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!

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.

JSOceanWIP2

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.

JSOceanWIP3

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.

JSOceanWIP4

More refining as well as blocking in clothing and accessories.

JSOceanWIP5

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.

JSOceanWIP6

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.

JSOceanWIP7

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!

JSOceanGIF1

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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.