, this would be a swan butler.” Inspired, I took to PicsArt with nimble fingers, and in less than 20 minutes, Swanny had arrived, pristinely dressed in a somber resolve.
Taking the plunge into graphic printing felt right to me. I’ve always had a bit of an obsession when it comes to t-shirts with swanky designs. Since moving in with my dad, I’ve collected around 60 t-shirts, combined with my storage of my old life. I still have the first Threadless shirt I purchased back in college. It still gives me joy and is one of the reasons why I chose to sell my art on Threadless. I dare you to find an online store with as much artistic range and as many diverse styles. My Swan Butler looks very much in place within this t-shirt compendium ecosphere.
Coping with Adversity Through Art
When I first launched the Photo Alchemy shop, my goal was to make a new design every week. I kept up with that goal up until April of 2021. My health is not always up for the task, but I’m grateful that I have a place to be creative—in between naps of course.
The designs in my shop are a combination of the following: photos I’ve edited with my apps, improvised ideas that come up between friends, or Challenge Accepted(s). If you’re curious, “Das Bunn” is an example of a Challenged Accepted design. My challenge was to transform an Instagram picture of my friend’s two adorable bunnies, Fiver and Dandelion, into a new work of art. Those furry friends have since crossed the rainbow bridge, but their spirit lives on in the design. It’s a snapshot of mutiny on a WWII–style submarine, harking back to the 1981 German U-boat film, Das Boot.
Making designs for my shop gives me the chance to step away from the reality I have to face every day: chronic illness. In addition to losing my proprioception, I live with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). It’s a connective tissue disorder that causes craniocervical instability (CCI), a condition where the skull dips into the spinal cord, culminating in extreme fatigue or myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). When I’m flying around the inner sanctum of Photo Alchemy, all that disappears. Threadless, therefore, is my creative outlet, test, and therapy rolled into one, and cemented in digital stone.
Well, there you have it, I have pulled away some of the threads. Drat! I was so close to completing this guest post without a t-shirt pun. As they say, if the shirt fits…
Checkmate and rummy, my dear Gladiators.