Category: advice for creative professionals

Investing In Myself

After the last post discussing how things have been going for me over the past couple of years, I realize I wanted to talk more about the Ladies of the Months and what this series means for me right now.  I realize that after years of chasing freelance work and trying to break into game/RPG/publishing companies with my portfolio that I made an unprecedented decision…

…I decided to invest in myself.

The Circle of Self-Doubt

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with working for other companies/employers other than yourself.  Goodness knows I’d probably be making more money right now if I did!  However, the race to be hired was becoming tiresome for me, personally.  Every time it seemed people were interested in my portfolio, they wanted me to work for an unrealistic wage OR my work didn’t match their projects. “Thank you for sending in your work.  We will keep you on file” was an automated message I saw too often.

Somewhere along the line after numerous rejections and/or low paying bids, I realized I was running in circles.  What did I really want from these jobs, anyway?  Validation?  A decent wage?  Listening to my friends in the industry (particularly the folks over at One Fantastic Week), I wondered if maybe these jobs weren’t as glamorous as they seemed?  So much of an artist’s creative work is used for products they have no monetary stake in.  

Even saying that, I’m not going to lie. It’d be very nice to have a Magic the Gathering or high profile book cover gig under my belt, but is being hired for jobs like that the only thing that makes me a ‘real professional artist’?  It certainly feels that way sometimes.  This feeling was yet another road block in choosing to work for myself.  I needed a ‘real’ gig to make me a professional and spending time on doing my own stuff was a waste when I should be making work to fit in to get me hired elsewhere.

Even then, my gigs with self-publishers and the companies who did hire me still did not feel like enough to make me ‘a real professional artist’, even if I was.  This notion of validation is one of the worst fallacies of this industry that keeps people with valuable and marketable ideas from investing in themselves because they’re too busy doubting themselves and their own worth to even consider it. 

Inception

Something changed for me in the past couple of years.  With the advent of crowdfunding and Patreon, a little light led me off the beaten path. Investing in my own ideas started to look more feasible.  I started up my own Patreon and have been growing with it slowly, but surely, as I work on the Ladies of the Months series

The Ladies were something I wanted to work on for myself but also a project I judged to be marketable and appealing to others beyond my own scope.  I could make many products from them, including calendars, prints, art books, coloring books, etc.  

One of the best real results I’ve had so far is that in being over halfway done with the series currently, I have a stellar consistent body of work I can show off!  Lately, I’ve started formulating Kickstarter plans for the future, even if my first try at Kickstarter was a failure and a blow to my ego that I almost didn’t recover from.

Survival

I also need to share that I’m lucky I have a supportive partner who helps keep us afloat.  There have been times we have had to suffer and scrounge.  Thankfully, we’re in this together and we accept these consequences together.  He’s been with me when I’ve made these decisions, he’s with me when I mess up, and he’ll be with me with this grand scheme of mine succeeds or fails.  My husband’s faith in me has helped me more than I can express!  If I didn’t have his support, things would be so much harder.  I’d probably be working evenings instead of being able to focus on this venture full-time.

We can’t travel as much as we want. We can’t buy everything we want.  We can’t go out to eat with friends often.  When we’ve had medical emergencies, we cringe at the thought of the increasing debt and have sometimes delayed doctor’s visits.  These are the realities of choosing to make less money while you’re building a business and didn’t have a lot of money to start off with.  Save before you take the leap. It will help you so much!  We actually had savings, but medical emergencies hit us pretty hard.  It can be really scary at times!

The Untaught Freelance Skill

In choosing to invest in myself, I’ve had to say no to some gigs so I could maintain momentum on the Ladies.  That crushing feeling of guilt and self-doubt comes every-single-time I say no!  I could be growing our finances more if I just worked overtime, had no social life, and slept less.  I’m trying not to compromise my mental and physical health just to stave off this guilty feeling. It doesn’t do me or my loved ones any good.

They really should teach the delicate art of refusal to all artists.  It is okay to say no to a gig that you’re unsure about.  You are not an entitled Millennial for doing so.  You are not a loser.  You should be paid fairly.  You should believe in the value of your own projects.  If you truly need money, no one should think less of you if you take a non-art job or do decide to take a crappy gig.  Do what you need to do.  Take care of yourself!  You are the only one you should hold yourself accountable to, not the elitists who will tell you you’re not a real artist/are a sellout/ starving artist etc. if you do this or that.  

