Category: career advice for artists

Does it Pay to Specialize as an Artist?

I was quoted in an article over at CreativeBloq, “Does it pay to specialise as an artist?” 

Featuring some familiar faces and some of my own art and thoughts as well!  I’ve struggled for years to find my artistic voice and sort out my passions from my wide array of interests. Hopefully these words of wisdom help others figure things out for themselves as well!

Book Club: Artist As Brand Part 7 – The Art of Social Media

My reading of Greg Spalenka’s Artist As Brand continues with section VII. Brand Promotion – The Art of Social Media.

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  provides a detailed list of forums and communities for networking, many of which I hadn’t heard of before.  There are a lot of sites dedicated specifically to networking ‘tribes’ (ie. Ryze.net and Tribe.net) that I have yet to tap!  I’ll have to post later over at The Muse’s Library with some thoughts on these sites and their usefulness for artists once I’ve had a chance to properly assess them.

Shop Tips

Spalenka also makes a strong argument for having a shop on your website instead of using a portal shop like the many POD sites (Zazzle, Fine Art America, etc.) or markets like Etsy.  I’ve been back and forth on this issue for years now.  Running a shop on Etsy, for instance, gives me a shop front that’s easily accessible and discoverable by a public market and is supported by the marketplace.  Etsy does take a percentage, but the setup provides a nice backbone for a shop that I didn’t have to build myself.

I’ve built shops from the ground up, spending hours upon hours perfecting it, only to have something go wrong on the technical side of things.  Not to mention the fact my website alone simply does not get the traffic of eBay or Etsy, no matter how much I promote it.  Even still, Spalenka argues that marketplace trends are always changing while your website will always be the same central location and this is very true.

Etsy, for instance, is battling with changes at a corporate level with many artists left disgruntled by the flood of wholesalers taking over the market.  Your central website, however, will never go out of style and a shop would be easy to find if it were located there.

Bearing this in mind, I aspire to create a shop front on my site using WooCommerce, which I hope will be an easy to implement plugin for this WordPress based site.  I’ll probably still use Etsy during high traffic seasons and to sell quirky cute handmade things featuring my art, but it will probably not be my main shop front anymore, granted I can get WooCommerce working!  Adding one more thing to my business re-organization to-do list.

Publicity Tips

This section also features some fantastic tips on publicity, such as ideas for blog events and links to press kit tutorials.  It’s a bit overwhelming!  I know I need to hit publicity harder, as it’s something I really haven’t relied upon. I’m just never sure where genre art like mine can find an audience and partner site to be featured on, since I don’t work with well known IP’s, nor do I have a really recognizable body of work, just yet.

Putting a pin on this section to come back later when I feel I’m finally ready with a decently sized body of consistent (theme and skillwise) work!

I’ve left out SO much concerning all the various resources Spalenka mentioned, so definitely go support Spalenka’s book/workshop if you are finding this blog series helpful!

Next Up: What Makes a Great Website/Blog

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 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!)

Re-branding an Artist – Part 1 – Tough Questions

So, you like drawing, but also painting, writing, candle-making, and beading?  I know how you feel!  Being multipassionate seems to be a habit of most of the creative people I know.   Our minds like to wander and play and that’s part of how we keep ourselves creative!

However, this characteristic usually leaves most of us with a huge problem – an unclear sense of artistic identity and, therefore, an unclear brand.

I’ve had this problem for years and it’s only been until recently I’ve sat down and put a magnifying glass to my brand.  For example, just look at the mess that was my website last year.  I had masks, Art Nouveau, surreal work, miniature work, sculpture, anything and everything all thrown together on my site:

My Angelic Shades site back in 2013.

After discussing my fractured identity with fellow artists and a friendly Art Director, I realize that this Anything and Everything approach was really killing my sales and my presentation.

What an AD might think:
“She has so many styles!  She must still be a student and probably isn’t very reliable.  She hasn’t quite mastered anything.”

What an average person might think:
“Wow, this is all really cool!  But later on, I probably won’t remember what it is exactly she’s selling.” 

Echo this sentiment for selling at conventions, too.  After seeing all the masks, art, etc. at my table, most people aren’t sure what I’m selling or if it’s all by one person, since the themes differ so vastly.  This also made my sales pitches extremely complicated, as I wasn’t sure how to address all of the products on the table.

Or my other favorite.

