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)
– Angelic 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’!