Link Round-up 11/14/14

Thought I’d start a new thing. Every Friday, I’ll post a blog entry with a whole slew of links to blog posts I’ve read that week that I find interesting. Enjoy!

Donato’s post about his love of painting details:

Anthony’s post about upcoming projects:

Isra’s recap of THU 2014:

Tom’s post about masters of cross-hatching:

Sam’s process of his Xavaes Split Tongue illustration:

Lauren’s entire series on the 7 Deadly (Art) Sins:

I managed to listen to every last one of Jeff Lafferty’s artcasts, I’m all caught up!:



Of Eggs and Baskets

I want to be a fantasy illustrator, creating interesting and entertaining works for the public to enjoy while they play the games and read the books they love. That is what drives me and what gets me out of bed in the morning.

But there is something that causes a little bit of fear, too. Something that sends me back to bed some mornings when I feel defeated and unmotivated. It’s the acknowledgement that the freelance life can be unpredictable and extremely difficult to maintain if you don’t have a steady stream of clients coming in at all times. Chatting with other freelance artists has taught me that being a freelancer is like living on a roller coaster, with highs and lows and twists and dips and loops. And that’s great, I love that about freelancing.

However, it’s also bad in that if we’re to make freelance life our entire career, it can be extremely stressful and sometimes it can cause us to downright fail if we let it.

How do we avoid those times in which our clients have all but vanished at the same time (it happens) and our bank accounts reach that horribly ugly number – 0? How do we enjoy the freelance life if we’re constantly struggling to find the next client?

One way I’ve learned of from much more successful art entrepreneurs than I, and am currently implementing myself, is Multiple Revenue Streams. Also known as “putting your eggs in various baskets.”

What this means is that while Fantasy Character Illustration may be my main objective (as an example), I need to develop other ways for income to be generated that doesn’t rely on clients hiring me for specific assignments. There are a plethora of ways to do this, and I can’t begin to list all of them, but I’ll talk about my plans and maybe they’ll help you to find your way, if you need it.

Tawny’s Plans For Not Starving

I. First and foremost, I’ve built a portfolio that is beginning to strengthen. This is very important, especially when you’re just starting out. You have to have work you are comfortable showing to potential clients and art directors. One key tip is to make sure you are only showing work you want to be hired to do. What this means is if you want to paint characters but hate painting creatures (again, just an example), do not have creatures in your portfolio! You will invariably be hired for the things you don’t like if those things are in your portfolio. If you enjoy environments, and that’s what you want to paint, only show those off! This will save you a lot of frustration and heartache in the long run.

If you’re not sure WHAT you should have in your portfolio, because you’re not sure what you love to draw, I have  a quick exercise for you. I totally stole this idea from Char Reed, but I’m sure she won’t mind my sharing it with you:

  1. Get out a piece of paper and a pen.
  2. Write down 10 things you love to paint.
  3. Make sure the 10 things you write down are things you enjoy creating and won’t get sick of, at least for a while.
  4. Organize the work you already have that fits those categories.
  5. Create new works based on that list.
  6. Show the world your portfolio.
  7. ???
  8. Profit.

This is the method I’ve started to use, and guess what? I’ve started to get work based on what I put in that portfolio. Try it. The worst thing that can happen is you create new portfolio pieces you love. Not a bad fail, if you ask me.

II. Another path I’m taking that I’m hoping will generate some followers and potentially some income, is sketch cards and traditional portraits.

a. People love sketch cards of their favorite characters, and it can be a relatively quick way to produce new art that you can turn around and sell for a few bucks. Depending on your brand, the character, the client, and a few other factors, you could potentially sell a sketch card for upwards of $25. That’s not terrible for something that ideally took less than an hour to create.

b. Custom traditional portraits seem to get a lot of attention from collectors and the public. Sometimes, the general public doesn’t really understand digital art and how it’s produced, so they tend to put a little bit more value on traditional drawings. Again depending on various factors, some artists are able to sell portraits of characters, celebrities, and people for a couple of hundred dollars each. My plan is to create portraits on toned tan paper using black Prismacolor and white charcoal pencil. I just love the look of it, so I enjoy the process of creating them.

