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!

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Art Life Myths – First in a Series? Maybe?

Today’s post is going to be all over the place, but let’s see if I can corral the crazy long enough to make some sense out of what’s in my head. I’d like to talk about some of the common statements I’ve heard regarding getting better at art and why I think we are our own worst enemy.

1) I Can’t. I’ve been told directly “I can’t do what you do”.

Here’s the thing about Can’t. If you say you can’t, you won’t; simple as that. I know you’ve heard this before, and you’re having the urge to blow it off and move on, but bear with me here. I used to feel the same way. “No, you don’t understand, I REALLY CAN’T” is what would run through my mind. I’d look at Brad Rigney’s work or Dave Rapoza, or Drew Struzan, and I’d say… I can’t do that.

What I should have been saying (and what I say now) was “I can’t do that… yet”. I eventually realized just that. It’s all about Perspective. No, I don’t mean the technical foundation of 1, 2, 3, etc point perspective with vanishing points. I’m referring to the way you allow your brain to think when you’re thinking about the things you can’t do.

I was chatting via Twitter with another up-and-coming artist about failing. My philosophy on failing is that it’s probably the number one most important thing to master in your creation of artses.

Thomas Edison said (this is my number one favorite quote when thinking about progressing in my art career): “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

He actually said a lot of things about working your butt off to get where you need to be:
“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

If you work on changing your perspective to “I Can’t” and into “I Can Learn How”, you will become excited to try. The next step is to work on training your brain to not be overly disappointed when you inevitably fail a number of times before succeeding.

An artist on Twitter said this, “I dont learn something from every failure sometimes it takes a while, n by the time u overcome it u don’t notice” (Excuse the Twitter speak, character limits and all that). The important thing in that statement that the artist didn’t even realize he had acknowledged was this: “by the time you overcome it…”

Ah, but you DID overcome it.

I have a specific example with my own art that is relevant to this. I did a couple of cards for Fantasy Flight Games, and when all was said and done, something was still “off” about them but I couldn’t really place what it was. Moving on, I painted an unrelated personal piece called Gun Merchant. One of the things I wanted to experiment with in that piece was distance in the background. I took the time to figure it out and long story short, I nailed it (in my opinion). The piece still has other issues that need working out (visual hierarchy, focal point, etc.), but that just gives me more things to learn in the future, and that’s exciting. I realized while looking at it is that THAT was what was wrong with the Fantasy Flight cards. I wanted to email my Art Director and ask if I could fix them! Of course I couldn’t, they were already headed to print. But in those failures, and the subsequent success of that particular thing in another painting, I learned something new. Now, I CAN do that thing.

Long story short; You CAN, you just have to fail to do it.

2) I Don’t Have Time.

Here’s a worldwide secret for you: None of us have time.

Let me ask you a question. Do you watch a lot of TV? Do you watch a little bit of TV? Do you play games? Do you go out to bars every weekend? These are the things (among many others) that are taking the time away from you working on your art. I’m not saying at all that you can never do these things, however, I am putting it out there that if you truly want to succeed at your art and meet your goals, you are going to have to cut back on the distractions. This is true for things other than art, by the way. Working out is one of those things that nobody claims to have time for.

The bottom line is that you have to organize your priorities. For example, I was a beta tester for World of Warcraft, and played steadily for the next 8 years. I wasn’t even a hardcore raider or anything, but it consumed hours of my day, week after week. “Why am I not progressing in my art?” Well, I was spending 4-5 hours a day in WoW, but only and hour tops on my art. Guess which one I was good at? It wasn’t the art.

When I was at a point that I was ready to take my art seriously and understood that my “don’t have time” was just an excuse for myself to justify why I am not where I want to be with it, I realized I had to sort out my priorities.

I gave up WoW cold turkey. I haven’t played in three years. Do I miss it? Oh yeah, nearly every day. Will I ever play again? Very likely, in the future. You don’t have to give up your time sinks entirely, you just have to put them lower on the priority list. You can’t paint 24/7 and expect to maintain that momentum without burning out, so those distractions are actually very beneficial in smaller doses. Instead of playing WoW, which I knew for myself to be a huge time sink, I chose things that were easier for me to walk away from while still providing a mental break from the grueling process of being the best artist I can be. I started working out and watched a little TV instead.

The reward has been immense, by the way. In the last three years, my art has improved by leaps and bounds, and I’m getting work in the very industry I want to be in. I had a table at Spectrum and attended IlluxCon. I’ve been cold-contacted by Art Directors about games they’re creating. It is happening for me now, and there is NO REASON it won’t happen for you if you’re willing to sacrifice a few things to achieve it. 

3) I Can’t Afford Art School.

