Category: career

Thinking Long Term

It’s been a minute here since I’ve really sat down to post in this journal since I moved into my new digs (other than the short jaunt through the studio). I’ve been slowly, but surely settling into the new space and entering a brand new phase of my life and art.  A whole new balancing act has begun and the time was needed to sit back and consider this without spreading my energies too thin across the net.  I’ve fizzled out of conventions this year for the same reason.  I needed time to sit back and gaze upon my work with a long lens without the obsessive selling haze of conventions and have decided I’d rather be concentrating on producing new and improved work, instead.

Another big change for me is the fact that I am living with a wonderful, loving partner who has willingly agreed to take on the bulk of our financial burden so that I can concentrate solely on my art career.  It’s a definite switch from my previous situation, which involved barely combating my student debt with part-time work, leathercrafting, and getting by with what little commissions, royalties, and art sales I could make.  Some might find this surprising, but even though I’ve been doing this for a few years, I still consider myself more towards the beginning than the end of this endless journey to becoming a professional artist (or, to define this term more accurately ‘professional artist’ being an artist who makes the majority of their living off of their art).

The prestigious and encouraging Echo Chernik, whom I met at DragonCon last year, gave me the advice that it takes at least 10 years to establish yourself as an artist.  By that measure, I am only 4 years into this and only ‘middle-aged’ in my career!  If so, the last couple of years were my ‘mid-life crisis’.  I’ve been struggling, mentally and physically, with this career path and if it really was worth the heartache it caused me with my debt, neck/shoulder issues, and the feelings of failure that come with not being where I wanted to be.  Your words really hit home for me Echo!  I had to stop holding myself to the standard that I was a ‘failure’ at being an artist because I haven’t reached my predefined level of success in a mere 3 years.

I’m sure some people are wondering “Well you have someone supporting you now. What are you worried about?  Kick back and relax!”  As a proud, independent, and highly stubborn woman, it’s hard for me to admit that I have to rely on anyone else to help carry me in any sort of fashion at all.  A whole slew of guilt can result from this arrangement with one’s partner, including, but not limited to:

– You comparing yourself to your partner’s profession (and therefore measuring which one is more important or worthwhile)
–  You feeling guilty that they’re murdering themselves at work while you have ‘the easy route’ because you enjoy your job. (Thankfully, my spouse very much enjoys his work, which makes this worry easier to handle!)
 – And finally the kicker for any modern woman, the fear that you’re reverting to old stereotypes where you are the content wifey who stays at home and cooks the meals and does her cute little art thing on the side (aka. art is not a serious job that will make any sort of serious money and therefore, again, not considered a serious persuit).

But if there’s anything that I’ve learned about art, life, and love, it is a balancing act.  Before my boyfriend and I could come to this decision as partners, I had to examine my direction first, ask myself the tough questions.  Is pursuing art as a career worth the struggles we’ll have along the way?  Can it really equal any sort of serious money, in the long term?

In the end, my answer was ‘yes’.  If talking to other professionals who have ‘made it’ has taught me anything, it is that an art career can be both fulfilling and lucrative, but it hardly ever just falls in your lap!  One of the most important revelations I’ve had in the past year or so is that I needed to seriously sit and consider What am I passionate about painting and where does it line up with paying industries?  A lot of people fall short doing this (to which I highly recommend every single one of you read Jon’s portfolio-building series over at The ArtOrder RIGHT THIS MINUTE).  Then, you are in danger of stumbling into the trap of Oh I’ll just draw pretty things and someone will find me.

This is dangerous trap because it often leads to disappointment and I will tell you right now it can equal a lot of wasted years of meandering boredom with what you’re doing or opening up your portfolio one day and realizing you don’t have a single consistent example of the Cool Stuff you want to actually draw and get paid for. (This has recently happened to me. A client asked me for samples of a book cover and I had only…two viable examples. Ugh!)

