I’d say start by at least moving your present job into a related industry, like apply for entry-level jobs at local ad firms, archi firms or graphics design or sign shops. This will at least let you make some personal contacts with people who either need visual work done or know someone who does. As with any industry, its not what you know, but who you know that counts. Cliche? Yes, but true!
However, you’ll likely even then need to do some “cold calling” at various local businesses who you could imagine might need your services. Remember, people are just people anywhere… they may look at you crazy but who cares? and they may say, “yeah, I need such-n-such done and I didn’t know who might be able to do that. Do you think you can?” Whether or not you do, say “yes”. Then you have the chance to make some money and some contacts and maybe even some fodder for the reel.
One of my favorite stories was about how Bill Gates, when IBM asked him if he could provide an OS for their new PC said “sure!” even tho he had nothing and no clue as to how. He and Ballmer scrambled around, bought an old system for $50k, “tweaked” it and went on to make billions.
Another thing to do that may help “pad” the reel, is to do some volunteer imagery for local charity organizations. It gives you practice and purpose/motivation for a project rather than having to come up with it all on your own.