“Wow, this is cool!  I’m going to ask this person for a commission that she’s not necessarily interested in doing because she’s obviously interested in doing everything and is very versatile.” 

In truth, I’d actually prefer it if people ask me for work that I specialize in, rather than work that I don’t specialize in.  Most of the time, the work I don’t specialize in doesn’t go into my portfolio and is never seen again.

The Tough Questions

I had to start asking myself some important questions and coming up with answers that faced my fears as an artist.  These burning questions have been on my mind for a long time now:

What am I passionate about and what is just fun to do?

A lot of people think ‘hey it’d be fun to make my hobby a job!’ but what they don’t realize is that once you make your hobby your job, it’s not fun anymore.  If you turned to that hobby for recharging and relaxation, chances are that being forced to do it for monetary purposes is going to destroy that sense of fun and play you had with it.  You’ll most likely have to get another hobby now that the last hobby has become the job.

My Answer:  I realized over the past few years that Art Nouveau and soft watercolor work is my ‘fun’ art.  So is mask-making.  I turn to these modes of expression to refresh my creative well.  Making them my job meant I had less time in my life for the mature fantasy work I am passionate about.  Admittedly, the money is nice and that also swayed me towards these other forms of expression.  This choice of splitting focus resulted in much burnout over the past couple of years.

My art as a body of work has so many facets.  What should stay and what should go?

Think about what target audience there is for your work.  Does your work actually target the same people?  Did you do something for random fun but it just doesn’t fit in with your other work?

Sometimes it’s just better to leave things off of your professional face for storage on something more casual, like tumblr.  Keeping unrelated work can make you look like a student or unreliable in your ability to finish consistent work.  Stop thinking of what is your ‘best overall work’ and starting thinking ‘what is your best work for what specific audience’.

My Answer:  For me, I ended up dumping the ACEO and Surreal sections from my site.  These works were all older and I’m not exactly interested in being hired to work in that vein anymore.  On the other hand, I still wanted to share my artisan crafts and Art Nouveau, as I’ve put many years into them and still find them as viable professional faces to share.

And thus my brands Angelic Artisan and Angela Sasser were born!  Angelic Shades is my original studio name, which will now be purely for the work I created for my book, Angelic Visions, and for my Art Nouveau work.

My mature fantasy work is going to be housed on a new site that I’m currently working on (sneak peek here!).  Angelic Artisan has also been moved off to its own cozy website dedicated solely to my artisan crafts (a move which happened last year, actually).

I chose my real name as a studio identity because I feel like this brand is finally me.  I have found MY voice and what I feel is going to be the artistic identity I want to become known for.  Another perk to deciding what my ‘main’ identity/studio is going to be is that I now realize where the majority of my time needs to be spent.

Angelic Artisan and Angelic Shades will both now be downgraded to side projects that I only do for fun.  This is a huge weight off me and one that I feel will allow me to focus my time on my passions instead of being torn between too many tasks.  It’s going to be hard saying no to the commissions that come in for artisan and Art Nouveau work, but decreasing my stress levels and focusing on my long-term goals is what needs to happen for me right now to stop feeling so overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of me.

Bonus perk – my sites just look sooo much more beautiful and professional now that they have ‘themes’!

Since I am re-branding mid-career, how do I mitigate changing my identity in the face of collectors and AD’s?

This one is my toughest question right now.  How do I change what I’m doing so that people won’t be upset by my switch of direction?  Most of the other multifaceted artists I’ve talked to worked to become known for one thing and earned the respect of AD’s and their market before they branched out.  They were stabilized by the fact their fans would follow them and that they still have the respect of AD’s whom they have proven their reliability to in the past.

My problem is I got good at one thing I realized later on is not the thing I want to be known for.  I’m not sure if I’ll be burning bridges doing this.  It’s quite intimidating!

My Answer:  Right now, my plan is to completely break my art styles up into Angelic Shades and Angela Sasser with their own corresponding sites and outlets so that when I hand a business card out to an AD or anybody else, the linked site on each unique card will present a consistent body of work with a clear theme.

As for AD trust, I will probably only be showing AD’s my Angela Sasser brand, unless their projects specifically call for soft watercolors and/or Art Nouveau stylings.  They shall never know my secret identity as a soft flowy watercolorist and mask-maker!

I have no idea what this means for my social media faces, however!  I’m so entrenched in the Angelic Shades username that I’m not sure if people will actually follow me to a new name, if I start one.  Brand consistency for ‘Angela Sasser’ demands a new Twitter, Facebook page, blog, etc.  I’m not sure I’m going to do this yet, but you will be the first to know!

