Category: freelance lifestyle

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.

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.