I’m going to call this untaught freelance skill Self-Accountability.  You are your own best judge and you know what you need to do to survive and succeed at your goals.  You may take risks, but take them with full awareness and make a decision you can’t blame on anyone else.

What Next?

I’m not sure yet if the light that led me off the path is a Wisp leading me to my doom, but I’m eager to find out!  My worst fear in this life is to die with regret.  The chance of failure is worth the feeling that I at least tried to do the things I have always wanted to do and that maybe, just maybe, I led a remarkable, or at the very least happy, life!

And if the Ladies of the Months fail to be a monetary success?  I will at least still have work that I’m proud of, that’s meaningful to me, and that has a type of longevity in its versatility of subject matter and potential merchandise.  The immense feeling of having completed something so ambitious will last me a long time and gratify me on an emotional level that can’t be bought with money.

Confessions of an Artist: Embracing Defeat

This post needed some humor so here it is!
This post needed some humor so here it is!

It’s been a long time since I wrote a personal/art career post here.  The main reason for that has been the absolutely disastrous year I’ve been having.  Rather than continue putting on a happy face, I thought an entry of candidness might be more helpful.  After all, I started this journal because I wanted to talk about my journey as an artist and I want to stay true to that instead of let this place devolve purely into WIP’s and self-promotion.

This year started with my partner nearly dying from heart complications from bronchitis.  Nearly dying being terrible enough on its own, the ensuing mentally draining recovery topped with an icing of medical bills made a perfect cake of disaster.  The funny thing is, we were more prepared for this than most and those savings got us through a difficult time, including the time immediately after his recovery where my partner was let go from his job.

I’ve said in the past we’re a single income household, with my art bringing in some income, but not a lot.  There followed another extremely stressful and depressing period where we both weren’t sure what was going to happen next.  Even still, my partner reassured me that it was okay to continue trying to do art as my living (because he’s awesome and so, so loving).  We had enough to live off of and emergency measures in place.

But I had something to prove.  I didn’t want to be a money sinkhole when we were in such a period of turmoil.  Here I was in my own little dream world trying to squeeze every penny out of my art, which only made it harder to create anything with that pressure to make everything I made worthwhile and profitable.  I spent more days tied up in a lack of motivation and depression than producing anything at all.

As this year wore on and other medical catastrophes and setbacks happened, I hit a low point.  I gave up for the briefest milliseconds on the notion that any of this struggling to be a professional was worth the suffering it was putting me (us) through.  It felt like everywhere I went, people I respect were bombarding me with the fact I was especially failing this year, that I should be farther than I am.  I needed to be stronger!  My insistence that I could never show weakness and should react by working harder and beyond my limits only worked against me because I turned all of that stress inwards, causing my own physical and mental health to decline.

In a strange way, finally accepting defeat this year has been freeing.  I have become increasingly aware of the long game and the shortness of life here on this earth.  Entering the IP Development Mentorship with Robot Pencil earlier this year was a game changer for me.  I have a lot of ideas I’ve always discredited because they weren’t producing results RIGHT now, but here were several professionals telling me my ideas are “F**king awesome”.  I’m not sure I would have entered this mentorship otherwise if I hadn’t been in the place where I was just so tired of struggling and really wanted to give those unacknowledged passions a chance they would not have gotten otherwise while I was obsessing over proving myself.

It’s funny how we need permission to just do the thing we always wanted to do…

Luckily, we’re doing much better now.  Kev has been making leaps and bounds with his recovery and has also found employment.  We continue our game plan to let me build my art career.  And while I feel guilty for having this privilege when so many other artists don’t, I’m not going to squander this opportunity with guilt anymore because I’m trying to impress those who quantify success as merely money, when success in life is so much more than that.  That path leads to elitism and becoming the kind of person and artist I don’t want to be.  With our income stable for now, I have also started saying no to a lot of jobs that I feel aren’t going to advance me as far as my personal projects might.

I’m still terrified of the unknown and of waiting for another bad thing to happen, but I’m hoping that surviving one terrible year means we’re better equipped the next time.

I suppose if there’s any advice for other artists to take away from this, it’s that sometimes you have to embrace failure because it’s one of the best ways to learn how to do anything right, that other artists who you admire more often than not are projecting a self-image of success (even when it’s not true), and that doing so doesn’t make them any less of an artist.  Also, try to save up backup funds for those rough times because they are waiting to sucker punch you in the gut when you least expect it!

Meanwhile, I’m still here…a little older and a little wiser.