An added benefit of these types of art is that they offer me a creative outlet that gets me away from the computer for a while when I’m feeling burned out. I can also sit and work on these while spending time with family and friends. We will all sit down to watch some TV or hang out and I can sketch at the same time. I won’t feel the guilt of “wasting” time and it’ll cause me to be more productive! Win/win.

III. Passive Income. A while back, while “productively procrastinating”, I learned how to create neat looking documents in Adobe Illustrator. I love to-do lists and other organization type printables, so I made a few of my own. I listed them on Etsy and did a little marketing. Very minimal marketing, actually. I posted about them on Facebook and Twitter and then wandered back to working on my character illustrations.

Every couple of weeks, though… someone will buy one. They’re printables, so once they’re listed and the file is attached, the customer can immediately download the thing and enjoy their product. I don’t do anything on my end.

So, my plan is to create a few new printables every couple of months, keep my shop updated (Etsy items “expire” and you have to re-list them periodically), and market them a bit more as I have time.

In a crunch, I can ramp this up and push them more, which will create more of a customer base and bring in more income. I just haven’t done that yet. There are other ways of creating passive income, mine is just one example. I’ve seen a plethora of artists create tutorials and post them on gumroad. Once the thing is created and posted and available for download, it becomes a source of passive income.

Have you heard of any other ways to generate passive income? If so, share them in the comments! I may create a blog post in the future with a list of ways to do this.

Basically, these are some ideas I’ve had about how to take my career to the next level. If I’m distracted by the fear of not finding clients and not being able to pay my bills, I won’t be productive. I have to find ways that are creative, related to art, and interesting that will help to keep me on track. These things also serve as a way to give me a break from digital painting while also remaining productive and making progress.

I hope this post helps and I wish everyone the best of luck in finding multiple baskets for all of your colorful eggs!

Are your goals SMART?

WARNING: This post has an over-abundance of the word “goal”. It is used an absurd amount of times.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most important things an artist has to do to be successful is to set goals. That seems simple enough but it can be a pretty daunting and discouraging endeavor especially if you don’t know where to start. How do you set goals when you don’t even know what kinds of goals you should have?

I struggled with this for a long time until I started reading up on what it means to really set and reach your goals in life.

It turns out that the process is pretty simple. I’ll break down how I created the goals I’ve created, which goals have changed (and why) and which goals I’ve reached so far.

The method I use is the S.M.A.R.T. method. It stands for Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Timely.

Specific means that it is a goal that is defined easily such as “learn to write in calligraphy” or “run a 5k” or “drive a manual transmission vehicle.” This is the who, what, when, where, and why.
Measurable means that it’s something that you can easily determine as a goal you’ve met. How will you know your goal has been accomplished?
Attainable means that it’s a goal you can achieve through certain steps and hard work.
Realistic doesn’t mean it has to be a small goal. It can be a high goal and still be realistic if it’s something you’re able and willing to work for. Setting goals and planning how to achieve them can make nearly any seemingly insurmountable obstacle obsolete.
Timely means you have a certain date by which you would like to reach your goal. This doesn’t have to be 100% concrete, but giving yourself a sort of deadline will help motivate you to get moving on the smaller steps today.

Seems simple enough, no?

When I started out with illustration, I knew I eventually wanted to illustrate cards for Magic: the Gathering. It’s a pretty common target for fantasy artists to be aiming for, and it’s my biggest goal to date. I figured to get to that point, I would have to improve my work to the point of being comfortable submitting a portfolio, and to also work for other card game companies in order to gain experience working with art directors in general.

So, I started a little smaller, but still exciting. I would work for Fantasy Flight Games, or something similar. I looked at their art and felt I could achieve that level.