STOP!  Do you really want to do this?  Are you just messing up a good thing?

If you’re doing well as you are and enjoy what you’re doing, maybe you should just leave well enough alone?

My Answer:  It’s taken me many years of struggling and burnout to realize I’ve invested my time in the wrong places because I was more focused on making money than taking the risky path and following my passions in illustration and concept art.  I was afraid and didn’t trust myself.  I let bad advice and pressure from loved ones dissuade me from focusing on what I really wanted to do.  I also didn’t really have an idea of where I wanted to go back then, so I did what was fun and acceptable.

Just because you might be capable of creating something that someone enjoys and will pay money for doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what you’re meant to do, especially if your heart lies elsewhere.

Knowing all this, I feel my mistakes have helped me to refine a laser focus I’m looking forward to implementing now that I’ve identified where my heart truly lies.  It’s only through experiencing these early struggles that I know myself better and can look forward to the future with more confidence!

Reader Questions:

Do you have multiple creative businesses?  How do you  handle running them all at once? Share your tips in comments!

Next Up: Part 2 – Brand Design

Staying Informed in the Art Profession

A conversation with a fellow artist spurred me towards writing about this topic.  This particular friend was curious about entering a new field in art, in her case, concept art for video games.  She was really curious about it, but the idea of absorbing so much of the unknown concerning this entirely new field was stressful for her!

I can definitely relate!  I felt much the same way when I was first considering concept art as a career path before I went to college and again when I thought I might pick it up again as a career a couple of years ago.  I eventually turned back to illustration for a multitude of reasons (ie. not being able to relocate, not wanting to divide focus, etc.), but changing fields is something constantly on my mind.  As such, I always try to stay informed for my own personal career goals and because regardless of whether I will work in concept art or not, video game design and concept art remains something I highly enjoy.

So the question remains – How do you inform yourself before you enter a field and how do you STAY informed, once you work within that field?

Talk to Working Artists

For me, the learning process began by first talking to an artist I know who actually works in the business.  Talking to a working artist is the fastest way to separate the glamorous impression of the job from the realism of the job.  Concept artists, for example, face everything from difficult clients, corporate bureaucracy, long hours, low pay, and extremely high competition, to a lack of a guarantee that their project might even see the light of day, in some cases.

I’ve found my fellow artists to be some of the most friendly and pragmatic people I’ve ever met.  Most artists want to see other artists succeed, so never be afraid to ask!  They can also oftentimes provide you the honest feedback you need about your work that family members and friends might be too nice or simply uninformed to give you.

The Outside World

While the internet is great, sometimes escaping that warm fluorescent glow can provide you with more accurate and up to date information than the online world.  For instance, as an illustrator, I like to keep up with trends in book cover designs by going to the bookstore’s Fantasy and Sci-fi section and scoping out the competition. I take note of trends in art styles, popular subject matter, and the names of the publishing houses who publish books with covers that seem similar to my own design sensibilities.  My hope is that when I’m ready to market my book cover portfolio, I’ll have some viable targets to contact, rather than having a portfolio with no idea of where to send it.

The same can be said of concept artists for video games.  Go to game stores. See what the bestsellers are. See what new games are coming out.  Check out the trends and who is working with the kind of style and characters you particularly enjoy.  Chances are the developer of that game has a particular design sensibility that you would fit in with at some point.

Online Communities and Groups

With the internet at our fingertips, you can find so much information at online groups like CGhub, CGsociety, and ConceptArt.org.  Many of these sites have previously published articles about everyday practices in the industry that are invaluable primers for artists at an entry level.  ConceptArt.org and CGhub are especially useful places in that they cater to both digital and traditional artists, unlike CGsociety, which generally caters to digital artists.  All three of these sites have job listing areas, which is icing on the cake!  Another perk of all of these sites is that all of them host art challenges where you can get experience creating a piece of art, which can be handy if you’re not sure what to put in your portfolio.

