Category: rant

In Defense of Pretty Pictures

So lately I’ve been seeing a lot of this particular statement:

“You draw pretty pictures all day. How hard can it be?  That’s not a real job.”

Let me tell you that this particular statement on its lonesome is a fast track to getting on an artist’s bad side for many reasons.  The first being it is a product of oversimplification.

Oversimplification – It is like saying that a football player just runs up and down a field.  A basketball player runs up and down a court.  Tennis players are just hitting a ball back and forth.  A writer is just making up pretty words in random order.  By making these statements, you are grossly simplifying the process of creation and action that goes with any of these respective professions.

Sure, the end product may be a pretty picture, but let me tell you, it takes a lot of effort to make a fully realized ‘pretty picture’ with a harmonious color scheme, an interesting composition, and an internal narrative!  An artist’s job is to solidify those random elements into something more than the combination of its parts.  If this were so easy, why aren’t you doing it?  Artists are constantly learning, improving, practicing, contemplating.  If they’re not, they stagnate.  Being a successful artist is an ongoing process, and it takes effort.

To say nothing of how long it takes to photograph, document, organize, categorize, and list our work in online shops.  I do all of this with me, myself, and I.  I am my own web designer, shop manager, photographer, publicist, and cheerleader.  Nobody else.

Secondly, what defines a real job?  Is it making a six figure salary?  Is it sitting in a cubicle pretending to be busy when your boss walks by?  Is it bossing around those beneath you so you can feel important?  To me, a real job does indeed involve making money, but I personally do not want fame, self-importance, or a six figure salary.  I want a salary that’s well enough to afford hot water, the internet, a decent place to live, food, and maybe a fun game or two every once and awhile.  It may not be the best job in the world, but doing it makes me happy and brings me a pittance of a paycheck. For me, that defines my ‘real job’.  I could go be a janitor and probably make more (with benefits) but I would probably be working as hard and less happy.  Every job has its own complications and positive aspects, no matter how easy or hard you think it is.  It’s all in how we balance our own personal expectations.

For now, this balance works for me and that is my prerogative.  We can’t forget, also, that there’s a chance that eventually I will be making six figures if I play my cards right and work hard, but that is not the most important thing in my set of life goals.  Most artists don’t go into art to make gobs of money, that’s for sure!

Now let’s get back to that ‘pretty picture’ statement again.  So yes, I draw angels, elves, and ‘pretty’ things.  Do they have any deep societal meaning?  Well, maybe not on the surface.  They generally aren’t making statements on hot topics and political issues, but is the aim of bringing enjoyment to those who like to look at pretty shiny things (or read fantasy books, or watch fantasy movies, or read fiction in general) really so cheap of a goal? Have we become so caught up in the haste of our society that we can’t stop to let our imaginations wander anymore?  Anything that distracts us from the goal of making money is a ‘waste of our time’?

The next time you feel like making this sort of statement either to an artist’s face or behind their backs, consider this – If being an Artist isn’t a real job, then where does every single bit of advertising, book cover, TV show, blockbuster movie, the music on the radio, and yes even the very Fonts we look at every day come from?  How can the world be surrounded by Art all the time and not appreciate the work that goes behind it?  It’s baffling to me.  Maybe we’re spoiled by the fact we see it every day and know little behind the process and hard work that goes into it?

I shudder to think what the world would be like if that Zombie Apocalypse happens and we are left without the ability to fill our world with these amazing things we take for granted.  It will be a dark world, indeed!

But who knows, maybe we’d have an appreciation for things then?  That would be something…

Killing the Muse

I must begin this journal with a disclaimer. This topic is perhaps one of the topics I am most passionate about, so please forgive my fervor if any of this offends you.

