Category: personal

I Wish I Had Known

A detail of Da Vinci’s contribution to
Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ

I’ve been in a rather introspective mood lately with the move coming up.  We’ll soon be in a new place with new opportunities and so much to explore!  I’m also turning 31 next month, which has led to the inevitable ‘feeling old’ mindset.

I can’t help but ponder on things that I wish I had done differently when I first started seriously thinking about being an artist.  I’ve spent a lot of time discovering things myself the hard way and if I can save anyone else the years of heartache that can be wasted in the limbo of the Unknown, than I consider this an accomplishment!

I wish there had been a person there to tell me these things and that is why I am going to tell them to you now.  Disclaimer: These are all from my personal experience so I’m sure not everyone will agree.

I wish I had known…

 

…that I didn’t need to go to college to be a successful artist.

Not to say that you cannot learn much in college. I had wonderful teachers who taught me the fundamentals of life drawing, composition, etc.  I expanded my horizons and knowledge base in areas outside of art.  I made some friends that are friends for life.  I experienced the independence of being self-moderated, which is valuable for any person growing up.

But if I could go back now and do it all over again? I would either attend a program in an atelier or I would skip college all together and attend specialized workshops at The Art Department, Illustration Master Class, etc.  These classes offer the kind of specialized training I would need to make a career, whereas college courses of the traditional focus tend to avoid the business side entirely.

In the end, college left me with student debt and degrees that look nice on paper.  Sad fact is most AD’s hiring right now aren’t going to care what degrees I have. Portfolio is King in the Land of Illustration.  Having a degree is a must if you want to teach, but if you don’t (which I currently do not have the desire to), then it is not very useful.  If you do attend college, check your curriculum carefully before you sign up!  Make sure they are teaching the kinds of courses you need to succeed as a business, not just in creating art.

…that there is more to the field of art than Fine Art Galleries.

This stems from the last bit of advice. I went to a very traditional college that focused on the creative side of art.  We learned how to draw ourselves as shapes and how to curate gallery shows, but we did not learn how to manage clients, file our taxes, or run an art business. Illustration was a dirty word. Getting paid to do art and make a living rather than do art purely for art’s sake?  That was ‘selling out’.  So many options were blacked out for me in college that I only discovered when I graduated and started talking to pros directly at conventions.

There are scenic artists and concept artists, matte painters and graphic designers, the list of creative professions goes on and on!  There are many ways to make money AND do art rather than accepting the so-called badge of ‘honor’ that is ‘the starving artist’ whose biggest ambition is to sell a piece for thousands at a gallery.

If you want to do this, go for it, but keep your options, and your mind, open.  Money does not equal selling out, it equals ‘paying the bills’.  If you think money is selling out, than do your research.  Da Vinci was painting the faces of cherubs as an apprentice before he moved on to doing portraits and commissioned pieces for the church, as was common for many of the great masters.  Living entirely off of art we do for fun is a quality of the lucky and the hard-working.  It can happen, but you have to work hard for it!  A little serendipity doesn’t hurt, either.

…that listening to negative people wastes time.

 When I first started to plan my future with the anxiety of that graduation ceremony hovering over my head, I was bombarded by voices telling me ‘you’ll never put bread on the table with art’. Growing up, I have discovered this to be true in some respects.  I am not making a living off my art alone yet, with my current work supplemented by a Day Job and online art business.  I spend a lot of time keeping my head above water right now and trying to get my work to a level which I can compete for better paying jobs.  Like any profession with a specialized skill, there is a lot of competition and you have to be willing to get your work to that polished level if you want to make it a living.

However, I have to wonder if I had spent more time on the things that called to me in life if I would have spent less time meandering about Majors in college trying to find a slot I could fit myself into?  “MAKE MONEY” they said, so I was a Business minor for awhile.  “HAVE A FALLBACK” they said, so I became an English and Studio Art double major.  I wasted so much time (and money) moving further from my goals because I let other negative people dissuade me from even investigating other options.

 If you don’t know what you want to do, don’t be afraid to ask professionals about their work!  Learning about what is expected of them can help you learn more about what your preferences might be as a professional (and save you on some college bills).  As for having a ‘fallback’? That is a personal choice everyone has to make.  A ‘fallback profession’ can be handy, but I found it ultimately to be a distraction that personally hasn’t done me much good.  Getting a part-time job, internship, or apprenticeship could be handy to help keep you afloat and to earn valuable job experience while you are pursuing art, if you don’t want to pursue dual professions.

