Category: confessions of an artist

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.

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.

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.

CofaA: Fear & Your Own Self-Worth

It’s a cold fear that sinks into the pit of your stomach.  You’ve just gotten a request for a commission you’ve been hoping will come for a long time. You know the one. The job that’s not a $10 portrait, but a job that is remotely in the price range the GAG guide says you should be charging.  You calmly send your reply and state your price and hope that you aren’t scaring away your potential client with a garishly high price that is sure to convince them never to work with you again.  You’re a dime a dozen. Any artist can do your job!  So you quote your price lower before you even begin just so they realize what a deal they’re getting and stick with you.

And therein lies the fallacy of it all.

Talking SRS BIZNESS today.

I’ve been dealing with this fear and second-guessing of myself for a long time since I decided to get a little more serious about my commission rates some years ago. Gone are the days of charging $10 commissions on DeviantART just to make a little extra pocket change to attend my favorite con.  Commissions, for me, have become a matter of paying bills.  I can no longer afford my previous low rate when I have to be the responsible adult and pay my own loan bills, credit cards, etc.  When one needs to make a living instead of pocket change, those prices aren’t just low, they’re simply impossible! (Unless you have a day job to fall back on, that is)  By my math, I need to be making $40 an hour to even afford a decent living as a self-employed artist paying for my own benefits.  You can guess how many times that’s happened…and it’s not even because people aren’t willing to pay, though that is a part of it.

I fear those days of accepting less before I was truly ready to be paid for my work ruined me.  I became too accepting of being paid too little. I HAD to be cheap to be competitive. (Big Mistake Number One)  Years of doing this has  resulted in my present self being literally scared I’m charging too much for my work.  I get a lump of fear in my throat when I quote someone, fearing that the price will be too high and they’ll say no. I have to willfully repeat to myself “Another job will come along. Do not panic.”  I have to trick myself into thinking that YES. I am worth it!  YES there ARE people out there who are willing to pay what I quote them.  It’s embarrassing to admit this as a professional, but it’s something I’ve been willfully trying to change in myself for the past few years.  Since I’ve adopted this attitude, I have realized this isn’t just a half-truth I’m tricking myself into.  The people who connect with my work have found me and hired me and I’m working on making that a more regular occurrence!

One strategy that has helped me mitigate these fears with my clients has been to quote them the average price range for their job as provided in the GAG guide.  This helps the client, who is usually ignorant of such industry standard rates, to know what they should be paying an artist.  It also helps me feel justified in my asking price.  Most clients don’t want to willfully underpay anyone.  They generally understand that times are difficult for all right now and are willing to negotiate a middle ground for a price that makes everyone happy.  If the job falls through, than at least they’re now educated in what most professionals will ask for as a rate and have more respect for your work being perceived as expensive, and therefore more professional than someone else charging pennies for what is generally going to be lesser quality work.  Your rates can and will determine your perceived value as an artist and balancing that notion with your own honest impression of your skills is a balancing act one has to learn when becoming a professional.

Then there is the matter of other artists who have the same fears I do, who go about charging less for their work when they should be charging more.  It’s a free country, so you can do this, right?  Technically, yes, but just remember that when you as an artist charge less than you’re worth, you cast the false impression to your customers (and anyone they might refer to you) that the perceived value of art, as a whole, is less than what it should be.  Lowballing prices cheapens the worth of art as an industry and makes it that much more difficult for all artists to ask a fair price.  It’s an epidemic of fear and low self-worth we live in as artists and we need to face this as a community by encouraging and educating one another.

Remember, we are worth it.  Every artist is unique with their own expression, experience, and execution that forge their professional identity.  Earning pocket change is fine, but remember to raise your prices and be fearless doing so once your work improves.  Remember also that it is easier to lower prices than it is to raise them.

Better yet, save accepting commissions for when your skills are more developed so that you can be serious about your asking price from the get-go and avoid falling into the pitfalls that can come about from charging too cheaply.  Spend the time you would be working on pocket change commissions on developing a portfolio instead, which will help you to get a better paying job in the long run.

This is the advice I wish someone had given me years ago when I first got the notion in my head that I’d like to make a living drawing pretty pictures and now I’m giving it to you.

This will be my last post for a while with DragonCon and commissions sucking up all my time and what a doozy it was!  I’d like to know if others share my fears?  How have you dealt with them?  Discuss in comments!

