How to Pitch Yourself to Local Shops (fantasy illustrator)

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I’ve been asked by a few people how I got stores to invite me to attend in-store events such as the pre-release for Dragons of Tarkir. I am not a Magic: the Gathering artist… yet. How did I get noticed by local stores?

This post will talk about how I specifically made this happen, but the methods can be applied for many different types of artists. My hope is that you can get yourself in front of a local fanbase, which is the beginning of really taking control of your own art career!

1. Identify stores with products or art that is similar to your own.

First things first (I’m the realest). What type of art do you produce? For me, it was really easy to find which stores may be interested in my art, because I am a Fantasy RPG artist. My paintings already seem to fit well in games such as Magic: the Gathering, Lord of the Rings LCG, Pathfinder RPG, and Game of Thrones LCG. Knowing this, I located stores in my area (a radius of approximately 2 hours) that hold events that cater to games such as these. Friday Night Magic, Sunday D&D, Thursday Night Commander, etc. It does help that I have clients such as Fantasy Flight Games and Paizo, though, but that is just another bonus selling point. Figure out your specific bonus selling points!

2. Prepare your pitch.

These stores are running a business. While a few of them will be interested in supporting local artists (these gems are amazing to find, by the way, much love to store owners who want to showcase local talent.), most of them are going to be more interested in what your presence in their store will do for them. In my case, I sell playmats that tabletop gamers are interested in and I am open to sketch commissions. Custom ACEO sketch cards are a great low-dollar item you can offer to fans and gamers to decorate their card boxes or to be used as tokens in-game.

Before you go to the location, gather up your merchandise and do not forget business cards! At the very least, you can ask if you can leave behind a few cards, and customers may contact you for commissions. Take 1 or 2 of each item you want to offer into the store with you, but have more in the car! If they want to carry your merchandise, it’ll help if you have plenty on offer.

Knowing that many gamers are eager to pick up original art to show off during tournaments, you can talk to the owner/manager of the store about the possibility of advertising your appearance in conjunction with a tournament or expansion release date to draw in more players. Once you’ve had one successful in-store event, players generally ask the store employees when you’ll be returning!

Another thing I do as an incentive for the store is offer my merchandise at a discount for them to sell at retail. That way, everyone makes a cut of the profit. Some stores will go for this, especially if they want to support a local artist, and some will pass up the deal because my prices will generally be higher than, say, StarCityGames.com or another mass producer of playmats. That’s fine. Maybe they’ll do consignment. Or maybe they’re only interested in having you come by for appearances. Decide what you’re comfortable with, and be flexible!

Me upon introducing myself:

3. Ask yourself all of these questions, and have answers ready:

How much are you selling your item for at retail? How much are you willing to mark it down for retailers? For what percentage are you willing to sell it on consignment?

Generally, I mark off about 10% for retailers for consignment, and up to 20% for retail (meaning, they buy the item outright, and sell it for whatever they think it will sell). Keep in mind that, while you won’t make as much cash off of a transaction when dealing with the retailers, you are getting your products in front of the public in ways you may not have been able to before. The in-store appearances are where you’ll make the best cash!

4. Be presentable.

This seems like common sense, but I’m going to include it anyway. When I make the rounds to introduce myself to new store managers/owners, and especially when I show up for an in-store appearance, I make sure I’m at the top of my game. Not only does a kick ass outfit and on-point hair and makeup look nice, it makes me feel more confident! So, take the time to make yourself look amazing, and you’ll feel amazing.

5. Follow up!

One of the best things you can do, especially if you left the store with a lot of maybes, is to follow up with either an email or a phone call. I tend to lean toward email for myself, because I’m better with the written word than the spoken. I can review what I’m going to say, as well as have a record of the conversation afterward.

Remind them of who you are, who you spoke with at the store, and what you discussed. Let them know of your availability. Assert yourself, politely, on the assumption that of course they want you to attend an in-store event!

6. Extra Credit!

Another way to get “in” with local shops is to become a frequent flyer. Go to the location, play their games or interact with the employees. Be friendly and develop a (friendly, professional) relationship. Networking is key, and it will get you everywhere you want to go. I have an entire blog post about networking planned, so check back for that!