CON REPORT: DragonCon 2015

I’m back from DragonCon and have a massive head cold as a souvenir!  Before I disappear with hot tea and meds, I thought I’d post about how my DragonCon went.

This year was an odd duck for me.  I had no table, which is the first time I’ve been without one for a couple of years.  I was completely okay with that, however, because it meant that I got to actually experience the con by attending interesting panels, costume watching, and networking with people rather than being tied to one place.

I went to a wide range of panels, from the history of Persian dance to indie game development (panel notes forthcoming).  I somehow never made it by the dealer’s room since venturing anywhere outside of the Hyatt just seemed like too much effort.  The Hilton for the game dev track was as far as I made it.

I also ran two panels for other artists entitled Social Media for Artists 101 and 102!  Any event where I can play Duck Army as an ice breaker is a good event.  The attendees at my panel were all very enthusiastic and willing to share resources. Thanks for making it a great first run for 102,  everyone! (NOTE: You can find the PowerPoint files of my presentations here.)

ART SHOW

John, Anne, Heidi, and the other staff ran a tight ship, as always!  It was an experimental year for me in that I left my masks and Art Nouveau work at home and only displayed my digital fantasy work in the show this year, an intimidating decision!  I was happily surprised that two of my canvas prints (Oathbound and Kushiel’s Dart) found new homes!  I did decently in the print shop, though I have a few extra playmats and dice bags still available if anyone’s after them.  Use code DRAGONCON to get 15% off at my shop right now!

dragoncon-2015-gallery-bay
A panoramic shot of my large gallery bay. From left to right, Kushiel’s Dart, Enchained Wind, Keeper of Secrets, Oathbound, Persephone Queen of the Underworld, The Lotus Dancer, and Dreaming Butterfly.
File Sep 10, 10 47 00 AM
See more of these amazing cosplayers here.

FAVORITE MOMENT:

We walked by a guy in the skybridge dressed as a herald from Assassin’s Creed.  He was putting up posters on the walls every few feet.  I heard tales of cosplayers dressed as Assassins zipping by and tearing them down later.  When we asked him how many posters he had, he said 250.  I am highly amused by this kind of clever fun.  I didn’t get a picture of him, but I got one of his poster, which was really well done!

BEST COSTUME:

I snapped a pic of this amazing pair dressed as Na’vi from
Avatar during the Night at the Aquarium.  That baby looked so very real. It was quite creepy (and awesome)!  It’s the dedication to full body paint and detail that made this the best costume I saw all con.  While the Night at the Aquarium was great for costumes, they had all of the lights turned off in the displays this year, which made it really hard to see any fish.  How I wish I’d gone to the philharmonic concert instead.

WHAT DID I LEARN?

I always like to think about what I can learn from looking at the displays and presentations of artists, but this year’s revelation was on a deeper level. Instead, I got a lesson in creativity and motivation from attending the panels on creativity and writing this year.

The advice from a lot of the authors there was that comparing yourselves to others was the quickest way to burn out.  Most of us in the creative industry are just trying to get by and/or create something that we love.  You can partially measure that success by money, but other times, it’s the victory of just having made the thing since, more than likely, creating art is not really going to pay all the bills until a very long time out.  Most of us are in that dreaded ‘gap’ and those who would be at the top are not always guaranteed to stay that way.  Focus on making good art and stop comparing yourself to others.

And that’s a wrap!  You can see more of my DragonCon photos of some of the cool swag I picked up in Artist Alley and other moments over at my Instagram.  Till next time!

Book Club: Artist As Brand Part 6 – My Market Niche

My reading of Greg Spalenka’s Artist As Brand continues with section VI. Creating Your Market Niche.

I found the book for a great deal on the Nook.
Or you can buy it via my Amazon referral link
and give me a little kickback!
You can also buy direct from the author!

This section covers a lot of ground concerning how to establish a connection with your target market and present yourself in such a way that you can find and appeal to your audience while preserving their loyalty and encouraging them to invest in you as a business.  This is particularly relevant to artists who rely on a symbiotic relationship between themselves and collectors to maintain their income.

This section reinforces the advice I’ve been hearing from other successful artists I know that having great art is the best starting point, but selling your passion and your story is where the magic happens.

But who is my audience?  I’ve struggled with this for years because I started out wanting to go one direction (concept art and book covers) and being drawn towards another (angelic art, Art Nouveau, and mask-making).  In the end, I just did everything, burned myself out big time, and realized I was not really making the kind of advancement in my career that I wanted.