I’ve noticed a pattern lately, particularly at anime conventions, where fellow artists set up their tables, toss up a “will work for food” sign, and litter their booths with fan art because that is what sells at anime cons. There seems an atmosphere of desperation that’s almost sweltering with the $10 originals and $5 quickie sketches while the rest of us who are charging what we’re worth are left to the mercy of undercut prices. Besides selling yourself short, the other half of what bothers me so much about this practice is the sheer hopelessness of these artists. Not every artist in an anime convention artist alley is this way, but it’s something I notice more at anime conventions in general.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a well crafted and well thought out homage to anime. Selling fan art is not the problem, it’s the intention behind selling the fan art. I have gotten the response from some of these artists about how they can’t sell their original work because it’s fluffy and idealistic to think one can make money off of drawing what they love. My response to them is that if you’re looking for a quick bang for your buck, the art world is not the one for you. For one, it is certainly not guaranteed for many of us to make money right out of school, though I have heard of it happening. Success in any creative profession is about doing what you love and standing out in the crowd for it. Doing what you love and doing it well…because there are a thousand others trying to do the same thing. If you have no passion, you’re more than likely to be a flicker next to a candle in the crowd.

(EDIT for clarification) For example, if you’re selling fan art in the artist alley, what will a customer be more likely to buy? The half-inspired doodle of Sasuke or the inspired, or at the very least masterfully crafted, image of Sasuke that really says something about the character and your love of him? This same concept can be applied to the creative field as a whole.

I used to be in the same position where I thought I could not make money with the subjects I enjoyed (an unfortunate byproduct of a gallery-focused fine art education). That is, until I started talking to more professionals in my field (and in other creative fields as well, for that matter!). Every single one of them has told me the same thing during interviews:

“It’s scary relying on the uncertain, but do what you love and they will find you. Doing anything else is a way to get stuck designing cereal boxes till you don’t care anymore.”

If you market yourself to draw the popular things you don’t even remotely enjoy drawing, you are going to burn out quick because that is all anyone will ever want to hire you for. This business takes patience, focus, and self-motivation. Forcing yourself into it just to make a buck generally leads to sub-par work because you are not challenging yourself or fostering your inspiration and you just cannot compete with other people in the same field who genuinely enjoy and love what they’re doing.

I am not naive enough to think an artist or creative individual will always be inspired for every single job they’re hired for, but if these sorts of jobs become more numerous than the ones you enjoy in even the slightest capacity, than something’s gotta give. Why? Why torture yourself if you don’t enjoy it even a little anymore? There must be a breaking point where you discover just how much your creativity is worth to you.

Why not just get another job that’ll help pay the bills, and then do art on the side because you can truly enjoy it rather than be held prisoner by the motivation of money? Don’t kill yourself! Don’t kill your muse! If the single motivation of your art is to make money without any enjoyment of what you’re doing whatsoever, than I can almost guarantee you that it is not worth it.

(Another EDIT for clarification XD) However, as Brenda pointed out in the comments, if making money is your enjoyment and that doesn’t harm your inspiration or quality of work, than more power to you! I realize not all people operate the same way I do.

My plea to you, the desperate undercutting artists, the money focused fan art peddlers who are afraid to explore their limits, the hopeless and uninspired who feel trapped by their profession, you have options. There is no shame in guarding your inspiration as a hobby if you cannot do it as a profession. There is no dishonor in doing such a thing.

Please stop torturing yourselves! It is painful to watch…

Are You a Sellout?

Every artist hears this at one point in their development. The worries of becoming what others call a ‘sell out’ enter into our artistic lives much like the recognition of what death is for children who are innocent of the pain of such knowledge.

What is a sellout, exactly?

According to some who are too free with the term, it can be the fan artist, the merchandising artist, the faerie artist. The term sellout is attached to many types, particularly certain genres like fantasy.

sellĀ·out (slout)n.One who has betrayed one’s principles or an espoused cause.

That is the dictionary definition of the slang, but I have heard this term thrown around for something as simple as drawing fan art, which is a gross misinterpretation. If you draw something like fan art, or any form of art, and enjoy it thoroughly, why should this be labeled negatively? Why should our enjoyment of art be ruined just because what we enjoy drawing happens to be popular?

