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!

 

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!

 

Jae Seakahh Take Two

I really enjoyed painting the elf pirate… queen… chick… woman… and I wanted to paint her again. So I chose a really simple, static pose that I feel conveys a lot of her personality. Strong, powerful, confrontational, but also beautiful and intriguing. I hope that is coming across successfully. I’ll walk you through my process step by step and at the end you can see an animated GIF of the progress so far. This illustration is FAR from done, however, but I wanted to have something to show you and thought this would be an interesting way to do so.

ETA: This seems really dark, but one of the final steps I do to an illustration is adjust the values and levels, so that it’s brighter and more easy to “read”. So keep that in mind as you view these previews! 🙂

Step 1: Sketch phase! I love this part. It’s one of my favorite steps. I try a few different poses and settle on one I like. I’ll often find pose reference and have a few open to be able to quickly check proportions and such. This is actually a decently refined sketch, and I’ll try to remember to save the rougher, sketchier part when I do another illustration.

JSOceanWIP1

 

 

Step 2: Values! Here is where I determine the basic value composition. I try to stick to about 4 values to determine how everything flows. This could change over the course of the illustration, but I try to keep it basically the same.

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Step 3: Lay in the background! Pretty self explanatory. Again, I’ll try to save more of the steps next time so you can see how I get from A to B while wading through the weeds of blobs and colors.

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Step 4: Start in on the character! I generally start with the face, and in this instance, I later changed my mind regarding the lighting situation, but you can see here that I started to refine her features.

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More refining as well as blocking in clothing and accessories.

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That face was NOT working. Above is where I called it a night and below is where I took her face first thing in the morning. If you’re feeling frustrated with something and it’s late at night… STOP and come back another time. Rest. Relax. Step away for a bit. In this case, I feel like it worked out very well.

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Much pretty. I’ll probably refine more and will add skin texture and such later, but I moved on so I could again come back fresh to the face later. Remember, face and hands on a human are THE most important parts. Get those right, everything else will usually work out ok. Get ’em wrong? Newp. All fail.

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She’s coming along nicely and I’m continuing to work on her. Check back next week and maybe I’ll have her all finished! She’s a personal piece between NDA client work though, so if not, be patient 😉

Here is the animated GIF!

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Speaking of client work, I’m happy to say that I’ve had a couple of exciting commissions come my way and I can’t WAIT to show them off! I had the opportunity to work on one of my most favorite properties of all time, one of my most favorite nerd worlds, and it was super fun.

So you want to be an artist? Then… Draw!

I just attended the Artist as Brand workshop put on by Greg Spalenka and it was pretty freakin’ sweet. One of the biggest things he talked about regarding putting yourself out there and connecting with other artists and fans was a blog. I have always wanted to have one, but could never think of what to draw. I don’t know why, but for some reason yesterday, as he spoke about the importance of a website and blog, a ton of blog topics started slamming into my brain. I wrote them all down, and then I searched Google for more interesting blog topics. By the time I put my pen down, I had 4 pages of blog topics! So, I want to get my blog started and have a purpose for it.

This year was the first time I had my own table at a convention or show. I started out with an Artist Alley table at Spectrum, and it was not only extremely fun, it connected me with a ton of people who were aspiring, struggling, or interested artists. I heard a lot of “I wish…” or “I would love to…” or “I dabble…” and I wanted to push those people down into a chair and convince them they absolutely CAN if they truly want to join the ranks of what they view as unreachable Artists. The idea that I was one of those artists that they felt were in the place they wanted to be was amazing to me. Who am I? I’m a new artists in this industry, having just landed my first professional illustration gig with a trading card company!

I want to connect even further with those fledgling artists. I won’t use the term “young artist” because while some of those artists were quite young, a few of them still in high school, a large number of them were adults with full time jobs. Age has nothing to do with where you are as an artist.

Here’s a secret I have discovered over the last few years of my journey to become a freelance illustrator: Nobody is ever good enough. No artist ever starts out immediately awesome, getting hired off the bat by the big hitters like Blizzard and Wizards of the Coast.

What do professional athletes do in order to be picked up by their respective League? They train. Well, as it turns out, artists have to train too! This doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a formal art education, either. You can actually construct your own education based on your interests and where you want your art to take you, by ferreting out the artists you like and learning from them. There are countless tutorials, numerous workshops, and literally hundreds (if not more) artists willing to show you the way.

In future blog posts, I intend to share some of the many resources available to any artist, regardless of skill level, who are seeking to improve their art. Whether it be to get hired as a freelancer or to improve as an industry professional, these workshops, tutorials, and how-to’s can probably help you. The bottom line is this: YOU have to do it. YOU have to put in the work. YOU have to carve out the time in your busy schedule to put pen to paper or brush to canvas or stylus to tablet. And you can, if you believe you can.