Psh! Who can!? Art school is ridiculously expensive and I can tell you that I personally have a raging hate boner for school loans. But guess what, you don’t really need art school. (side note: art school is great IF it’s what you want to do, I’m NOT dogging art school itself)

This industry is evolving, and it’s very exciting. There are so many free and inexpensive resources out there, that you can learn nearly everything you’d learn in art school by sitting at your computer and paying attention. I will say it can be pretty overwhelming because there are so many available resources, but that’s just a matter of figuring out what you need to learn first and what’s most important to you. I will write an entire blog post about this in the near future, and I’ve touched on it in the past, but rest assured that you can get all the education you need just be being a part of the community, and all that requires is reaching out and involving yourself. There’s no secret handshake or initiation ritual to go through to be One Of Us. Trust me on that one. Go to conventions and speak to other artists, artists you admire and look up to, and you’ll very quickly learn that nearly all of them are as excited for you to be One Of Us as you are.

One of the coolest things I realized at IlluxCon was that I was learning more about how to get started with oil painting than I’d have likely learned by taking a class. By taking a class taught by one instructor, I would learn how that instructor likes to paint. Well, how do I know that’s how I would like to paint?? I spoke with industry pros and such majestic creatures as Patrick Jones, Michael C. Hayes, and Annie Stegg, and each one had different tips and methods. I gleaned from them what I want to try, and mentally dismissed the things I wouldn’t be interested in. For me, this was way more effective than sitting in a class learning one way. That said, for you it may be different and in that case, finding a local oil painting class could be beneficial! It’s all about finding your own path.

If you start to feel lost and overwhelmed, reaching out to the community will help. If you’re interested in how one artist does something, ask them how they do it. Obviously, don’t expect a full on class from them, but they may be able to help you find your own path. I get extremely intimidated by people I feel are leagues above me, so I tend to reach out to people I feel are just a bit beyond me, and it’s more comfortable. Again, your own path! You may be perfectly comfortable emailing Donato Giancola well before I ever am.

So, this blog post is getting really long. I may turn this into a bit of a series if I get the chance, so stay tuned. I hope this helps you out some, and please feel free to leave feedback or contact me if you want to discuss things!

 

If You’re Not Already Aware… (today we’re dreaming big)

…Jeremy Jarvis, art director for Magic: the Gathering, announced this week that changes have been made to the perks that MtG artists enjoy. It’s being talked about all over, for good reason. Read more about it on these blogs, because Jon and Dan. That’s it, just… because Jon and Dan.

The Art Order
Muddy Colors

I read on Muddy Colors that Jeremy’s response when asked why they made these changes was this:

A huge part of Magic: the Gathering, both as part of the game and as a hallmark of the brand as a whole, is the incredible quality of the artwork. We realize what an enormous contribution the artwork makes. We also realize that we are dependent on a healthy, happy group of professional illustrators to create this amazing work. I literally can not do my job with out the strong drawing arms of men and women more talented than myself bracing me up. Magic strives to be a great client for these artists, and it is very exciting to be able to add a dollar value to that sentiment.

So the breakdown is this. Based on what I’ve read on ArtPact (you do have an account there, right? If you’re a freelancer, you neeeeeeeed to have an account there!), Wizards pays anywhere from $850 to $1500 depending on the card and the artist they’ve hired to work on said card (my numbers may not be accurate, but those are what I’ve read). That’s a pretty chunk of change, if you ask my humble opinion. That buys a whole lot of pizza rolls.

Now, MtG has increased their pay rates by 20%.

Let’s do some math here… 850 x .20 = 170. 850 + 170 = 1,020. That’s for the low end of the spectrum. So now, 1500 x .20 = 300. $1800 for one card.

Now, obviously we do our art all for the love of it, right? Right. But, we all have bills to pay (thanks OBAMA! just kidding). What if it only takes you a week turnaround on a card and you start getting hired by a company that pays $1800 a week?

Let’s dream big and say you do one Magic card every week for a year. Know what you’d make that year?

$93,000.

Moving on.

I’m not aware of how many artist proofs (also know as “whitebacks” because the card is sent to the artist with a blank, white back, and the artist is free to keep or sell them) the MtG artists were allowed before, but they have increased the number of artist proofs for limited run products by 55%.

Magic already allows for the artist to sign, alter, sketch on the back, etc., and sell their artist proofs at conventions. Now, they get moooaaaaarrrr proofs to sell. Woo!

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Thirdsly, their policy on how much WoTC/M:tG artwork you can include in your personal artbook was 25%. What this meant for artist was that if your primary income was from Magic cards… you couldn’t really produce your own artbook to sell to your fans.

Guess what, you guys. That has all changed.

They now allow for 75% of an artist’s artbook to contain WoTC owned work.

That is HUGE for those elite artist’s who have portfolios chock full of Planeswalkers. So happy for those guys.

Lastly, if you’re not already in the know, WoTC allows the artist to sell the original painting, which is already awesome. I’ve seen paintings by Terese Nielsen listed for $2,900. By the way, her art is amazing. Srsly.

With the existence of ArtPact, where artists are able to review their working experience with every company imaginable, this will likely cause other companies to have to improve their perks and pay for the artists, if they want to attract the big hitters and have great art.

Magic the Gathering has become more awesome, and being the industry leader, the likelihood that this will flow downhill and force other companies to change their policies is high. One can hope!

Ok, so I’ve used an exorbitant amount of gifs to say not a whole lot, so I’ll bid you adieu.