Category: starving artists

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 for bad credit, 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!

Con Report: Anime Weekend Atlanta 2010

It’s that time again! Convention report time!

Personal Stuffs

AWA has been one of the old mainstays for me in days gone by. It was the very first convention I ever attended, the very first Artist Alley I ever sold in. I always get nostalgic when I go to this con. I had many folks who had seen me at past AWA’s  (and from this year’s DragonCon) stop by to show their support and say hello. That made me feel so special and my thanks go out to everyone who came by to see me!

Check out Fev’s amazing

I left the con with some amazingly cool swag! I am the proud owner of a lovingly crafted Assassin’s belt created by the multi-talent Fev, who sculpted it herself! (You can see her creative process here). My boyfriend also gifted me with a book I’d been drooling over ever since I spotted it in the Dealer’s Room, the Granado Espada Visual Guide!

For those who don’t know it, Granado Espada (or Sword of the New World) is an MMO which is an alternate history of the settlement of ‘the New World’ mixed with fantasy elements. As such, the character designs and settings are influenced by 18th century flair with the extravagant stylization of anime and video game design! You can preview the book here to see what I’m talking about. It is GORGEOUS and I intend to use it as a springboard for inspiration for my own characters’ wardrobes.


Where would a con be without amazing costumes? You can see my photo album here!  And now my mini cosplay awards!

Most Creative – A young lady who cosplayed the art book version of a character from Trinity Blood.

Most Original – Taokaka, the creepy cat character from the BlazBlue fighting game that NOBODY cosplays.

Most Humorous – The guy dressed up as bacon! He tortured us all with bacon cravings every time he walked by in the Alley.

The Business Stuff

Despite the positive experience with meeting old friends at this con, I had a terrible selling year here compared to last year, where I made twice as much. I did, however, do better in the art show, no doubt thanks to the art show’s new location at the front of the room.  I barely broke even this time around and I have decided I will no longer be selling in the Alley at this convention.

I’ve made this decision for multiple reasons, mainly the fact that I feel I have outgrown the Alley. While other artists charge $15 for two 8×10’s, I’m selling a single 8×10 print for just as much. While I had very meticulously hand-crafted leather carved masks for $45 at the cheapest, there was another table selling plastic ones for $20. Meanwhile, other artists were selling quick commission sketches for $5 a piece, something which I simply cannot do.

I feel this Alley caters to a younger audience with a limited budget while my art appeals to a more mature audience with a larger income. I’m planning to try for Dealer’s Room next year and if that doesn’t pan out, I’ll probably be showing up only to put my work in the Art Show and to visit with friends.

I just feel too old for this con. I don’t have the enthusiasm for anime as I used to in college and would rather just watch it in the comfort of my own home cozied up with tea and a few close friends.  For this reason, I have a feeling I won’t be attending any anime conventions unless I can make Dealer’s Room, and even then, I am not sure I’ll do well there either.  I just don’t have the energy for it anymore, especially when it seems anime conventions don’t bring in a decent consistent profit for me.

Maybe it’s my style? (I am very non-anime) Maybe I just can’t compete unless I bring prices down? (Something I am unwilling to do).  Either way, I feel this is a natural part of my business evolution and while I give a very fond farewell to anime cons, I am looking forward to spreading my roots to other events that are catered more to my interests.

C’est la vie!

I sold not a ONE of my X of Swords prints at AWA! Since I can’t sell them elsewhere, I’m having a sale. Check it out! Help me get rid of them as I can’t sell them legally elsewhere. Only a very limited number available!

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…

The Future This Way Comes

I’ve not been able to sleep for a few nights lately. Here I am again toiling in this journal when I should be sleeping. The past few months of conventions have been a sobering, and inspiring, few. So many questions have been echoing around in my head.

Will I be able to work as an artist for a living? Will all this hard work pay off? Where is my next job going to come from? How can I improve as an artist? How can I keep up with competition when there are so many awesome people out there?

And more importantly, what’s my plan now?

That thought is a disturbing one at times because I feel like I can only half answer the question, being one who is perpetually learning the ropes of trying to make it as a professional artist. I fear the slightest thing will cause my efforts to crumble. Yet, I have to remind myself that little achievements ARE worth something, even if I’m not quite in the ‘big leagues’ just yet. The tables I’ve been running at conventions have made just enough to cover the costs. The next few fairs and conventions are bound to only improve as I learn and evolve how I want to present myself to the world.

Every flower starts with a seed and every professional started off at this level. It’s a mantra I have to repeat to myself over and over. Even when there’s a mountain of things to do that threaten to bury my resolve. The Pyramaids began with a single brick (and lots of slave labor, but I don’t quite have that luxury).

I sense something just beyond my fingertips on the horizon, some whisper of hope brushing my fingerstips. Several of the projects I have been working on are slowly eking their way into existence. Plans for new series of artwork that really push my limits as an artist are in the works, and my eventual plan to branch into authorship as an author-illustrator are beginning to take shape as well. After so many years of searching, I have finally found the stories I want to tell, even if I’m not quite sure yet how I want to portray them or if I’m skilled enough to portray them to the standard of illustrative quality I want to be at.

It feels like with all this preparation and toiling that I hardly have time to feed the creative soul. I really plan to release the beast with these new series, but there is no time for them at the present while I am working on paying projects and on organizing the business side of things.

That fear of the future can be paralyzing too, especially when you take time away from feeding your creativity to pay homage to the baser elements of being a professional. Unlike a mere job, however, this one is tied inextricably to my need to create and to be happy. If I fail, will that die too? If I delve too deeply into the ‘mechanical’ side of making money, will that creative spirit fade?

And while I dance from foot to foot trying to figure it all out, will my future pass me by in the meantime, wondering why I’m late to the party and showing up in mismatched socks?

So I do what helps me feel like I’m in control. I make lists and feel like I am achieving something as I mark each task off:

– Get Amazon shop running
– Buy art fair displays and wireless credit card charger
– Finish the semi-secret book project
– Hit the art fair world by storm and make the old ladies cry!
– Figure out where to start with this whole licensing deal
– Take over the world!
End this blog and go to bed.

Well that’s one off the list at least! What do you guys have in mind for your lists at the moment?

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.