My artistic identity was like someone changing the channel back and forth and never deciding on something to watch.  I’ve had some folks interested in my work, but I’m pretty sure if I had a more unified identity that I would be more successful than I am now.

This has been the reason for me splitting up my current identity into several faces.  I hope this will help my audience more easily identify with my work and locate what they’re interested in.  For those who have been asking how the heck I handle it all, truth is, I haven’t really been doing it well in the past!

All of these ‘brands’ used to be thrown together under the umbrella of Angelic Shades Studio.  Now, they’ve each been given their own real estate completely separate from one another.  Cover art is going to be my focus from now on, while the rest will be side projects I attend to when I have the time outside of this endeavor.

So Who is My Audience?

What do they do?  What do they love?  What do they spend money on?  I did the initial brainstorming for this in my Vision Board.


For Art by Angela Sasser (Fantasy book covers and character driven art)

Audience – Usually readers and/or writers, Magic the Gathering fans, Kushiel’s Dart fans (thanks to my Kushiel cover project),  Game of Thrones fans, folklore enthusiasts, 18+ and up demographic, both male and female.  May be able to expand into a fine art gallery audience if the topics are more surreal or based on mythology (ie. Flowery Mythology series).

Current experience shows most of my customers who buy my character-driven fantasy work are interested in buying prints and books with a more specific narrative, bookmarks, or other book-related things.


For Angelic Shades Studio (Angelic art and Art Nouveau)

Audience – New Age enthusiasts, Angel therapists, decorative art enthusiasts, generally female, 18 years old and up.  Current experience shows most customers seem to be buying gifts for others, usually for moms or wives.

May expand out into fine art gallery audience with the Art Nouveau pieces and to a younger demographic with more fun series (ie. Cake Dresses and Butterfly Masque).  My Angelic Visions art instruction book appeals to art students, but not necessarily to my main buyers.


For Angelic Artisan (Masks and custom accessories)

Audience – Cosplayers, Renaissance festival attendees, mask lovers.  Generally an older demographic with expendable income and a passion for costuming.  Most are interested in buying cosplay masks or other accessories to help them channel their favorite fandoms and original charaters.


For The Muse’s Library (Art-related book/product reviews, art marketing articles, and stock art resources)

Audience – Art students, working artists, game artists, and art educators, creative professionals, art entrepreneurs, usually 18+ up demographic.  Best-sellers so far have been the stock art, since these resources can be used directly in artists’ personal projects for free with a fee for commercial use.   Most of my target audience for this brand are passionate about art, mastering their skills, promoting their creative businesses, and saving money.


Writing this all out really helps me focus on purposefully targeting people rather than accidentally stumbling upon fans.  As ever, this doesn’t cover half the info provided in the book! Go support Spalenka if you’ve found the information I’ve been writing about useful.

Next up: VII. Brand Promotion: The Art of Social Media

Book Club: Artist As Brand Part 5 – Declaring My Name!

My reading of Greg Spalenka’s Artist As Brand continues with section V.  Declare Your Name – Taglines, Blurbs, Business Cards.

I found the book for a great deal on the Nook.
Or you can buy it via my Amazon referral link
and give me a little kickback!
You can also buy direct from the author!

Spalenka gives a plethora of examples about how a business name can say a lot about you, but also cautions about being influenced by your ‘tribe’ to change what your identity represents.

I experienced this exact thing when showing off my logo from this workshop to my family.  They all saw a shrimp or a squid.  I’ll admit to an aquatic vibe to my logo, but I still feel it represents me very nicely.  I won’t be changing it any more than it takes to bring it more towards a wing/cocoon/seed vibe.  Feedback can be helpful, but it can also be dangerous, especially when you respect the critiquers!  It ends up being more about pleasing them than your original idea, if you aren’t careful.

Cannot unsee the shrimp/squid in my logo now…

A more serious example would be my past experiences with being cautioned away from the book cover industry by very embittered artists I respected.  These artists were my ‘tribe’ and they were so very detrimental to my development.  Stick to your core beliefs!  This is all about having faith in your ideas and skills.

Next up, taglines.  I’ve never really had one before and I feel that has been to my detriment!  My ‘Angelic Shades’ name was a catch-all I started years ago for all of my art, but now I realize that using it this way just made it a very unclear brand with an unclear target audience.