I have also heard this term thrown at artists who have reached a level of success where their art can be found in popular venues on a variety of products. Amy Brown and Thomas Kinkade are two of the more hotly debated artists considered ‘sellouts’ by many.

Amy Brown is an artist most popularly known for the stripy socked variety of fairies which are featured on an endless amount of products, from journals to candles to stickers and beyond. The question of whether she is a sellout because she has found such a successful niche is not the important one. Rather, the question should be, does she love what she does? Even if she doesn’t, is it wrong for an artist to make money doing something in their field that’s at least more satisfying than mopping floors at the nearest grocery mart?

Without knowing Brown personally, I cannot say whether she loves what she does or not. I will admit, I am not innocent in that I did, at one point, think of her as a sellout. I got called out on this once by my boyfriend who said “Well maybe she’s just trying to make a living? That’s harder than a lot of people realize. Maybe she hates her artwork just as much as some others do, but she’s just trying to get by. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

No, I still do not like the gothy brand of stripy socked faeries, but coming of age as an artist trying to make it professionally has softened my heart to people I may have been too judgmental about when I had others paying my way and wasn’t trying to make a living off of my art. Who am I to tell others what to like? I’m entitled to my individual likes and dislikes as much as anyone else. Just as Amy Brown, or any artist, has a right to make a living.

Who knows? One day people might look at my stuff and say my angel art is ‘selling out’. I know I’ve not escaped the gothy label myself. In which case, I’ll just shrug and keep drawing. Why stop doing what I enjoy doing? People are inclined to label you no matter who you are and all anyone can do is be a professional and keep going, keep seeking out inspiration, keep experimenting, especially if you feel their labels are true to any degree.

Thomas Kinkade is another hotly debated figure. The afamed “Painter of Light” has a worldwide corporate reach for his depictions of brightly colored paintings of houses and landscapes. I have sat with many discussions with my mother, who is an avid fan of Kinkade’s, and pondered about what the appeal is. I have asked her if she thought he was a sellout for being as widespread as he is and for using studio assistants to paint in his work, and she shook her head, smiling. The enjoyment of his art had nothing to do with the process, according to my mother, who has collected miniature houses since I was young. Anybody who said differently was someone who was jealous of his success, in her eyes.

And herein lies the difference between many of us. Most normal everyday folks are enamored by the seemingly mystical end-product of art. They recognize it for what it is to the naked eye and marvel at the artist’s skill, while others, particularly artists, get to the heart of the matter, which is the artist’s intentions behind creating the work. Does Kinkade paint houses now ONLY to sell or does he enjoy it as well? It’s impossible to tell just as it is for Brown without knowing him personally.

Again, I still think all his houses look the same, but my mother is completely and totally in love with them, and I would never seek to deprive her of that. Kinkade is a genius in her eyes and just because I don’t like him doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy it.

In the end, there is one thing I am certain of in this area of gray that is ‘selling out’. If you do not love what you do, it is going to show in your artwork. Art has a habit of losing that special something that we are all tuned into subconsciously when the artist becomes uninspired. Does this automatically mean you are a sellout if you keep going? Perhaps…but whose right is it to tell an artist, even an uninspired one, to stop creating and go do something else? We all go through these waxing and waning phases of inspiration and sometimes it takes a jolt of epiphany to get us back on track again.

Now are you a sellout if you create artwork and slap it onto a thong, even though your art doesn’t really fit the products you’re putting it on? Yes, but if you can actually SELL that thong to someone who enjoys it, than more power to you! Generally, however, it’s much harder to sell a product you don’t believe in or that you are not inspired for. With the number of artists increasing every day, it is becoming harder and harder to stand out from the crowd, meaning the less inspiration you have, the less chance you’ll have to be noticed and to succeed.