Again, so many options were blocked for me from the start because I let other people dictate those choices.  Parents can be a particular block here.  My best advice for handling them is to try to educate them on the options that are out there.  Do your research!  There is more to the profession of Artist than the starving artist living out of a tiny apartment selling work on the sidewalk and living off hopes and dreams, which I fear is the most common mental image that people have.  Talk to people working in the business right now. Ignore the people who say ‘don’t do it’ when they are not informed enough about the industry to give you such advice.

Surround yourself with positive and inspiring people because they are the key to maintaining focus and inspiration! Find sketch groups, art societies, and other people on your wavelength to counterbalance the negativity. Negative people only waste your time and break your focus.

As for me? For as much as I wish I could have done differently, I’m thankful for the skills I’ve learned and the people I’ve met along the way.  I’ve not given up yet and I feel that this move is going to equal a bump in productivity and positivity for me.  I can’t wait to share the fruits of my new found focus.  They are germinating as we speak!

For now, wishing you all inspiration and hope!

Cons Complete! What Next?

Hello, all!  I’m back from another con and am happy to report it was my last con of the year.  Cons are great and I adore the chance to connect face to face with kindred spirits, but the lack of sleep, running around, and preparation can be draining.  I’m going to enjoy the chance to kick back and focus on creating rather than selling.  So what am I up to for the rest of the year? Read on and find out!

The Rising Stars Competition

First up on the list is the Rising Stars contest, which boasts some really great swag from Corel, the creators of Painter, as well as a chance to get your stuff seen by some big names in the industry.  There are categories for different types of artists, including one for Comic Art, Concept Art, Illustration, and more!  It’s free to enter, so GO ENTER all of you!  I don’t care if you don’t think you’re good enough. A contest with no entry fee, publicity, and a chance to win swag is an opportunity no one should miss!

We had to choose five images to represent ourselves, so here are the five I’m going with for the Illustration category:

Yup! All digital, minus the last one! Who would’ve thought years ago I would be a digital artist? I have to say I’m really enjoying it more than I expected I would!

Adobe Re-Education

No, I’m not talking about being imprisoned and fed only Adobe brand products till they are my master…that already happened last year.  Going digital has made me realize that it might be a smart thing to be more up to date with art tech, considering my Photoshop is over 10 years old.  I’ve bought a massive training book and am getting myself up to date on all things Adobe with the help of the Creative Cloud subscription!

This has the two-fold effect of giving me the power to realize my projects more efficiently (especially where I might need vector effects), as well as to be more knowledgeable for any design work I might pick up to help pay the bills, for it is an unfortunate fact one cannot make a living off of Elves alone (at least not yet!).  Expect a review of the Creative Cloud services once I spend a little more time with it.

Kushiel Concepts

The pages of my ebook copy of Kushiel’s Dart have been digitally earmarked and my drawing fingers are itching!  I’m ready to move forward with my Kushiel’s Legacy illustration exercise once I finally catch my breath from the Halloween mask rush over at my Etsy shop.  Stay tuned for sketches over at the Kushiel Concepts blog, if lavish masquerade, courtesans, and tattoos are your scene.

Moving!

On a more personal note, I’m finally moving in with my significant other towards the end of this year (January at the latest), meaning that I will finally have a dedicated work space.  Unfortunately, the little studio space I had previously been working in is going out of business, meaning I’m sleeping and working all in the same room again, which is a recipe for insanity.  The prospect of moving in with someone I think is the coolest man on the planet and having a dedicated room for a studio that is not my bedroom has me very excited, indeed!

So What’s Next?

Drawing, painting, and MOAR art!  I am dedicating myself to revamping this portfolio of mine by the time Illuxcon 2013 rolls around, where I fully intend to tout my shiny new improved art to AD’s and anyone with eyeballs.  It’s going to be a whole new beginning for me in the coming year and I cannot wait to get started!

So how bout yourselves? What are your plans for next year? Are you working on anything that you’re excited about? Share in comments!

Out With the Old, In With the New

Persephone. A new direction?

We’ve headed into the final round of my charity auction (for now), and I’ve got to say it’s been a roller coaster of emotion for me!  I’ve said goodbye to so many of my old pieces in the past couple of weeks, some of which sold for only a dollar.  I’ve made my peace with this, however, as I’d much rather see these pieces go to homes that will appreciate them, rather than sit in my basement gathering dust. GONE, they are, and now I feel a weight lifted knowing that this old work is not present for me to rely on anymore as the base of my body of work.