Now, it seems I’ve splintered my business into several brands, all which I can link back into some form or fashion to my core virtue of ‘unlocking potential through discovery‘.  Here are the taglines I came up with for them:

Angelic Shades Studio (My Art Nouveau and angelic art brand)

Creator of Whimsical Art Nouveau and Angelic Art for Classical Souls.

Angelic Artisan (My masks and leather crafts brand)

Revealing the Being Within through Masquerade.

Angela Sasser Art (Fantasy covers and character art brand. This brand will possibly combine my fantasy author identity as well, should I ever choose to publish any stories.)

Exploring Humanity through Mythic Visions.

The Muse’s Library (A new brand I’m working on inspired by this workshop!)

Creative Resources for Artists by an Artist.

Thinking about these concepts has helped me better understand what I’m attempting to do with my varied areas of interests and creative output.  (You guys remember that CRAZY Vision Board I did).

Somewhere along the way with this workshop, I realized yet another facet within Angelic Shades and that is my passion for providing resources (reviews, stock art, etc.) for other artists.  I’ve finally given this passion a name in the form of The Muse’s Library, thanks to this workshop.  More on that later!

Other useful info included in this section:

  • Strategies for engaging people in conversation that extends beyond “I draw stuff” (aka. your 30 second elevator speech/blurb). This is especially useful if you’re bad at small talk, like most artists I know, including myself!
  • Tips for creative and unusual business card design.
As ever, pick up the book and support the author if you want to learn more!  There’s so much I can’t capture here in my blog entries.
Next up: VI. Creating Your Market Niche
Back to Part 4
Back to Part 1

Book Club: Artist As Brand Part 4 – Plan the Brand

My reading of Greg Spalenka’s Artist As Brand continues with section IV. Plan the Brand.

I found the book for a great deal on the Nook.
Or you can buy it via my Amazon referral link
and give me a little kickback!
You can also buy direct from the author!

 

A lot of this section talked about the concept of job security being an illusion.  This comes up a lot in books I’ve read about creative professionals because so much of our downfall is that constant fear of where money for bills is going to come from.
We struggle, we burn out, and then we get sucked back into the trap of ‘security’ and all the people in our lives (our ‘tribe’, as Spalenka calls it) help reinforce this illusion of safety because it is what they believe to be the most prudent way to go about one’s life.  We want to please these people we care about, so we define our success by their values.
Unlike a more stable “real” job, there is no veil of safety convincing us that because we’ve worked 30 years at Such-and-Such Incorporated that we’ll always have that income and nice, cushy benefits.  Freelancers have no such safety net.  We must accept the truth of the world as it is. (Though that doesn’t mean we can’t be smart about it by planning ahead, either.)
If this were a live reading, I would’ve stood up and cheered at the end of this section.  My whole thesis was based around the fact that audiences are evolving and finding new ways to connect with artists and that the old traditional methods of connecting via institutions were becoming obsolete. I believe this to be true.  Our modern age has allowed artists so many diverse ways to profit that aren’t constrained to one institution or the other.  We are more in control in our destinies than ever we have been!
The rest of this section covered the familiar territory of describing the cost effectiveness and thought process behind planning products and ideas for varied income.  It’s a good rundown if you’re brand new to thinking about what goes into making products or considering less common income streams for artists, such as art licensing.  With several working examples provided.
Random Note – I learned from this section that the founder of Etsy is a young wood worker who was going to start a furniture company.  That company became Etsy, which is what he would’ve named his furniture company.  Cool!
The homework from this section was to start building a Business Plan starting with several prompts about products, including projecting how complex they will be, how long they will take, etc.
Including all of that would make this entry super long, so I’ll just list off some of the products this book has me considering for my business:
  • Stock reference photos for artists.  I’ve been doing this in a small capacity, but now I feel like it’s something I should be spending more time doing.
  • Educational resources for artists (ie. book reviews, product reviews, etc.). I’ve been doing this via my blog, but have never considered making it a commodity for my business.
  • Yearly sketchbooks based on themes.  Having themes and a yearly time table would help focus my very flighty muse!  Inspired by Cory Godbey’s interview over at One Fantastic Week.
I’ve really been supercharged by this book! It has encouraged me to zero in on where my passions really are and to step back from other projects that were less appealing to my core interests.As always, there’s SO much I’m leaving vague.  Be sure to pick up the book from the links at the top if you’ve found any of this useful!