I hope this has helped you, and remember to be creative in your approach. Put yourself in their shoes and figure out what will benefit everyone involved. Do you have any suggestions that should be included in this post, or any creative ideas for what works for you? Post them in the comments!

In another post, I’ll talk about how to have a successful event and what kind of merchandise I’ve learned moves well!

 

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Making Things Happen

I’m pretty excited to let you all in on what’s been happening over the last week.

First and foremost, I’m scheduled for an in-store appearance to sell and sign playmats of my own creation, as well as do sketch cards and playmat sketches! How fun is that!?

I am also stoked to announce that so far, I have nailed down 2 stores that are going to carry my playmats for sale or consignment, and am in talks with 3 more stores to do the same! Top Tier Board Games in Hattiesburg, MS, and Wyatt’s Comics and Cards in Hammond, LA, will both be retail shops at which you can purchase my playmats!

So, some of you may want to know how this happened, and I’m super happy to tell you so YOU can do the same!

How it all started is sort of interesting. As you may know by now, I was juried into the Art Show for GenCon 2015, and will have a 4 panel booth. When I applied, I guess I didn’t honestly believe I’d get in. I mean, the talent that I’ll be listed amongst is out of this world. At some point shortly after confirming and paying for my booth, I realized I needed more… something… to really fit in with the GenCon crowd.

I decided I really wanted to sell playmats. So, I designed and painted Nadezhda:

Nadezhda Polzin_WEB

I then contacted Drew Baker, whom I met at IlluxCon and corresponded with in the One Fantastic Week Facebook group, to have Nadezhda and the Succubus printed on playmats. His price is reasonable and though he may be a bit pricier than some of the ‘big name’ playmat printers, his personal service and concern for my work more than makes up for it. He’s amazing. As an artist, he has an eye for what may need attention to make your playmats the best they could be.

The playmats were beautiful! My counterpart then took them along when he went to Friday Night Magic and sold three of them. I didn’t even have three mats printed yet! So, I ordered more mats. Having seen how quickly people took interest in the mats, my counterpart then made a list of all the gaming stores in the area, up to about an hour and a half away, and we made the rounds. We spoke with about 6 stores the first day, and 2 were very interested. One of those was Top Tier, and as you can see, that has panned out well!

It was surprisingly easy, even for this introverted recluse, to talk to the stores about carrying my mats. I would walk in, introduce myself and my work, and ask if the store would be interested in carrying my mats for sale or consignment. In the future, I’ll first ask if a manager or the owner is in, as most retail employees won’t have any sort of say or power in whether the store can carry your merchandise, so that’s something to keep in mind.

It’s motivating to see the excitement and interest from people who sell stuff like this daily. They know what the customers like, and they like my stuff!

Moral of the story is… maybe don’t wait for things to happen to you, make things happen for yourself! Getting hired on by art directors and working freelance is AWESOME and I love it, but I’d like to have a hand in my own fate as well. Having things that own and have control over is a whole other level.

Do the thing, y’all!

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!

DO THE THING!

 

IlluxCon 7 Post-Con Blog Post

I really don’t have any idea where to start with this one, but I know I need to get the post out there.

If you aren’t aware of what IlluxCon is, here is a quick description:

IX is the first, ground-breaking art show, symposium, and celebration dedicated solely to imaginative realism—bringing artists, students, collectors, and art fans together for an annual gathering intended to inspire and create further awareness and zeal for imaginative realism and all that’s encompassed in the realm of the fantastic.

Why I Attended

The biggest reason I attended was because most of my favorite artists were going to be there. I assumed at the very least, I would get a couple of portfolio reviews and be able to hang out with friends I’ve made in the industry so far. I had no idea what I was in for and how extremely amazing this con would be for both my career potential and myself as a person. I learned a ton about the industry, the artists, and myself. I’ll get into all of that in this post. Hopefully.

What I Learned About Art

The biggest thing, I think, is about oil painting, and how accessible it actually is. I was extremely intimidated by it, what with the chemicals and brush cleaning and canvases and and and and. But what I learned is that you can lower your exposure to toxic chemicals with things like walnut oil and linseed oil, as well as using mineral spirits and turpenoid in tiny, measured, rare doses.

I also learned that you can paint on illustration board! The suggestion was to gesso both sides first, so it doesn’t warp, and I’m eager to try that method out.