Blogs

There are three blogs that I frequent moreso than others because they provide information relevant to me as a Sci-Fi/Fantasy and freelance artist.  They are:
Muddy Colors – A blog ran by a collective of some of the top artists in the fields of concept art, illustration, and sculpture.  They share everything from business practices to technique tutorials from tried and true professionals.
The ArtOrder – A blog ran by Art Director, Jon Schindehette.  Jon is an invaluable resource not only for having an AD’s perspective on portfolio building and professionalism, but he also has a passion for inspiring other artists.  He hosts frequent art challenges with prizes that are highly worth participating in for your own skill building and for the exposure your work might receive from his well chosen challenge judges.
SurLaLune Fairytales – This blog is maintained by Heidi Anne Heiner, an expert on fairy tale studies who has her finger on the pulse of fairy tales in past and modern culture.  She posts very often with the latest news about modern revisionist fairy tale movies, books, etc. and about her own compilation books of fairy tale motifs.  Definitely a must-read for you fairy tale illustrators out there!

(EDIT can’t believe I forgot this one!) Chrisoatley.com – How could I forget to mention Chris Oatley’s blog? Chris Oatley is a character designer and the spearhead behind the Oatley Academy, where I am a student of Painting Drama. His blog posts and Artcast cut right to the heart of my concerns as a freelance artist and tend to inspire me when I need the boost most. It’s a new one on my frequent reading list, but an invaluable one!

Magazines

It hurts having to pay subscriptions, but I consider my subscription to ImagineFX an invaluable connection to the Sci-fi/Fantasy and concept art industry.  While the tutorials and free Photoshop brushes are hit or miss sometimes, the real value to me as a working artist are the reviews on current technology and art books.  Reading these reviews helps me make better decisions about my purchases so I can spend my budget wisely.  
I also enjoy their profiles of accomplished working artists which gives me a valuable glimpse into where these artists came from as people and how they are succeeding in the industry.  Reading about their journeys inspires me to continue walking my own and that kind of motivation is priceless! They also host contests, post articles about new online art projects and communities, and gather other odds and ends of information that help inform me as an artist.
This list could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here!  Long story short, the best way to keep up, in my opinion, is to know who the working artists are in your field, know the companies that are active and hiring, and never live in a void.  Staying informed goes hand in hand with staying inspired!

What are some of your favorite places to keep up with your field of art?  Share in comments!

Artists and Schedules – Maintaining Creative Flow Without Going Insane

As is usual with any time that I’m forced to sit on my duff with hours of free time, I start thinking of a thousand ways to strategize what I’m going to work on next, how I’m going to improve towards my career goals, the meaning of life, etc.  Gallbladder removal has been a massively introspective and motivating time for me.  The whole year has been, really, as constant road blocks have forced me to slow down and think of my physical and mental health more carefully.

I’ve finally had to admit to myself that my schedule hasn’t been the healthiest.  I have often ended my work days feeling anxious and unfulfilled.  I never seem to get enough done!  I would often find myself working late and fretting, which in turn, worried my partner on multiple levels.  That constant feeling of ‘not getting enough done’ made me unhappy, just as the constant nagging feeling of ‘you should be producing more’ made the times I should have been relaxing with loved ones a nerve-wracking experience. I always wanted to ‘escape’ and slink back to the studio to work because if I could just get one more thing done, I could finish and be at peace and enjoy myself during downtime, guilt free!

Enjoying myself outside of work and even simply doing art for fun became a distant memory.