Next:  V: Declare Your Name – Taglines, Blurbs, Business Cards

Go back to Part 1

Go back to Part 3

Book Club: Artist As Brand Part 3 – My Vision Board

My reading of Greg Spalenka’s Artist As Brand continues with section III. Your Vision Board.

I found the book for a great deal on the Nook.
Or you can buy it via my Amazon referral link
and give me a little kickback!
You can also buy direct from the author!

This section focused on another visual brainstorming exercise meant to help you visually map your passions and interests and connect them with products, people, and places.  I found a lot of value in doing this because I have a lot of interests, from video games to art marketing to folklore and beyond!  It’s always so difficult for me to narrow down my projects and focus, which has been a constant challenge for me over the years.

View a larger version of my map here.

I went a little insane and fit as much on the board as I could.  What a crazy web I wove!  The text at the bottom represents the connections I drew with colored lines between my top three activities from the first circle, the products I can produce, and the people and venues I could reach those people through.

That’s a pretty powerful thing to figure out for yourself!  So many of us just throw art out there with no thought put into who that art is meant to resonate with.  Creating with purpose seems a valuable way to focus your time and energies and make your brand more consistent, which is something a lot of novice artists don’t do when they’re first starting out (I’m guilty of it, myself!).

I also made a .psd template, since one wasn’t provided in the book. Feel free to download it here for your own use.

Download the blank template I made here.

As ever, I have left some details of this exercise (such as the explanation of Mind, Body, and Spirit and other instruction) vague on purpose to encourage you to purchase the book.  It’s a really worthwhile read thus far and I would recommend it based on the helpfulness of the exercises I’ve already completed!

Next up, IV.  Plan the Brand
 
Go on to Part 4. (coming soon!)

Book Club: Artist as Brand Part 1 – My Core Virtue

It’s been an introspective week for me while I ponder my current re-branding efforts and enjoy a much needed vacation after the convention/Halloween rush.  I’ve been enjoying the time off to clear my mind and to start reading Greg Spalenka’s book, Artist as Brand.  I thought it’d be interesting to write about my journey as I read this book and (hopefully) learn a little more about myself and my art!

I found the book for a great deal on the Nook.
Or you can buy it via my Amazon referral link
and give me a little kickback!
You can also buy direct from the author!

This book really called to me thanks to recommendations from other artist friends and for the fact Spalenka is also an artist himself.  I’ve read a fair few marketing books, all which read like dry instruction manuals.  Artists, however, are a different breed of business.  We are in the business of passion and vision.  There’s an undefinable element to an artist that can’t be quantified by marketing and price tags.

Spalenka has a unique insight having worked in publishing, entertainment, genre art, and fine art.  Artist as Brand compiles Spalenka’s advice as given in his workshop meant for artists seeking to define their vision and business and also offers person to person workshops on the matter.  This book is the self-paced version of his workshop.

An example of Greg Spalenka‘s dreamlike art.

The preface of the book addresses Spalenka’s experiences moving between various industries as an illustrator, all which seemed to keep an artist’s visions at the whims of a larger machine at work, none of which seemed to satisfy his own creative instincts.  It wasn’t until he saw artists selling well for themselves at conventions that he realized the potential of micro-businesses, or artist as self-representing entrepreneurs.

As an Arts Admin MA, I studied the potential of the internet to allow artists to connect directly to their audiences for my thesis and I couldn’t agree more with this emerging trend.  Artists are now more able than ever to nurture private collectors through the interconnectivity of the internet and other opportunities outside of the expected ones.

But that means so many of us need to figure out what it is that we can offer when we don’t have a business calling the shots.  What is our vision?  What is that special something that we have that no one else does?  This book is all about that discussion.

After Spalenka’s bio, the first instructional section deals with defining what your Heart Virtue is.  This doesn’t even relate directly to what you like to draw, which I found interesting, but also somewhat confusing.  What core defining value dictates your emotional reactions to the world around you?

I found this offputting, at first.  Wasn’t this something only fine artists really needed to think about?  As a genre artist, I’m not too concerned with political or emotional statements in my art (if that was where this book was headed).

But the more I thought about this section, the more I realized just how deep the rabbit hole goes.  It’s not just any ol’ fantasy art that appeals to me.  Most of what I enjoy and what I’m passionate about creating is fantasy art that makes an emotional statement, that says something beyond the surface prettiness of glamorized and idealized figures that most fantasy art portrays.  Fantasy art and literature, after all, are a mask with which we can tell the spiritual and moral stories that pertain to humanity as a whole.