My advice is this: Throw the nay-sayers to the wind and do what you enjoy. Experiment! Have fun! Learn! Create! The next time you think about calling someone a sellout, bare this in mind:

Are you only doing so because you’re jealous, deep down?
Are you quite sure that they don’t love what they do?
More importantly, is it so bad to make a living?

Save yourself the drama and go do some art instead! Take a moment and judge yourself first before you go labeling others.

Selling Yourself Short

I cannot count the times I have heard the following from fellow artists:

“Raise my prices?? But then no one will buy my work! I have to be competitive!”

“I just don’t think I’m good enough to charge more.”

“If I charge less, I’ll sell more!”

I have thought these things myself at one point in my education as an artist. After all, we all start at a level which is inevitably not as good as professional and well-established artists who are painting masterpieces in oil when we’re in class learning about the color wheel and the basics of line, shape, form, etc. When we decide to combine money with art in order to sell our work at this early point in our careers, we look around and decide that it’s better to sell ourselves and our work for cheaper because we think that’s all that people will pay for it.

This works for awhile, as people tend to pay that $25 for a character sketch or a portrait of their dog. It brings in a little extra money for pizza and art supplies. However, as an artist grows and enters the level that their work is taking more time, is of a consistent higher quality, and the artist decides that art is a career and not a hobby, they need to evolve past the point of accepting less. Artists, please get serious about your prices!

When you continue charging less for more, you not only undersell yourself, but make it harder for other artists to make a living and lower the standards and impression that customers have of artwork. This pattern of underselling is especially rampant in the community of fantasy art, my personal port of call. It seems the general attitude is that fantasy art is ‘cliche’ and therefore is not worth as much as fine art displayed in a museum or gallery.

Fellow Fantasy artists, I encourage you to fight this stereotype! Charge what you are worth! Show those who don’t know fantasy art just how talented and professional we can be.

No matter your genre, if you expect to be professional, this means acting professional and pricing professionally. Some may disagree with me and say that pricing competitively is the only way to sell, but when it comes to selling original work, I personally refuse to back down on charging what I’m worth unless I am really not proud of the piece. If I want to make a quick buck, that is what prints and ‘fluff’ pieces are for.

To be certain, it is smart to price your work to be fair for selling to a certain audience. For example, I would not charge more than $100 for a piece at a smaller anime convention, as the general attendee at an anime convention is in their teens, is still dependent on their parents, and is not independently wealthy. On the other hand, larger fantasy conventions tend to attract more eccentric audiences of all ages, including older independently wealthy fans, therefore it is easier to sell a higher priced item. These are just the trends, however! You never can predict when someone will buy a work if they connect with it. I had a person buy a framed print of mine for $80 at an anime convention, a truly surprising thing! This was a print of a piece of mine that hardly EVER sells anywhere else. I tend to fit the pieces to what sells at the convention, which means I will generally have less original work at anime cons, as they are naturally too high priced to sell there due to the fact that they are original paintings.

I myself am at the point where I have now stopped taking commissions unless they are near the prices suggested by the Graphic Artist’s Guild, the organization that sets the standards and ethical guidelines for professional artists. My prices are negotiable based on the budgets of the commissionee but I use the GAG guidelines as a reference point. I did this for many reasons, including the fact I no longer have time to charge less for commissions and also for the fact that the work turned out for these commissions, due to their underpriced nature, was decent, but not what I consider to be portfolio quality with the exception of a very select few. As an emerging professional, I need to pay more attention to building a successful portfolio with work that I have taken great time and care on. This time and care was cut short on my earlier commissions to help them be cost-effective, something which I find myself no longer willing and able to do.

In the end, we must temper competitiveness with fairness to ourselves and to our work. Foster an attitude of positivity and faith in your own talent and success. Be honest to yourself and never sell yourself short. Raise your prices as you develop and grow your talent so that others will not be dragged down by the expectations of buyers who see cheap prices for quality work.

It may be hard to do this at first, but you will be thankful in the future when you finally reach the point where you can be paid fairly and are considered a ‘professional’ in your field instead of yet another starving artist in need of a handout.