Escaping the Void: Loneliness and the Artist

This particular topic has been nagging at me for the longest time.  I’ve talked about Work at Home Blues when I first started the freelancing life.  Now, a few years into this, I’m realizing some important things via introspection and talking to others in the same business.  Prolonged time alone is not conducive to creativity.

For as much as I thought at the beginning ‘hey it would be cool to be left alone to work on all these projects’, that just has simply not been the case.  I’ve had enough time to sit and think about what really drove my creativity when I was younger and that was being in the presence of like-minded people (artists and otherwise) during my college years.  We did plein air painting in class, where we would sit outside and reproduce a drainage ditch in watercolor.  Painting outdoors got us out of the monotonous classroom and forced us to think about the colors of the world and how they related to the colors on our palette.  The art students and crazy anime club people had a lunch table where we’d all gather, chat, and draw en masse every single day.  Talking to other artists got us excited about our ideas, and oh the jokes that pervaded those sacred lunchtime hours!

But college days are done and after those golden years of childhood come to a close, we are left to our own terrible devices.  There is no teacher over our shoulder saying ‘today you will continue to study and improve your work!’.  There’s no one to drag you outside and make you observe your own world and how it can improve your art.  It’s so tempting to stay inside and avoid going out because you’re going to ‘get more work done’ or ‘gas costs money’.  I find myself making those excuses on a daily basis and it’s led to a lack of motivation and inspiration more than once.

I feel the most inspired when I have experiences in my life driving me onward. This could be as basic as going to the park or Callaway Gardens to marvel at the simple beauty of nature (♥ the Butterfly House).  Or it can be as complicated as animators taking a trip to the Great Wall of China to make sure their project has the authentic feel of ancient Asia in their work (a la the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, whose concept art book I’ve been reading lately).  Creativity evolves from energy, experience, and making the unseen connections.

So how do we combat loneliness?  Get our hermit butts out of the house!  Go to sketch meets. Don’t have one in town?  Start one!  Facebook and Meetup are great tools for that.  If you’re low on funds, try your local park where it’s generally free to go look at some ducks.  There’s also the library where you can read books for free and study quietly (surprising how often we forget libraries exist!).  Join your local art society, which serves the purpose of getting your pale self out of the house and networking with a more knowledgeable crowd (this can also lead to marketing opportunities, too!).

On the note of joining art societies, I have had my own strategies of avoidance, like thinking that nobody will like me because I’m very much in the fantasy arena while most societies around here specialize in fine art landscapes and folk art.  I feel like I won’t fit in, but in my experience so far, people are there because they simply love creating art!  You are there to share the love.  Most societies will just be happy to have new members to carry on their legacy, as well.

Monotony is a killer of the human spirit. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap! Remember that solitary confinement is considered a form of punishment for a reason.

(Know of any places artists can find local meetups and sketch jams? Share in comments!  I’d love to know if there are any in the Newnan, Fayetteville, and Peachtree City, GA area, myself!)

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!

Confessions of an Artist: Switching Career Focus?

So back to a serious topic I broached somewhat when I was talking about what is working for me and what’s not.

I’ve been weighing my potential career through a clouded looking glass lately.  I’m turning the big 3-0 this year and this fact has me particularly introspective about my path in life.

I could continue going down my current path of the feminine high fantasy and really try to tailor myself to everything that the licensing business wants (colorful, steampunk, unicorns, fairies, holidays, angels etc.)  All lovely in its own right, but I just can’t seem to get motivated for anything lately.  I find myself asking too many questions:

“Is this what I want to be known for?”  

“Is it too late to change what I’m doing now if I want to do something different?”


“Is my current path what I’m passionate about?”

More and more, the answers to all three questions respectively are No, Yes, and NO.  This indecision has led to more than a bit of art block for me lately (probably why my crafting has gone WAY up and new 2D art has gone WAY down.)

If you would have asked me what kind of artist I wanted to be when I was in high school, I would have told you I want to be the person who illustrated RPG books, a video game artist, and also write and illustrate my own story books.  One by one, I convinced myself I could never make a living doing any of these things, an attitude aided by the discouragement of family members and teachers who claimed ‘illustration’ was a dirty word.

More practically, I didn’t want to move from my current location to follow the job opportunities that might’ve sprung up from these industries.  On average, if you want the well paying jobs in the industry, you have to be willing to move to snag those jobs and I was just not ready yet to detach from my family out of high school.  Sure there is freelance, but for team oriented jobs, you are generally expected to relocate.