Spalenka guides this introspection with several questions which help you to figure out what your heart virtue might be. Mine ended up being this, which I suspect will change and be refined as I go along:

I am devoted to unlocking the potential of creativity in myself and in others through self-discovery and acceptance.

How this pertains to my art, I’m not quite sure yet, but I’m looking forward to finding out!  I’m purposefully leaving some of this discussion vague so as to not give all of Spalenka’s knowledge away for free.

This book has been an enjoyable revelation thus far and I hope you will go show him your support, if you find my journey with his book interesting and helpful!

Next: My Core Virtue’s Emblem

August 2014 Giveaway + Q&A: Winner and Answers!

Now for some answers to the questions you asked in a previous entry!  Vanessa asks:

Q:  I find that I have a very hard time figuring out light sources and shading when I’m trying to draw or paint (traditionally and digitally). Do you have any recommendations for exercises or books that would help with this problem?

A:  Vanessa, mastering values is one of the most subtle, but important skills that I am still mastering, myself!  If you can establish the proper values and shadows, you can make even the most absurd forms look realistic and the most simple paintings intriguing.

Some of my favorite exercises to understand the importance of value, especially as it affects composition, is to study master paintings and create black and white abstractions of them (thanks to Chris Oatley’s Painting Drama for the idea!).  Like this:

Breaking down a painting into the major value groupings which define the image teaches you to recognize that effective paintings aren’t about shading and lighting everything to the same intensity, but that you can push and pull the viewer’s eye by grouping together the overall values where you would like the flow of the image to move.

As for knowing what to shade, lighting and shooting your own references is extremely important!  You can bring a level of realism and grounded reality to your pieces if you can define where the cast shadows fall.  Some artists do this with photographic reference, others learn to light and rig in 3D modeling programs so they can control every aspect of their reference more easily.

There’s so much more I can say about this topic, so I’ll just leave you with a suggestion for further reading in the form of James Gurney’s amazing books on painting, Imaginative Realism and Color and Light.  Both books talk extensively about values, color, composition, and so much more!  They are an essential part of my book shelf.

Q: As an artist do you find it more difficult to begin passion projects as opposed to commissions? Where do you find your motivation? I know that when I get home from designing all day one of the last things I want to do is work on my own projects, and I have started missing them!

A:  This is a tough one!  I am still battling to get motivated after work.  After working on commissions for other people all day, I just want to curl up with a video game or a good movie.  The best way I’ve managed to trick myself into ‘working’ after work is to realize that this is essential ‘play’ time.  We remain creative by letting our minds wander (see John Cleese’s lecture on the matter).

It also helps for me to give myself a set amount of time I can expect to be playing.  You can get a whole lot done an hour a night if only you dedicate yourself fully to that hour!

Q: My last question is, where did your love of art nouveau stem from? What draws you to this particular movement in art?

A:  I fell in love with Art Nouveau when one of my good friends in college introduced me to the work of Alphonse Mucha!  I instantly fell in love with the elegant swirling lines and organic shapes.  Replicating the style is like pure joy for me.  Inking the tiny details is a form of strange meditation.  I feel like Art Nouveau is a mirror into another world where the artistry of the individual was more appreciated than soulless manufactured design.  There’s so much beauty, passion, and artistry in the architecture, paintings, and simple household objects of the period!

Thanks for the wonderful questions, Vanessa!

Without further ado, the winner of the Bad Fairy ACEO is….

Caitlan McCollum!  You’re on a winning streak, m’dear!  

If you’d prefer the 50% off discount code prize instead, let me know via email and I can get you sorted out.

I hope to return to my usual live broadcast format for September’s giveaway and Q&A.  More details to follow!

Who Do I Want to Be? Maturing as an Artist

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately talking with artist friends.  We’ve known each other for years.  Many of us know each other from way back in our college days when we’d hang out in the Student Center with piles of books and art supplies and draw together for hours on end.  Since then, we’re all able to see how we have changed from the wide-eyed artists who just loved to draw whatever struck our fancies to the more mature artists struggling with what mastery of the craft truly means, or just struggling to find the time at all outside of day jobs and other life pursuits.

I think we’ve all matured as people and as artists.  We are no longer satisfied with just drawing whatever flits through our heads.  Time is precious.  Competition, for those of us who have gone pro, means that just drawing whatever we feel like is no longer good enough to push our work to the next level.  Back in my teens, there was no pressure to sell art.  There was no pressure to compete.  It was purely art for art’s sake with little consideration for the pressure that is making a living off of art.  Back then, I had no idea how this pressure would affect my work in the future.