I never could put my finger on why this always seemed to happen to me until I sat down and wrote an hourly work schedule representing my work habits as they were.  I split my time between leather crafting in the mornings, illustration client commissions after lunch, and finally, the rest of whatever’s leftover of my day, should I finish client work, was spent trying to cram in those precious portfolio pieces and studies that are so important to the long term development of my career.  Broken down, I was only getting a couple hours dedicated to each thing and that’s barely enough to enter any kind of ‘flow’!  I define flow as that creative trance you enter which usually takes me more than two hours to achieve since I have a very particular work space I have to set up, which usually takes some of that precious time to arrange.  I don’t work well in spurts, it seems.  Discovering this about myself has proven so very useful!
The solution?  Schedule myself and train my brain to be satisfied with what gets done in a day.  It helped to start thinking of my leather crafts as a part-time job, which it has become, much to my surprise.  Leather crafts make up a good chunk of my income when art sales are low.  The schedule is looking something like this now:
Monday to Tuesday – Work ONLY on leathercrafts!  That way I can take time with my craft projects and look forward to those days coming later in the week when I can return to my true love, illustration!  I’ve noticed delegating these days for only crafts has actually made me more inspired to do this kind of work because I don’t mentally associate craft-time as ‘the time I take away from doing art and rushing to fill every order before arttime’.  I actually have had time to create new patterns and have some exciting new product lines to release in the near future thanks to the simple switch of days!
Wednesday – I update my website first thing with the rest of the day dedicated to art at the coffee shop.  I noticed my website was constantly falling behind because I had no set time I’d update it, so I’d just forget!  Including website updating on my weekly schedule has helped me to keep it updated, which is important for any Art Directors who might have their eye on me or others who need to see that my site is updated and I am active.  If my website is already up to date, I spend that time posting to other neglected galleries online because goodness knows there’s enough of them!  Behance, FurAffinity, Epilogue.  The list goes on!  As much as I wish I had a personal webmonkey to handle all of my website updates, I’m still only a one-woman show, at the moment!  Forsooth! I’ve even managed to fit in time I actually leave the studio in this schedule!  A little fresh air goes a long way when you start seeing faces in the proverbial yellow wallpaper of your studio walls. 
Thursday to Friday – Glorious 2D art-only days!  I’ve decided to start my art-only days with warm-up exercises, either life drawings or daily prompts (ie. Spitpaint).  Then the rest of the day can be spent in creative flow, rather than split up trying to do a billion different things, which just hasn’t proven conducive to my sense of satisfaction and frankly my productivity as an artist!  Trying to do everything has given me a year in which I’ve not produced much at all, for as much as I scramble and am ‘busy’ all of the time to the point of nervousness when I am not working.  I also know if I don’t make time to do studies, I’ll just skip right to trying to solve the ‘masterpieces’, and that’s a fast ticket to frustration since I’m not stopping to learn what I need to learn to attain the level of Mastery I need for the kind of work I want to be doing.
Saturday and Sunday – I try not to work these days unless I am behind or have a rush deadline.  It is incredibly important to me that I do not work every day of the week!  Everyone needs the downtime and these are days I’d rather be spending time with loved ones.

And there you have it!  My prototype of a schedule.  I’ve tried it for a week already and I must say I’m already feeling ten times less stressed out!  There’s no telling how this schedule will be upturned by conventions, rush orders, and other such things, but I can say from experience thus far that discovering what my tolerance for a creative flow has been a life-changing experience.
So my advice to you and any other freelance creative professionals is to learn what your ‘flow’ threshold is, especially if you’re like me and have to work your art time around other activities.  The excellent book Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art really helped me as far as figuring out how to get the most out of my day.  Artists from all walks of life, married, with kids, full-time, part-time, etc. give their best advice for how not to go insane keeping your ‘creative flow’ strong.

How do you maintain ‘flow’ throughout your day?  Share your tips in comments!

A bit of shameless self-promo before I go. If you do end up getting the book, you can use my Amazon referral link to buy it and give me a nice little earning from your purchase! I’d appreciate it very much and the book is well worth adding to one’s library if you are a creative professional.

Artists and Mortality

It’s that time of year again. The breezy day in November where I wake up and realize I am now a year older! 32, to be exact.  Birthdays always have a way of making me feel introspective about myself. Lately it seems everything does. An effect of getting older, maybe?

Even before today, something clicked when I was at IlluXCon where younger artists placed their portfolios in my hands and asked me about their work, trusting my knowledge in a way I suppose I hadn’t really trusted myself just yet. Giving them advice reinforced a confidence in me that had been quietly buried by self-doubt. Then, of course, I went and did the same thing putting my trust in artists more experienced than myself to give me guidance about my work. The art industry is a wonderful place like that. Everyone’s constantly growing and learning together. Everyone has a voice all their own.

Being around so many artists, young and old and in different phases of their career, made me realize I was in that sort of ‘middle child’ group. I’m not well known, but neither am I unknown. I’m in that gap where 95% of artists stop in their career at a crossroads and decide that having a family takes precedence or giving up is more prudent than pursuing that silly creative career. The clock is ticking in so many ways, biologically and creatively.

I think this is the answer to the question Jon Schindehette asked in the Women in Fantasy panel at IlluXCon. (paraphrasing here) Where do the 20 to 30 something female artists go after they’re just getting their first portfolio reviews and breaking in to the illustration jobs?

They’re making that decision of whether or not they must take the time out of their lives to do other things which society has deemed, with some exceptions, squarely in the role of the respectable woman that usually preempts having a career – specifically starting a family. You CAN come back to your career later, but it is hard and no matter whether you do or don’t, it takes time to settle into that new family structure.