Nowadays, I’m haunted by the constant probing of doubt in the back of my mind. I am overwhelmed by choice every time I sit down to draw to the point the pencil feels so heavy, I can’t decide what to do.  I’ve decided it’s high time to empty my head. That old bugaboo, Money, will come through side jobs or temp work. If I’m bored at my current job, I may as well be bored at a better paying job and not force the art out.  I don’t expect to be inspired every minute I work at my job, but I would at least like a greater majority of inspiration as opposed to being absolutely bored, to at least feel satisfied with the proportion of inspiration and effort that goes into my work and the payoff that equals in satisfaction with money, life, and otherwise.

What’s important to me now is to follow my passion.  More and more I realize that my passion is leading me back to the original impossibilities – concept art, writing, and other such unfamiliar territory.

I can’t help but feel this is a step backwards. I have a book out already focusing on high fantasy illustration of a feminine nature. Does this mean I can’t change?  I have an established body of work completely different from what I originally wanted to do, in subject matter and even in choices of media (I am a traditional media artist venturing into a digitally dominated field. HALP!).  Does this mean I won’t be able to sell those older products anymore?  I am at level zero again realizing that if I want to switch focus to something like concept art, I will need to completely overhaul my body of work and my public identity.

I need to be at least as good as the people already working for the companies I’d like to work for.  I need to step up my game, get back to basics, and for the love of Prismacolor, I need to learn how to draw digitally!

With all this change in the wind, I have no doubt I’ll still be making art, even if it’s a bit different from what I’ve been doing before.  I hope you all will bare with me, all the same!  I have some wonderful art buddies who have been mentoring me during this transition and even the wonderful Hayley on board for a collaborative design project.  There’s hope, if I can just carve out the hours of the night enough to pull together a portfolio by Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, where it is my intention to tout my wares at portfolio reviews as a Concept Artist for the first time!

Today, I’m feeling old, tired, scared, and more overwhelmed than ever before.  So it’s back to square one, remembering my passions and moving forward, unstoppable. I’ll find where I fit in this big puzzle of life!

(Hopefully by the time I’m 40)

Confessions of an Artist: Touching Down to Earth

I started this blog 3 years ago in 2009 to document what I hoped to be a successful journey into publication, an art career, and to aid my fellow artist at the same time. After so long, I’ve finally sat down to re-assess where I am, how far I’ve come, and where I’m going as it pertains to my current career goals.

It’s important to stop sometimes and be honest with ourselves about what’s working and what’s not in business, because in the end a smart businessman needs to do this or you have no business at all if it’s not making any money. It is true that passion is key, but if you’ve made your passion your business, you still have to acknowledge these sorts of things or risk wasting a lot of time, money, and willpower by ignoring problems you could solve if you could just touch down to earth every once and a great while. So here goes…touching down with one finger!


What’s Not Working (Because I prefer to end this post with the good stuff)

The Amazon Webstore – A couple of years ago, I jumped headlong into the webstore solution because I really truly believed in Amazon as an effective marketplace for artists. I took a gamble and put up a good deal of my own money to buy UPC codes and pay the store’s monthly fees. It started out great at first. The shop was paying for itself and provided a great way for me to professionally present my products.

But upgrades do not always equal improvements and the system really went downhill for me after the first year. When year two rolled around, I only sold perhaps a total of 10 or less prints in an entire year? I don’t know what happened, but for something I was shelling out $60 a month for when all the fees piled on, I lost a lot of money. I canceled it last week even though the fact I’d put SO much initial cost and effort into the setup made me hesitant to do so. I’m only just now beginning to move my entire store offerings to Etsy and Artfire .

Sometimes we gamble in business and sometimes we roll Snake Eyes. (Expect the full story of how Webstore fails in a future blog entry).

Conventions (Both Attending and Mailing In) – I attended or mailed in to at least 20 conventions in the past couple of years, but honestly?  My average profit margin after expenses was about $20 aka. a complete waste of time.  The only convention I’ve ever done consistently well at has been DragonCon. I won’t be doing cons anymore, minus the few I know have worked for me in the past.  If I do attend, it will probably be as a con-goer/art agent and not a vendor.

I am moving on instead to targeting art fairs where I can sell my crafts or book fairs where I can sell my books.  The only conventions I plan to attend from here on out are ones that line up with my career focus (ie. Illuxcon, Spectrum Fantastic Live Art, etc). I feel they will be more worth my time and help me focus on building my career rather than pandering prints at places that just aren’t working out.