These days as a more mature artist, it’s a constant struggle to not place pressure and preciousness on every little thing I draw. It can’t just be a doodle, it must be a MASTERPIECE!  If it is not, I have wasted precious time on something that neither makes me money nor advances my skills in a larger way so that I can compete with the people in the industries I’m aiming for.  I talked about the fallacy of this attitude in my last post (Stuck in ‘The Gap’) and I know this is the wrong attitude to have.  Still, funny how that happens eh?  I think it happens or has happened to everyone I know trying to make a living at art.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that I am much more concerned now with style than I ever was in the past.  By style, I’m not talking about a specific visual style, ie. that Quirky Thing that Angela Does that makes someone recognize my work.  Rather, I’m talking about a philosophy of art.  What do I want my work to communicate?  How do I want it to communicate these thoughts, feelings, and moods to my viewer?

Style, to me, is more about what I want my viewers to feel when they look at my work, more so than finding a ‘trick’ that makes my work unique.  A huge positive of having this perspective later in my development as an artist is that I can now focus my work on a more deep and symbolic level than I ever could as the young, scatterbrained artist who loved to draw anything and everything just because I could.

Speaking of scatterbrained, I remember also how we all loved to learn and do so much, especially in school and didn’t have a sense of how quickly time gets sucked into a vacuum of Adulthood and Responsibilities (and doing laundry, never-ending laundry!).  I wanted to be a comic book artist, a book cover artist, a novel writer, a fine artist, a mask-maker, an editor, an art consultant, video game writer, and a concept artist (I’d still like to do so many of these things!).  Greg Manchess’ post on finding one’s audience really struck home for me.  I need to pick one or two of these things and focus on getting good at them, then expand after I’ve gotten sufficiently badass at those two sets of skills.  I realize also that’s not going to take a year, but years of my life.  I have accepted this fate.  Realizing a chunk of your life will be consumed by getting good at something is one heck of a stabilizer in this industry.

Go figure, I ended up choosing book cover artist and mask-maker as my two fields, in the end.  The latter was quite a surprise!  Leather mask-making came out of the blue as a talent I discovered for fun that quickly expanded into an income and side business.  Life has a sense of humor like that, I’ve noticed.  Maybe it was in the blood? (My father was a leather crafter in his younger days).

How I wish sometimes that I’d had a clearer focus on the one or two fields when I was young, but then perhaps I would not have learned the varied skills that I have now?  Jack of all trades, master of none, as they say.  But at least I now know what SEO means, how to use an Oxford comma, and how to mold cow skin into something beautiful.  Surely, this means I can get into a trivia show at some point in my life?

Anyways, back to the present!  Now, I seem to have found a sense of myself and my ‘style’.  I have felt the first concrete thoughts about what I want my work to be like settling into the mold of the artist I want to be.  I want my work to be like James Jean’s, to capture that sense of a dreamlike reality without verging into the Surreal.  I want to tap the heart of fairy tales like he has with his work on Fables in a bold, mature way.

I want to bring narrative and emotional atmosphere to my work, like Waterhouse did with his paintings.  I want to condense the aesthetic beauty and semi-realism of Mucha and Rossetti into something wholly new.

But I still want to be me.  I want to be more than the sum of my inspirational parts, so to speak.

And I agree with Greg’s assessment that the only way we can define ourselves, at first, is to emulate those that we admire until we realize what makes our artistic voice different from those influences.  We only find that voice with time, study, patience, and creating a whole lot of work to weed out what feels right and what doesn’t.  To mature as people and artists is the only way these things can happen.

The time has never been better than now to really push my work and see what I can create as the artist I am now, an artist honed from those years of exploration into a keen observer of what I like and don’t like, what I want to be and don’t want to be.

There’s something coming with my work.  I can just feel that bud of potential ready to blossom, if only I continue to nurture it!  I’m so excited to see what happens next and that makes me extremely happy!

Thanks for sticking with me through all my ramblings, dear readers!  I’ve been introspective of late in these entries, but perhaps they will help someone out there?  They certainly help me.  I can see the stepping stones on my mountain of Mastery becoming clearer the more I have these kinds of conversations with myself and with you all.

Here’s to the exuberance of youth and the discerning wisdom of maturity!  Two essential ingredients to being the people that we want to be.