All this is layered on on top of the troubles every gender of creative professional faces, a big one being the societal pressure of ‘Why are you following a career that won’t make you money or is as important/useful as a doctor/lawyer/etc.?’ In my experience thus far, turning 30 makes or breaks your determination about what you are going to be doing with the rest of your life.

Personally? I have no desire to start a family and until that desire hits, I’m focusing on a career. My experience with family comes from watching other ladies I respect in this industry deal with the trials and triumphs that comes with starting their own as well as pondering greatly on the matter, myself. I give massive props to those of you who start families AND pursue a career both at once! You must have eyes on the back of your heads…and elbows…and everywhere else! You have more strength and will than I can ever imagine having.

So then what AM I going to be doing in 10 years? 20 years? It’s easy to drive oneself mad thinking about this, but I think it’s important to sit back and do so every once and awhile.  If you don’t, you have a chance of getting trapped in that 95% of people who aren’t going to make it because they never get out of the infinite loop where they get too comfortable where they are, are so mired down by frustration, OR never know where they should push themselves to advance in their art and career.

I am 32 today and in 10 years I do not want to be where I am now. I don’t want to be the Known Unknown. The fact of the matter is when I hit 60 or 70, that’s the time I plan to retire and enjoy the rest of my years doing whatever I feel like doing just because I can. I don’t want to hit my stride so late that I am merely a flash in the pan or that I waited so late to get myself ‘there’ that I just can’t turn out what younger artists can because I don’t have the energy anymore!  What’s more, I have a lot of paintings and words in me that must come out before I die.  They MUST or I will have failed myself because no one can get them out of that colorful pit of a brain but me.

It’s not fame I’m after, but Mastery. If I happen to gain fame for being so damned badass at telling the stories I want to tell with my art, than that is the kind of fame I approve of. Earned fame, not cheap fame. Artists and creative professionals don’t get this until they have paid their dues to the craft. Till they have been rejected 100 times or more. Till they have made 10,000 failed drawings to get the 1,000 amazing ones. Meeting the various masters of their craft at IlluXCon was proof enough of this. Most are not young and took many years to refine themselves into the flawless illustrators we view them as.

So there it is!  The answer!  Time, patience, and an honest appraisal of where you are and where you’re going, but also don’t forget to acknowledge what you’re doing right!  The simple act of getting yourself into this mindset is a step in the right direction.  It is a stone in the path you are building before you.

And on that note, I am ending this post by beginning a yearly tradition of filling out this MEME on my birthday!
You should fill it out too and show me what you got.  Let’s improve together!:)
See the full image and download the template.

Dealing with Bad Habits and Rejection

PHOTO BY REMO MASINA

Here we are a few weeks after IlluXCon and my mind is still buzzing with the possibilities, even as I settle back into the same routine I had before.  Yet now I have realized something.

Here I am back in the same ol’ catch 22 that trapped me into an unhealthy unproductive pattern as before.  To make ends meet, I work small side jobs (mostly leather crafts or independent commissions) and by the time I’m done with that, I’m left with just a few hours at the end of my day to cram in both my portfolio work and my personal work, which usually means choosing one over the other, unless I’m crafty and double-dip the chip, metaphorically speaking.

It’s so very difficult to take time from these activities that bring us income to convince myself working on portfolio pieces instead is going to pay off!  But it needs to be done or I’ll stop and look at the 40-year-old in the mirror and ask myself if I’ll ever accomplish what I want in life by age 50.  Bills still need paying and that’s a problem I have the power to influence as a content creator.

So I’ve been asking myself what is bringing me a step closer to my Mountain?  I’ve been reflecting on that a lot lately.  It’s led me to some simple conclusions.  First, the cycle must be broken!  If I need to work a little later in the day and sacrifice some time with my loved ones, than so be it.  I need to dump my guilt about doing this because my partner believes in my career just as much as I do and my success is his success.  I am the one who brings guilt to the table.  As long as I don’t work late every single day, it will be alright.  If I want to get anywhere with my career, I need that extra push, especially right now when I am so close.  As long as I  know to stop working, should my schedule become unhealthy.  It’s a problem I’ve had in the past and I will have to learn and abide by my limits in this regard for my mental and physical well-being.
Next, I need to start believing that my art is good enough to boost my income.  I stopped submitting to publishers and art reps years ago because I only ever got automatic rejection responses.  I know now that it was because my work was simply not good enough back then and I had no idea how to present my portfolio.  Neither was my work branded for the companies I submitted to!  But now?  I am armed by the knowledge granted from places like Muddy Colors and ArtOrder.