I am realizing that every job and every opportunity that will come in my career is a victory not just for myself, but my partner as well. He believes in what I’m doing and knows that it is not a fancy or a phase, despite the fact many people around us are prone to think of it as such.  Most of all, he respects it as a job which requires the same amount of dedication, if not more, as driving somewhere and working for a paycheck.  These factors of understanding and respect were essential for us to agree upon before we could ever settle with our current arrangement.  I share these feelings here as a matter of posterity for those who might be dealing with the same conundrum of a work-at-home partner and any of the guilt that might be involved.  It takes balance and respect without judgement of yourself or your partner from either side.  It takes clear communication of what you both expect to achieve together.  Most of all, I know that if this wasn’t our arrangement, I would still be pursuing the same goal.  My path being made easier isn’t an excuse or a reason for success.  You gotta want it first, else you risk not just your own success, but a loved one’s as well!

For now, I’m quietly phasing out the distractions from my career goals and working towards building my portfolio as a book cover illustrator (which branches out into all sorts of fun things, like CCG art and RPG art).  I have one simple goal for this year besides that, which is to attend Illuxcon and get my name out there to a few targeted companies.  I’m keeping it simple, maintaining my balance, and already I am feeling so much better for it!

I hope to bring you some actual ART to this art blog the next time around.  Till then, congratulations for reading through my entire wall of text!

Artists and Health Issues

There has been a disturbing pattern emerging the longer I work a creative job, one I’m especially beginning to appreciate now that I’m in my second week of physical therapy for ‘repetitive shoulder stress’ and an ‘unstable shoulder joint’.  This occurrence after a year of ignoring shoulder aches and soreness was quite the wake up call for me.  The ability to use my arm is my livelihood and being incapacitated in any major fashion could be disastrous!  Luckily, my issue is only a moderate one which physical therapy is helping, but there is a bigger picture at work here.

Thinking back on things, I have gained about 15 pounds since I started working long hours at the computer and art desk.  I’ve had stretches of mental and physical fatigue caused by overworking, tight deadlines, and just being downright lonely.  Sometimes I’m so passionate and excited about my job, I just keep working and working without taking any breaks. Other times, I just can’t get motivated. There is no inspiration, and worse, I start to lose hope that this job is not worth the mental and physical pain it causes me.

I can’t help but feel much of the downturn in my overall health has come from a decrease in physical activity and social interaction.  I feel loads better this year now that I have made a concerted effort to change a few bad habits.  These are some of the things I’ve done that have helped to improve my health lately:

– Taking regular breaks. It’s so incredibly easy to just keep working and working in a job that you are so passionate about!  I learned the hard way if you don’t get up at least once an hour from the computer or art desk, you’re really doing damage to your neck, back, and shoulders.  Nowadays, I have to get up or damage my joint more.  I take a moment each hour to go and talk to whoever might be home, take a small walk around the yard, or to do a few Yoga stretches.  I find the Tree the Warrior, and the Cobra poses to be particularly helpful for my sore back and neck pains (and are pretty easy to do).

– Taking regular walks.  I don’t have a lot of time to run to the gym, so mainly I just take 30 minutes out of the morning and evening to go on walks.  There’s a gorgeous country road right near our house which I can walk on for this amount of time and never hit the end.  A plus side is the healthy population of hawks, squirrels, blue birds, owls, and wildlife that dart around me while I walk. It’s soothing for me to get away from the technology and meditate while I walk to the sound of nature.

– Visiting a gallery and being social.  Internet friends keep me sane, but getting out of the house once a week to visit the local gallery helps me to meet other real living, breathing people who I can talk to, who are generally just as interested in art as I am.  After long hours working alone, it sometimes feels like my life is passing me by while I’m toiling away trying to make a living at an unappreciated, underpaid job.  A coating of stoic disapproval starts to settle on me and I have to shake it off by getting OUT, or risk getting really demotivated for my work.  I’ve started attending local art organization meetings recently as well, which has been great for meeting other artists trying to make a business out of their artistic identity (we are not alone in our insanity!).