Specific – Get hired to illustrate cards for Fantasy Flight Games.

Measurable – I will have been commissioned by FFG to illustrate cards.

Attainable – I am a freelance fantasy illustrator and FFG hires freelance fantasy illustrators. I know I am capable of illustrating characters very similar to their style without compromising my own work and style. *This one is very important as I’ll discuss in a future blog post.

Realistic – I am willing and able to study to improve my skill set in order to reach the level of skill expected for FFG cards. There is nothing stopping me from reaching this goal eventually, even if it takes longer than expected. It is within my overall career plan and will not conflict with other areas of my life to a detrimental degree.

Timely – I will be hired for my first set of cards by summer 2014.

I set about creating tasks for myself that would help me to get hired by Fantasy Flight Games. I realized that one of the best ways to get noticed in the industry is to have a table or booth at a convention, and that the best convention for myself would be Spectrum Fantastic Art Live. In January 2014, I did not feel I had enough original work to constitute having a booth at Spectrum, but believed I would be able to crank out enough work to show at an Artist Alley Table. I registered and confirmed my booth immediately. Once that was done, I decided I needed at least 5 new illustrations that accurately portrayed my skill set and demonstrated my ability to produce interesting and believable characters. I began sketching out ideas and scouring the internet for references and source material to help inspire me. In the meantime, I also researched how to make my Artist Alley table stand out in the crowd and how to make it look presentable and professional.

I also started reading up on how to talk to art directors and learned which art directors worked for which companies. I had missed the deadline for signing up for portfolio reviews, but I was confident that having a presence at Spectrum would yield positive results. I knew Zoë Robinson, art director for FFG, would be in attendance and worked out what I would say to her if I had the opportunity to meet her.

Once at Spectrum, I kept a professional yet approachable demeanor and chatted with hundreds of people from passersby to other artists. I spoke to a few artists I admired to try to ease the nervousness I felt at the thought of approaching a potential big name client.

By the time the very fortunate moment arrived, I was ready and willing to open myself up to the opportunity. Zoë happened by my table and I introduced myself. I offered her a postcard that I felt showed off my skills and had all of my contact information. She gave me some pointers and guidance on how to improve my work and encouraged me to keep studying. I felt good about the encounter and decided I would implement her suggestions in a few new pieces to send to her within the month (another SMART goal was set!).

I didn’t get the chance to meet that new SMART goal, though. She contacted me within a week of Spectrum! I was hired to illustrate 2 cards.

I felt exhilarated! I was SO excited. GOAL ACHIEVED!

This presented the opportunity to take another step toward my Mt. Everest. I knew from talking to other artists and art directors, that working hard and doing the absolute best job you can will result in your name being passed around to other art directors in other companies. Conversely, if you slack off and phone it in so to speak, your name will be passed around negatively.

NEW GOAL: Knock those illustrations out of the park.

The cool thing about achieving what I’ve achieved is that I really enjoy illustrating cards for FFG and for Zoë. It helped confirm that my larger goals are definitely something I want to go for, while also enjoying the work I am getting with Fantasy Flight.

This was just an example, though. Your goals may be to work in the movie industry as a matte painter or concept artist. Maybe you want to become a gallery artist and sell your paintings for tens of thousands of dollars.

M:tG isn’t my final goal. Honestly, I don’t have a final goal and don’t ever intend to have a final goal regardless of what I achieve. Someday, I’ll produce my own IP. I’d like to illustrate book covers and box art. Maybe I’ll do character concept art for a AAA game. I don’t know what goals I’ll set in the future, I just know that I’ll continue to set them as I achieve those I’ve set previously. That’s the beauty of it all, innit? Forward momentum, pushing yourself to see just what you can do.

It doesn’t much matter what your goals are, so long as they are S.M.A.R.T!

I challenge you to sit down today and write out your biggest goal and a couple of smaller goals. Then, start figuring out the steps you need to take! Write them down, make a checklist, write a blog post about it. Just do it!