I also learned that there IS a big market for traditional paintings, which I did not realize. I thought collectors had gone the way of the buffalo, but it turns out, they are out there and they are excited about us. I met one collector, Ray, who told me is ready and willing to buy my oil paintings in a couple of years when I’m in the main show. I earned a collector based on my potential.

What I Learned About Myself

It’s actually impressive all the things I learned about me in the 4 short days I was at IlluxCon. I learned that while I’m extremely introverted, it turns out that it doesn’t really affect how I am in large groups of my own types of people. I didn’t need nearly as much time to recharge after hours as I do when I’m surrounded by non-art folks, also known as Muggles. bahaha. I was shocked to find myself reluctant to go to bed, at 4:30 am after a long day of talking and socializing and attending talks. I wanted to stay up all night with the people I had met. I wanted to keep laughing at Petey Pablo impressions. I wanted to talk until all hours about the passions of the other artists and what drives them to create art. It was intense, it was fun, it was refreshing.

I also learned that I seem to have broken free of my longtime initial shyness. I used to be extremely intimidated by professional artists and art directors, and I would talk myself out of approaching them. After attending Spectrum Fantastic Art Live and now IlluxCon, I seem to have grown out of this and am much more comfortable striking up a conversation. I’m no longer lurking along the walls. Now, when I see an artist I’m excited to meet and talk to, I am more apt to walk right up to them.

Pardon me, I see Donato over there, I must make contact.

 

The most important thing, I think, that I learned at IlluxCon is this: This is where I am meant to be. It is literally the greatest feeling on the planet to come to the realization that the thing you love, loves you back. I get to paint elves and dragons and Westerosi characters and you’ll pay me for it?  I can pick up oil paints and paint Conan and someone will pay thousands of dollars to take it home and hang it on their wall? I can join this community and be welcomed with open arms by the people I admire most in the world? I learned that without a doubt, I will work my ass off and do what it takes to find my place in the ranks. I already feel like I belong, and I don’t even have paintings hanging on the gallery wall yet. I can’t wait for that day, and I’ll lose sleep if it means making it happen.

Who I Talked To

Um. Everybody. I can’t begin to name everyone but the most prominent and memorable encounters were as follows:

Sam Flegal, to whom I’d like to again apologize for excitedly talking at your face, throwing words out at lightning speed. Awkward.

Thank you for your patience and understanding! Thank you also for encouraging me and my cohort, Char Reed, to pursue our plans for a webcast of our own and sharing your knowledge on how to go about doing that.

Dan Dos Santos, who I learned is a Firefly fan.

Patrick Jones, who is HILARIOUS and, much like Donato Giancola, makes oil painting seem like something I can actually do. Something I actually WILL do. I bought his Oil Painting Techniques book and read it on the plane, trying to shield the cute little old lady next to me from the boobehs. Also, Patrick helped me to realize that everyone has people they consider idols, even the industry titans. His story about meeting Boris Vallejo will always make me laugh.

Lauren Panepinto, Marc Scheff, and Zoë Robinson, who give AH-MAZING portfolio reviews. The things I learn when these super busy rock stars take minutes out of their day to help me improve are more important than anything else that happens. I could rave on for days, but I’ll just leave you with this:

Linda Adair, Michael C. Hayes, Annie Stegg, and Allen Douglas, who were kind enough to share with me their process and tips and techniques, and make me feel SUPER comfortable about starting my journey into oil painting. They were like my own personal oil painting Yodas.

(Allen, I’m sorry we got cut off and I didn’t properly thank you!)

I won’t even try to list all of the new friends I made because I would be heartbroken to leave any of you out, but you know who you are and I love your faces and I can’t wait to squish you in hugs again. We shared drinks and sushi and laughs, and you mean the world to me. If I could, I’d give you…

I had a blast this year, I’m excited for Spectrum and I’m already stalking the IlluxCon page for updates on next year’s plans. I’ll book that hotel room the second they go on sale.

Thank you to everyone who truly made every day of IlluxCon my:

Lastly, I want to yet again thank my mentor, Jon Schindehette (SHIN-de-HET-ee for those who keep asking ;)), for being the one to boost my confidence enough for me to step out into this world. Without your amazing personality and your encouraging words, I don’t know where I’d be right now. I’m just getting started!