I feel like having my old work around encouraged me to be less productive. It’s easy to get comfortable when certain pieces have met with some success.  Now that they’re gone, I feel an even greater push to be productive to fill that hole in my closet. I’d ideally like to be able to produce at least one fully thought out and detailed piece a month, but it just hasn’t happened for me for one reason or another.

It’s funny to think that my work will be different now, if Persephone is a portent of things to come.  I’m afraid of not being able to present a cohesive body of work anymore since my old work still makes up the majority of the prints I sell.    As such, I’ve been slowly retiring older prints (many which I already have in the CLEARANCE section of my shop) and gradually re-branding myself with newer work more pertinent to the industries I’m aiming for.  There is such a massive undertaking of creating completely new bodies of work ahead of me!  I have to wonder if most artists go through this shedding of skin? This metamorphosis of imagery, style, and media?  Surely, I am not the only one who shifts their colors throughout their career?  I wonder if we just never see the older work of the pros we know, so we always assume they knew what they were doing from the get-go.

On that note, I’ve been thinking long and hard about just what industry it is I’d like to target right now, with the good advice from friends in said industries and art communities to guide my way.  The hard facts are that my work and fundamental skills need to be more polished to get into concept art, which is my ultimate goal.  Neither do I currently have the ability to relocate to the places where I’ll find those kinds of jobs with my significant other’s career in the mix as well.  His career takes priority right now because I am simply not ready to enter into the field I’d like to pursue, while he has advanced to the point in his field that he is ready to enter the next level.

This is one of the many challenges of having romantic relationships as an artist.  Moving can be difficult when you have to prioritize one person over the other to make sure your bills are paid, while you also have to be honest to yourself about what your potential is at the given time.  By the same token, we are so incredibly lucky to be able to advance together and provide constant support for one another.  While one person is building strength, another can man the wheel.

However, all is not lost, as there are other art fields which seem suiting for me.  Playing card art, book covers, and interior art for rpgs have caught my eye, since they all tie in to my favorite subject matter (fantasy, scifi, and character-driven works) and, for the most part, allow you to work remotely.  It’s a way to suit my needs and develop my skills while still being in an industry I can be passionate about!

I’m excited about this course correction of mine and have been brainstorming on a list of subjects I’d like to depict in a targeted portfolio for each.  I shall have to ramble on what I’m thinking of doing later, however, because this blog entry is already long enough!

Thanks to all of you who drop words of support here and in other online communities.  I feel like a flag in the wind sometimes with no control over where life is taking me.  Words of encouragement can mean so much to build the kind of positive attitude I need to reach my goals.  I started this blog to document a journey from amateur to professional and I feel like I’m finally on a course that’s not as unrealistic as it used to be.  I have goals, steps, and everything I need to get there. Now it is up to the art to pave the way!

Let the productivity begin!

Take 10 Interview with Jade Macalla

My Take 10 interview is up! Sit back and have a cup of joe with my pal Jade Macalla (of stock art fame) and I. Learn a terrible, horrible secret of mine, tips on how to manage your online identity, plus other bits and bobs! I talk a lot about what has inspired me over the years, where I’d like to go as an artist, and what my current action plan is.

Also, there is talk of sanka coffee, pie, and badassitude! It was a fun time catching up with an old friend, in addition to being an interview.

For more interviews with Creatives, keep tabs on Jade Macalla (http://jademacalla.deviantart.com/) and his Take10 web show.

Linkage to my interview – http://take10.visualfiction.net/2012/04/take104-angela-sasser-illustrator-and.html

Artists and Health Issues Part 2

I got some great feedback from folks on the last post concerning artists and health issues and thought I’d share some of the tips with everyone. I also forgot to mention a few other tactics that I’ll go ahead and share here:

 
Get a proper desk! –  I didn’t mention that half of what caused my neck and shoulder issues was working on a computer desk that was about 5 inches too low for me for a matter of years.   It was never meant as a computer desk and, as such, I was always hunching further over it in order to type.  My monitors were not eye level either, even though I had them propped up on books. Monitors should always be eye level or just below eye level so you are not looking down and constantly stressing your neck.  I’ve since gotten another desk, but damage had already been done.
 
As for art desks, try to get one that you can slant and adjust the height, which also helps you from hunching and looking downwards all the time.  Another tip if you have a desk you can’t adjust is to get a tabletop easel to stand your artwork on so it will be eye level, or at least not laying flat on your desk so you have to hunch and look down all the time.
 