Having peers and respected artists review my portfolio at IlluXCon and tell me that I’m “almost there” has fueled the realization that I only need a little shove to get me where I need to be.  With just a little grease and polish on my work, I will start approaching publishers again.  I will start believing the time I spend on my portfolio is worth the time I take away from short term sales!  It’s a precarious tight-rope act trying to compromise between short-term and long-term goals with a constant fear of failure, that the time spent will be wasted.  The older I get, the more I feel that urgency and the more unsure my feet become!  It’s that self-imposed and societal reinforcement that if you don’t have the American dream by age 30 that you are a failure in life (I am currently 31 years old).  This is bullshit, especially as our society evolves new work patterns and standards of happiness and success in life.

I realize that I need to diversify my income, which would, in turn, help me be able to spend less time scrambling for side jobs and more time planning long term portfolio pieces.  While I have done this with leathercraft, it’s had the side effect of stealing away something I used to do for enjoyment.  Leathercraft was always meant to be my happiness hobby and I would like it to be so again.  Everyone needs that hobby that brings them pure happiness and fun or you are just working. All. of. the. time.  
My first coloring pack is available now!

I’ve been brainstorming many ways to help pad the income between jobs, the first of which is producing digital art items such as coloring book packs, which I plan to roll out more of soon!  I have also been researching how to sell my old work as stock illustration.  The article on revenue streams over at Muddy Colors reminded me of a lot of old plans I never did put in motion.  Time to step up and get things moving again!

With everything buzzing around in my head right now, it’s so easy to feel paralyzed by ALL THE THINGS that need doing!  I find that is where lists help to quantify my goals and make them more achievable.  So here goes!:

TO-DO

– Revise my current portfolio pieces that are salvageable for submission to Fantasy Flight Games, Paizo Publishing, etc. (Kushiel’s Dart, Lotus Dancer, and Dreaming Butterfly).

– Create new work branded for the IPs I want to work with. (Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, Tor, etc.)

– Catch up in Painting Drama. Even getting halfway through this course improved my work so dramatically!
– Create more traditional pieces in my Art Nouveau style, as they seem popular with collectors and I quite enjoy doing them.
– Submit old work to istock.  Might as well extend the value of these paintings!
– Sell off the massive glut of sketches and originals sitting around here doing nothing.  Saying goodbye to my old work is also quite cathartic!
– Get new 2D art commission samples made. The previous ones are years old by now!
– Start approaching small publishers and work my way up. 1000 no’s may equal one yes!
And so it is that I continue towards my Mountain, now armed with the proper gear and a glint in my eye.  No trolley for me, baby. I’m hiking that mother!

Convention Report – IlluXCon VI

I’m finally recovered from the successive conventions of DragonCon and IlluXCon and boy can I just say what an amazing experience IlluXCon was!  I’ve come back feeling so very inspired and motivated.  There’s a lot I want to say about it, so hang on to your butts for a long post!

Why Attend?

First thing to know about my experience is that I battled with myself in regards to whether IlluXCon was was worth the money we paid to attend.  We saved roughly $1300 to cover hotel, room, food, badge, and board, which can be really painful for those of us on shoestring budgets.  All in all, I will say yes, this was very worth the money, but not because I made money at the show.  In fact, I sold one $20 print the entire Showcase, but that is not where this show’s worth lies.

Instead, I had so many passionate and livening conversations with so many artists, from world-famous artists to up and coming artists like myself.  I learned so much from simply having great conversations with people and receiving good advice which is worth its weight in gold from pros who are further along in their careers.  To say nothing of the barrage of helpful info packed panels on every aspect of art!

The passion you absorb just from being around so many other artists is also a priceless experience.  I have returned hyped and revived after being around such a great crowd of kindred spirits!  It is just the medicine the doctor ordered for the feelings of burnout and exhaustion that have plagued me.

Best Moments

– Sitting down for lunch only to realize John Jude Palencar was right across from me.  He pointed to me and went “Hey that’s my book in your hand!”

– Talking with so many great artists who gave me specific advice about my work.  The list of folks I got to chat up includes Noah Bradley, Donato Giancola, Dan Dos Santos, Winona Nelson, E.M Gist, and Michael C. Hayes.  Mike was especially detailed in that he made sure to let me know what I’m doing right, which is sometimes easy to ignore!  That was a great lesson in and of itself.