Prints – Speaking of prints, they just don’t sell for me. You would think they’d be the staple of an artist’s income, but they are not (at least not me). People’s walls are full?  Perhaps I just need better art?  Or lower prices?  Perhaps Webstore sucked my print sales into the void along with Jimmy Hoffa?

Whatever the cause, other things (craft items, post cards, etc) are selling far better in recent times.  I’ll probably still have prints for sale up at my Etsy and by request, but they’re not on the top of my list of things to put in my shop anymore.

Illustration as a Career – I have tried and tried to find art reps, have sent out to all the major Fantasy/Scifi publishers who accept art submissions, have sent inquiries to licensing reps…but have met rejection or silence or automated emails each time.  This is not whining, but merely a statement of results. I know full well what I would need to do to improve to meet the demand (ArtOrder is especially helpful for educating artists in this respect), but I find I just don’t have the motivation anymore.

Frankly, I have found myself terribly bored with illustration after these couple of years. I just don’t think I have what it takes to be successful in this route because I find the current trends that are selling terribly boring. The best among us can find a way to add their own unique flair to the trends, but I just can’t seem to get myself motivated.

You have to be willing to combine the passion for the arting with the passion for what sells and I have found that even though I have a list three miles long of ideas I could try to license, I am not excited by them nor am I motivated to resubmit to the selfsame companies I submitted to before with the current work I have. I want to be challenged, I want narrative, I want engagement, and most of all I need to improve as an artist to get where I want to be.

And that is why I’m considering a change of career focus from illustration to concept art.  Funny enough, close friends who have known me for years are confused as to why I haven’t done this the first time round.  Looking back on my most successful works, they are the ones that are character-driven or involve character design in some fashion.  I’ve collected concept art books for years. I’ve always found the most fascinating part of movies and video games to be the art books and concept art development diaries. I have my reasons for having not ventured into concept art from the outset, but that’s a whole other blog entry altogether!

Money – In the end, it all boils down to the fact I am not making near enough money to support even a small apartment. The job hunting has begun and so has a push to focus on freelance means of income in the meantime (commissions, crafting, and content editing, anyone?).

What IS Working (Just when you thought the ‘not working’ section would never end)
Being PublishedAngelic Visions has been a great source of pride for me, even though I never would have thought an art book would be the first thing I was to write (I had planned to pen my own fantasy novel in the wee hours of the night first).  My royalties from this book have been sobering, as it’s only just made back my author advance, but more sobering is the statistic that an author needs an average of at least 20 books to survive off royalty checks alone. This book is not going to make me rich and famous, but it’s an accomplishment that makes me feel I am capable of so much more if I set my mind to it!
Etsy – Thanks to Etsy’s Shop Stats dashboard, I’ve been monitoring marked improvement in sales from a meager 5 orders in 2009 to 30 so far this year. And that has been without promoting Etsy that much. Now that it’s my only shop front after Webstore’s recent demise, I expect orders to go up exponentially. I’m focusing on revamping my shop now and plan to build a wholesale orders website to match it soon, as that could be a nice consistent chunk of income, if I play my cards right. Go figure that Etsy also gets 4 times as many pageviews as my website or Webstore ever did.
Networking – The one good residual of conventions has been that I have been able to meet and connect with so many wonderful and inspiring artists! Mack and Linsner probably think I’m a stalker by now, but it’s been great to meet them and find them a familiar face in this or that event. Meeting other artists keeps me sober to the fact I’m not alone in this ‘fool’s errand’ people call art and drives me to improve and succeed. I’ve learned so much from meeting others, both about technique, running an art business, and keeping motivated.
Crafting – I turned to leather and jewelry crafting as a means to de-stress from the burnout I was feeling.  While my art and prints sat there gathering dust not selling, these craft items began to sell consistently. (A good thing, too, or I’d be buried in butterfly keychains and masks!).  I’ve had multiple boutiques come to me asking to consign or for wholesale rates and, best of all, it is something I can do without being sickeningly bored! The slice of the swivel blade and the tedious painting of insect markings is a meditative exercise for me.
Funny how we stumble unexpectedly on passions.  My dad was a leathercrafter in his younger days and I suspect I absorbed some of that passion somehow.  I don’t plan on making crafting my long term career, but as long as it’s bringing in some income, it’ll help me out while I’m seeking out that paycheck work to make ends meet.
In Summary – Skimming out what’s not working, focusing on what is. Hoping my experiences help anyone else out there who might be considering a similar path.  Good luck to us both in this roller coaster called being a ‘creative professional’!