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!

 

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: http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2014/11/its-all-in-details.html

Anthony’s post about upcoming projects: http://artofanthonypismarov.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-taste-of-things-to-come.html

Isra’s recap of THU 2014: http://isracarrion.com/2014/10/01/trojan-workshop/

Tom’s post about masters of cross-hatching: http://tomsarmo.blogspot.com/2014/11/wait-someone-out-there-hates-cross.html

Sam’s process of his Xavaes Split Tongue illustration: http://artistjourney.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/xavaes-split-tongue-process/

Lauren’s entire series on the 7 Deadly (Art) Sins: http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-7-deadly-art-sins-greed.html

I managed to listen to every last one of Jeff Lafferty’s artcasts, I’m all caught up!: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL80661E94BCF4A42D

 

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!

Ink Sketch Giveaway!

Inktober-2014

Many of you are aware that the month of October has recently been dubbed “#inktober” by artists. It’s origins date all the way back to 2009 when Jake Parker decided to challenge himself to draw one ink drawing per day in the month of October. The world picked up on it in a big way in 2013, and this year has been even bigger. There is no theme, no rules, no guidance. Just draw at least one drawing per day in ink in the month of October.

Super fun right!? Right!

Many artists draw whatever pops into their head that day.

Click to follow CreatureBox on Facebook

Click to follow CreatureBox on Facebook

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Click to follow Kyle Baerlocher on Instagram

Some draw whatever is around them at the moment:

Click to follow Zachary on Instagram

Click to follow Zachary on Instagram

Some have themes they stick to during the 31 days:

Click to Follow Kayla Edgar on Facebook

Click to Follow Kayla Edgar on Facebook

And some have stories worked out beforehand:

Click to follow Jake Parker on Facebook

Click to follow Jake Parker on Facebook

Here are a couple of my own drawings:

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It’s been super exciting and challenging. I only missed one day so I’m proud that I have followed through so well. I have kept them all in one moleskine sketchbook and have used Micron pens sizes 1 and 2, a Fabre Castel brush pen, and most recently, an amazing Pentel brush pen that I can’t get enough of. Had it not been for my participation in Inktober, I may never have gotten that brush pen. I love that it forces me to draw a bit lighter, and that I can draw super duper thin lines as well as extremely thick black lines. It makes it easy to block in large sections of a picture. The below image shows some brush strokes I jotted down to play around.

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So now for the fun part! Inktober is almost over and I have lots of pretty sweet sketches. One of them AND a Pentel brush pen could be yours! All you have to do is Like my art page on Facebook and SHARE this blog post! On November 7th, I will pick a random name and that person will win an Inktober sketch and a brush pen. Hooray!

Get to sharing and good luck! 🙂

Always Be A Student

I just realized I never posted a blog entry last week. What in the, I say, what in the hell is up?!

Anyway. I’ve been pondering the concept of “always be a student” for a few days now. I was doing my morning “run” – and by run I mean shuffling down the street like C3PO on a sand dune – and it occurred to me that I was enjoying the training I was putting myself through.

See, I don’t like running. I’ve never liked running. But I love the concept of clearing your head while cruising down a back country road, fresh air, birds, etc. I also like the idea of jogging down a sidewalk in a cute little town or something. The concept of running has always appealed to me. So, I set out to learn how to run properly so I could actually enjoy it.

I realized while running the other day, concentrating on my breath count and rhythm, that I was enjoying the learning I was doing. I was thoroughly engrossed in the progress I was making. It was then that I noticed that I enjoy the process of learning in a whole lot of other areas of my life.

As I continued to breathe in for 4 counts and breathe out for 4 counts repeatedly, I thought of other things I’d decided I wanted to learn over the last couple of years. I very recently taught myself how to French braid my kid’s hair. Now that I can do that, I’ve learned how to do dutch braids and side braids and fishtail braids…

I taught myself how to cook. That one took years. I failed so often it’s not even funny. But now I feel like I am a pretty decent cook and I love finding new recipes.

In relation to art, I’ve enjoyed learning from others how to paint digitally. Composition, color theory, perspective, anatomy, etc., are all things I’ve had to learn on my own through watching and learning from other artists. The thrill I get from realizing I understand a concept I didn’t previously grasp is exhilarating. It’s a moment in which I can almost physically feel that I’ve learned.

I made a decision at IlluxCon that I wanted to start oil painting. I didn’t know the first thing about oil painting and was actually quite intimidated by all the paints and mediums (wth is a medium?!) and thinners and chemicals. So I started asking around for tips and techniques. I bought Patrick Jones’s book about oil painting techniques. I bought paints and brushes and boards and canvas paper. I just jumped in. I decided to do what I do best which is to fail until I succeed.

I don’t view failure as a negative. I love failure. I live to fail. Every failure is an opportunity to learn. An opportunity to strengthen myself in whatever endeavor I’m attempting to take on.

I’ve been failing like a champ at oil painting!

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But then I succeeded a little bit.

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That gave me the confidence I needed to fail on a larger scale/project:

Underpainting for a personal project

Underpainting for a personal project

Laying down paint

Laying down paint

I’ve got a long way to go, but in the meantime, I’m still learning. If we master something, what’s the point of continuing? To remain good at it? Why not keep pushing ourselves to see what else we can do with the thing we’ve mastered? For me, that seems to be what it’s all about. To always be a student, and to love every minute, every failure, every success, everything.

Do I have days where I want to quit and throw things? I certainly do. I get extremely frustrated and discouraged. When that happens, I go back to something that I know I enjoy and that I know how to do, for a little bit of a “win”.

When all else fails, draw Batman. Or Darth Maul. Or Maleficent.

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Draw what you love, draw what brings you back to your love of the thing that has you frustrated, and it will all be alright. I promise!

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!