Get a proper chair!  – Kind of goes with get a good desk!  A crappy chair at the art or computer desk can do just as much damage to your posture as sitting like a gargoyle can.  High stools are great if you like to paint on an easel and want to sit down instead of stand up.  Your back should be straight while your elbows at a 90 degree angle to your keyboard.  Personally, I am investing in one of these kneeling chairs for when I work at the computer because it looks so comfy and encourages you to sit up straight to maintain proper balance.  Best of all, it seems you can get them for fairly cheap!  There are all sorts of fancy chairs that adjust to the human form, but they’re almost all too expensive for my shoestring budget.
 
Go swimmin’! –  This was great advice from a commentor who is also a physician.  Swimming is low impact so there’s less chance of pulling a muscle or hurting your joints doing some crazy exercise you’re unfamiliar with. You don’t need to be doing olympic laps either, you can even have a flotation device like those found on sites like https://thefloatys.com, it doesn’t matter, you just need to move.  Plus, it’s fun!  I love to swim so I was glad to hear this advice.  I do so miss underwater tea parties from when I was little.  Time to bring them back!
 

Snack healthy – I forgot to mention this in the last entry, but some of my low energy came from just grabbing whatever was around when I felt like nibbling.  I’ve since replaced potato chips and chocolate with bananas and Greek yogurt. Both are extremely healthy for you, bananas providing tons of potassium and other vitamins and energy, while Greek yogurt has probiotic properties, the protein also filling you up longer than other snacks.

Nuts (like almonds and cashews) are also good to munch on and tide you over till the next meal time. I’m always snacking on these throughout the day to keep my energy levels up and it’s worked wonders for me. A girlfriend of mine once told me eating healthy is especially important for women’s health, im talking yeast, and when spends all day sitting, well, need I go on? There’s still the occasional chocolate, for what artist in her right mind would give chocolate up completely??  Plus, dark chocolate has antioxidants so I can make exceptions for it.

 
As for my own health status?  It’s the last week of physical therapy for me and I’m doing great!  I’ll have to keep up the exercises for my shoulders, neck, and back even after our last session this week, but that’s going to be good for me in the long run.  I have been using a lot of resistance bands for training and they provide simple low impact exercises I can do from the comfort of my own home.  Some of the stretches seem almost too simple, but the soreness is surprising!
 
I feel less like I’m going to end up like the humans did in Wall-E (ie. boneless blobs without social lives) since I started the physical therapy and started working from the studio as well.  I am doing great and I thank all of you for your well wishes and support!
 
Now, go forth and create! (And remember to take breaks!)

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!

Gaps of Knowledge

It’s been nothing but work-work-work for me these days while I focus on getting my Etsy shop set up as my main outlet. I seem to have taken an unannounced hiatus from conventions this year, with book signings, Faerie Escape, and DragonCon being the only things on the schedule thus far. It’s been a much needed step back to figure out where I want to go, how I want to survive in the meantime, and what exactly I need to learn to make myself more viable in my chosen field. While I’m pretty confident in my traditional media, I feel like I still have so much to learn as far as digital rendering goes.

Slowly but surely, I’m completing new digital pieces and learning so much with each one, but still there is always more to learn when it comes to using such expansive programs as Photoshop, Painter, and Illustrator (haven’t touched the last one much, but I feel I should at least know the basics of it for my own good and to make my list of skills that much more appealing). I’m hoping at some point in the future I can take some of the courses at the Computer Graphics Master Academy, but that will have to wait till I have the extra funds. Wow, what a class list, though! I could just spend half my life in there learning it all.

So here’s me, feeling daunted by all the skills I need to brush up on (figure drawing, digital coloring, conceptualizing, lighting, etc. etc. etc.) and it begs the question do artists and creative professionals in general ever stop learning? I suppose that’s what makes our field so interesting (and challenging) to be in. 

For now, I am simply self-teaching and gradually clawing through the reading list of study sources I compiled earlier and a host of The Art Department videos I caught on sale. So much to learn, so little time! Baby steps, Angela, baby steps. Hoping all this knowledge sticks at some point or another. Just have to keep up the repetition till it does!

Till then, I’m afraid I don’t have much interesting to post or share here while I’m in Learning Mode, beyond some studies.  You all like studies, yes?  Prepare for the LEARNING!

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!)

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’!