–  Nearly EVERY single artist in attendance, including world-famous ones and AD’s, all jammed into the hotel’s lobby being yelled at to stop drinking by midnight lest the bartender lose his license.

–  My first ever in-person interview with an Art Director, particularly Jon Schindehette.  He gave me encouraging and prudent feedback as well as answered some pointed questions, specifically the following:

The Question:  How often should an artist send an AD new work?
The Answer: As often as they have something that pushes their work to the next level.

– Meeting familiar faces I’ve only known through the net! Like Cris aka. Quickreaver.

– Realizing my Showcase table was beside one of the most talented book cover artists for Mercedes Lackey series, Jody Lee!

– Having a passionate conversation about comic books, creativity, and unique creators, such as David Mack, Neil Gaiman, and Drew Hayes with Bill Baker.  It’s not often that a person I meet knows all three of these creators who are a triad of inspiration for me.

The Showcase

Speaking of the Showcase, I learned a lot from selling there which I will carry over into next year, should I choose to sell there again.  The Showcase happened on the weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), where art collectors were invited to attend the show and meet artists face to face.  I noticed as soon as I told people my work was digital that they almost immediately lost interest.  It seems there still is a general lack of respect for digital as being an investment as a collectible piece.  My digital Art Nouveau piece, Lady of December, still caught a lot of interest, but no buyers.

This has led me to the decision that if I am to show my work there or in galleries that I will need to bring some traditional pieces along as well.  I don’t mind doing this, however, because it’s just easier for me to do intensive line work in my Nouveau inspired style by hand anyways.  So keep an eye out for more ink and watercolor Nouveau pieces from me!  I’m looking forward to scratching that Traditional media itch that’s been nagging me after all these months of doing digital work.

Something else happened that I did not expect at the Showcase that is worth mentioning is that I did not expect to be handed portfolios by other up and coming artists. I spent 80% of my time chatting up younger artists about their work.  I’ve always felt that I’m the ‘eternally breaking in to the industry’ person.  Having someone trust me enough to request feedback on their work was so unexpected!  I got to encourage and inspire them in person and that just filled me with joy!  Inspiring you guys inspires me, and it always has, point of fact.  Part of the reason I keep this journal!  (I know I occasionally do crit here, but it’s so different doing it in real life.)

Personal Revelations

The Number One thing I learned there is that the art industry is full of people who are passionate about what they do.  World famous and novice alike are made equal by this passion.  The first day I arrived and went through the Main Showcase, I literally crawled out of the room dragging my jaw along with me feeling feeble and unworthy as an artist.  However, as the week progressed and I got to talk to more and more with other artists who offered encouragement and critique, I realized something.

I AM ready for this career path.  My work IS good enough.  I only need a bit of love and polish before I’m ready to start pitching myself as a hireable artist.  I am one step away from my goals.  That one step has always felt like a canyon I could never cross.  Every artist I spoke to in review said practically the same thing, nearly word for word each time (“Work on lighting, polish anatomy a bit, and you’re there!”).

Sometimes we’re so hard on ourselves that we curl up in a ball and don’t take chances.  I haven’t sent my work to AD’s in over a year because I simply wasn’t up to par. My portfolio was too full of life drawing and student work or pieces that I just wasn’t excited about.  Sometime in this past year I have transformed, but I was too caught up in my own feelings of slowness, anxiety, and self-loathing to really notice it and PUSH my work where it needed to be pushed so that I could improve.

Having other artists I respect reinforce a properly centered view of my art has been so very cathartic.  Even better, I am now informed with the knowledge of which companies are hiring, how much they pay, and who I should talk to in order to be hired.  This is knowledge that you can get via the internet, but which comes so much quicker having a good conversation with another artist.  As one artist put it to me, this is the ‘family reunion’ for illustrators where they all get to catch up and see how everyone is doing in a business and non-business sense.

As Lauren Panepinto said in her recent Muddy Colors post on physical vs virtual networking, “One hour of physical networking is worth 100 hours of virtual networking.”  That is incredible advice and one of the best lessons I’ve taken away from attending IlluXCon.

To be sure, I’m going to do everything I can to be able to attend next year and maybe to add Spectrum to my list.  Here’s hoping!

PS.
I have an album of public IlluXCon images on FB if you want to get a glimpse of the con. Check it out here!