It’s also been nice gathering a group of friends on Skype once a month for a ‘drink and draw’ event.  There’s just something nice about being able to listen to people I don’t see often and draw random stuff.  Using Skype also leaves your hands free so you can talk instead of type to chat!  Great for actually getting art done at the same time.  This has been especially nice when I can’t afford to go to the local drink and draw because it takes gas and parking fees and, you know, finding a way to drive back later once I’ve sobered up.  Drinking in the comfort of one’s own home is (theoretically) safer.

– Working in a studio vs. working at home. Today was the first day of working at a small rental studio instead of at our house and I can already feel the productivity juices flowing! (Pics and video to come soon!)  The space is a modest $200 a month ($100 since I’m sharing with my mom).  Being there instead of at home has allowed me to focus solely on creative thought and the projects I have to work on, whereas at home, I am always compelled to clean the house (considering my workspace is my bedroom and office AND studio, it’s very easy to fall into chaos).  I also get distracted by what other family members are doing, or am around negative influences that don’t provide the encouraging and positive attitude I need to maintain my level of productivity.

Another perk of the studio is that I can talk to the other artists there and not feel like a hermit.  I can also talk to any customers that wander in and peddle my wares directly, which helps to put a face on my work, and theoretically encourages them to buy.  I plan to add classes at the gallery to my repertoire of skills and activities as well, which will give me valuable practice at conveying ideas to others.

So I hope that this has been helpful to anyone who might be reading this and has found that the work-at-home freelancing artist is not near as glamorous as you expected it to be.  Good luck to you, and remember to take regular breaks!  I wonder what kind of health issues related to your creative work you all have dealt with and how you have dealt with them?  Please share in comments!

The Importance of Self-Critique

This new year has me feeling very introspective of late.  There are 11 more months ahead of us and I have been thinking how I really want to make this year count towards making an improvement in my life and my art.  I’ve already mentioned a possible career shift, and this has moved me into vastly unfamiliar territory where I can no longer just ‘get by’ doing what I’m doing at my current skill level.  A veil of soft, plushy dream blanket has been torn away to reveal the cold, hard facts I need to realize about myself and my work.

If I want to compete in a competitive business like concept art/licensing/whatever art job I might want in the future, I’m going to have to be able to compete with people who are already in the business.  I’m going to have to sit and take a look at my own work and honestly ask myself the question “Are you as good as them?”.  I’m going to have to be the one to face up to the weaknesses in my work and make myself do what it takes to improve.  I am no longer a child nor am I a student in a classroom.  I am an adult, an independent, self-employed artist and nobody else in the world is going to make me sit and study and do the work it takes to improve except little ‘ol me.

It’s so easy to get trapped in what’s comfortable. So easy to say “yeah I’m just not good at that”.  But that is not how an artist becomes better (and it’s not how you get an art job either).  There are too many people out there who have great skill and passion.  If you have even less passion, what makes you think you’ll be picked over that passionate person?   Maybe you will, but I prefer to hedge my bets with a little more than a ‘maybe’.

These thoughts have equaled a downturn in productivity for more than a few months now, but I feel like I’m finally finding my balance again.  I’ve started doing a few studies a night now or taking time to just sit and collect inspirational references and think about what they can teach me about my work.  While the studies I’m doing right now aren’t masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, they’re helping to build the visual vocabulary I have been lacking for whatever reason.  I’m also finding the lack of a particular strength is no longer my focus (and downfall), but rather filling that lack.  It took a lot of brow beating to get to this point, but obsessing over what exactly was lacking for too long put me in a downturn that I almost couldn’t dig out of.  It’s time to fess up.  Time to put my kicking boots on!

And on that note, I did a MEME.  I’m considering this my visual ‘strategic plan’ for what exact actions I want to take to become a better artist this year.  I may not get it all done this year, but at least I’m finally starting the process, and that is sometimes the most difficult part of improving!

(Click to Enlarge)

If you’d like to take the Artist’s Oath to Improve with me, you can download the blank template here!
I hope my triumphs and failures help somebody out there.  I hope I have the energy to keep going!
But I know it’s all going to pay off if I can keep this ball rolling.
To our success!